MY DAILY THOUGHT

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September 16, 2014 – How big corporations can exploit the poor

While attending the Toronto International Film Festival last week, I was lucky enough to watch a film which told the story of how a baby formula manufactured by a large global company contributed to the death of tens of thousands of babies in 1994. 

The central character in the film who, after securing a  “dream” job as a sales representative and who built a market for the product by providing free samples to doctors and nurses, discovered that the formula, when diluted with unclean water, created a deadly result by causing the babies to have extreme cases of diarrhea leading to death by dehydration and other illnesses.  After bringing the issue to the attention of management at the corporation, who refused to do anything about the problem and denying any responsibility, he brought the matter to the attention of the World Heath Organization which lead to him receiving death threats and shots fired at his house resulting in the lead character having to flee Pakistan for his own safety. 

Sadly in economically challenged countries, mothers cannot afford to provide their babies with full strength formula and have little choice but to dilute it with what is often unclean water which caused the high incidence of death. 

Taking on large multinational interests is not an easy thing to do.  It often requires deep pockets that many individuals, and even well funded non-profit organizations, are unable to compete with. 

It was somewhat ironical that only 24 hours after watching the movie, a couple in Oregon opened a package of baby yogurt which they were about to feed to their infant two year old daughter when they discovered the contents were filled with maggots.  The brand in question was related to the same corporation which was the subject matter of the film.  For the horrific experience which the family suffered, they were given a generous check in the amount of $50 with a commitment that the rest of the shipment would be pulled from the shelves!   One has to wonder if the baby had eaten the yogurt before the maggots were discovered and suffered any illness, would the manufacturer have offered perhaps a token more in compensation? 

There is no doubt that in today’s society, the ability for an individual to take on large corporations has become almost an exercise in futility unless you can find enough people who have suffered the same plight which may allow a law firm to file a class action lawsuit where the firm will take on the litigation on a contingent basis and where they may share up to 40% of any judgment awarded against the defendant.  It is extremely challenging when large corporations have the ability to engage teams of lawyers to slow the process of due process down to a “snail’s crawl” making the cost prohibitive for most people to pursue.  Despite support from various consumer protection agencies, these kinds of actions continue to be an uphill battle.

In the case of the allegations concerning the multi-national corporation described above and the baby formula in Pakistan, whether or not there is actual liability or not on the part of the manufacturer, when it became evident that thousands of children were dying, you would hope that the corporation would take steps to mitigate what is clearly a horrendous situation? 

In recent times, we have sadly had to witness the loss of innocent children caused by fighting in different countries around the world.  Do we also have to witness the loss of life from the use of a manufactured product which could have been avoided?   I accept the fact that large corporations employ large numbers of people and that the cost of having to stop or suspend the manufacture of a product may result in some people losing their jobs but surely on balance, this is a better result than thousands of more children dying at the same time?  Perhaps instead of spending millions of dollars in trying to defend these actions, some of these corporations might spend the money in researching ways of how to modify the product so that the consequences may not cause the same loss of life. 

I do not know enough about all of the facts surrounding the subject matter of the film to determine whether or not Nestle is guilty as alleged in the film but one thing is clear.  Certainly the manufacturer did not deny knowledge of the babies dying and at least, according to the film, seemed to be aware that it was in large part because of a dilution of their product with unclean water, which is all that was available to many of the mothers who were using the product.   In trying to do some limited research on the subject, I could not find any information on the Internet that would suggest that the manufacturer chose to do anything about it.  At least on this basis, the facts seem to speak for themselves! 

(Photos of children taken in Cuba – August 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

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September 9, 2014 – Happiness, the Toronto International Film Festival and Cuba

I am currently in Toronto attending what might be my 25th year of being at the Toronto international Film Festival. Over the past 5 days I have watched films dealing with such subjects as the “Lost Boys” of Sudan (The Good Lie), the night life of videographers who travel the streets of Los Angeles searching for footage of human tragedy in order to make a quick sale to the highest paying network news service (Nightcrawler), a woman who is given the opportunity to design a beautiful rock garden and amphitheater at Versailles in the 1600s (A Little Chaos) and a man’s journey to find out what makes people happy (Hector and the Search for Happiness). Interestingly enough, on one level or another, the concept and importance of happiness seems to be a key element in each of these titles.

