Friday, August 31, 2007

With Nurturers Like These, Who Needs Killers?

Susan Smith. Marilyn Lemak. Andrea Yates. Sametta Heyward. Christy Freeman. Those are just a few of the better known women who, for various reasons or no apparent reasons at all, have murdered their own children.

For names of other murderous moms, click here.

You have to particularly love the story of China Arnold, who apparently killed her baby Paris Talley by cooking the baby in a microwave oven.

According to the CBS News article about China Arnold, she isn't the first woman to do such a thing. It states, "In 2000, a Virginia woman was sentenced to five years in prison for killing her month-old son in a microwave oven. Elizabeth Renee Otte claimed she had no memory of cramming her son in the microwave and turning on the appliance in 1999. Experts said Otte suffered from epilepsy and that her seizures were followed by blackouts."

As if that's a valid excuse. I find it outrageous that she only got a five year prison sentence for such a heinous crime.

Andrea Yates isn't the only Texas mom to kill her kids. Recently, "Andrea Roberts killed her husband, Michael Lewis Roberts, and children, Micayla, 11, and Dylan, 7, police said. Each had a single gunshot wound to the head."

There have been several recent cases of women killing their kids here in the Chicago area. For instance, there's Nimisha Tiwari, who killed herself and her two children by burning part of their Naperville house down.

There's Magdalene Kamysz, a Crystal Lake woman who strangled her daughter Sydney to death and then killed herself by stepping in front of a speeding Metra train.

Back in the 80's, when I was living in Boston, I remember reading an article by a woman who argued that women would make better U.S. Presidents because they were allegedly the "nurturers" of the world, and therefore they were less likely to instigate or participate in wars. There are probably a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters who subscribe to that point of view.

However, those of us who are pro-life can't help but observe that women are such "nurturers" that they have killed almost 49 million of their own unborn children since abortion was legalized by Roe v. Wade in 1973. That's almost 49 million human beings killed in the name of "choice".

When abortion was still illegal, advocates of so-called "abortion reform" argued that legalizing abortion would create an idyllic situation in which child abuse would be almost unknown, since every child would be a "wanted child". Well, we've had about 34 years to evaluate the merits of that argument, and it ought to be obvious to any thinking adult with an IQ higher than 10 that the argument was wrong. Instead of eliminating or significantly reducing instances of child abuse, legal abortion has created a mentality in which women now think of their children as property, to do with as they please.

When I was a kid, there was an expression people used: "Pick on someone your own size." But these murderous moms obviously don't agree with that expression. God gave them their children, as precious and priceless gifts, but they spurned those gifts and destroyed their own children. What a bunch of worthless cowards!

There are good mothers, just as there are good fathers. And there are bad mothers, just as there are bad fathers. We need to acknowledge and appreciate good parents, regardless of gender. We also need to acknowledge and punish bad parents, regardless of gender.

Most of all, we need to publicly acknowledge that women are not necessarily better than men when it comes to parenting and nurturing. Women therefore deserve no special considerations when it comes to matters pertaining to child custody and other areas where it has traditionally been presumed that women were better parents than men.

It's time to stop making lame excuses (such as "postpartum depression") for moms who kill. I can sympathize with people who experience deep depression, because I've experienced it myself. But it's not a valid excuse for murder.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Christ The Redeemer

The image shown here depicts one of the world's most well-known works of public art. It's known as "Christ The Redeemer".

It's always struck me as a bit strange that the statue is located in Rio De Janeiro, which is also known for its colorful and carnal Carnival, and for its equally colorful beaches, where the swimming suits are sometimes so skimpy that they might as well not exist. It would be comparable to locating such a statue on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

However, regardless of what one may think of its location, there's no question that the statue is a big tourist attraction. There's also no question that it plays a role in terms of drawing people's attention to Christ, if only for a moment. After looking at this statue, it is impossible to deny that Christianity plays a major role in the lives of many people.

In my mind's eye, I can see a comparably influential sculptural work located on the campus of the Christian Artists' Resource Center, which would be an ambitious Christian ministry of the arts. Specifically, I would like to see a large sculptural grouping in which Christ would be in the center of a group of individuals who represented various major artistic disciplines. There would be a jazz sax player, a painter (with palette and brush), a writer (seated before a notebook computer), a cinematographer (with movie camera), a photographer (with camera), a ballet dancer, a choral singer and possibly others. The objective would be to portray the idea that all of those artistically talented people had dedicated their lives to the goal of serving the Lord with their respective talents.

I don't think that the individual statues would need to be as monumental as the "Christ The Redeemer" statue is in terms of size, but certainly, they would be lifesize, at the very least, and probably a lot larger than that. When they were all gathered together into one location, the effect could potentially be extremely impressive. To heighten the effect, it might be cool to place the sculptural grouping in front of an extraordinarily beautiful and photogenic backdrop, such as a large manmade waterfall.

The sculptural grouping might be located somewhere on the grounds of God's Glorious Gospel Gardens (the botanical garden on the campus of the Christian Artists' Resource Center).

In addition, I envision a high relief sculpture or a mosaic mural, based on that same image, located right next to the front entrance gates and the Visitor's Center.

Miniature replicas of the grouping could be sold in the gift shop (located inside the Visitor's Center), along with printed products (postcards, greeting cards, fine art prints, etc.) depicting the statues. One might also sell a DVD documentary which would tell the story of how the sculptural grouping was created.

It would also be nice if a highly talented Christian painter (such as Frank Ordaz) could create a full-color painting based on that same scene. Prints of such a painting and various products featuring that painting could likewise be sold for fundraising purposes.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Christian Arts Initiative

For several years now, I have had a vision for a Christian ministry of the arts which would have the objective of empowering numerous artistically talented Christians to make the most of their talents and to transcend the material impediments which have previously prevented them from achieving their full potential. I even created a very nice website at in order to communicate my vision for that ministry.

Unfortunately, my current financial situation is precarious at best. I'm not sure whether or not I'm even going to be able to continue to keep online. Consequently, I am using this blog post in order to furnish those who might be interested in such a ministry with a link to a document which explains my vision in depth. The document is in PDF format, so you'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to read and print that document.

Here's the link to that PDF document. Please take the time to open the document and read it when you get the chance. Then pray about the possibility of helping me financially so that I can pursue the goal of bringing my vision to pass.

If you should wish to do so, here's my current contact information:

Mark Pettigrew
30 W. Chicago Avenue, Room 1212
Chicago, IL 60610

(773) 509-8126 (Voice Mail)
(312) 643-1336 (Home)

email: mwp1212[AT]gmail[DOT]com

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sales, Ethics and the American Dream

Back in the late 80's, I went through a period of time when I was having difficulty finding work, and I was getting a bit desperate for a job. So when I saw a Help Wanted ad which said that the company was looking for employees who would vacuum people's carpets, I thought, "I can do that. No problem!" I called the company and set up a job interview with them immediately.

The first sign of trouble was seen when I showed up and learned that the ad had misrepresented the nature of the job. Technically, the job did involve cleaning carpets. But it was really a sales job, selling Kirby vacuum cleaners. One didn't clean entire carpets. One only cleaned portions of carpets in order to persuade sales prospects that Kirby made a very good vacuum cleaner. In fact, part of the sales presentation involved actually dumping dirt onto the sales prospect's clean carpet! Another part involved demonstrating that the Kirby had such great suction power that it could hold a heavy bowling ball in mid-air solely through the power of its suction. (Next time I want to vacuum up all the bowling balls in my apartment, I'll have to remember that. That's a joke, of course. I have no bowling balls in my apartment.)

