Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Week In Pictures: Bridges, Birds, and Burning Orbs


This week, I'll start of with some industrial architectural shots.

Just in case you're tired of all those colorful bird pictures I usually post. 

This is the Pensacola Bay Bridge, typically called the Three Mile Bridge by locals, across Escambia Bay between Pensacola and Gulf Breeze. Officially it's the General "Chappie" James Jr. Bridge, but I don't know anyone who actually calls it that. 

We had gone looking for sea birds near the bridge, but the weather was bad and there wasn't much in the way of wildlife except for some waterlogged pigeons and a few sad looking seagulls. 

So I took pictures of the bridge instead.

I shot these images from beneath the Gulf Breeze (south) approach. There's a park there, which is mostly roped off and non-functional due to construction of the bridge and damage from Hurricane Sally in 2020. There's a larger park on the Pensacola end that is likewise damaged and mostly closed to the public -- and ironically contains the visitor center for this area. The storm massively damaged the bridge due to astounding negligence on the part of the construction company which failed to secure their large  barges against the storm surge. The bridge was brand new at the time, still under construction, and had just opened a single span for traffic. The barges broken loose in the violent Cat III storm, some drifted across the bay and grounded miles away, but several smashed through the bridge itself and the popular fishing piers and then an enormous barge mounted crane fell onto the roadway damaging the piers and dropping a full span into the water. The bridge had to be closed and traffic rerouted 30 miles around the bay for nearly a year. It was a major disaster with huge economic impact to the area. By the time they got the bridge repaired and the second span completed years behind schedule and many millions over budget, there wasn't any money left to fix the parks or the fishing piers. 

Here's another view, different orientation.

I shot the images in color, but converted them to black and white in post-processing because I thought that was more suited to the ultra modern Tomorrowland feel of the scene.

We now return to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

On the west side of Pensacola, near Perdido Key, is a small state park call Big Lagoon. It's a haven for birds and wildlife, used by kayakers, hikers, and campers. A small bit of wild surrounded by increasing urban sprawl and beach condos. 

It's a bit of drive for me, especially in morning rush hour traffic (the park doesn't open until 8AM, so I'm always in the thick of traffic on the way over). But it's often worth the hassle for the shots of birds and other wildlife. 

Like this small mullet jumping in one of the tidal pools.

Science doesn't really know why mullet jump out of the water like this.

There are many theories: to remove parasites, to avoid predators, as a form of communication, a possible mating display. Me I think they are fish astronauts leaping into space just to see what's up there. 

I will say that if you want an exercise in patience and skill at photography, spend some time trying to get a decent shot of a jumping mullet. 

Here's one of my favorite birds, a brown thrasher.

And as I noted on Instagram, if there isn't a pro wrestler who goes by the moniker The Brown Thrasher, there should be. 

When I post shots like this, people often ask if I've used some sort of Photoshop trickery to remove the background. 


The image is as shot except for some minor cropping. What I'm doing with these shots is maneuvering to put the bird against a bright overcast sky, then using spot metering to set exposure on darker parts of the bird, then making adjustments to aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, etc, to blowout (overload the sensor) for the background parts of the image while keeping the subject perfectly exposed. Overloading the sensors results in white pixels (100% data. As opposed to 0 data which would be black). This doesn't always work, but when it does, you get an image that looks like one of those hyperrealist drawings from a 1970s Field & Stream. I always loved that look and often try to recreate it with photography. 

You can go the other way, like this very blue image of a great egret in the reeds.

In this case I've adjusted color control and contrast in the camera to produce a colorful image in cloudy gray conditions. These aren't things you can do with film -- well, not easily anyway (the way you do it is to change films, using emulsions sensitive to the colors you want. It's clunky, primitive, and difficult and one of the reasons I'm just as happy to shoot digital nowadays). 

Here's a compromise between the two techniques, a male house finch, fluffed up in the cool wet weather (cool for this area anyway), showing some great color in the bird and the lichen growing on the dead tree.

Or, you can go completely the other way and embrace a dark, gray stormy day. 

Here's a kestrel with dragonfly almost as big as she is. 

Kestrels are small falcons, common to much of North America and Europe. They are fierce little raptors. Falconers raise them to hunt mice and grasshoppers. They are fast maneuverable birds and hard to capture in detail. I'm not particularly happy with the quality of this shot, but it was the best one I got that day. So, it'll have to do.