In “The Good Lie”, the Sudanese boys are looking to leave the refugee camps in Kenya in the hope of coming to America to find a better life. In ” A Little Chaos” there is a happiness to be found by Kate Winslet who finds peace and fulfillment in the creation of beauty in working with nature.  And in “Hector” the lead actor goes on a journey to find out what it is that makes other people happy in the hope of finding fulfillment and a path to happiness in his own life. I have written about this film previously and addressed one of the conclusions reached by the lead character on his journey, namely that avoiding unhappiness will not ultimately help you achieve your own personal happiness. The need to risk certainty and safety and allow oneself to be exposed emotionally, although not easy and often challenging, is something that we all have to be willing to do if we want to pursue a deep and fulfilling existence.  Taking only the safe path in life can lead to monotony and the inability to achieve one’s full potential.
 

For those of you who have been following my blog these last few weeks, you have seen some of my photos and thoughts from my recent trip to Cuba.  Today’s photos are also from different parts of Cuba but in choosing today’s particular images, I find myself asking the question as to whether or not the people in these photos are truly happy despite the smiles on their faces?  Have they accepted their current socio-economic position with knowledge of “what could be” or is their happiness more to do with the concept of “ignorance is bliss?”  Does the absence of real news from the outside world leave them with a false expectation of what life under different circumstances can offer? 

There is no doubt that in places like North Korea, the citizens of that country have been completely shut off from the outside world by the Government, or at least that has been the government’s intention. The censorship of material in North Korea does not just extend to the limitation on “real” news of the outside world, but the North Korean government has also attempted to suppresses images of life in South Korea and the rest of the world by blocking access to film, TV programming, internet access and books that might otherwise give some insight into what life outside of their dictatorship has to offer.  It is only in the last few years with DVDs starting to flood into the country as well as cell phones that can access signals from the Chinese border, that the people of North Korea are developing an appreciation of how challenging their own life currently is.

In the case of Cuba, although there is very limited access to the internet, and most residents have the ability to watch TV provided on the two government networks, Cubans nonetheless love to watch movies and there is fairly significant access to US blockbuster and European movies where life in the outside world is not a great mystery.  Additionally, there is a generation of Cuban’s from before the revolution that did travel freely and even today, Cuban Americans, even though a small percentage of the population can travel back and forward to the United States and other parts of the world although for the average Cuban, this is not a luxury they are able to enjoy given. 

Notwithstanding a greater knowledge of what life in the US and Europe can be like, given the access to cinema and DVDs, I still believe that most Cuban’ are generally happy given a higher level of medial coverage and education though the university level that exists in many Western and European societies. 

Although it is true that most of the photos I have posted are of people with smiles on their faces, it was not because I selectively looked to find those people or paid them money to smile.   The truth is that I did not come across a lot of unhappy people; although I acknowledge that they may well exist.

In the Amish community, teens around the age of 14-16, get to participate in Rumspringa, a time in their lives where they leave the Amish community and go out into the world and experience what other teens may perceive to be a normal life including a participation in drugs, sex and alcohol.  In most cases, the Amish youth return back to their community willingly have decided that their existence in the Amish community is better than what many might perceive as dysfunctional and unfulfilling in the outside world. 

Perhaps in the case of Cubans, their apparent genuine happiness, as can be seen from the photos above, which include young children, teenagers and parents, is somewhat based on a similar conclusion. 

What I do know from my own personal journey is that my priorities in life have changed over the last 10 years. The importance of family and community is something that is now more important than ever.  Perhaps Cubans and other people have reached this conclusion earlier than most people do in Western societies who can sometimes be blinded by the attractiveness of affluence and the acquisition of personal assets. 

(Photos taken in Cuba – August 2014)

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September 2, 2014 – Santiago, Cuba

On the afternoon of our second day of our recent trip to Cuba, we said to our guide that we would like to spend some time walking around some of the residential neighborhoods in Santiago that were not too far from the center of the city. 

It was the middle of the rainy season and the sky at 5 in the afternoon was beginning to darken quickly with evidence of rain in the not too distant future.  Notwithstanding, given our tight schedule, this was likely to be the only afternoon they we would have this opportunity and so our guide dropped us off in an area that looked rich with photographic opportunities agreeing to pick us up about 90 minutes later (or potentially sooner if the  rain began to fall).