I thought that their method of advertising for sales people was dishonest. If it was a sales job, they should have said that in the ad so that we would know what to expect. In hindsight, that one aspect of the process should have told me a lot, but like I said, I needed a job badly, so I was willing to overlook that seemingly minor problem and do my best to be a good salesperson for the company.

When I was hired, I was just one of a number of new employees. Before they would even consider sending us out into the field, they spent a week training all of us.

The guy who initially trained us in the company's offices was a real greaseball, in terms of how he kept his hair in place. He also had a lot of acne. (With all that grease, I wasn't surprised.) He seemed like a reasonably nice guy, but I was singularly unimpressed with his personal hygiene.

During the training, they had us corporately participate in little "pep rallies" to boost our confidence. As a Christian, I found that aspect of our training to be really offensive. Someone had taken a number of classic Christian hymns and rewritten them so that they had been turned into songs glorifying the Kirby vacuum cleaner! (As I recall, "Onward Christian soldiers" had been turned into "Onward Kirby salesmen." Previously, it had never occurred to me to compare vacuum cleaner sales people with soldiers.) Naturally, we were all expected to sing along. As I recall, I sang along, because I was a new hire and I didn't want to lose the job. I wanted to be a team player. But inwardly, I was already beginning to feel very uncomfortable with the job, despite the fact that I was impressed with their demonstrations of the Kirby's power.

Part of the training, before we were sent out into the field, was that we were expected to get practice by persuading at least one of our friends or relatives to listen to us as we gave a sales pitch. Naturally, I ended up giving the sales pitch to my mother. At the end of the presentation, she bought the vacuum cleaner from me. It's possible that I did a great job of selling her on its features, but I suspect that the main reason she bought it was that I was her son.

Then the big day came. We were all sent out into the field, with a more experienced sales person driving the van, in order to make sales presentations to our first real sales prospects other than our friends and family members. It was strange in several ways. First of all, the neighborhood they drove us to was not by any means a wealthy neighborhood. That seemed strange to me, because the Kirby cost around a thousand dollars, even in the late 80's. To the kinds of people we would be visiting, that was a lot of money.

As the van drove through the neighborhood, the driver would slow down at a corner and we were expected to jump out (with the vehicle still in motion, mind you) and practically run to the nearest house in order to try to schedule an appointment for a demonstration. (I felt like a paratrooper being dropped over Normandy.) We did that an awful lot before we finally found a kind soul who agreed to allow us to impose on her in that manner.

Keep in mind that this was a training, and the way they did the training was to invite all of the trainees into the woman's home so that we could all sit and watch our trainer as he conducted the sales demonstration. I'm truly amazed that any woman would let that many strange men into her house at the same time, no matter what kind of a line we fed her. For all she knew, we were robbers or gang rapists who were trying to get into her home under the pretext that we were selling vacuum cleaners.

Now here's where things got interesting. Our field trainer would basically demonstrate some of the vacuum cleaner's features, and then he would approach the woman, write down a dollar amount (with payment terms) and ask, "Would this price and these terms persuade you to buy the Kirby?" The first time he did this, she said the following: "I am impressed with the Kirby, but my husband and I have agreed that we will not ever buy a product this expensive until we have had a chance to discuss it together." Was the sales person deterred by that response? Of course not. He would then demonstrate a few more features, and go through the whole charade again. Each time, she told him the same thing. She liked the vacuum cleaner, but she had agreed not to buy any big ticket items without discussing the matter with her husband.

The guy continued to pressure her to buy the vacuum cleaner then and there without consulting with her husband first. It was embarrassing. It got to the point that I wanted to shout, "Unplug your ears, idiot. How many times does she have to tell you that she wants to discuss it with her husband before you stop harassing her?"

I thought that it was extremely disrespectful of him to treat her that way. Not only that, I found the whole thing unethical, not because he was lying to her, but because he was essentially pressuring her to break a promise she had made to her husband. What if she'd yielded? Is it not conceivable that it would have added stress to their marriage? Don't we already have enough problems in this country when it comes to divorce, without sales people adding to the problem? I didn't want to be part of anything which could potentially undermine the solidity of someone's marriage. I'd already seen how hurtful divorce could be when my own parents had gotten a divorce.

Admittedly, it's unlikely that anyone would divorce solely because of one such incident. But things add up over time. Persuading her to violate an agreement she'd made with her husband might conceivably be the "straw that broke the camel's back", and I therefore felt that it was wrong to treat her in that way.

I had to admire the way that she stood firm and refused to yield to the pressure. At the end of the presentation, our field trainer was no closer to making the sale than he'd been when he first began. Ironically, I think he might possibly have made the sale, if he'd simply said, "I understand, ma'am. Why don't we schedule a return visit when both you and your husband are home. There's no point in going through the sales presentation again. I'm sure that your husband trusts your judgment on such matters." Then it seems likely that the husband would have said yes, she'd have gotten her vacuum cleaner, the field trainer would have made the sale, and everyone would have been happy.

After the presentation, after the sun had gone down, we all piled back into the van to go back to the company's office. Our trainer asked us to comment on what we'd learned.

I said to him that I felt very uncomfortable with his manner of dealing with the woman, and that I personally would not want to treat a sales prospect in such a manner.

He responded by saying, "You're part of this team, and as long as that's the case you will make sales presentations in the prescribed manner." (Those might not have been his exact words, but that was the gist of what he said.)

I said, "I've got news for you. When I came to work for this company, selling my soul to you was not part of the deal." I might have also added that my good standing with God was very important to me, and that the spiritual repercussions from moral compromises such as the one he was asking me to make would be with me long after my paycheck was ancient history.

To describe the drive back to the office as uncomfortable would be a great understatement. When the field trainer tried to intimidate me into abandoning my sense of right and wrong, I got very angry with him. I told him that that would be my last day working for his company. I felt no regrets at all about doing so.

Most of the other guys in the van thought that I was making a big deal out of nothing. I thought that was a sad commentary on the scarcity of sales people with good business ethics.

Bad business ethics aren't just immoral. Such ethics are also stupid, in terms of their potential for ruining a company's reputation and future. Anyone who worked for Enron immediately prior to that company's collapse could tell you that.

Jesus said that one cannot serve both God and mammon. Now, I don't believe that there's anything inherently wrong with making money, but I think that it's idolatrous to make money one's first priority. There are times when a person who hasn't severed all connections with his own conscience has to make certain sacrifices in order to maintain a good relationship with God. On that particular evening, I took a stand for what I believed was right. Yes, it cost me the job with Kirby. No, I don't regret it, even today.

I don't know whether or not my experience working there for the local Kirby sales team was typical. I hope not. I do think that their vacuum cleaners are generally pretty well made, from what I've heard. My mother never complained about hers after buying it from me. I'm not sure that any single individual or couple really needs to pay $1,000 for a vacuum cleaner, especially considering that one can get a Shark for a tiny fraction of what a Kirby costs, but my issue isn't with the machines themselves. My problem is with the type of sleazeballs the company seems to attract as employees and managers.

