Saturday, December 12

A Liberal Dose of Whimpering

Picture by Dan Hodgson - @darkroom

There was a huge flash of whimpering, egalitarian, liberal sentiment following Donald Trump’s infamous little quip about barring Muslims entry into the United States. The bigot, how dare he! Sure, to any sensible thinking person, it was a ludicrous thing to say, especially on the campaign trail, he being obviously expectant of the peoples support. It is all rather farcical only because Trump, well knowingly, uttered his thoughts in the ferment of a rather too liberal society. His words were intended to shock, if not wake up a blinkered, apparently big-hearted, electorate. As the old cliché suggests, they truly do walk among us.

The indignant outrage of Western society is a touch preposterous, perhaps more so than the very pronouncement by our prime, all American, presidential hopeful clown. It has stimulated division within his own ranks and most certainly the extremes of society; it has created victims in the Western Muslim community further exacerbating the ‘dangers’ of living in a free, decadent society, and thus creating a cause; and, heaven forbid, it has been truly rough abrasion for simply nice people who cannot see the wood for the trees.

Perhaps we need to reflect on Trump’s words and the reaction to them a little more carefully. What we are seeing here is egalitarian liberalism forcing the suppression of freedoms, rather than advocating them. We may not like what Trump had to say, but he had the right to say it. One does protest a little too much. Thus, those rights and freedoms espoused are, perhaps, the very same liberties that allow others to do Western society harm. The fact is, Islamic terrorism, through its many variants is well intent on doing harm in Western Judeo/Christian society.

There are many taboos in Western society in the interests of political correctness. The late Christopher Hitchens once wrote about unwelcome attention received in response to essays written ‘defending the right of Holocaust deniers and Nazi sympathizers to publish their views’. He averred,
“I did this because I think a right is a right and also because if this right is denied to one faction, it will not stop there.”
How right he was. Laws criminalising Holocaust denial are already being extended to the criticism of Islamist sentiment, clearly the single biggest threat to Western society today. Laws prohibiting so called hate crime, or the motivation of racial, sexual or other prejudices, involving violence, are blossoming in Western society. They deny our right to free speech, we cannot offer vitriol and contempt to our worst enemy. Yet our enemy is at liberty to offer his! How soon will it be an offence to condemn mass immigration?

For Islamists, to achieve their objectives, it is inherent that they should subvert and deploy people of their ilk, religion and culture, in other words, those select, unwitting Muslims who have integrated into Western societies. Yes, it is a broad sweeping brush, but it will be those from this community who wish to destroy or more rather have infidel Western society succumb to their religious zeal. Islamists, seemingly, have the right to hate and destroy, while Western society has its hands tied through ignorance and passivity. One might begin to understand Trump’s clear frustration, albeit the man is a fool.

Liberalism is about freedoms and rights, which makes it all the more astonishing why liberal minded people have denied Trump the right to his freedom of speech; the right to dislike a certain sector of the community who pose a threat to their well-being. Dislike, and indeed distrust, is not hatred. How can anybody like and trust those who seek to destroy our cultural and religious values? People cannot expect to uphold the rights of those who would destroy them, while suppressing the rights of those who believe their ideas and policies may prevent such destruction. It is a grey line, much like hate crime, but Western society needs to get is head out of the sand!

And for those still blurting their anti-Trump vitriol, of course you have the right to do so, but take note: Muslims do not have a right to visit the United States, nor migrate to Europe. It is actually a very liberal privilege.

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Thursday, November 5

Wild Life Collaring - How Necessary Is It?

The collaring of an iconic elephant in Mana Pools last year caused a little bit of a furore. Yes we tree huggers are a troublesome bunch. When first darted, the collar was placed on the beast too tightly, requiring the animal to be darted a second time and the collar loosened. The elephant, who has acquired the name Boswell from local operators, is very much a photographic experience or opportunity for all those who find him pulling branches from his favourite Faidherbia albida on his hind legs (hence his name).

The collaring of Boswell was done, ostensibly to protect him. Really? Personally I am struggling with this, because I cannot see how a bull elephant can possibly be protected by a collar. Some say that hunters will not shoot a collared animal – there is a morale code. . Cecil, the iconic lion and a favourite of photographers, was collared and look what happened to him. Post mortem fame is tragic.