After walking down what could be described as one of the main roads (imagine that we are describing a street that was filled more with horse driven carts, bicycle taxis and trucks and buses, as distinct from the usual array of Japanese cars you might find in most cities, carrying the locals from one end of the city to the other), we decided to head down one of the side streets where we found a colorful “Old Timer”, the name given to the American cars of the 50s and 60s that remained in Cuba after the Revolution and which today are brightly painted and often used by tourists to drive around Cuban cities for fun.  Despite huge prices that are often offered by vintage car collectors from around the world, the Cuban government do not allow these vehicles to leave the country as they are considered part of the identity of the country.

After taking a number of pictures of the brightly colored vehicle, its owner, a man in his 20s, proudly invited us to look inside the beautifully restored vehicle and was more than happy to let us take pictures of him standing next to the car. I offered to send him a copy of one of the pictures via email but the absence of internet in Cuba makes this almost impossible. 

We continued walking in an area that had the appearance of a relatively low income area in a third world country where most of the residents were sitting out on the street in the late afternoon, especially given that the temperature was probably still over 90 degrees and with probably 80% humidity in the air.  Most of the houses consisted of a front room that had an iron door facing the street which allowed cool air (to the extent there was any) to flow through to the kitchen/dining area and bedrooms that existed in the back.  Given that the temperature rarely cooled down until after 11 at night (and by “cooling down” I mean dropping to the high 70s or low 80s and still with a high degree of humidity), in almost every neighborhood people sit out on the steps to their houses or in chairs that are strategically located inside the iron doors and windows.

Everywhere we went, people smiled at us and particularly the young children would come running when they saw our cameras and insist that we take their photos, laughing and smiling when we would show them the images on the screen on the back of our cameras.  We were very respectful of the locals and rarely took pictures without  first asking for permission.  Almost no one said  “no” and there were only a small number of people who would ask for a peso, which is roughly the equivalent of a US dollar.

Despite what appeared to us to be somewhat challenging living conditions, almost everyone was smiling, happy and appeared content with their lives.  There was a tremendous sense of community on the streets with the children of different families all playing together while their parents or older siblings sat and talked to each other which was clearly part of the daily ritual.

We asked our guide if people were generally happy with their lives and he confirmed that in large part, they were, especially for the older people, many of whom had struggled badly before the Revolution and now in the post “Fidel” era, all have decent medical coverage, the children had good access to education even at the university level which helps create a large number of engineers, doctors and other professionals that contribute the slow growth of the economy.

Perhaps the one thing that Cuban’s lack is the ability to leave the country.  Even though the government over the last few years has relaxed this restriction, certainly, unless you are a Cuban/American with dual passports, you cannot travel to the United States, and most other countries around the world are reluctant to give Cubans tourist visas for fear that they will remain in the country and not return to Cuba.  The other factor that is relevant is that most Cuban’s probably make less than $10,000 a year which after covering their living costs, does not allow a high level of savings to be spent on vacations out of the country.

Despite this, as mentioned above, we found that virtually every Cubans that we spoke to did seem content with what they had, focusing less on what they didn’t  have, an attitude and approach to life which is something that we could all learn from.

(Photos taken in Santiago, Cuba – August 2014)

 

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August 26, 2014 – Cuba

Today’s “Thought of the Day” contains a number of images taken from my current vacation in Cuba.  My intention had originally been to post this 24 hours ago but I am have been travelling in areas where there is no internet access available and so had to wait until today when it was possible to get a very slow, almost equivalent to “dial up” access before I could send this across cyberspace. 

This is my first visit to Cuba and can honestly say it is a truly amazing place to visit and definitely worthwhile.  Getting here is not easy.  As an Australian, I am, in theory allowed to travel freely into Cuba, although to do so from the United States is not allowed and I would first have to travel to Mexico, Canada, Barbados or some other country that has flights into one of the many airports that exists in this country. 

As a “residents” of the United States, technically we are supposed to get an “educational” visa which we did which allowed us to fly on a charter flight from Miami which was relatively painless although at the airport in Santiago de Cuba, I was stopped by the customs officials who wanted to examine the contents of my luggage and ask me questions concerning what I was intending to take photographs of with my zoom lens.  They asked me how long was my zoom lens and when I told them that my longest lens could magnify from 70-200m, they seemed satisfied that I was not intending to shoot sensitive military locations! 

