Monday, January 31, 2011

Sight & Sound - Oriental

These two still lifes - both of them Photoshop manipulations of photos taken this afternoon - were inspired by the Impressionist and post-Impressionist fascination with all things Oriental.

Music: "The Dusk Song of the Fisherman" by the group Ancient Future, from their 1993 CD Asian Fusion. This is a traditional Chinese song (Ching dynasty) arranged for guitar and gu zheng, the Chinese board zither.

Photos © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Americana: The Movie

I liked how well the photos and music fit together in yesterday's post so much that I decided to put together another slideshow, this time with Peter Ostroushko's beautiful song as the backdrop. I went through all the photos I've taken since I arrived in Pennsylvania and picked the best ones for this. Enjoy!

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sight & Sound - Americana

Some of yesterday's shots converted to slightly sepia'd black and white, accompanied by a perfect piece of music - Peter Ostroushko's "The Heart of the Heartland".

Photos © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Winter Wonderland

As promised, I went out this morning in the aftermath of last night's storm to get some good snow photos, seeing as how we finally got a decent amount of snow. I put them together in a slideshow, and of course the slideshow has an appropriate soundtrack: "Winter Wonderland" performed by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. And of course I'll post a few of the shots here as well.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Here It Comes...

It snowed less than an inch this morning, then in the early afternoon it stopped for a bit. I decided to clear the driveway before it started up again, and by the time I was done it had started to snow again, this time in earnest. Here are some shots from around 4:00 PM. There's lots more coming yet tonight, so there will be more shots, from farther afield, tomorrow.

And some appropriate music. Note: this isn't the Arthur Fiedler/Boston Pops version, but Leroy Anderson himself conducting a studio orchestra.

Photos © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sight & Sound - Sacred Earth

Clay, bone, shell, wood, feathers... I finally pulled some of the earth objects in my collection out of the boxes I'd packed them away in for moving.

Music: Appropriate Sacred Earth music - Sheila Chandra's "Sacred Stones" from her 1992 CD Weaving My Ancestors' Voices, and Steve Roach's "Clay, Wood, Bone, Dust" from his 1993 CD Origins.

Earth, Teach Me

Earth teach me quiet ~ as the grasses are still with new light.
Earth teach me suffering ~ as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility ~ as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring ~ as mothers nurture their young.
Earth teach me courage ~ as the tree that stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation ~ as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom ~ as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance ~ as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal ~ as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself ~ as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness ~ as dry fields weep with rain.
- Ute prayer

Laughing Buddha, hand-carved Sandalwood

Photos © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bigotry in the News Again, Sadly

I realize that title isn't exactly news these days, but two news items in particular made my radar zoom in on them in the past week. Both of them involve self-professed Christians making statements very much in contradiction to the teachings of their Savior, both in spirit and in letter.

One of the news items concerns Franklin Graham (left), son of Billy Graham and heir to his monumental evangelism franchise. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Times on Tuesday, he objected to an invocation being given by a Native American practitioner of his native religion, one Carlos Gonzales, a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, at the memorial service for the shooting victims in Tuscon, AZ. Apparently Rev. Graham objects to spiritual expressions outside his own rather narrow viewpoint. He wrote:
Mr. Gonzales blessed the "eastern door, from where we get visions and guidance," the "southern door, where we get the energies of the family," the "western door, where we honor the sacred ways and sacred ancestors," and the "northern door, where we receive challenges and the strength to meet those challenges." Rather than calling on the God of heaven who made us and created this universe, which He holds in the palm of His hand, the university professor called out to "Father Sky, where we get our masculine energy" and "Mother Earth, where we get our feminine energy."

Gee! Well guess what, Mr. Graham? There are a lot of people in this world who aren't members of your church; some belong to religions quite a bit older than your own, and more than a few of them live out there in the Great American West among the tribes of Native Americans. Are you trying to say that they aren't allowed to express their own grief at these events and call on the healing powers of their own Deities, and only your version of God is allowed to be invoked? Oh but wait, it gets worse:

How sad. Father Sky and Mother Earth can do nothing to comfort Capt. Mark Kelly, who had been at the bedside of his wife, Rep. Giffords, wondering if she'd ever leave her bed. Or Mavy Stoddard, who was only alive because her husband sacrificed his life by shielding her with his body. Or the family, classmates, teammates and friends of little Christina, whose life was snuffed out before she could play another season of Little League.