For that reason alone, I have never bought a Kirby for myself, and I never will.

UPDATE: Out of curiosity, I thought I'd search the Web to see what others had to say about the company. You may enjoy checking out the following links:

Here's one where a woman says, "Kirby vacuum cleaners will suck the life out of you and your marriage."

Here's one where numerous people tell horror stories pertaining to Kirby sales tactics. If this doesn't persuade you that I made the right decision when I quit that job, nothing will.

Even Wikipedia has a section on the company's "questionable sales tactics" (and that site generally tries to remain neutral).

Portable Shelters for the Homeless

Providing shelter for the homeless can sometimes be a challenge. Most bigger cities have one or more organizations which run homeless shelters. (The Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago is one example.) However, such places can be dangerous and overcrowded, and while there are those who need the social services they provide, there are others who just need a place to sleep at night during short-term crises.

My feeling is that more individual Christians and churches need to get involved with providing places for such people to stay, rather than leaving it all up to the big institutions. Fortunately, some companies offer housing units or shelters designed to enable them to do so.

Here are links to four companies which make and sell portable shelters for the homeless.

Click this link to read further comments of mine with regard to the aforementioned companies. (The document is in PDF file format.)

Digital Collage and Online Research

Sometimes I will visit one or more websites which contain visual reference material that better enables me to understand a particular subject. I could just make printouts of all of the web pages which contain the information of interest to me, but that could use up a lot of paper in some cases, because a lot of companies tend to scatter information all over the place. What I would prefer would be to create a single page of information containing the most important parts of those web pages, while leaving out the redundant aspects (such as navigation bars and the like).

What I like to do is to use image editing software in order to create a digital collage consisting of diverse images from one or more related websites, along with my own personal comments next to those images. Sometimes I'll also copy text from the website and then paste it into the collage, either in the form of another graphic image (via a screen capture) or in the form of actual text (which eventually becomes another graphic image once it's been pasted into the digital collage).

The nice thing about this is that I don't have to make any prints at all. I can just burn the resulting image file onto a CD-R disc and then view it on my computer. Why kill trees if you don't have to do so?

For example, I recently learned about a construction method involving the use of ICFs (Insulated Concrete Forms). I'd never heard of the method before, and I thought it was pretty interesting. Polysteel, a company which makes such forms, had quite a bit of useful information on its website, but that information was scattered over a number of pages. So I created a number of screen shots, and downloaded a number of small individual graphic images, and I then used my digital photo editing software in order to combine all of the information I'd found into a single 8x10 graphic image which could be printed onto a single page of paper. (Much more ecologically sensible than printing numerous different screens from the website and then binding the printouts together.) I also added little text comments next to some of the images.

This link is a link to a PDF file consisting of that 8x10 collage. I'm offering the sample both as a PDF file and a JPG file so that you can see the difference. Converting from the JPG to the PDF distorted the image slightly in terms of text legibility (probably because I was using an online service, not Acrobat, and because I didn't have any control over the settings they used when they performed the conversion). On the flip side, the PDF file can be viewed in Acrobat Reader, offering more control over the various magnifications possible when viewing the image online.

The thing is, most online photos have relatively low resolution. But that isn't as important when one is creating a digital collage, because no single image has to fill the entire print. In the case of the Polysteel collage, the entire collage has adequate resolution for making an 8x10 print (admittedly, with some white space at the bottom) at 200 pixels per inch, which is quite respectable.

In any event, most of these little digital collages are mostly for my own personal use. As long as my computer is functional, I can view them just by reopening them in my image editing software, which allows me to zoom in on particular parts of each collage in order to get a closer look. And I don't have to be online in order to do so. I think of these collages as scrapbooks of useful information to which I can refer at a later time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

E-Book Cover Design and Digital Resolution

E-book publishing is one great way to get one's written works into the hands of the public and make some money in the process, without having to go through the time-consuming hassles of creating printed books. But one drawback is that the sites which sell such books for you sometimes require that you keep the book "covers" within certain parameters in terms of resolution. That can affect the types of designs you can create.

For example, I visited one site which specified that all e-book covers should be 100 pixels wide by 150 pixels high. So I created the image at the top of this blog post. The text says: "Grace and Mercy: The Poetry of Mark Pettigrew".

At the original size (840 pixels wide by 1260 pixels high), the title text is quite legible. At 100 pixels by 150 pixels, the legibility is considerably less impressive. That's partly the result of my choice of fonts. I could have chosen a font which would be more boring but also more legible at that size.

Consequently, I decided to play with the design a bit. I created the second version, in order to enable me to enlarge the text somewhat, without obscuring any more of the photo. It's a small difference, but I think that the text is now large enough, even with the fancy font, that it's legible to anyone with reasonably good eyesight. If it were not for the need to reduce the overall design to a size as small as this, then I might prefer the first design, but I think that the second design is better, in terms of text legibility, when reproduced at this size online. I'm not too crazy about having to reduce the size of the artwork even more in order to create a design which works, but that's life.

I think that the fancy font really does enhance the cover design, since it looks like something one would see on a book of poetry, rather than looking like something one would see on a textbook pertaining to economics or something of that nature.

This kind of thing might not be immediately obvious to a graphic designer who was focused more on producing a design which was suitable for print. A lot of e-books essentially use the same cover designs as their print counterparts, and the e-book version is an afterthought. Since printed books offer more flexibility in terms of design, the text on the covers of such books are often just barely legible when those designs are reduced in size in order to enable the books to be sold online.

That's one reason why web stores which sell e-books (and regular printed books, for that matter) usually include actual text which tells both the title and the author. Unlike a book which is sold in a store, legibility of the text on the cover design for eBooks is less important, because the text description shown in the online store repeats that information.

The main thing, it seems to me, is to convey the impression of a professionally designed and attractive book cover. Sometimes the thumbnail images shown for ebooks are legible but quite ugly. This current design, it seems to me, looks like something one might see at Borders or Barnes and Noble.

Thankful for Nice Weather

Not long ago, I wrote a post in which I complained that the weather had turned very hot and muggy here in Chicago. Sleeping at night was very unpleasant, because I would wake up and find that my pillow was drenched in my own sweat.

Fortunately, things have cooled down here in the past couple of days. As I write this, the temperature in my room is just about perfect. I'm not sure what the humidity is, but whatever it is, it isn't noticeably affecting my personal comfort level. With the ceiling fan on, it feels as if I have a light breeze caressing my body. It feels marvelous.

I like to think that there will never be any unpleasant weather in heaven. I have no idea whether or not that's true, but I'm inclined to think that it is, since my vision of heaven is that it will be a perfect place in every respect.

Monday, August 13, 2007

In Praise of the Four Square Collage

More often than not, when it comes to picture framing, people purchase single frames for single pictures. But there are other options, particularly when it comes to smaller photographic prints.

For example, one can purchase "collage frames" which are basically frames in which multiple window openings have been cut into the "overmat", thereby enabling one to display multiple photos or prints within a single frame.

Collage frames can be particularly nice as a means of presenting small prints (such as the 4x6 prints typically made for very low prices at numerous photo labs) in a unified manner which makes a much nicer impression than a scattered collection of framed individual small prints. It's a lot easier to hang a single collage frame featuring sixteen small prints than it would be to hang sixteen small prints in their own individual frames!