We have been fortunate enough to have an amazing guide who, over the course of 10 days, will drive us from Santiago to Havana, a drive of more than 700 kilometers on roads that may be called the “National Highway” but with sometimes deep pot holes that are hard enough to see during the day which could be a disaster for the unprepared driver if you were on the roads at night. 

What I can say about Cuba is that it is one of the friendliest countries I have ever been to.  The people could not be more friendly.  Everywhere we have been both young children and older people are more than happy to have their pictures taken and always with a smile.  We spent one afternoon walking around what I would describe as a very low income neighborhood with living conditions that would be hard to find in most parts of the United States but even there people were smiling, there was an amazing sense of community and people seemed to be content with what they have in terms of housing and their personal possessions.  Cubans, especially younger people, take great pride in what they wear and always look unbelievably clean and reasonably stylish. 

The pictures above include not only me standing behind a bar having just drunk one of several great Mojitos, but also a photo of a woman holding up what I believe is a picture of herself from an earlier point in time whose live has been a little challenging over recent years.

Given that over 10 days I expect to shoot over 2000 images, I may seek to indulge you at least one more time with some further images from this amazing country. 

It is sad that since the 1960s, there is still no diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.  At least one of the positive things that Obama has done during his presidency is to allow a program called “People to People” which allows US citizens and residents to visit without too much difficultly.  Hopefully as this program continues, the prospect of the two countries being able to trade freely will not just remain a dream, at least for the islanders, who although have the right to travel, are effectively “landlocked” as there are very few countries around the world that will give even tourist visas given the fear that these people may seek to migrate to other countries, a risk, that most countries do not want to take in current economic conditions. 

(Photos taken in Cuba – August 2014)

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August 19, 2014 – Creativity in Food

Apart from my hobby of occasionally taking photos (I say occasionally as I was speaking to a friend of mine last week who has just had his second child and informed me that he had taken over 40,000 photos of his first child in the first year of his life.  That’s a lot of photos!) some of which I  have shared with all of you, I have several other hobbies that I enjoy including bike riding (the two wheel non electric kind) and cooking. 

The latter is something I have always loved doing from the time I was a teenager and have from time to time shared photos on “My Daily Thought” of dishes cooked by me especially when I have gone to the trouble of preparing an 8 or 9 course tasting menu. 

In terms of my skills as a photographer, I think I do a reasonable job but it is fair to say that whenever I go to a photographic exhibition or look at images of some of the better photographers in the world, I am greatly humbled and find myself in awe of some of not only the images they have captured but their use of light and shadow and color in ways that I am not sure I will ever be able to do. 

During my travels over the last few months, I have found myself feeling somewhat the same way about my own somewhat limited culinary skills.   I do think that I am a reasonable cook but when I reflect on some of the meals I have eaten over the last month or so I am equally humbled by what I have experienced not only in terms of taste but also in terms of presentation which in some cases is nothing short of a wonderful work of art! 

I am a great believer that food to be fully enjoyed must not only taste great but the manner in which it is presented, if done properly, can enhance the experience to a whole new level.  This does not mean that the dishes have to be elaborately prepared.  Some of the best meals I have ever eaten are nothing more than very fresh ingredients served simply, whether it is a whole fresh fish or fresh tomatoes off the vine with a little fresh basil and olive oil dripped gently over the top.  

Over the last few weeks, a business colleague has been leaving fresh bread each weekend at my house which is as good as any bread I have eaten anywhere.   In the same way that there is a taste that exists when fish is eaten within hours of it getting caught, the same is true when you eat bread that has just come out of the oven!

The images reflected above are a sample of some of the dishes that I have had the great pleasure of enjoying over the last few months.  Some of the workmanship that has gone into the design of these dishes is quite remarkable.  Look at the design and time that has gone into the desert of a butterfly on a leaf shown in the first picture or the display of fresh red beets in the second picture topped with grilled red onions, burrata with a light splash of olive oil. The fourth picture is an appetizer in a restaurant called Uri Buri located in the old town of Akko in the north of Israel, consisting of fresh bread just taken out of the oven, Israeli salad (cucumbers, red onions, mint, fresh parsley, bell peppers and tomatoes) together with Carpaccio of fresh tuna, red onions and olive oil.  If that had been the only dish we had eaten for lunch it would have been enough!  Even the radish salad is a masterful creation and must take the preparer a reasonable amount of time to create that imagery.

If you weren’t hungry before you read today’s post, you better be hungry now as I know I am just writing today’s post!