This snowy egret is a relative of that great egret up above, little smaller with distinctive yellow mask and socks.

I was sitting in my yard comparing various settings between the Z9 and Z8 Nikon cameras. I'd screwed something up on the Z8 and was attempting to figure out which of the several thousand menu settings I'd changed. 

This cardinal made a convenient test subject as I fiddled with the settings. 

Eventually I sorted it out and was able to reconfigure the Z8 without having to reset it back to factory baseline. And I learned a few things along the way. That's always good. 

So I spent a couple hours shooting various small birds at the feeders, like these Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice. 

And finally, today's solar eclipse from the Florida Panhandle. 

No ring of fire here, we were too far outside the eclipse's path. And it was cloudy, but the skies cleared just long enough for me to get a few decent shots a bit after totality. This is a handheld shot using the Nikon Z8, a Nikkor Z 400mm lens, and an ND100 filter so I could point the camera directly at the sun without frying either the sensor or my retina. As I noted on Instagram: I do have a solar filter for my 12" refractor scope, but it's for the eyepiece and won't work with the camera mount. And I don't have an ND100 or solar filter for the big 600mm lens and the Z9. And the 600mm uses a rear mount internal filter anyway and I'm not really comfortable pointing that very, very expensive beast at the sun and letting it heat up the internal components. So, 400mm on the Z8 is the best I could do. And frankly, I'm not really sure how I'd get a better shot with bigger glass. I'm perfectly happy with it. Particularly given that the skies were only clear enough to see the eclipse for about 10 minute anyway.

That's it, that's the week in pictures from Stonekettle Station. 

Thursday, October 12, 2023



“What's to be believed? Or does it matter at all? When mass murder's been answered with mass murder, rape with rape, hate with hate, there's no longer much meaning in asking whose ax is bloodier. Evil, on evil, piled on evil.”
Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

Pick a side. 

Come on, choose.

Tell me, who do you stand with? 

You have to pick a side and you have to declare it to the world and there's only one right answer. Choose, you son of bitch, choose. 

You have to pick a side and you have to declare it to the world and you have to do it in a timely fashion. 

And you have to pick the right side, the righteous side, the side of God! Yes!

As I said to Ted Cruz himself, When you write your memoir, I certainly hope it includes a chapter on your heroic wartime experience with lines like: "I quickly tweeted back..." 

Talk about a regular Audie Murphy.

You've got to pick a side. Return fire via social media. Man the keyboards, launch the tweets, unleash hell! Make sure everyone knows. You gotta be hard, you gotta be first, you gotta take the Facebook beach. 

If you want to get those clicks and likes and engagements. 

For that is the true measure of a patriot, is it not?

Yes, Sir, war is hell. 

This morning Mike Pence is on Twitter wearing a bomber jacket and a steely-eyed squint.

Mike Pence calls for U.S. Special Forces to "be prepared to mobilize." 

What leadership! 

What daring! 

What a man! What bravado! What a warrior! Tweet. Tweet.

As if American military forces aren't already in theater or on the way. As if being ready to deploy isn't literally the normal state of readiness for SOF units. As if US Navy carriers aren't already on station or on the way. As if we haven't been developing war plans for decades for exactly this situation. Gee, no president ever thought of that before. 

Wonder if Mother dressed him just for this photo op?

Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham declares war on religion:

"We're in a religious war here, I am with Israel, do whatever you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place!"

Religious war. 

War against religion. 

Which religion? Oh, you know the one. 

Do whatever you have to do to defend yourself! 

I'm sure Israel thanks Lindsey for his permission. 

We're in a religious war. Level the place. Scorch the earth, burn the sky, salt the fields! Hoorah Hoorah! We gotta fight 'em over there or we'll have to fight 'em over here! Loose lips sink ships! America, love it or leave it! Better Red than Dead! Kill 'em all and let God sort it out! Oh yes! Now we just need some T-shirts and bumper stickers! 

Like Jesus said, I guess. 

Lindsey Graham never saw a war he didn't love and there's no war he doesn't love more than the idea of war with Iran. If he ever gets his wish, I wonder if our Muslim allies will play his words back at us when we go to them, hat in hand, asking to use bases in their countries to wage war on their religion. 

