Archive for January 2011

Photography   Leave a comment

I took Digital Photography and Printing this past semester with the awesome Michael Grillo. I took an art history class with Grillo my freshman year, and several others since then, and they’ve been some of the most interesting classes I’ve ever had. We look at the pieces of art and craft in the context of the culture that created them – their place in their audience’s lives, their aesthetic style and visual language, the cultural values they conveyed, the obvious and the more subtle messages they tried to impart – which is all a heck of a lot more interesting than memorizing “Title/Artist/Date/Medium/Style.” He’s also a exhibiting photographer, and I spent last semester trying to take some of what he had to teach about photography and improve my own skills. I made some progress in learning to capture the kind of images that are worth looking at, and I learned a lot about thinking like a photographer. I also bought an awesome new camera and started shooting in RAW.

Here are the images I shot over the course of the class.
















Posted January 21, 2011 by benjaminsapiens in art, photography, school

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Lenny Bruce is not afraid   Leave a comment

What’s your sign?

Recently, the news broke that the signs of the Zodiac had changed. The dates of all the 12 signs had shifted, and a new sign, Ophiuchus, had been added. So what gives?

Basically, as the solar system drifts through the cosmos, the position of the stars in the sky have slowly shifted since the time when the ancient Babylonians created the modern zodiac. Astrologers haven’t updated the zodiac signs to match the shifting locations of the constellations in the night sky. Then on January 14 reporter Bill Ward interviewed astronomer Parke Kuncke of the Minnesota Planetarium Society in an article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. (Regarding any confusion between the words astronomer and astrologer: an astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as planets stars and galaxies, whereas an astrologer is someone who makes a living giving superstitious suckers advice on how to live their lives based on a bunch of mumbo-jumbo horse plop). The article apparently went viral in a major way, and the next thing you know we have ourselves a revised Zodiac.

The funny thing is that people have know about this discrepancy for centuries, but they just went ahead using the same old Zodiac. I first heard about this in an astronomy book I read when I was ten, so it’s kind of funny that the entire world is just discovering this fact as though it’s a breaking story.

Of course, the astrologers are arguing that there’s no need for this change to be made, because most Western astrology uses something called a tropical zodiac, in which the zodiac signs still apply regardless where their respective constellations are in the sky. Interestingly, Indian astrologers and some Western astrologers do actually use a sidereal zodiac, which does shift as the night sky does, so they’ve been using 13 constellations for a while.

For the record, I’m still an Aquarius either way.


Mayan Apocalypse

The world is ending. Or maybe not. There’s been talk over the past couple years about how the Mayan calendar predicts that the world is going to end on December 21, 2012. In the ancient Long Count calendar used by the Maya and other Central American cultures, dates are measured by their distance from the date of creation, which was 3114 BC in our years. The largest unit of time was the b’ak’tun, a length of 144,00 days or 394.25 years. We are currently in the 13th b’ak’tun, which will end on 12/21/2012, at which point the 14th b’ak’tun will begin. Now, according to one account of Mayan beliefs, our universe is the fourth one that has been created. The first three were imperfect, and the gods only created men after the fourth creation. The thing is, the third creation lasted for exactly 13 b’ak’tuns, and the current universe was created at the start of the 14th b’ak’tun. Some have concluded, therefore, that at the start of the 14th b’ak’tun on December 12, 2012, our world will extinguished and another will take it’s place.

There are two problems with this theory. First, the third cosmos was a failure, unlike ours, so there’s no reason to believe that our universe will be replaced after the same period of time. There’s no mention of an apocalyptic event on that date in Mayan writing, and experts say there’s no reason whatsoever to believe that the Mayans thought the world would end at that time.

Secondly, the Mayan religion is mythological and not actually true. I can’t stress this fact enough. The universe will not be ending late next year.