(Click here to see some particularly nice collage frames from The Pottery Barn.)

As nice as collage frames can be, I can attest to the fact that it can be time-consuming and difficult to attach the individual prints to the undermat in such a way that they align perfectly with the window openings cut out of the overmat. A lot of precise measuring is necessary.

These days, digital imaging offers a superior alternative. That alternative is to digitally place multiple images in a precise arrangement on a single large background, and then send the file to a company which is capable of making a very large print from that file.

One advantage is that cutting the overmat is a lot easier. The overmat need not feature multiple window openings. A single window opening capable of showing the entire digital collage will suffice.

It's also much easier to mount a single print onto the backing board or undermat.

A third advantage is that one is not limited to printing on paper. One can just as easily send the digital file to one of the numerous companies which will now print one's image file onto canvas.

A fourth advantage, when it comes to a digital collage arrangement, is that the amount of space between each individual image doesn't need to be as large as it would need to be if one were cutting multiple window openings out of a single overmat. A thin line between each image would offer adequate separation, and such separation between images is not absolutely essential.

A fifth advantage is that the physical overmat does not actually cover the edges of any of the individual images in a digital collage. The images are not "cropped" by the overmat. This can be particularly important in cases where even the slightest image loss compromises a particular image.

The ideal, when creating a digital collage arrangement, is to create a reusable digital template which can be used again and again for similar projects, in order to aid in positioning the individual elements in the digital collage.

In Photoshop, each of the individual "placeholders" can be placed on a separate layer, and one can then use the alignment features in Photoshop in order to align each of the individual photos or artistic images with the placeholders to which they correspond. What do I mean by "placeholders"? Simply this: A "placeholder" would be a shape, with a solid color such as black, which was the exact same dimensions as the image one intended to put into its place. (Once the placeholder from the template has been replaced or covered by the actual image, the placeholder can be deleted.)

The question then arises as to what the best possible arrangement might be. There are infinite possibilities, including arrangements in which the individual images overlap one another or even blend with one another. But I prefer an arrangement which meets the following criteria:

  1. The collage arrangement features an equal number of horizontal (landscape mode) images and vertical (portrait mode) images, so that the arrangement itself is independent of the particular images displayed in that arrangement.
  2. The collage arrangement is well balanced in terms of the size of the exterior borders between the images and the edge of the paper or canvas, and in terms of the amount of spaces which separate the individual images from each other.
  3. The arrangement is not perfectly symmetrical. Perfect symmetry tends to lend a static feel to any composition, so a collage arrangement which looks like a perfect grid tends to be a bit boring, even if the images themselves are quite nice.

With those criteria in mind, I came up with what I like to describe as a "four square collage arrangement". Essentially, it amounts to four images, all of the same size, which are placed together in order to form a perfect square. In order to achieve that goal, two of the images must be horizontal and two must be vertical. Placement in this manner always leaves a small square in the center, and that square can be used for a considerably smaller square image if desired. The aspect ratio of the four images doesn't much matter, as long as the aspect ratio of all four images is the same. The narrower the four images are, the larger the inner square will be. With four perfectly square images, there will be no inner square at all; and of course, that kind of arrangement will be perfectly symmetrical, unlike an arrangement featuring four rectangular images.

Now, it logically follows that a four square collage looks best when printed on a square sheet of paper or canvas. But that isn't always an option, since not all photo labs and printing companies offer square prints.

One option in such a situation is to have top, left and right borders which are all the same size, and then have a "weighted bottom" which has a considerable amount of open space.

Another option (which works well for posters) is to fill out the remaining part of the print with text. Or one can place simple abstract shapes or symbols in the remaining space.

Another option is to fill out the remaining space at the bottom of the presentation with additional images, so that the overall presentation looks perfectly balanced even though it's not perfectly symmetrical. That's what I've done with the arrangement shown at the top of this blog post. It's essentially a four square collage enhanced with a small fifth image in the middle of the four square collage, plus two large images of equal size at the bottom. The two images at the bottom are not perfect squares, but they're close enough to a 1:1 aspect ratio that they don't strongly favor the "portrait mode" the way they would if they had the 3:2 aspect ratios typical of 4x6 prints.

The above layout was designed to enable me to present multiple images on 20x30 paper or 24x36 paper, since those are standard print sizes often offered by digital photo labs.

20x30 is a good print size if one plans to mount and mat one's print on a standard piece of mat board measuring 30x40-inches, because it means that one's borders will be 5 inches on all four sides. (20 + 5 + 5 = 30. 30 + 5 + 5 =40.) Hence, the need to do any cutting on such a piece of mat board will be limited to the need to cut out the single window opening in the overmat, making it very easy for any halfway competent frame shop to do the job. (I tend to prefer the look of double mats myself, but they are not absolutely necessary.)

In general, any type of collage arrangement of images tends to look best when all of the images share some coherent theme. For example, one could create a collage arrangement featuring images of one's family, or a collage arrangement featuring images of sailboats, or a collage of images which all share a predominant color scheme.

In my case, I plan to create a number of collage arrangements featuring multiple photos of flowers and gardens.

One nice aspect of that approach is that I need not know the names of all of the plants in my photos in order to give the collages appropriate titles. If I present a photo which only features tulips, the title probably ought to contain some reference to the fact that they're tulips. That's no problem when it comes to tulips, since I recognize tulips when I see them, but I'm not such a botanical expert that I can easily identify all of the flowers in my photos. With a collage approach, that's unimportant. I can just give my pieces pieces names such as "Floral Collage #1", "Floral Collage #2", etc.

Another nice thing about collage arrangements is that they enable one to create really large framed pieces even though the resolution of the individual images may not be sufficient for pieces that large. For instance, a six megapixel image, when printed at 200 pixels per inch, would measure 10 inches by 15 inches, since it would typically have 2000 pixels by 3000 pixels (or something very close to those measurements). That's only 1/4 the number of pixels needed for a print measuring 20 inches by 30 inches. But it's more than large enough for one of the images in a digital collage which would be printed on a piece of paper or canvas measuring 20 inches by 30 inches.

If one assumes that the image at the top of this blog post represents a 20x30 print, then each of the four images in the "four square collage" at the top of the design would measure 7 inches by 10.5 inches, with a 1/2-inch space between the images, thereby creating a four square collage with overall dimensions of 18 inches by 18 inches. Add the 1-inch borders on each side, and you have a space measuring 20 inches by 20 inches.

In such a scenario, the two almost-square images at the bottom of the layout measure 9.5 inches high by 8.75 inches wide. I could have made both of those images perfectly square, but then there would have been a little bit of extra space between those two images and the four square collage above them, or else there would have been a little bit of extra space at the bottom of the print (or divided evenly between the top of the print and the bottom of the print).

One nice thing about collage arrangements such as the one shown here is that one can present far more images while still offering a fairly limited number of products. If each collage features 7 images, then one could present 49 images using just seven collage arrangements. (Of course, seven of those 49 images would consist of small images measuring just 3 inches by 3 inches.) This is particularly advantageous in terms of making the most of a limited amount of space on the walls of an art gallery, and equally advantageous in terms of making the most of a low-cost e-commerce solution which limits the amount of products one can sell at any given time. (For example, the Economy Edition of the Quick Shopping Cart e-commerce package offered by limits one to 20 products. But if each one of those products featured six or seven photos, one could present quite a few photos without exceeding that limitation.)