Meanwhile, the Republican Party's leading candidate for President was in Florida for a rally:

"Instead of keeping terrorists and terrorist sympathizers out of America the Biden Administration is inviting them in. You know why? Because he's got a boss, who's his boss, Barack Hussein Obama Barack Hussein Barack Hussein Obama. Remember the great Rush Limbaugh? BARock HOOOOOSSEIN Obama he'd go Barack HOOOSSEIN Obama, hello lady, unbelievably the corrupt Biden Department of Justice recently invited an Iranian backed judge from Iraq to visit our nation's capital isn't that nice? He couldn't have been too impressed with our capital it looks like shit, no, have you seen what they've done to it...?"


Obama is secretly pulling the strings. 

And Trump knows this because a dead radio pundit used to mock Obama's middle name. 

A few minutes later Donald Trump explained how Hezbollah is very smart, very smart indeed. 

He also told a funny story about how he called China very smart once and the press was all over him. But he was going to call Hezbollah very smart anyway and whatever. Ha ha. 

And then -- and then -- Trump rambled off into a disjointed story about his great Julius Caesar moment, his glorious military victory: the drone strike that assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Bagdad. The crowd listened in confused silence as Trump ended the story by explaining how Israel refused to support America. 

"I’ll never forget, I'll never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down. That was a very terrible thing I will say that and, uh, so when I see, uh, sometimes, the intelligence, you talk about the intelligence, or you talk about some of the things that went wrong over the last week, uh, they've gotta straighten it out because they're fighting potentially a very big force they're fighting potentially Iran, and, when they have, people, saying the wrong things, everything they say is being digested by these people because they're vicious and they're smart and boy are they vicious because nobody's ever seen the kind of sight that we've seen, nobody's ever seen it, but they cannot play games so we were disappointed by that, very disappointed, but we did the job ourself and it was absolute precision, magnificent beautiful job, and then, uuh, Bibi tried to take credit for it, that was a good, THAT DIDN'T MAKE ME FEEL TOO GOOD, ha ha, but that's all right, so they gotta strengthen themselves up..."

The crowd made this sort of sickly collective laugh and there was some weak applause, but I imagine most of them were wondering how they were going to scrape the Israel Flag stickers off their bumpers without ruining the paint. 

I'm not quite sure how Republicans like Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham who've been screaming for a week about "standing with Israel" will process Trump's remarks, but I'm sure they'll manage somehow. Ted Cruz will probably just pretend Trump called his wife ugly and roll over. 

Speaking of rolling over, in a Colorado court yesterday, Trump's lawyers argued the former president "had no duty to support" the Constitution as president and therefore the 14th Amendment's Insurrection Clause doesn't apply and thus Trump can't be disqualified from the state's ballot. 

"The Presidential oath, which the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment surely knew, requires the President to swear to 'preserve, protect and defend' the Constitution, not to 'support' the Constitution." 

"Because the framers chose to define the group of people subject to Section Three by an oath to 'support' the Constitution of the United States, and not by an oath to 'preserve, protect and defend' the Constitution, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment never intended for it to apply to the President."

Trump's lawyers actually wrote that down on paper and signed it. 

But, I digress. 

We were talking about the situation in Israel. 

You have to pick a side. 

You have to say the words, I stand with Israel! I stand with the Palestinians! One or the other. Black or white. Right or Left. Us or them. You got to get in line. 

It's just that simple. 


Guess what, Folks?

It's not that simple. 

It's not that cut and dried. It's not one "side" or the other.

You don't have to pick a team in this conflict. Not like that. You don't. 

Hang on before you start screaming at me. Listen for a minute. 

Again, I was talking about the larger conflict, Israel and the Palestinians. Not Hamas. And it's complicated. It's not simple. It's not a simple matter of picking sides, us and them, no matter what the politicians and pundits and preachers tell you.

This isn't a game of dodgeball. 

This conflict, the bigger one, the one between peoples and nations and history, that goes far beyond the current fight with Hamas and it's incredibly complicated. 

There are a thousand years or better of history and politics behind this war.

There are the machinations of a dozen nations, who all have their fingers in it, pulling strings behind the scenes, fighting a proxy war, throwing gasoline on the fire for their own selfish reasons. 

There are the religions of many people, prophets and holy men and true believers all eager to bring about their version of paradise, or Armageddon, in the name of their god. 

There is the legacy of war, many wars across generations and how memory of that violence and those dead bodies shape and twist history and justify even more violence.

There are crimes and atrocities and grievances and slights that go back not just decades, but centuries, things that few outside the conflict can really, truly understand -- or care to understand, for that matter.