Hold on though, there is no hunting in Mana Pools (or there shouldn’t be) or other areas where these big tuskers have been collared. Yes, these elephants wander a bit into nearby hunting areas, things do ring true, but not much, so is this collaring intended to ward off poachers. Pull the other leg. Poachers have no morals, they usually operate under cover of darkness when collars are not visible, but even if a collar was spotted it would mean little. The vogue method of extermination is cyanide poisoning so a fat lot of use a collar will be. Its too late once the animal is motionless!

The question I would like answered by those who collared Boswell is what technology is deployed with the collar. Is the animal actually being tracked in real-time? Who is the recipient of the data and why did it take so long to find Boswell to be darted a third time to sort out a festering tail. How come other operators in the Park are not privy to the tracking data? So many questions!

GPS and radio telemetry technology has come a long way in the last decade, but it appears we are still deploying 1970’s technology. Loop antennas such as Boswell’s are actually inefficient over distance, so he is prone to get ‘lost’ from time to time. The biggest problem with these collars is the battery pack, usually comprising lithium cells which are cumbersome restricting the period of any research or study to the pulse period of the battery. Solar powered devices are an option, but not easy to deploy on wild animals. Is Boswell being tracked in real time though? I don’t think so. How then will all this protect an elephant?

Why should we be concerned? The general propensity is to think that the collar spoils the image for the photographer. That it does, but it is not important. The principal concern is the health of the animal and the safety of those who come in its way after a bad experience. A friendly veterinary person once told me these animals suffer huge stress during a darting and there is always a risk of the animal not surviving the experience. Boswell has been darted three times.

Strangely, there are several bull elephants commonly encountered in the park, some more iconic that Boswell, and here I talk of Big Vic, a magnificent specimen and a gentleman bull. There are others. My question is, why have all these bulls not been chosen for protection? Something is not right.

Elephants are not the only animal being collared in Zimbabwe. Lions and wild dogs suffer their share of this practice. If it is being done for good tangible research on animal habits and aiding conservation of species, who can argue? I understand the Lion Research in Hwange has been an exceptional project. Some complain that too many lions have been collared in the program. The same for wild dogs.

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Sunday, April 19

Privacy Rights and Photography

France has very strict privacy laws, so much so that it is actually an infringement of ones rights to publish or commercialise an image of a person without his authority.  This may not be the general trend in Europe (where there are contradictions between human rights to privacy and rights to expression) and certainly the laws pertaining in the United Kingdom are at best rather vague on the point.  In Zimbabwe, there is hardly any restriction and what you capture on camera may be published.

One only has to review Zimbabwe’s chronicles of unlawful arrest and detention of photographers to understand that discretion is the better part of valour in certain circumstances.  The law, as it stands, does not deny the photographer to take any image of any subject in any public place.  Restrictions may be imposed upon photographers taking photographs in private places, by the owners of those places; and the State has legislation in place in terms of the Defence Act, Electoral Regulations, the Official Secrets Act, Prisons Act, and Protected Places and Areas Act, amongst others.

Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and Privacy law are mute on the point of privacy rights outside those restrictions on disseminating information by a “public body”, as clearly defined and scheduled in the Act.  This legislation was introduced, principally, to control the local and international media, rather than protect the privacy rights of people.  However, reading between the lines of that legislation, there are snippets of moral consideration for the taking.

In this context the onus is upon individual photographers to police themselves, although there has been no attempt to introduce any code in Zimbabwe as such.  Here we are at the mercy of standards of society and good old common sense.  If we draw from the legislation we can see that in certain circumstances it is illegal for a public body (and a breach of journalistic privilege) to publish material which impairs one’s dignity, invades his or her privacy, injurious to reputation or amounts to criminal insult.

We do not need to revert to legislation for moral judgement.  Taking images of scantily clad children is not criminal, but publishing them, even if not compromising, is perhaps very much against the grain of our moral obligation.  Our moral perspective should be that of never seeking to impair the rights of others and protecting those who cannot protect themselves, but within reason.  No harm is done by politely seeking authority from your subject and where possible using ‘model release’ to prevent future dispute.

To those who would rush at you demanding you respect their privacy, it should be understood that the act of taking a photograph is no violation, it’s the publishing which does the damage, if at all.  Clearly, this leads the photographer into unnecessary conflict with the self-opinionated few, and withdrawal may be prudent.  The photographer risks committing a criminal breach of the peace in defending himself and his rights; accused of being a journalist (which is a controlled profession); or may cross the boundaries of harassment by pursuing the take.  That is where most photographers fall foul of the law.