“Ask not what you can do for your country.  Ask what is for lunch”

Orson Welles

(Photos taken in Israel and the South of France with my Samsung S5)

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August 13, 2014 – Faces of Outside Lands

After posting some pictures yesterday from this year’s Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park held this past weekend, a number of people sent notes asking if I would include some additional pictures so here they are!  Rather than let another week go past, I thought I would just put these images up today. 

None of the pictures in today’s post are of the musicians who performed at the festival.  Rather, they are all of people who were in the audience who came for three days to do nothing but listen to some great music, eat some good food, perhaps drink a nice glass of cabernet or pinot gris but more importantly, have some fun. 

This weekend, there were no angry faces in the crowd. No one crying or screaming except for the occasional sounds of a baby who was rebelling against their parents for making them leave early instead of staying for the last performance of the day. 

It is the people who attend these festivals who are just as important as the bands themselves for without the energy coming from the crowd, just sitting in the audience or standing with 20,000 people can feel a little flat. 

So today’s post is dedicated to the people who’s pictures are included above and to everyone else who took part in this past weekend and made it the great event it was. 

Until next year’s festival! 

(Photos taken at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park – August 2014)

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August 12, 2014 – Outside Lands

For the third successive year in a row, I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday of last week in Golden Gate Park attending at Outside Lands, a food, wine and music festival which has been held every year for the last seven years. 

Unlike the insanity of Coachella which is held in the Southern California Desert in April when the temperature can be over 100 degrees during the day, there is, by comparison, mellowness to this festival, which for me, is my favorite music event of the year.

Not only is the setting in Golden Gate Park, which is green and filled with tall Eucalyptus trees (that remind me of Australia – although with no Koala Bears as one Australian musician pointed out to the crowd) as distinct from the dust fields that you can find in the desert, but the temperature during the day tends to be in the high 60s and low 70s and drops off in the evening as the fog rolls in off the ocean. 

Unlike Coachella, where there is definitely an element, particularly amongst the younger crowd who are there in part for the social interaction with their peers, as distinct from being principally driven by the music, at Outside Lands, people are clearly there for the music and to enjoy three great “chill” days in the park.  The fact that there is a large selection of different foods offered from diverse ethnic backgrounds, as well as wine and beer tents where you can sample a reasonable variety of beverages, are a bonus rather than a driving force to get people to attend.

Despite the crowds that attend (probably over 100,000 in three days) there is largely no pushing and shoving and people are patient as they make their way from one end of the park to the other to listen to the different acts.  Even with the more popular acts, there is not a huge element of people trying to push their way forward to the front of the stage as the bands begin to play, despite a large number of people who waited patiently for sometimes hours to stake out their favorite viewing spot. 

It is true, that in my case, my son and I each had purchased VIP passes which gave us preferential viewing for the two main stages which was a definite plus as it meant that for almost any act, you could show up 10-15 minutes before the act began and still be assured of a pretty decent place to stand and watch the relevant band. 

One of the things I found of interest for me personally this year, as distinct from previous years, is that although in the past I have been somewhat driven by the ability to hear the likes of classic acts that I grew up with such as Paul McCartney, Neil Young, and Stevie Wonder, this year I was genuinely more interested in both listening to and experiencing new talent as well as witnessing what it is that today’s youth is driven by. 

When I was younger, in order to get a rich, full sound, a band would need to be comprised of not only two or three guitarists, a bass player, drummer, perhaps a couple of horn players and some back up singers, in addition to the lead singer, today, some of the biggest acts that performed at Outside Lands were one or two people standing on a stage with a series of computer driven sound devices that could recreate the sound of a full orchestra and horn section as well as pump out a great rhythm which would cause the crowd to jump up and down, use their hands and shout out the words of what were often remixed songs. In one case, a 23 year old DJ from Australia who is known to the crowd as “Flume” performed in perhaps one of the largest crowds ever to have attended a single event at Outside Lands attracting probably close to 25,000 all of whom were standing and dancing on the grass.  Even people my age!  I heard, witnessed and really appreciated for the first time how much talent some of these young kids have and why they are so popular.  The integration of sounds as well as visual images which are constantly changing on digital screens on the stage creates a total experience that is truly impressive. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I was very happy to hear Tom Petty play his classic hits from 25 years ago and if Led Zeppelin decided to make a return to the stage, you can count me in. But certainly next year I won’t be as hesitant to say “no” to the newest sounds that today’s musicians are creating!