And underneath all of that, well, there are the very real conditions of hunger and poverty and sickness and hate and fear and a need for opportunity and a thirst for freedom and a thousand other things that drive humans to do what they do, right or wrong.

I don't know that peace is possible in this larger conflict. 

I don't know that it's not. That wasn't my profession or area of expertise. 

If an end is possible, I certainly don't know how to bring it about -- and I doubt you do either, dear reader. Not really. 

But, what I do know is that no American politician, president, senator, congressperson, or dog catcher can end that conflict. 

America can't end this fight.

But we can for damn sure make it worse

Some of you are in this fight because you have to be. 

Because it's your country, your people, your family, your religion, your history. 

You didn't choose a side, it chose you. 

And I am certainly not about to tell you you're wrong. 

I went to war myself, once upon a time, because it was my sworn duty to do so. I willingly went to fight those who committed atrocities against my nation, against those who murdered my people and threatened my family. I did it. I did it for my own reasons and I'd do it again, and I would never be so crass as to deny you a similar choice. 

Here's the thing though: we won our war, but we lost the peace

We won our righteous war and we made the world all the worse for it. 

I would caution you to learn from our bitter mistakes -- though you probably won't. 

America can't end this fight, but we can for damn sure make it worse

See, the rest of you, well you don't have to pick side. 

You will, of course. Probably already have. But you don't have to. 

You don't have to declare who you stand with on social media. You don't have to make some chest beating declaration of loyalty to one side or the other.

And you most certainly don't have to condemn others for not doing so, or not doing so hard enough or fast enough or the right way. 

You don't have to pick a team. 

Those of us who are not in this conflict, the only side we must choose is the side of civilization. 

The only stand we must take is against terror and barbarism. 

You don't have to join a team. You don't have to use this moment to attack your fellow citizens. You don't have to pick any side other that of humanity in order to be righteously outraged, to be furious and appalled and disgusted, at the atrocities of the goddamned barbarians trying to tear civilization down. 

You can support and criticize Israel and the Palestinians both without engaging in apologia for terrorism.

Because there is no justification for barbarism. Full stop. 

No matter how righteously aggrieved any people might be, no matter how oppressed, no matter how wronged, there is no justification for the murder and rape and kidnapping of innocents. 

You don't have to pick a side to stand against that

You don't have to pick a side in order to offer support and sincere sympathy and aid. 

You also don't have to dismiss the things you care about, whether it be Israel's right to exist and/or the very same for the Palestinians. You can care about those things and still stand with both peoples against the sons of bitches who carried out these attacks. 

America can't end this conflict, but we can most certainly make it worse. 

And there are those who are determined to do so for their own selfish ends. 

Because they never miss a chance to use war and atrocity and terror and fear and hate to further their agenda, so long as none of that horror ever actually touches them

In the wake of September 11, 2001, the world stood in solidarity with us, America. Even our sworn enemies offered us their sympathy and support, aghast at the barbarism that killed 3000 Americans. 

And I will never forget how our leaders, right and left, stood on the steps of the US Capitol with the smoke of the burning Pentagon still in the air, and swore to us that they would put aside their differences and their partisan rancor and work together as Americans. 

They gave us their solemn word in the name of their god. 

And that promise lasted just long enough for those faithless sons of bitches to walk up the steps and return to their offices. Some of them are on TV and social media right now attacking their fellow Americans. 

So much for their sacred word. 

We Americans, we pissed away the world's goodwill in 20 years of conflict and occupation. 

We won our war, yes we did, and make no mistake. We won every battle.

But we lost the peace. 

We made the world all the worse for it and our children will have to live in that reality.

I hope the Israelis will do better than we did, but history suggests they won't. 

You don't have to pick any side other than that of civilization. 

You don't have to pick a side in order to comfort the dying, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to provide for the homeless, to aid those in need, to confront evil, to stand with your neighbors whoever they might be. 

You don't have to make things worse. 

You don't have to make the same mistakes again. 

But you probably will. 

“Listen, are we helpless? Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall? Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Carthage, Rome, the Empires of Charlemagne and the Turk: Ground to dust and plowed with salt. Spain, France, Britain, America—burned into the oblivion of the centuries. And again and again and again. Are we doomed to it, Lord, chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork, helpless to halt its swing? This time, it will swing us clean to oblivion.”
― Walter M. Miller Jr.A Canticle for Leibowitz