How do you know, Mr. Graham? Have you ever been to a Diné (Navajo) Beautyway ceremony? I have, and I've seen people, myself included, come away comforted and healed. You don't live in Tuscon; you weren't even out there for the memorial service. How dare you criticize Tusconians for choosing to seek comfort and healing in their own way rather than in your way? It isn't any of your business!

Another bit of bigotry to make the news involves the newly-elected governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley (right). He used a celebration of Martin Luther King Day at King's own church, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, to spew bigotry. In effect, he sullied the celebration by uttering ideas contradictory to everything Dr. King ever taught. From the pulpit of the church Gov. Bentley said:
There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit, But if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.

Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother.

In other words, if you want Gov. Bentley to consider you his brother or sister, you have to convert to his particularly narrow and bigoted brand of Christianity. No thanks, Bob! As far as I can see, my family is much better off without you in it.

As I said at the beginning, there are more items like this out there. It's a sad fact that the loudest voices in Christianity today seem to be the voices of bigotry and negativity, of hatred and condemnation. This is in strong contrast to the stories in the Gospels of the man who turned the tables on the self-righteous ones who brought the woman caught in adultery to him, when he challenged them and ended up embarrassing them and sending her gently on her way. The man who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and drunks. The man who taught love. Somehow his teachings don't seem to have very much in common with the words of Franklin Graham and Robert Bentley, who profess to being his followers.

Postscriptus - As I was writing this essay I learned of the passing of author Reynolds Price and listened to an interview with him on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Price wrote haunting novels about the New South, but he was also a Biblical scholar of great skill and sensitivity. I highly recommend his Three Gospels, which include his own translation from the Greek of the Gospels of Mark and John. As someone who reads Greek and has done Biblical translation and exegesis, I thoroughly enjoyed his approach to both Gospels; they were both written by non-native speakers of Greek (and in the case of the author of Mark, a not very good grasp of the language) and Price matched their writing style in English. It's a fascinating and insightful read on a traditional and potentially stodgy subject; luckily, there was nothing stodgy about Reynolds Price! He'll be missed.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sight & Sound - Education

Still Life - Education

And the perfect song for the topic of education:

Photo © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sight & Sound - Ghost Photographer

My reflection (with camera, of course) in the window of my brother's pellet stove, in b&w and the curves tweaked in Photoshop for pin-point contrast. I was looking to tighten up the focus a little, but it made it look even ghostlier. I like it!

And some appropriately ghostly music: Steve Roach's "The Face in the Fire", from his 1993 CD Origins.

Photo © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Organic Abstraction

I used today to work on my Ansel Adams chops, making natural things look abstract in black & white macro studies. Then with each one I went one step further and created a monochromatic study on the black & white.

A rose is a rose

Blue Rose (an hommage to Peter Straub)

Poinsettia leaf


Speaking of artists named Adams, here's a little piece by composer John Adams (Shaker Loops, Nixon in China): "Cerulean", from his 1993 CD of synthesizer pieces, Hoodoo Zephyr.

Photos © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, January 17, 2011


Maple leaf in the snow, Dykeman Walking Trail

Music: "Already Song" - performed by Dadáwa (Zhu Zheqin), composed by He Xuntian - from Dadáwa's 2008 CD Seven Days.

Already Song
Lyrics, music and composition by He Xuntian

Awareness of Living:
In this present life, when everyone else has gone, the stars and the tree leaves will not have gone before you.