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Plato 

(Photos taken at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park, California – August 2014)

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August 5, 2014 – Akko

In the Northern coastal plain of Israel, located on the Mediterranean Sea, is the historic town of Akko, a town that is now listed by the World Heritage Organization in part because of the preservation of remains of a historic town dating back to the Crusader era in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Akko is  also recognized as one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world.

The earlier name “Acre” appears in the tribute list of Thutmose III in the 15th Century BC and appears to have been settled as an ancient city during the early Bronze Age in about 3000 BC.  In the 15th Century it became an important location for the Ottomans as an active and vibrant port used for trading throughout their empire.

The town of Akko became part of Israel in 1948 and today has a population of close to 50,000 people and is actively inhabited by both Jews and Arabs who have found a way to live together in relative peace.

In the middle of Akko, is the old Arab Souq where local residents can shop for fresh fish and vegetables as well as buy clothes, toys and of course candy.  Most of the pictures above were taken in and around the Old City of Akko as well as in the Souq.  People were incredibly friendly and were more than happy for me to take their photo including the three young children as well as the older man drinking coffee.

One of the vendors on the street is selling fresh nougat in a variety of flavors which we certainly have to buy while another is selling fish that has just come out of the sea only a few hours earlier.

In the outdoor cafés the older men sit around and play dominos and the younger men sit and smoke hookah. It was nearly 100 degrees and quite humid when we were there and the effects of the warmth can be seen from the woman taking a rest from the market.

Although not evidence from the black and white picture of the men standing in swim suits, they are staring down below them at a drop of close to 100 feet and are deciding if they will jump or dive into the water which unless you get good clearance, could land you on some very jagged rocks.  We were told by one of the locals, that people do jump there from time to time but in the five minutes we stood waiting, no one seemed to have enough courage!

If you do decide to go to Akko, you should know that it is home to the restaurant “Uri Buri” considered by some to be the finest seafood restaurant in Israel and accordingly you should definitely book in advance.  The restaurant is located in a very simple and unpretentious building dating back to the Ottoman era and was certainly one of the highlights of our visit.

At a time when the fighting in Gaza highlights the conflict between Hamas and Israel, it is important to remember that there are many cities within Israel where co-existence of Jews, Christians and Muslims has worked with relatively few issues.  In Tel Aviv, the old port of Jaffa is another such location which is slowly becoming one of the trendy and more desirable locations to live in the city and has become home to some of the best restaurants in the area.

“The only alternative to co-existence is co-destruction.”

Jawaharial Nehru

(Photos taken in Akko – July 2014)

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July 29, 2014 – What are we fighting for?

Having just returned from Israel and watching and reading every day of the current events taking place in Gaza, I felt compelled in today’s “thought of the day” to write and post something relevant to this issue.   Today’s post is in a form that is different than what I have done before.  Instead of posting a collection of photos, I have instead posted a 3-minute video on YouTube which can be found by clicking on the image above.  Once the site opens, click on the option to watch in full screen mode and in HD.

The video is a collection of images taken by me in Israel and in the surrounding areas over the course of a number of years and serves as a reminder as to why it is we are engaged in a war right now.

During World War II and the Holocaust, over 6 million Jews lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis, as did millions of other people from around the world.  With the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe that grew in the 1930s, it became clear after the war, that the Jewish people must have a place of their own where they could feel safe and never feel the possible threat of another Holocaust taking place again.  The return of Jewish people to the Middle East and the establishment of the State of Israel became that place.  

It is and is supposed to be a place where children can play safely on the streets and in their homes.  A place where people can openly practice their religion without fear of persecution.   A place where people can swim in the beach without fear of an invasion from the sea.  A place where a man can sit in a chair on the street and read the daily newspaper quietly without the contents of such paper being censored.   A place where on Shabbat people can pray at the Western Wall and celebrate the Sabbath. A place where people can shop for food in a marketplace without concern of a terrorist attack.

In an ideal world, this is a place where children from all religions and backgrounds can play together, without regard to whether they are Jewish, or Christian or Muslim and just play together because that is what children are supposed to do. 

This war, and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East is robbing the youth of that right to have a childhood.  To have to grow up in an environment where sirens ring out in the middle of the night and where mothers and children have to run to a shelter for protection is not the way it is supposed to be. 