Photographers need to adopt their own moral codes but must know their rights, and the rights of others, within the communities they work.  They should also understand the techniques of tactical withdrawal in privacy sensitive and hostile communities.  Be polite and co-operative, the image is never worth the hassle or loss of freedom.

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Wednesday, January 7

Seeking the Peace means Stopping the Aggressor

I am saddened by yet another Muslim based attack in Europe, this time France, killing innocent civilians.  The Muslim Crusades seem to have the leading edge and Europe is cowering at its back door.  Clearly it is time for European leadership to develop a backbone and commence significant action against the Muslim hoards.  The French people need to re-act to this in such a way that the extremist Muslim swine will think twice about perpetrating their criminal acts in France. Immigration blocks and mass deportations of radicals are clearly justified and sod the European Human Rights league.

Is there such a thing as innocent and peace loving Muslims?  Clearly they are very much in the minority, if they do exist, and they are complicit by their silence.  They provide the platform and comfort zone for terrorist infiltration of communities. One does not hear the Imams speaking out against this pointless terrorism.  How long are nations going to keep their heads below the parapet and allow the incoming to wreak havoc?  All this slaughter in the name of a god… it really is quite pathetic, were it not so tragic.  There is no Allah… the Islamic faith is based on a myth, like most others… yet it has bred a revolution of vile proportions.

Muslims have brought it upon themselves… Europeans do not feel safe and there is every cause to make Muslims feel much the same in their host countries.  Yet that will not happen… Europeans have lost their courage and cannot stand up for fear of criticism, they are ashamed of their own, and continue waving their little white flags, tacitly, in the breeze.   It is sad to see.

Rest in peace those brave martyrs of free expression… like-minded people will not forget your sacrifice…  We will remember them.

Émile Arnaud coined the phrase pacifism, a now generally European mentality. Those who follow its principals will quickly succumb to unwanted enemies, as we are experiencing in Western Europe today.  They who seek the peace need to understand that the aggressor has to be stopped in its path of wanton destruction and that means resisting it with equal cunning and more powerful force.  You know who the enemy is... deal with it.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
John Lennon/Yoko Ono

Friday, August 22

Zimbabwe’s Roads are Chaotic

The single most important aspect of training should be adjusting driver attitude: learning to consider others on the road, driving with pride, being morally responsible, becoming less impatient, being courteous to all, and following the rules of the road.   The lead up to licence acquisition should include classroom attendance and examinations beyond just the Highway Code and rules of conduct.  Introduce the theory of driving into the secondary school curriculum.  The science or physics associated with driving should be better understood, before drivers are let loose on the roads. The entire psychology of Zimbabwean driving need a paradigm adjustment and this includes not only individual vehicle licencing but vehicle ownership responsibility.

Take driver licencing away from the Vehicle Inspection Department.  There is no correlation between vehicle testing and drivers’ licencing and the process as it stand is susceptible to corrupt licencing issue.  The testing, by unqualified and often ignorant officers, for provisional licencing is a ludicrous joke to many who go through the process.  It’s a cash cow for corrupt officers issuing permits which really serve no purpose, since the pre-examining process is a mockery.

The extent of vehicle road worthiness has declined over the years and yet this is not subject to any form of scrutiny until after the fact (an accident), when it is often too late.  The introduction of an annual vehicle inspection process conducted by any registered vehicle servicing garage, capable of issuing an annual certificate free of corruption, pre annual road licencing at regular intervals is a critical element to reducing road carnage.  Police powers of confiscation of vehicles, blatantly violating annual scrutiny or with obviously dangerous defect should come into force.

National and Council signage and road markings with regulatory and statutory signs and the improvement of road surfaces throughout Zimbabwe would clearly assist in accident reduction.  Often speed limits are not well known… the more repetitive display of speed limits through a controlled zone (i.e. on every second of third lamp post) in urban areas is needed.  Marking of Stop and Give Way intersections with road markings and signs is critical.  Simply painting and better marking Zebra Crossings and understanding the right of the pedestrian would help.  Zimbabwe Traffic Authorities and Councils have been sloppy in the last 35 years.  Most road signs pre-date Zimbabwe independence.