Sun already sunk behind the hills
Companions already gone home

Evening breeze already blown away
No one left to play

Stars up there, come out
And I will play with you

Sun already sunk behind the hills
Companions already gone home

Evening breeze already blown away
No one left to play

Leaves up there, flutter over here
And I will play with you

Photo © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger; "Already Song" words & music © 2006 by Wind Music International Corporation

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sight & Sound - Mother & Child

Mother and child statue in a fireplace niche in my basement "office"

The song "Sanvean: I Am Your Shadow" was composed by Lisa Gerrard to express her longing to be with her child (in Australia) while she was touring with her band Dead Can Dance in Europe in 1992. This version is from her 1995 CD The Mirror Pool.

Photo © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's a Black & White World

Black & white shots from the past month or so.

I think I'm drawn to black & white photography for the same reason I'm drawn to Japanese (Zen) and Chinese (Sung dynasty) painting and Shaker hymns - the simplicity. It's a very simple, sometimes even stark, line created on first impression, but deeper examination reveals great depth and complexity, yet all executed with the same simplicity that created that first impression. It's the kind of simplicity that reduces the subject to its bare bones, and yet those bare bones themselves are alive with movement, crossing and recrossing and creating new patterns and motifs. Color has its uses, and I also love a good color photo, but sometimes I need to relax with a bit of pure black & white simplicity.

And speaking of simplicity that reveals depth, here's "The Wonderful Year" by Roger Eno and Kate St. John from their 1992 CD The Familiar. This music reminds me of the kinds of movies we used to watch in school back in the '60s: filmed in black & white, usually produced by the Canadian School Board (and why we were watching them in Baltimore County, Maryland, I've never figured out), often including scenes of landscapes seen from a moving vehicle, and the musical score sounded much like the music on this recording. When I look at these photos while listening to this music, I feel like I'm right back in my 9th grade English class watching one of those Canadian movies. Everyday magic!

Photos & text © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wanderings in the Aftermath

We woke up to four more inches of snow yesterday morning, but I had too many tiring things to do in the morning to feel much like going on a photo safari yesterday afternoon. So I went out today, catching images here and there while enjoying the new layer of snow.

The Shelf Fungus gets a snowcap; Dykeman Walking Trail.

Mallards on the Duck Pond

Red plays hide-and-seek in a tree; Duck Ponds

The farm in snow; Possum Hollow Rd.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nature in Winter (and in Sepia)

I've found that I like black & white photography because it reveals layers that color tends to obscure; not always, but often enough to make me love creating b&w shots. Granted, there are times when color really is the only way to go. And sometimes b&w comes across as just too cold.

I got some shots today where the b&w version was the definite way to go, but they were just way too cold. So I applied some sepia filter; sepia adds warmth without obscuring the detail revealed by b&w. I like the results.

Purple Martin house, Duck Ponds marsh

Middle Spring Creek, Duck Ponds

Shelf Fungus, Dykeman Walking Trail

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sight & Sound - Winter

The pellet stove in the living room, "antiqued" in Photoshop™

Music: an out-take of Wendy Carlos's "Winter", a soundscape from her 1972 recording Sonic Seasonings

Photo © 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, January 09, 2011


I converted some of yesterday's snow shots to monochrome "prints".

Accompanied by two "snow" pieces by Claude Debussy, arranged and performed by Isao Tomita:

Photos © 2011 by A. Roy hilbinger

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Some Real Snow This Time

It snowed early yesterday and then some more overnight into this morning. A bit more snow than we've gotten so far this Winter, and far more scenic. I got some shots yesterday, but it was bright and sunny which created too much contrast and a blue tint to the shots, and by the time I'd corrected all that in Photoshop the shots just didn't look right. This morning it was still cloudy and even still spitting some snow, and the lighting was just right. So this is what it looks like around here after the snowfall.

The house in the snow this morning

Snowy Spruces next to the house

Another Spruce and the Bamboo patch next door

Looking down the lane

Looking the other way toward the other neighbor

Connor the Bumpus Hound, one of two White Labs (the other's name is Bailey) who live next door and who bark and growl at anyone who so much as sticks a nose out the door while they're out and about. They even do this to people they've been around all their lives, like my brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and niece. Oh, and in case you're not one of the initiated and are scratching your head over "Bumpus Hound"... My family are huge fans of Jean Shepherd's movie A Christmas Story, and the Bumpus Hounds are the pack of dogs belonging to the protagonist's neighbor (Bumpus is the neighbor's surname) who run through the yard and the house and even destroy the turkey on Christmas Day. Connor and Bailey haven't managed that one yet.