We are fighting this war so that historical sites can be preserved but most importantly we are fighting this war for future generations so that perhaps one day all children can have a place where they feel safe to play and grow up in the Middle East.   

The pictures in this clip are not just of Jewish Israeli children but Arab Israeli children playing in the markets in the old City of Jerusalem and in Akko as well as on the Dome of the Rock.  All of these children should be entitled to have the same thing.  The right to grow up in a safe, healthy and loving environment. 

I pray each day that the current fight will come to an end soon and that in the interim, the loss of innocent life on both sides can be kept to a minimum. 

(Photos contained in the attached clip taken in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Jericho, Safed, Akko and the Port of Jaffa during 2006-2014)

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July 22, 2014 – Death Valley 

About three weeks ago, over the July 4th weekend, I decided to take a trip out to Death Valley, a place, according to Wikipedia, which holds the record for the highest “reliably reported” air temperature in the world which was 134 degrees. 

Given that it was the middle of summer, it is fair to say that a number of people questioned the sanity of my judgment to drive out to the desert and wondered why, if I had a free weekend, I wouldn’t have decided to stay home and enjoy the beach in Southern California. 

The truth is, I hadn’t been to Death Valley in over 23 years and thought it might be an interesting place to take my camera, my new light-weight carbon fiber tripod, and shoot some pictures of the desert during, what arguably might be, the hottest time of the year. 

I had originally planned to go by myself but at the last minute, a good friend decided to join me for the two-day journey despite knowing that I would be stopping constantly to try and capture something interesting with my camera. 

We got on the road at about 6am, taking the 14 freeway through Mojave and then headed up to the entrance to the park, taking the non-traditional route driving up through the Searles Valley which, in part, is filled with old towns that now show signs of virtually being ghost towns. 

We arrived at the Park and headed to the large sand dunes in the middle of the day where the temperature in the car showed that it was 117 degrees outside.  There was a light breeze blowing through the flats, which probably made the temperature feel a little closer to 125 degrees.  After taking a few photos in what was unbearable heat, we headed to Furnace Creek (an appropriate name) where we would spend the night.  On arriving at the hotel, we were shocked to learn that the hotel was running at 80% capacity and that by the end of the following week would be almost at full capacity.  Apparently this is a popular time of year for Europeans to come and visit the park. 

After a swim in the pool, where the water was surprisingly pleasant, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat before heading out for some afternoon hiking.  From the time we decided to take a shower and head to the restaurant/bar at the hotel, a sandstorm started to blow creating extremely limited visibility, certainly not ideal for taking pictures and hiking.  The barman said that it was only the second time since he had been in Death Valley that he had seen a storm of this veracity. 

In the hope that the storm would blow through within a reasonably quick period of time, we headed in the direction of the storm deciding that this would be the area that would hopefully clear first and were pleasantly surprised after about 20 minutes that the sky did start to clear.  We were heading in the direction of “Badwater” which is the lowest point in North America, when a ranger forced us to pull off to the side of the road and tell us that we would have to get off the highway as there were flash flood warnings that could generate massive amount of rain and flooding in the space of an hour.

We did eventually get to see the lowest point, and an area called “Devils Golf Course” and hiked up the short path to Zabriskie Point which offers spectacular views of the desert especially late afternoon and first thing in the morning when, if you are lucky as a photographer, you can catch the “golden hour” of sunlight. 

The next morning we hiked below Zabriskie Point starting at around 7am and were confronted by two hikers who had just found a dead body on the trail.  It seemed that a hiker had passed out from heat exhaustion, possibly with a lack of water, and then never recovered.  Several days later, the papers reported that it had been one of the English actors from “Harry Potter”.  This tragedy made me reflect that I would have been foolish to have hiked or even travelled out into the desert alone.  Apart from the fact that in many places there is no cell phone coverage, if you are hiking and were to twist an ankle so that you couldn’t hike any further, it could be days before someone finds you with the outcome not particularly positive. 

When I first thought about shooting pictures of the desert, I wasn’t sure, given the hazy light conditions what I would find but if you are patient and look carefully, especially in the later afternoon or early morning when the sun can create some wonderful shadows, there is great beauty in the desert, even when the temperature is 117 degrees that is definitely worth seeing! 

(Photos taken in Death Valley – July 5 and 6, 2014)

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