Conversely, one could create multiple distinctive products using a limited number of photos, simply by varying the placement of photos within each collage. In other words, there's no reason why any given image can only be used in one collage arrangement.

Changing the background is yet another way to create additional variations on a design. For instance, the background color could be changed from black in one design to white in another design which featured the exact same layout and the exact same images.

I find, when looking at some of my photos, that there are individual images which are only marginally interesting when viewed by themselves. In a collage arrangement featuring multiple images, the whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts. That's another reason why presenting one's images in the form of a digital collage can sometimes be a great idea.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Matter of Honor

Recently, I've found myself using the web in order to locate more information about the man whose birth name was James Butler Hickok. In later years, J.B. was better known as Wild Bill Hickok.

Part of the reason I've become fascinated with Wild Bill is that I learned only a year or two ago about Hickok's deadly gun battle with Dave (Davis) Tutt in the public square (now known as Park Central) in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri. That incident occurred on July 21, 1865. Roughly a century later, my father established his optometric practice about a block south of the site of that incident. Growing up, I never knew that aspect of the region's history.

It wasn't the first time Hickok had been involved with a historic event in or near Springfield. Earlier, he had fought for the Union during the Battle of Wilson's Creek (for which the Battlefield Mall is now named). Unfortunately, the Union lost that particular battle. Many of the soldiers who died in that battle were subsequently buried in the National Cemetery at the corner of Seminole and Glenstone, just a block or so from my boyhood home.

An article on the website for the American Bar Association states: "In the entire history of the Wild West, the closest thing to an actual 'slap leather' gunfight may have been the showdown between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt in Springfield, Mo., on July 21, 1865." That's what I call a fairly authoritative source of information.

Of course, gun duels between two men who had grievances with one another were hardly new. Aaron Burr's shooting of Alexander Hamilton is a historic event with which most Americans are familiar. Dueling had a long, long history in Europe and elsewhere.

James Landale's book The Last Duel is a fascinating book which tells the story of a duel fought in Scotland in the early 19th Century by David Landale, an ancestor of the author. The book not only tells the entire story of David Landale's duel, but it also goes into the history of duelling in great detail.

It's important to understand the history of duelling, because even though the gun battle between Hickok and Dave Tutt was quite unlike the classic duels in some respects, it was motivated by a similar impulse. When Hickok shot Tutt, it seems clear from the incidents which preceded the shooting that it was all about honor in Hickok's mind.

As I understand the story, Tutt had grabbed Hickok's nice pocket watch off the table on the previous day and refused to give it back, claiming that Hickok still owed a gambling debt to Tutt and that he would therefore hold the watch as security until Hickok paid his debt.

Technically, Tutt didn't steal Hickok's watch. He'd clearly stated that he intended to give it back once the debt was paid. But it wasn't about the watch. Hickok's pride was clearly hurt. In taking the watch, Tutt essentially accused Hickok of not honoring his debts. The accusation was made in front of a room full of witnesses. So it wasn't that Tutt took Hickok's watch. It was the reason which he cited for doing so.

A watch can be replaced. A man's honor cannot be so easily restored. Back in those days, a man's honor was often all that he had going for him.

On August 23, 1826, the duel between David Landale and his opponent George Morgan had been over a very similar matter. George Morgan, Landale's former banker, had impugned Landale's character publicly, in such a way as to jeopardize Landale's ability to operate a successful business, by jeopardizing his credit.

As James Landale points out, the court systems had not yet evolved to the point that they offered adequate redress for people who had been slandered in such a manner. Consequently, duels were sometimes employed as an illegal but societally approved manner of settling disputes between men. In fact, there were many who believed that it was a man's duty and social obligation to issue a challenge under certain circumstances. A man who allowed certain insults to pass unchallenged was considered by his peers to be a coward. Likewise, a man who was challenged was expected to accept the challenge to duel.

In the European system, they had evolved complex rules and codes of behavior designed to insure that duels were carried out in a "civilized" fashion rather than being subject to fits of passion. But the rules were often ignored or circumvented, and it was common in some circles for men to have duels for the silliest of reasons. Eventually, the practice of duelling fell out of fashion because old concepts of honor were displaced by newer concepts which placed less emphasis on individualism and more emphasis on men's responsibilities to their families and neighbors.

Just as slavery was abolished in England before it was abolished in America, duelling lasted longer in America than in Europe. But American duelling was far less formal, in part because the American system of democracy precluded the type of system in which social status dictated whether or not people were even allowed to duel.

Regarding the elaborate rules which accompanied European duelling, Americans, on the whole, were less prone to pretentiousness. Many Americans, such as Mark Twain, regarded it as silly and perhaps even hypocritical to establish elaborate rules for an enterprise which was likely to lead to the death of one or both of the participants.

Undoubtedly, that was the mentality which influenced James Butler Hickok's duel with Dave Tutt. The two men didn't bother with the formalities of procuring "seconds" or finding surgeons willing to stand by and attend to those who were injured. They didn't bother with formalities much at all. But the ancient concept of honor still lingered.

Hickok had warned Tutt not to wear the watch in public. The reason was obvious. It was bad enough that Tutt had impugned Hickok's honor in front of a few witnesses. By continuing to wear and display the watch in public, Tutt effectively declared that he intended to continue to impugn Hickok's reputation at every opportunity.

Initially, when I first read about the conflict, I found myself thinking that the whole dispute had been a bit silly, and certainly no reason to shoot a man. But the more I thought about the context in which the incident occurred, I realized that Hickok had a lot to lose if he didn't stand up to Tutt.

It's hard to feel very sorry for Dave Tutt. He very likely knew about the incident at Rock Creek Station, some five years earlier, when Hickok had killed several men during a widely publicized incident known as the McCanles Affair. David McCanles had bullied Hickok, teasing him and unwisely calling him "Duck Bill" Hickok. Then he and two of his companions had visited Hickok, "supposedly to collect a debt". McCanles and his two friends were all killed during the ensuing incident. Hickok was acquitted after the jury found that he'd acted in self defense. Undoubtedly, the fact that it was three against one had something to do with their decision! That fact alone would have suggested that it was McCanles, and not Hickok, who was the aggressor.

In view of Hickok's prior history, one would think that Tutt would have known that James Butler Hickok was not a man to be trifled with. But some people never learn until they are forced to learn the hard way.

The parallels between David Landale's duel with George Morgan and Wild Bill Hickok's 1865 gun battle with Dave Tutt are striking. In both cases, the dead man was the provocateur. In both cases, the shootings were technically illegal, but in both cases, the killers were acquitted, because their juries sympathized with them and believed them to have acted honorably.

Fast forward some 142 years or so, and it should be clear that the world in which we live is very different from the world in which Wild Bill Hickok lived. Ostensibly, ours is now a society in which law and order prevail.

Even though there are occasional exceptions, that's generally true. However, even though our ideas about honor have evolved to some extent, and even though we now have legal alternatives when slandered by others, it is still exceedingly unwise (and certainly un-Christian) to push a person to the limits by ridiculing the person or by making unwarranted public charges against that person.