And that's our latest snow.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Christian Nation? The Founding Fathers Didn't Think So

There's a claim by the Christian Right and some members of the Tea Party movement that the United States was consciously and deliberately created as a Christian nation to spread the Gospel to the new world and create a beacon of light and salvation to the rest of the world. They haven't much evidence to back up this claim; just some scattered quotes from people like George Washington, made in their private capacity and not as spokespersons for the government or the nation.

Granted, we had plenty of people settle here in the early days in a quest to believe and practice those beliefs away from the oppression of the established churches of Europe, but they weren't the only people to leave Europe and settle here. There were plenty of people who were only nominal members of any church, or followers of the Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire who emphasized reason as the primary source of authority and knowledge. Or they were just farmers and trappers and whatnot who had no real use for religion in their life and were happy to go about their daily lives and work without need for religion. There was a lot of philosophical diversity in the early colonies which became the United States.

And in fact the the lawyers and merchants who formed the intellectual class from whom the founding fathers of this nation emerged were mostly followers of the Enlightenment, men such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Hancock, the Adams's of Boston, and Benjamin Franklin, self-declared Deists who believed in a higher power but denied the legitimacy of any formal religion. Even that ultimate gentleman farmer cum soldier, George Washington, considered himself a Deist. And it was these people who wrote our founding documents and created a purely secular, not religious, government.

The U.S. Constitution is the rock-solid foundation of the government of the United States; it establishes and guides our whole form of governance, from the legislative to the judicial to the administrative. It is, to use a Judeo-Christian reference, the Ten Commandments of the nation. It was written by men dedicated to reason and the Age of Enlightenment (principally James Madison, who himself was a protegé of Thomas Jefferson, probably the prime advocate of Enlightenment thinking, along with Benjamin Franklin, among the founding fathers), and it never mentions God, Jesus Christ, the Church, or the Bible. Never. Not even once. It only actually mentions matters pertaining to religion once, in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The key phrase in that amendment is known in U.S. jurisprudence as the Establishment Clause - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." - which at the very beginning of our national existence says that the government cannot sponsor or enforce a religious belief and practice on the American people. There are people who argue that it does no such thing, that the amendment only says that the government can't favor one religion over the other. But the evidence, from the very records of the Constitutional Convention itself, along with the writings of the men who wrote the document, says otherwise.

The Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS) has released an annotated Constitution, and the Columbia University Law School has put a hyperlinked version online, which you can find here. The annotations quote the debates and discussions entered into at the convention, as well as the documents which express the ideas of those attending. The annotation page for the First Amendment can be found here, but I want to include passages from the "overview" section along with the footnotes for that section (included in brackets after the passage) that speak directly to the matter.
Madison’s original proposal for a bill of rights provision concerning religion read: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed." [1 Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).]

The language was altered in the House to read: “Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience." [The committee appointed to consider Madison’s proposals, and on which Madison served, with Vining as chairman, had rewritten the religion section to read: “No religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed.” After some debate during which Madison suggested that the word “national” might be inserted before the word “religion” as “point[ing] the amendment directly to the object it was intended to prevent,” the House adopted a substitute reading: “Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or infringing the rights of conscience.” 1 Annals of Congress 729–31 (August 15, 1789). On August 20, on motion of Fisher Ames, the language of the clause as quoted in the text was adopted. Id. at 766. According to Madison’s biographer, “[t]here can be little doubt that this was written by Madison.” I. Brant, James Madison—Father of the Constitution 1787–1800 at 271 (1950).]

In the Senate, the section adopted read: “Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith, or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion, . . ." [This text, taken from the Senate Journal of September 9, 1789, appears in 2 B. Schwartz (ed.), The Bill of Rights: A Documentary History 1153 (1971). It was at this point that the religion clauses were joined with the freedom of expression clauses.]