Policing of road traffic is poor in Zimbabwe.  Road Traffic penalties are insufficiently punitive to warrant concern by the defaulter.  Road accident statistics do not exist and thus do not lent to other agencies making improvement and preventing causes.  The number of moving offenses which the average driver will see each day, where there are no policemen in sight, and which the offender gets away with, are staggering.  Police may be seen occasionally on highways with speed testing equipment, but the majority of policing is merely to see if vehicles, and their radios, are licenced.  More frequently policing of traffic is done statically by scruffy and often corrupt policemen at traffic light and stop street intersections.  These are monitored by policemen who do not drive, who generally exercise poor judgment and are susceptible to bribes!  This has no impact on traffic law enforcement! Police officers fail to set an example on the roads, often breaching the regulations and appearing above the law.

The Traffic Safety Council has failed entirely in its objectives. This was not entirely of their own making… lack of funding and quite clearly a lack of political commitment marred their initiatives.  They say so themselves.  Their vision of becoming “regional leaders in continuously reducing deaths, injury and property damage caused by road traffic accidents” is ludicrous in light of the continuing road carnage.  We rarely see the results of their efforts on the roads.  They would do well to better regulate and enforce drivers’ licencing tuition and corruption free driver licencing issues.  Their function should include inspections of the roads and reporting to National and Council authorities on faults and enforcing a statutory requirement to make repairs or do maintenance.  They should be the registration authority for regular vehicle scrutiny checking and they should investigate all accidents (review all police investigations) and draw up statistics which lead to telling the cause and effecting the change.
In the end road traffic safety is up to the individual drivers who ply our roads.  Each and every one has a duty of care on the roads and their combined responsibility on the roads would lead to lower casualty and damage rates.  The agencies responsible for traffic control and safety and the general use of Zimbabwe’s roads are hamstrung by other political priorities and needs.  I very much doubt they will have influence until the people take control of their driving on their own. 

Monday, January 20

Photography's Golden Triangle

Creative people will make creative photographers. The skills or craft needed to achieve their creativity is the conduit between mind and canvas. The synergy of creativity and craft make the masterpiece. Ergo, any good photographer will have mastered the craft of the camera. This article sets out to explain some very rudimentary technical issues concerning your use of a camera.

The transition between film and digital photography has been nothing but a wonderful journey for photographers. The explosion of technology in both hardware and computer applications has opened a plethora of knowledge need.

When discussing the basics of photography there are three subjects which need to be imparted: exposure, aperture and ISO (sensitivity)... I usually refer to this as the golden triangle. Today’s modern digital SLR cameras and most bridge cameras allow the user total control over this triangle.

People who grapple with cameras get to understand the need for correct exposure quite quickly. Fewer people get to grips with aperture priority though and depth of field that aperture controls. Opening the aperture limits the depth of field of focus while tightening the aperture brings items both far and near into focus.

Exposure and aperture choice are the single most important adjustments people make when creating a digital image. With today’s cameras it is often the case that where one setting is adjusted, the other changes too. They are easily controlled. Thus when you open up the aperture to a wider f-stop (say f/2 – f/5.6) the camera will adjust the exposure automatically to a faster speed, say 1/750 sec.

Often when you find you are in full control of your camera faculties, you face challenges with things which are outside your control... probably the most frequent being the available light. In the good old days of film photography the cameraman would choose the speed of the film, based on the purpose of its use. Film was rated by an ISO (or ASA) which was and still is the standard for light sensitivity for film, or as most referred to it as the speed of the film.

Today’s digital cameras have sensors to receive image light through the lens and enable its conversion to a digital format. Sensibly, manufacturers have chosen to hang onto the international standards for sensor light sensitivity, and they have given the user the ability to change the sensitivity of the sensor at any time. This control of sensor sensitivity levels forms the golden triangle of camera control.

Cameras may be set to operate with aperture priority or exposure priority (there are other modes) and, with the rolling of dials, either aperture or exposure speed is changed with ease. Adjusting the ISO on your camera may not be as simple as it should be. Lead manufacturers have come to realise a need to improve the ergonomics of ISO adjustment and most DSLRs allow a switch/button and dial adjustment right at your finger tips. Roll on the ISO dial in its own right.