Our words have great impact on the lives of others, just as the scriptures say in the book of James. People who engage in bullying behavior would be well advised to remember the old saying: "What goes around comes around." Or as the Bible says: "Whatsoever a man sows, that also will he reap."

Wild Bill Hickok was quite capable of avenging himself. Whether or not he should have done so is another separate question. He certainly is a more sympathetic character than many of the people he killed, and it's hard not to feel a certain admiration for a man who could defend himself with such devastating effectiveness, but before we are tempted to emulate him when we are treated unjustly by others, we would do well to remember another scripture:

"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord."

Yellow Coneflowers --- A Cropped Digital Watercolor

If you have any experience with Photoshop, you know that it comes with a number of digital "plug-in" filters designed to transform digital photos and scanned images in a variety of ways. Some less expensive programs come with similar filters. Some of those filters work better than others, but it's possible to get good results even when using filters which leave a bit to be desired, if you know what you're doing.

In the above image, I cropped a high resolution photo of a large bed of yellow coneflowers, in order to focus on a smaller grouping of the flowers, so as to create the sense that the photo was a closeup. Then I decided to see what it would look like if I processed it with the Watercolor filter in Microsoft PictureIt!

I have learned through experience that photos often look pretty bad when processed with a digital Watercolor filter, unless one knows what the weaknesses of such filters are and how to overcome those weaknesses.

Specifically, the Watercolor filter seems to work better with images which are lighter and less contrasty than one would normally prefer. The effect of running the Watercolor filter is to darken the shadows and increase the contrast, in comparison with the way the regular unprocessed photo looked. If the photo looks just right to you before running it through the Watercolor filter, it probably won't look very good after being run through that filter, unless you like murky looking images with no real tonal range.

Sometimes it takes a bit of experimentation to get things just right. In some cases, it may be necessary to copy the image a couple of times and process each copy in a slightly different way, and then blend the multiple copies together in order to get the best of all worlds. That's a lot easier in Photoshop than it is in Microsoft PictureIt!, because Photoshop offers a huge assortment of blend modes, whereas PictureIt! only lets you adjust the amount of transparency on the top layer. Nevertheless, I was fairly pleased with this little "digital watercolor" which I created with the Microsoft program. The final image size of the original version had adequate resolution for a 4x6-inch print. Printed onto hot press watercolor paper with a high quality printer such as an Epson 7800 or 9800, I think it would look very nice.

Later, I might try using colored pencils atop such a print in order to add details, and then scanning the enhanced print so that I could make additional prints of that enhanced version.

NOTE: The effect which digital filters have on images can vary greatly, depending on the resolution of the unprocessed images. Sometimes, such filters work better with high resolution images. In other cases, strangely enough, they work better with low resolution images. The latter situation is a bit of a drag, since it prevents one from making really big prints, unless one has a special software program (such as Alien Skin BlowUp or Genuine Fractals) which is able to enlarge an image more effectively than the standard interpolation options in programs such as Photoshop.

The Dark Side of Charisma

I once heard a speaker talking about what it was like to go through the aging process. He said that he looked into the mirror one day, and he was startled to see his father looking back at him. What he really meant, of course, was that he had aged in such a way that he looked very similar to the way his father had looked when he was a child.

I must confess that I had a hard time relating to what the speaker was saying. Unless one counts the fact that both of us were fairly tall men, I never looked much like my father. If you look at the two photos shown above, I think you'll see what I mean.

The first photo (which I colorized digitally) was taken when my father, Dr. Don Pettigrew, was in his early 30's, or perhaps a little bit earlier than that. (It was taken from a group picture which also depicted me, my mother and my brother. My brother was literally a baby in the photo at the time.) The photo was taken right around the time when my father was elected as the president of the Missouri Optometric Association. That was quite an achievement for a man of his age.

The second photo (which was originally in full color, before I converted it to sepia) depicts me, the way I looked about a year after moving to Boston in late 1979. I was about 24 when the photo was taken. As you can see, I still dressed in a manner which reflected my background in the Jesus Movement. I wasn't ever a true hippie, since I never used illegal drugs or had extramarital sex or did a lot of the other things for which hippies were known. But it should go without saying that there were still some conservative Christians who saw me as a bit of a rebel, just because of how I dressed. In a sense, I was. I was rebelling against the idea that people should be judged according to their external appearance. I knew that God and Jesus judged men and women according to the contents of their hearts, and I felt that our judgments of others should therefore reflect similar priorities.

Another, less spiritual factor was that I thought that the hippie styles popular in those days were pretty cool, even though I didn't much admire the hippies insofar as certain aspects of their lifestyles were concerned.

Also, there were several Christians in my life who had been good friends and role models to me. Dressing as they dressed was my way of identifying with them and expressing my appreciation for the friendship they extended to me, at a time in my life when I really needed friends.

I also think, in hindsight, that there was another factor involved. Dressing in a manner which was quite different from my father's manner of dress was one way in which I could put some emotional distance between me and my father.

If you'd known how I felt about my dad when I was younger, you never would have anticipated that I'd want to rebel against him in any way whatsoever. At one time, I greatly admired my father, in spite of his flaws. When he was serving as the lay minister for Oakland United Methodist Church in Springfield, Missouri, I distinctly remember sitting on the front pew every Sunday, soaking in his words and thinking that I was fortunate indeed to have such a wonderful and insightful father.

When I was in grade school, I remember that Dad used to keep some of his old Army gear out in our garage, including a helmet and a green army jacket and a small green knapsack. He gave me a few toy guns when I was a kid. This was back in the days prior to laws which required that toy guns be made to look like they were obviously toys, so there were no red plastic tips at the ends of their barrels. Those toy guns looked pretty realistic until one inspected them closely. I was quite a sight to see, all decked out in my army "uniform" and doing my best to live up to the image I had of my father. After school, I would sometimes take all of this stuff over to the neighbors' houses, where I would play war games with the neighbors' children. Bang, bang, you're dead. That kind of thing.

All of this was rather ironic, given the fact that my father never did any actual combat duty. After going through boot camp (which provided him with some humorous stories to tell to us), he worked as a secretary in a military office here in the United States, until his enlistment was up. As far as I know, he never rose past the rank of corporal.

American soldiers first got involved in Vietnam in 1959, so I can scarcely remember a time, as a child, when America was not at war. But even though I remember hearing daily casualty reports on the evening news, it didn't make much of a dent on me in the early sixties. It was just something which I took for granted. I had known that America's role in the Second World War had been quite heroic, so I assumed that the same was true of all wars. That was the impression one got when watching the news on television. None of the members of my immediate family had to serve in Vietnam, so it didn't personally impact me or my family the way that it impacted numerous other families.

However, by the end of the sixties, the media was beginning to question American involvement in Vietnam. Articles and explicitly violent photos in magazines such as Life and Look made me realize that there was more to the military than cool looking uniforms and guns. A lot of lives were being destroyed, and the "domino theory" which had initially been cited as a justification for our participation in that war seemed less and less persuasive with each passing day. It seemed as if we didn't really have any clear objectives in being there, other than to kill as many people as possible so that our body count would exceed theirs. That seemed immoral to me, particularly since it seemed to contradict Jesus' statements about how Christians should treat our enemies. Specifically, Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecuted us. When I heard Americans referring to the Viet Cong as "gooks", I didn't hear a lot of love there, Christian or otherwise. For all of their obvious flaws, I still saw the hippies' emphasis on peace and love as an admirable thing.