Animals: Dropping dead left and right …

A bit more concerning were the massive numbers of animals which were dying in groups all over the globe in the first days of 2011. The hubbub started on New Years Eve in Beebe, Arkansas, where 3,000 red-winged blackbirds flew headlong into buildings, trees and even straight into the ground. Experts say that fireworks could have spooked the birds and sent them into fatal hysterics. There had been other incidences earlier that week. About 100 miles away, nearly 100,00 dead and dying drum fish washed up along the Arkansas River, possibly victims of illness; in Kentucky, a couple hundred red-winged blackbirds, starlings, grackles and cowbirds died within a few blocks of each other; and three endangered whooping cranes were found dead in Georgia. Reports of massive die-offs kept coming. Between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3, 100 tons of sardines and other fish washed up on the coast of Brazil; on Jan. 3, 500 starlings, red-winged blackbirds and sparrows dropped dead in Labarre, Lousiana; hundreds of snappers, many with their eyes missing, washed up on New Zealand’s North Island on Jan. 4; 2 million dead fish were found floating in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland on Jan. 3; a 50 birds were found dead in Sweeden on Jan. 4 and 5; 700 dead turtle doves were found in Italy on Jan. 5; 40,000 dead devil crabs washed up along the coast of Kent in England, along with starfish, lobsters, sponges and anemones, all believed to have been killed by hypothermia in the coldest December in Britain in 120 years; over Jan. 8-9, over 100 dead birds were found over a stretch of California highway; over the same weekend, thousands of gizzard shad (a tiny herring-like fish) surfaced in Chicago harbors.

So what should we make of this? The thing is, die-offs like this happen all the time. Flocks of birds drop dead, millions of fish wash up on shore – these things happen across the globe many times each year. Some experts say that the publicity generated by the first few events has increased word-wide interest in these phenomena, and the deluge of these stories is due to a combination of coincidence and increased reporting of these events in the media. Still, that seems like a few to many mass deaths to be just coincidence. It’s been suggested that global warming might be playing a role, although it will be hard to say until the specific causes of death for these events has been determined. Maybe it’s not the beginning of some new disaster, but I’d still feel much better if the Doctor would come investigate.

He'd have it all sorted out in no time.


Paul LePage: Governor, Statesman, Arrogant Jerk   Leave a comment

So, our new governor was in office just over a week before he managed to make himself look like an ass.

Basically, the Maine chapter of the NAACP (that’s the one that tries to improve the condition of black Americans, not the college sports one, by the way) had invited him to a number of events they were hosting, and he’d declined. These events included a voter registration drive in a prison and an MLK breakfast they’re having today at the University. They were a bit disappointed that he’d turned them down, and on Friday, a reporter asked the Republican, Tea Party-backed governor for his thoughts on the matter. Here’s the clip:


First of all: obviously, LePage is not a racist. Anyone can have some black friends, but he’s got an actual black son. The son he mentions, by the way, is a foster son; Devon Raymond Jr. is a 25-year-old Jamacian who came to live with the LePage family in 2002, graduating from Waterville High School, Husson, and Grambling State in Louisiana. Raymond’s father is a Jamacian who met LePage while working as his golf caddie. Raymond is an accomplished golfer himself, and says he’s “chasing the dreams of being a PGA pro.”

The LePages: not racist. Also, is this not the nicest family photo you’ve ever seen?

Ok, so he’s not a racist, but obviously he needs to work on his people skills in a major way. What’s he going to say when someone offers some criticism of one of his policies, tell them to go f**k themselves? LePage is known for being a straight shooter, speaking his mind without worrying if he ruffles a few feathers. In other words, he’s rude and a bit obnoxious.

Take a look.

What’s really disturbed me is the way people have responded so positively to his terrible manners. “It’s so refreshing to hear a politician speak his mind, and just tell it like it is,” they say, “Good for him for standing up to the special interests.” I don’t know how anyone could be stupid enough to mistake his childish badmouthing for something admirable, but there you go. They hear him say something politically incorrect, they see him ruffle a few feathers, and they think he’s a guy full of candor, cutting through the BS and standing up for common sense, when in reality he’s just too lazy to think his positions through or defend them properly.