So what? Why be confuse with this obscure concept? Well simply said, it happens to give you an extension of your potential. My passion happens to be wildlife photography and as many will know, perhaps the most successful time to dabble in image capture is during the earliest and last hours of the day, commonly known as the golden hours.

The earliest and very latest minutes of this range of light present one with challenges which can be met with that little adjustment of ISO for higher ‘gain’. There is conflict, for example, between your slowest exposure levels and capturing a moving animal, say at a predator kill, where it is sacrilege to use your flash!

You cannot allow movement blur... so you up your ISO to obtain a greater light gain, which will allow faster exposure, and thus sharpness. Simple! So, in the last few minutes of the day, you have no choice but to pump up the ISO.

Life is not a bed of roses, for there are sacrifices. When choosing a high rated ISO/ASA film for use, one knew that your images would be far grainier than the lower speed rated film. You would never choose a high ISO rated grainy film for landscape work (long depth of field/all in focus). The conversion to digital brought with it a conversion from high ISO film grain to high ISO digital noise.

Now, one could get extremely technical here and bang off a few terms which will mean little, perhaps. High sensor ISO settings are known to cause what is called the salt and pepper effect (resulting from photodiode leakage). Let us just call that a little colour distortion. You could observe the appearance of blues, where they should not be, or speckles of colour out of the general range. Just to complicate matters, the smaller the sensor size, the more noise is apparent (thus some mobile phones produce ‘grainier’ and more noise ridden images).

Noise reduction is a feature of many of the more advanced cameras. This is basically a set of algorithms which challenge the image noise while trying to retain or preserve low-contrast detail (possibly mistaken for noise). If the camera fails to achieve this, then the handy backup lies with excellent software applications which enable the photographer to adjust their images.

Take a good look at your camera... research the model you have, perhaps on the internet, and learn its ISO adjustment capability. Most compacts do not cater for this but both bridge and DLSR cameras do. You never know when that once in a life time opportunity presents itself at dusk or in low light and what a pity if you are still fumbling to find the adjustments.

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Friday, November 29

I am the Infidel

We are often told that we should respect peoples’ religions… or faith.

The problem with this is that nobody is telling us to respect those who have no religion or faith. In fact quite to the contrary… people who declare they have no God or faith, all the heathens and agnostics in our lives are wicked people, in the falsely cherubic minds of many; thus agents of the Devil; and misguided mortals to be avoided, lest they corrupt and dirty your minds. There is great prejudice if not outright persecution of those who do not toe the right religious line and subscribe to a faith.

I have seen it in the family, I have seen it in my personal networks and nationally too: that sort of glazed look of disbelief, then there are attempts to make one subscribe, or rather shall I say comply, and then occasionally there is the ostracisation. Christians, in my experience become engaging, selling their ideas and beliefs through a process of forgiveness and encouragement to venture the born again. The Jewish faith really couldn’t care, so long as one does not mix or blend with its communities: that subtle religionism we all turn a blind eye to. Muslims, so it would seem, just issue those sweeping fatwā , thus condemning the unfaithful to death with eternal damnation on earth and fire in hell. It is a loving religion I am told.

Nations themselves seem to have the monopoly on whether you are one religion or another by virtue of their subscription to whichever faith is vogue and then suppress other dieties. You would think God is in control here, but he is not. The British Queen cannot be Catholic, but must be Christian, although her government might lean towards the Muslim faith as the politically correct way to go. The Ayatollahs of the middle east, of supposedly supreme religious fame, ban the Christians and Jews and offer their fatwā against the Infidels. The Jews simply exclude the Gentiles. What a funny world. Hinduism is just, well, foreign!

Dear oh dear… I am an Infidel and a Gentile, seemingly the victim of piteous religionism. I do not fit in your houses of worship, nor your communities and indeed a few nations too. There is no place in Heaven for me and I am condemn to Hell; yet I hold my head high… with pride in the knowing that I am a good person. There is no wrath in me like those educated in Islamic theology and their sacred laws; nor filthy greed like evangelists around the collection plate; or sloth like the padre between Monday and Friday; nor pride like the Archbishop and the Pope; or lust like priests in children’s’ homes, not even envy like a Muslims in Christian society, and gluttony like we have seen in the Catholic Church.

It is difficult to respect peoples’ religions and faith if they cannot respect me for what I am.

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