Yet, unlike a lot of people my age, I didn't rebel indiscriminately against everything my parents had once stood for. Instead of going in search of answers by exploring Eastern religions and drugs, I turned to Christ. I found that there was more to the gospels than what I had been taught by my parents, despite the fact that my father had served for two consecutive three-year terms as a Methodist lay minister at a couple of small country churches in the Springfield, Missouri area.

My dad had always been a somewhat charismatic man. By charismatic, I mean that he was a natural leader. Or at least that was the case when he was surrounded by the simpleminded country people who attended the churches where he preached during his years as a Methodist lay minister. Granted, my perspective might have been somewhat skewed by the fact that he was my father, but it seemed to me that whenever my father was in a room, most of the people in that room just naturally gravitated to him and fell under his spell. He didn't just belong to the Missouri Optometric Association. He was its president. He didn't just belong to the PTA. He was the president of the local PTA. He didn't just serve on the Mayor's Commission on Human Rights. He was the Chairman of that group. The list went on and on.

Some of my father's charisma was related to the fact that he was an articulate public speaker, but a lot of it also pertained to the fact that he was a physically handsome man. My mother used to brag about the fact that she'd been fortunate to marry such a handsome man. Growing up, I remember that I was often reminded of my father when I saw leading men on TV and in the movies. Men such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, and a number of others seemed to have that "tall, dark and handsome" quality which my father exuded. (I sometimes see similar qualities in modern actors, such as George Clooney.)

For a long time, we were all very proud of the fact that my father was a handsome, successful, charismatic man. And then we learned about his adulterous affair with a woman he'd met in his optometric office. Suddenly we began to see those traits in an entirely different light.

I came to believe that my father had fallen to temptation because the temptation was so readily available to him. In short, my mother wasn't the only woman who fell under his spell. Unlike my mother, who saw my father's personal flaws on a regular basis because she actually had to live with him, the women my father met in his optometric office only saw the side of him that he wanted them to see. Naturally, he was able to turn to such women for flattery and for false comfort, even though he and my mother were constantly fighting with one another at home.

After my parents' divorce, the rancor between my mother and my father was palpable. For his part, my father spent a lot of time accusing my mother of turning me against him. I found that supremely insulting. My negative opinion of my father was based less on what my mother told me than on what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.

The word "charisma" originally referred to a divinely endowed ability to boldly proclaim the gospel of Christ and bring souls into the Kingdom of God. There's something more than a little ironic in the fact that the word is now used to describe personal traits which are often used by ungodly men for the pursuit of their own selfish objectives.

In some ways, I've been far less charismatic than my father. And in some ways, I've been far more charismatic than he ever was.

Am I as gifted as my father was when it comes to making a big impression on others I meet? Absolutely not. If anything, I am his exact opposite in that respect. Dad never really valued honesty or transparency all that much, so he was great at tickling people's ears and telling them what they wanted to hear. That was one of the secrets to his particular brand of charisma. It also led him to betray his own family.

I, on the other hand, tend to be honest to a fault. Occasionally, I do bite my tongue and refrain from telling people what I think of them, but there are limits to my willingness to do so. Why? Because even though I do care what people think of me, I care what God thinks of me even more. I am painfully and poignantly aware that I will someday be held accountable for everything that passes out of my mouth, so I try to live a life of integrity. I'd be lying if I said that I did this perfectly. In spite of my efforts to be a moral person, I do still blow it from time to time, which is why I'm so incredibly grateful for God's mercy and grace. But at least I'm making the effort to be a righteous person.

When I say that there's a sense in which I am more charismatic than my father ever was, I'm referring to the fact that I opened my mind to new ideas pertaining to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, during the Jesus movement in the early 70's. Little did I know that this would be such a source of conflict and tension between me and my father! As a former Methodist lay minister, I thought he'd be pleased that I had an intense interest in the things of the Lord. But that was before I came to realize that he was actually moving in the opposite direction, spiritually speaking. I wanted to get closer to God. Dad wanted to be "liberated" from conventional morality and from the God who, in his view, was responsible for imposing such morality on him.

Sometimes, when I compare my life with my father's life, I confess that I am tempted to envy him. His life was not completely devoid of financial struggles, but his struggles were nothing compared with those I've experienced during the past several decades. If I had followed his example more closely, perhaps I could have been spared some of those struggles.

But then I think about how my father's life ended. At the time of his death in 1999, he still owned his own home, as well as a couple of duplex apartments which brought him a modest income even though he hadn't worked as an optometrist in a number of years. But you wouldn't be tempted to envy him if you had ever visited him in his home.

I remember visiting him during the last year I saw him before moving to Chicago in 1991. He was a pathetic, wretched, embarrassing mess of a man. His second wife had left him long ago, after figuring out that his outward appearances had indeed been deceiving. His alcoholism had caused him to lose his optometric practice, and many of his days were spent curled up on his couch in a drunken stupor. Often, his house reeked of urine. After leaving him, his second wife told us stories about finding him drunk, lying in bed with his face in his own vomit.

I particularly remember a painful episode in which I paid a surprise visit to him at his home. He was barely able to rouse himself from the couch, and he was so drunk that he couldn't put his own pants on.

For a number of years, my father had severe recurring back pains as the result of a fight with one of his second wife's two sons. Understandably, that young man did not appreciate it when my father came up from behind and started choking him.

I wasn't there on that occasion, but I could remember times when my father had physically abused me. So I found it hard to have much sympathy for him. I knew that he had brought that back pain on himself.

Yet, as little as he deserved my sympathy and respect, I knew that God wanted me to love my father. So even though there was a time when I could have easily repaid him for all of the pain he had caused to me, I chose not to do so. I tried to speak the truth to him, and when he would not receive the truth, I turned and walked away rather than yielding to the temptation to seek vengeance.

When I think about the charisma which my father exhibited when he was younger, I find myself thinking that the key to that charisma was that my father was a great actor. If he had employed his talents in the dramatic arts, I might have even found reason to admire him.

Instead, he chose to live an inauthentic life. The only people who regularly saw my father as he truly was were those, such as me and my mother and my brother, who were forced to live with him on a daily basis. And even then, he was very selective about what he shared with us. It was only in later years that my father broke down and cried in front of me. (To be more accurate, he broke down and cried during a phone conversation with me, when I was still living in Boston.) Unfortunately, they were not tears of godly repentance, so far as I could tell. He was sorrowful about the price he had paid for his betrayal of my mother, but he never seemed to make the connection between his pain and his own stupid choices. Right up until the end, he went right on defending those choices.

At one point, a few years before he died, I made an angry phone call to my father. I told him I hated his guts. I called him a name no man should ever call his father.

To this day, I have feelings of ambivalence about that incident.

It is wrong to hate another person. It is wrong to ignore the biblical command to honor one's parents. I have asked God for his forgiveness, and I believe that God has forgiven me. I also wrote to Dad to ask his forgiveness, but I have no idea whether or not he ever forgave me, because I never heard from him again.

Despite my awareness of the fact that I was wrong to make that phone call, there is a part of me that still feels as if my father had it coming. I had gotten tired of struggling to love my father in spite of the hateful ways he'd treated me, my mother and my brother. I felt that he needed to know just how deeply he had hurt all of us with his self-centered acts. I had tried for many years to show great forbearance to my father, and it didn't seem to have made the slightest difference. He had remained obstinately indifferent to his need to repent.