Gov. Paul LePage

And as for standing up to special interests? That sounds like a laudable goal, but you have to look at what really constitutes a special interest. They range from the tobacco lobby to Greenpeace to the NRA to the Sierra Club to the VFW. I certainly imagine (or I hope, at least) that if the VFW were to petition him with certain things they’d like to see him do, he wouldn’t just tell them to buzz off the way he did the NAACP. As for the NAACP, they’ve over a century working to guarantee the civil rights of black Americans. They helped to end lynching, to destroy Jim Crow, to end segregation in schools and in public life, and to ensure that black Americans were allowed to vote. Over the past few decades they’ve worked toward ending discrimination and closing the gap that exists between mainstream America and much of the black American population. And as for the event in which they wanted him to meet with only black prisoners and not not white prisoners? That’s not what they asked him to do. They asked him to take part in a voter registration drive at the Maine State Prison in Warren, where half the prisoners are white, and the event would not have been segregated. Also, while LePage said that he couldn’t go to the breakfast because he had to attend the funeral of a Maine State Trooper, but he had already declined the invitation before the trooper’s death. Making arguments using facts that that are inaccurate or even totally false? Unfortunately, that’s another thing LePage has become known for.

I’m going to have to beg your forgiveness in advance for using such a horrendously hackneyed phrase, but frankly, the man’s just too big for his britches. He’s arrogant and doesn’t give much of a hoot what others think even if they know more about what they’re talking about than he does. I spoke with someone who attended the inauguration last week, and she said that as he was meeting with well-wishers at the end of the evening, 9:00 rolled around and he decided to call it a night. He just headed out and left a line full of people who had been waiting hours to speak to him. He seems like a pretty decent person (as opposed to a number of other Republican politicians) but he needs to remember that it’s his job to run the state, and that spouting off careless bravado is never a characteristic of good leadership.

In the end, though, LePage showed himself to have some people skills after all, and attended an MLK community breakfast sponsored by the Rotary Club in his former hometown of Waterville. He even took part in an African dance.

Gov. Paul LePage dances briefly with the Rev. Effie McClain, Monday at the Waterville Rotary Club’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Breakfast in Waterville, Maine.

Is this a happy ending to our story? It’s certainly worlds better than if he hadn’t attended at all. It’s hard to say whether or not it was just a political move to satisfy his constituents, but at least he was a good sport about it. We’ll have to see if he starts realizing he’s not the only person in the world whose ideas and opinions have merit, or whether he’ll keep acting like he’s Gov. Peter Griffin.

Senior Capstone Exhibition   1 comment

The Studio Art Capstone course is required for graduating with a degree in Studio Art. As the name implies, it’s related to a capstone project, which is an exhibition the class puts on showcasing our work. The class is taken in the fall of senior year (more on that later). Because I was in France when I signed up for fall classes, I somehow didn’t realize that I needed to sign up for this class (it’s only offered in the fall, and it’s required for graduation). About a month into the semester, I realized I need to be in this class in order to graduate (again, more on that later). Fortunately I was able to get into the class, and I didn’t have too much trouble getting caught up. Besides getting the senior class exhibition set up, the class was concerned with teaching us the practical side to making a living as an artist: resumés, galleries, agents, career paths, etc.

The 2010 Senior Capstone Exhibition opened on December 3 in Lord Hall, and it will stay up until the middle of next week (January 20). It’s quite a nice show, with a lot of excellent work. I submitted my series of photographs from Le Mans. I would have liked to displayed them at a much larger scale – say, 15’x23′ rather than the 10’x15′ they are now – but they still make a nice display as they are now.

More photos of the show are here.

Impressions of Le Mans — Ben Richard

Posted January 12, 2011 by benjaminsapiens in art, personal, photography, school