Sunday, September 30, 2012

Remembrances of the Holy Land (Prologue)

Graphic: Robert Marshall

I can hardly believe next April will mark five years since I took what is turning out to be my trip of my lifetime – My pilgrimage to Israel and Jordan.

Despite occurring prior to my starting Robert's Ramblings, I had intended to journalize everyday through a blog so I'd be able to capture my thoughts, fresh in mind.

Alas, I didn't. I didn't even write a single entry summarizing the trip once we returned home. That error in omission is all water under the bridge now.

What follows is partially an exercise in jogging my memory, and partially wanting to recreate those missing journal entries before they fall even further from my recollection. (I hate to call it a memoir because that sounds so serious and suggests finality).

* * *

At first I went through my limited amount of photos I'd taken, along with those taken by Dave Young Kim, one of the ReGeneration interns, who was tasked with taking photographs for the church.

You will find copious amounts of hyperlinks to other source material, such as locations, religious explanations, and words that I figured some people might not necessarily know.

Once the first draft was completed, and I'd had a chance to do a second reading to clean up errors and clumsy wording, I took at look at any trip photo albums others may have shared through their Facebook profiles.

Originally, I'd hoped I would be able to remember enough to create two to three blog posts summarizing things - give or take 3,000 words. It is now two weeks later and the length has ballooned to 15 blog entries, containing over 31,000 words.

As I started writing, things just kept popping into my head. (Which I hope is a good thing!).

Most entries cover a single day. However, a couple days were broken into two parts because they became so long. Rather than boil it down considerably, I decided to keep what came to mind. Think of it more as a personal travelogue, interspersed with comments along the way.

I'm sure there are items I've forgotten, or possibly had a different take from other people on the trip, and I should probably apologize in advance if you find any of the items I recalled monotonous or inconsequential at best.

* * *

I've chosen to use initials when I'm referring to people on the pilgrimage other than our guides, Doron (Israel) and Robert (Jordan). Hopefully, that shouldn't take away from the worth of the piece, and those that went should be able to remember which initials refer to whom.

TO: BP, CB, CH, CM, DB, DE, DK, ED, GC, HS, KG,  LL, MG, PD, PW, RC, RP, RW, SH, ShL, StL, RF, RV, TB, TS, WC and YB, Thanks for being my traveling partners.

To: Doron and Robert (our guides) thanks for helping to expand our knowledge and understanding where historical events fell - especially with a Biblical perspective.

* * *

Lastly, I've decided to back date the entries to the actual dates as if I'd followed through with my original plan. Admittedly strange, but it seemed like a smart thing to do. Clicking on the "TO BE CONTINUED" link at the bottom will take you to the first trip entry (April 9th, 2008).

Enough with explanations! Thanks for reading and I hope it inspires you to go on pilgrimage yourself (or again if you've already been).


Saturday, September 22, 2012

To Endeavour is to Succeed

I hope everyone had the opportunity to see the last aerial hurrah of Space Shuttle Endeavour last Friday. It didn't matter that it would be hitching a ride on the back of a modified 747. It would still be amazing.

The local news had hyped up the flight for days. Rightfully so as once the shuttle hit the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport, it was destined for a slow ground crawl to its final resting spot, the California Science Center.

When I woke up I turned on KRON-4. I figured they would have the best news coverage, and not be hindered by network affiliation. Amazingly, they stayed live with the flight all the way from its take-off from Edwards Air Force Base.

Another amazing thing was that NASA actually delayed the flight by one hour because they wanted to make sure the any fog hand burned off here in the Bay Area. How cool is that?

Getting close to the estimated 9:30a appearance in the Bay Area, I grabbed my camera and zoom lens. I hadn't shot anything in months and couldn't find my tele-extender, which irked me a little. But, you make do with what you have.