When the hospital called me in 1999 to tell me that he'd died, I wasn't very surprised. If anything surprised me, it was the fact that he managed to live as long as he live while continually flouting common sense with regard to how one ought to treat one's body. When a man is as seriously addicted to alcohol as my father was, one never knows when one will receive a phone call announcing tragic news.

At my father's funeral, I wept openly with no shame. It was not on account of having just lost my father that I wept. Rather, it was on account of having lost him many years ago. It was on account of the fact that I knew, when he died, that the reconciliation for which I had longed for many years would never take place on this earth.

I wept for another reason, too. I wept when I remembered what a wonderful man he had once been. He had never been perfect, but he had once been worthy of my admiration and affection, until he decided that he was tired of trying to be a righteous man.

Like Frank Sinatra, who had once been one of his heroes, my father did things "his way", when he should have done things God's way. He was seduced by the fact that he possessed the wrong kind of charisma into forgetting that God is not impressed by such things.

One may be able to fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but one cannot fool the Creator any of the time.

I may never be recognized as a leader, the way my father often was, but that is unimportant. What is important is for me to run the race until the very end, faithfully following and serving the Lord to the best of my admittedly limited ability, so that I can hear the words, "Well done, thy good and faithful servant." Pleasing my heavenly father is what matters to me most.

Still, I must admit that there are times when I also long for reconciliation with the earthly father I lost to sin so many years ago. In spite of all of the bad things he did, I still love him. I always will. Even though I never saw evidence to support the idea that such a thing took place, I pray that he repented of his sins in his final days. Nothing would make me more happy than to see his shining face in Heaven and to know that he had finally found the peace he never seemed to find in this life.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Blue Penetration

This is an abstract image I created in MS Paint (and modified in Microsoft PictureIt!). Anyone trying to read anything into it will be sorely disappointed. I called it Blue Penetration because ... well, it's blue, and it looks vaguely as if the tip of a pencil is penetrating something circular.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy ... Er, Machine

"For 15 years, I have stood up against the right-wing machine and I’ve come out stronger. So if you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I’m your girl.” So said Hillary Clinton today at an AFL-CIO rally.

Apparently, in the befuddled mind of Hillary Clinton, standing against the "right wing machine" included voting in favor of invading Iraq. Thanks to Senator Barack Obama for pointing that out to those who seemed to be suffering from amnesia.

Clinton's reference to a "right wing machine" evokes memories of an earlier time when she talked about a "vast right wing conspiracy". Both terms suggest that there is unanimity within the Republican party, and that we Republicans are cold, soulless people who care nothing for the needs of others.

Funny, I would have thought that such a characterization would be more appropriate for the party which is most responsible for the needless deaths of tens of millions of unborn children over the past 34 years. That's vastly more people than the number of people who have died in Iraq. Either Democrats can't count, or they prefer to ignore the implications inherent in the fact that many of their own leaders have acknowledged that human life begins at conception. That includes Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and John Kerry. You can check it out for yourself if you don't believe me.

I suppose that it's appropriate that Clinton would talk in terms related to machinery when speaking with members of the AFL-CIO, particularly at a gathering in Chicago. The AFL-CIO has long been known for its political "machine" (which is why Clinton so covets the group's endorsement), and the same could be said for the Democratic party in Chicago.

Clinton's use of the term "machine" is only slightly less paranoid than her earlier use of the term "conspiracy". If Republicans have such an efficient and powerful machine, then why is it that we haven't managed to overturn Roe v. Wade, despite more than three decades of trying to do so?

If Hillary Clinton fails to win the nomination or the election, she will undoubtedly blame sexism. But that will be a misplaced attribution. I'd be happy to vote for a female candidate if I could be persuaded that the individual candidate in question was competent, and that that candidate possessed the level of insight and integrity which is needed by a president of the United States. There may well be a woman out there somewhere who fits that description, but Hillary Clinton is not that woman. I think she's an idiot. Nevertheless, I hope that she beats Barack Obama in the primaries, because Obama will probably be harder to beat in the general election.

Hot Sweaty Nights

The title of this particular blog post sounds a bit like the title of a lurid, sex-saturated "romance novel". Actually, it's just a reference to the weather we've been having here in Chicago for the past week.

Overall, the weather has been very pleasant in Chicago this summer. However, the humidity level seems to have increased dramatically during the past week. We've also had several very hot days. I tend to notice such things more than some other people, because I have no air conditioner. I often wish that I did have one, because I am not fond of excessive heat and humidity.

Last night didn't seem particularly hot, but thanks to the humidity, my pillow was practically dripping with my own stinky perspiration when I awoke this morning. My hair was dripping wet, especially in the area near my neck. That's been the case for the past several nights. It makes it difficult for me to sleep soundly.

Needless to say, I took a nice long shower this morning. As for my pillow, I still had some leftover Febreeze, which I sprayed liberally on both sides of the pillow after removing the sweat-soaked pillow cover in order to clean it.

Febreze is very good stuff. I can only imagine how useful it must be to parents of young kids who are still wetting the bed!

Overall, I'll be very glad when we start to experience some nice Fall weather. Fall and Spring have long been my favorite seasons, because that's when the weather is usually the most comfortable.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Blue and Purple Gradient on Hostas and Impatiens

It can be interesting to convert an image from color to grayscale in Photoshop and then blend that image (using one of Photoshop's many blending modes) with one or more colors or gradients. In this case, I had created a version which blended the grayscale image with blue. Later on, I opened the TIF file version of that image in Microsoft PictureIt! and made a copy, which I shifted from blue to purple. Then I copied that image atop the original blue version, and I used a function in PictureIt! in order to adjust the transparency of the top (purple) layer based on what essentially amounted to a preset layer mask (though they don't call it that in the Microsoft program). It wasn't a straight linear gradient or circular gradient, but rather, a swirl. The above image is the result. It's quite a change from the original image, in which the hosta leaves were an intense green and the little impatients were mostly pink.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

3 Variations On An Image

The three images shown above are all digital variations on the image shown in my previous blog post. All variations were created with digital filters within the Microsoft PictureIt! software program. I call the last one "Electric Nights" because it reminds me of neon signs.

A Digital Blacklight Effect

One of the differences between viewing images on a computer screen and viewing them after they've been printed on one's computer printer is that there are certain colors that may not be perfectly printable, even though they look fabulous on the computer screen. For example, the type of "Day Glo" colors often used on blacklight posters in the 60's and early 70's can be replicated, to some extent, on the computer screen. But very few computer printers are able to print with such inks.

The above image is an example. That pink border just seems to pop out at you, doesn't it! It definitely looks as if it was painted with fluorescent paint. But it's doubtful that a digital print of the image would look the same. Sure, it would still be pink, but not a pink with the same intensity. Ditto for the cyan square in the middle.

Sometimes, graphic designers will compensate by specifying special "spot colors" when sending files to the printers.

Another way to do things, if one is creating fine art or posters to be printed in fairly limited editions, is to use the layered digital image in order to create multiple photostencils for screen printing (also known as serigraphy, when used for fine art). It's more expensive and time consuming, but it can be worth it in some situations.