It was in the conference committee of the two bodies, chaired by Madison, that the present language was written with its some[p.970]what more indefinite “respecting” phraseology. [1 Annals of Congress 913 (September 24, 1789). The Senate concurred the same day. See I. Brant, James Madison—Father of the Constitution 1787–1800, 271–72 (1950).]

Debate in Congress lends little assistance in interpreting the religion clauses; Madison’s position, as well as that of Jefferson who influenced him, is fairly clear... [During House debate, Madison told his fellow Members that “he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any Manner contrary to their conscience.” 1 Annals of Congress 730 (August 15, 1789). That his conception of “establishment” was quite broad is revealed in his veto as President in 1811 of a bill which in granting land reserved a parcel for a Baptist Church in Salem, Mississippi; the action, explained President Madison, “comprises a principle and precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.”’ 8 The Writings of James Madison (G. Hunt. ed.) 132–33 (1904). Madison’s views were no doubt influenced by the fight in the Virginia legislature in 1784–1785 in which he successfully led the opposition to a tax to support teachers of religion in Virginia and in the course of which he drafted his “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments” setting forth his thoughts. Id. at 183–91; I. Brant, James Madison—The Nationalist 1780–1787, 343–55 (1948). Acting on the momentum of this effort, Madison secured passage of Jefferson’s “Bill for Religious Liberty”. Id. at 354; D. Malone, Jefferson the Virginian 274–280 (1948). The theme of the writings of both was that it was wrong to offer public support of any religion in particular or of religion in general.]
Obviously Madison and the others were intent on keeping the U.S. government out of the business of religion. Note especially this quote from Madison in the Annals of Congress:
During House debate, Madison told his fellow Members that “he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any Manner contrary to their conscience.” 1 Annals of Congress 730 (August 15, 1789).
This is a clear declaration of a hands-off policy toward religion by the government, expressed by the architects of the document which is the foundation of that government.

There have been many acts by the government which have highlighted the thinking of these founding fathers, a philosophy that has come to be known as the "separation of Church and State", but perhaps one of the clearest actions on that philosophy came early in the history of the U.S. government with the 1797 treaty with Tripoli in the Barbary States of north Africa.

Joel Barlow was the consul-general to the Barbary states of Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis; he was assigned by Commissioner Plenipotentiary of the U.S. David Humphries to broker a treaty with Tripoli in 1796. Most of the treaty concerns trade agreements, tariffs, rights-of-way for shipping, etc.; mundane stuff. But Article 11 of the treaty makes a bold statement regarding the attitude of the U.S. toward the religion of Tripoli and the other Barbary States:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
There it is, right out in the open in black and white on an official document of the U.S. government: "...the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." In 1796, only seven years after the ratification of the Constitution. You can't get any clearer than that.

There's been an argument advanced that Article 11 says no such thing in the original Arabic document, and that it was a late insertion by the Dey of Algiers to allay the fears of the Pasha of Tripoli. But that's irrelevant, a straw man put up by opponents of church-state separation. No matter what the Arabic document says, Joel Barlow's English translation - including that eleventh article - is what was presented to President John Adams, who then presented it to the Senate, in printed copy and read aloud on the floor of the Senate. These were men who were in at the beginning of the nation, many of them former members of the Continental Congress, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and members of the Congress which wrote the Constitution. They ratified the treaty by unanimous vote on June 7, 1797, and President Adams signed it. They had all heard and read that phrase - "...the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." - and no one objected; in fact no one said anything at all about it. Why? Because this is what they believed.

So those who would want to rewrite our history to conform to their particular, sectarian ideology, led most notably by David Barton (who interestingly has no degree in history but rather a bachelor's degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University) and his Wallbuilders organization, haven't a leg to stand on. By their own private writings and in the national documents they inspired and helped create, the "Founding Fathers" of the United States were not intent on creating a "Christian nation", but rather a fully secular government with a clear hands-off policy toward religion. There's really no qauestion of that at all.

© 2011 by A. Roy Hilbinger. Images owned by the United States and are public domain.