I also didn't know from where the shuttle would appear because the FAA was keeping quiet the exact flight path Endeavour would be taking. Some armchair investigators had cobbled together approximate routes based on available info and people they knew. The most common route would have her fly out over the bay from Emeryville. Fortunately, I saw another one that showed her flying over land all the way up the East Bay to Richmond.

Due to delays coming up the Central Valley and parading around Sacramento, the shuttle didn't actually reach central Contra Costa County until around 10am.

I headed outside to take a position on the other side of the street from my house and then checked Twitter once more. Someone had just posted she was over the Rockridge BART station.

One of my neighbors was leaving his house and came over as his car was parked next to where I was standing. I told him what I was waiting for, nervous Endeavour would sneak up on me while we were talking.

Suddenly, I could hear the dull roar of the engines. But from where???? Then a gray blob appeared off in the distance, somewhere over Berkeley.

The plane slowly sauntered over the cities, lower than any plane of that size which I could remember. While I had a good view, it must have been stellar for anyone further up Solano Avenue. I can only hope teachers in the Albany schools let their students out to watch.

I was able to fire off, give or take, 20 shots. Many were garbage, with autofocus catching an errant wire or phone pole. Some people say it spoils to watch something through a camera view finder. In this circumstance it was a help, not a hindrance.

Just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone; headed towards Richmond, and then over to the Marin Headlands for a couple of loops before pointing South.

* * *

My first introduction to the Space Shuttle program was somewhere back about 1972. Every week I looked forward to receiving the newest copy of My Weekly Reader, a topical newspaper given out to students when I attended Fairmont Elementary School. The issue I'm thinking of talked about the upcoming Skylab program.

On the back was a diagram about future space programs and had Skylab (1973), Apollo-Soyuz Mission (1975) and the Space Shuttle program (1980). That seemed so far off at the time.

Fast-forward to April 1981, and the maiden space flight of Columbia. This was in the days before my family had a VCR. We had a movie camera though, and I had recently discovered a half dozen Kodak film cartridges!! I was determined to record this for prosperity (Ignore that fact it was silent film!).

I'd marked the living room floor with masking tape so I could set the tripod quickly. I thought I was all set. Everything was ready…except there were no nine volt batteries!! Mind you this was something like 3am. Not to be deterred I found a whole bunch of D-cells and some wire. The idea was to use electrical tape to create a circuit between the batteries and camera handle.

(It was probably fortunate that it didn't work as it probably would have shorted out my father's expensive Nizo-Braun S480).

Resolved to just watching the coverage, I received a reprieve when NASA delayed the mission due to weather conditions in Florida. I took this as a sign and silently snuck out of the house and took the Chevette in search of proper batteries. I let the car roll down the steep hill before starting the engine, and I can only imagine how my father would have freaked if he'd seen the car gone.

Scoring batteries from Jay-Vee Liquors, I returned home only to hear the mission was delayed yet again. It eventually flew, and I eventually filmed it. Film which is still sitting in a box somewhere, unprocessed.

* * *

Like most Americans I became complacent as shuttle missions became common and routine. Even broadcast television stopped carrying launches live after a while. Sadly, it took the Challenger and Columbia disasters for many of us to pay any attention to NASA anymore.

Now the Space Shuttle program has come and gone, with no immediate replacement. Adding insult to injury Astronauts are hitching rides to the International Space Station aboard Soviet designed rockets.

Hopefully, America's enthusiasm will be fired up once again by Curiosity's recent escapades, and we will endeavour towards eventual manned flight to Mars.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Intolerance of Tolerance

Is anyone else getting really concerned about the polarization of society lately? I'm not talking only in the political sense, but the way people treat each other in general.

Clearly, we're not going to agree on everything. But, everything seem so be a hot button issue.

The most heated example surrounds the debate on homosexuality and same sex marriage.

Most people are familiar with the Holy Bible. Perhaps not the contents, but at least by name.

Leviticus is the third book of the Bible, and can be described as a Conduct guidebook. Some consider Leviticus 18 and 20 as specifically addressing same-sex relationships.

This blog entry isn't to tell you which way you should think. People believe what they believe, and I'd hazard a guess that most people are tolerant of others having viewpoints that don't jive with theirs. But, then there are groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.

WBC goes out of their way to practice a form of extremism in professing their beliefs, and are eager to offend those who don't share those beliefs 100%. I guess the hope is that shock value will make people change.

WBC's intolerance is obvious in their actions. But, what about the opposing side where the most common goto statement is to label anyone in opposition to the same-sex lifestyle as being full of hate regardless of whether they really do hate them, or not.

* * *

Look at the political climate in the United States.

Since the early to mid 1800s, most Americans have been in one of two major parties, the Democratic and Republican. (it may surprise you to know there are currently five major and 33 minor parties nationwide; along with all sorts of regional parties.)

It's fair to say that Democratic and Republican controlling interests have polarized this country to a point not seen previously in our lifetime.

Four years ago, Barack Obama was elected President. He is the first African-American to ever hold the post. Obama is also a Democrat.

Within a week's time we started seeing distasteful things like Obama Monkey and Moo-chelle Obama. Clearly those have overt racial implications and were aimed at the first family because of their race.

In 2010, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) famously proclaimed,  "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." It's one thing to say that after codifying social issues that would lead to how that would be accomplished. However, more than once, it was stated as being the top priority, and seemingly the only priority, with anything else happening along the way being gravy.

There's no denying that many comments were only because of the color of Obama's skin, but I think it can be said that much of the anti-Obama behavior can be summed up as a lack of respect for the man, with no consideration for his position.

It's become more important to tear down those in the opposition than it is to support your own position.

During the recent political conventions, actor Jason Biggs lashed out with a string of vulgar tweets about Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and their wives. Not to be outdone, commentator Ann Coulter followed the next week, smearing Bill Clinton and Sandra Fluke.


* * *

Even deep within the heart of liberal and progressive Northern California, our little community of Albany isn't immune to the intolerance of tolerance.

We have a small core of people that regularly comment on things. One of the vocal individuals is Ulan McKnight. (In full disclosure, Ulan and I graduated from high school in the same class, though we didn't run in the same circles.)

Over the past couple of years we've had two very contentious issues make their way to the forefront of local politics; a proposed medical marijuana dispensary and the development of the University of California's Gill Tract.

Ulan was very vocal on the pro-dispensary side during the VitalGen application, and I think it is fair to say he agrees with the Occupy the Farm movement. While he and I may have been on opposite ends of the spectrum in many of our comments on Albany Patch articles, I've never felt the need to personally attack him.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said for some others who seem to relish any opportunity to disparage him by bringing up things from the past, which have no connection to the topic at hand - even to the point of belittling him based on his choice of clothing captured in a Patch photo.

* * *

Recently, I experienced this myself.

On a photography forum I sometimes visit, someone started a thread about the need for photographers to be more conscious about labeling some of their photos "NSFW," the acronym for Not Safe for Work. It's usually used as a warning for images where there's a good chance someone somewhere might find something objectionable.

I supported his argument because, as of late, there seems to be more and more photos with less and less clothing in them.

Many of the comments were along the lines of, "It's fine for my workplace" or "why were you surfing a photo gallery at work anyways?"

If those were the only comments, I'd ignore them. Unfortunately, there was someone feeling the need to start labeling people as babies and whiners. Then, when I said it was sad about the comments being left, I was told I was seriously lame. Yes, these are childish, but when said over and over they are obviously meant to be hurtful.

* * *

I'm not suggesting we should all sit down around the drum circle, bang on the bongos, and sing Kumbaya. What I AM suggesting is that it should be OK to have differing views, and to feel free to express them without resorting to Over the Top behavior, or being subjected to it. People MUST think about HOW we treat each other when expressing those feelings, no matter how distasteful we may find them.