Monday, November 16, 2009

Man's Best Friend: His Camera

One of my early inspirations in the area of photography was Ansel Adams. I bought his series of books on the technical aspects of photography many years ago and read them all. These books consisted of:

The Camera (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 1)
The Negative (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 2)
The Print (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 3)
Natural Light Photography, Series #4 (Ansel Adams Basic Photo Series)
Artificial-Light Photography ( Basic Photo 5 )

I am currently reading Ansel Adams: An Autobiography. It is very interesting to read about all the famous photographers and artists he befriended and the varied experiences he had. One thing that struck me was how determined photographers had to be years ago. Adams said that he would typically carry thirty pounds of equipment and supplies on his back and his tripod in his hand. When on longer treks he had to enlist the help of pack mules. I get tired just carrying minimal digital equipment in a shoulder bag.

When my family and I visited Yosemite National Park back in 2007, we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery. There was much good artwork available there. Several years ago the Huntsville Museum of Art had a show of Adams' prints. They were selling his mass produced prints, which looked surprisingly good, for a very reasonable price. I bought several of them. After matting and framing them, I hung them on a wall in our basement. Here are the images I have hanging.

Half Dome, Merced River, Winter by Ansel Adams

Moonrise, Hernandez by Ansel Adams

Clearing Winter Storm by Ansel Adams

Oak Tree, Sunset City by Ansel Adams

Rose and Driftwood by Ansel Adams

Winter Sunrise by Ansel Adams

If you enjoy photography and have not yet looked at Adams' work, please do. All the photos above and many more can be purchased at the online Ansel Adams Gallery. You won't be disappointed with the superb quality of his work. If you decide to purchase books rather than prints, be careful which books you buy. Many of the books compiled by other people are of very poor quality. Typically the photos in these books are flat and do not show off the quality of a true Adams print. I own several books of photos by Ansel Adams that are of very good quality. They are:

Ansel Adams: Trees
Yosemite and the High Sierra
Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams: Our National Parks
Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs

Reading Adams' autobiography inspired me to write a poem about him. I just added it to my personal Web site.

Below is a photo from my photography Web site that has the look of an Ansel Adams print. I hope you enjoy viewing it and reading my poem.

Capitol Reef by Randy Finch

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Canadian Healthcare System

A few days ago I sent a link to many friends and family of a story that John Stossel did on 20/20 about government healthcare in Canada. In this story, Stossel paints a pretty grim picture of that country’s healthcare system, with long lines having waits up to 23 hours and delays in getting critical care. I thought it an important message worthy of being viewed by many others, thus the reason for sending the link.

On Saturday night, my family and I went to a party celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday. Some friends of his that live in Canada came down for the event. As people left and the remaining people congregated into one room, I was itching to ask them for their personal perspective of their country’s healthcare. Eventually, someone broached the subject and I took advantage of it. I asked, “What do you think of Canada’s healthcare system?” Immediately one of the visitors threw his hand up into the air with his thumb extended even higher and said, “I give it a thumbs up.”

Over the next hour or so a very interesting conversation ensued and I was able to find out more about the Canadian health system first hand from three residents of that country. All three agreed that their system was working very well. Not perfect, as no system is perfect, but well. They admitted that it had had its problems in the past, but over the last 25 years the system had been tweaked and was now running quite efficiently. I was told that families pay about $108 per month for insurance (yes, insurance companies still exist and the government works with them) and the government kicks in about 12% of the country’s GDP. By way of contrast, the USA is estimated to spend a total of 17% of GDP. One person said that the most she had ever waited to see a doctor was about two hours. Another said he had waited longer, but generally it was not a problem. He did say that the waits might be longer in rural areas where there are limited healthcare facilities. The full cost of any medical care is paid by the insurance; not even a co-pay is required.

The Canadian population is low enough that some newer or more advanced medical tests and treatments are sometimes not available. In these circumstances, the insurance will pay for the patient and his or her family to visit the United States for service.

Knowing that many US citizens are concerned about socialized medicine leading to rationing and a defunding of general research, I inquired about these things. They responded that they had not seen any rationing happening. They further said that much medical research was being conducted in conjunction with universities.

Wow! And double WOW! How is it possible that these personal experiences with the Canadian healthcare system are so radically different than what was reported by John Stossel? Was I being fed a line by brainwashed Canadians? I really don’t think so. They all seemed like good people with sincere stories about how medicine operates in their country. Was Stossel being dishonest in this report? I don’t believe that either. I suspect that Stossel’s stories, to be provocative and entertaining, focused on the worst experiences of our northern neighbors. My friend’s friends were telling the story from the trenches. Let’s just hope that if some form of government-run healthcare passes in the US, it will work reasonably well, not become politicized, and improve over the coming years.

For a report validating much of what I heard from the Canadians, look at this:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Knowing God Through Pain

In Sunday School this morning we were discussing Psalm 102. At one point the teacher asked if anyone would like to share how God had become more real to them due to some painful event in his/her life. Several responded. Their stories were supplemented in a powerful way during our worship service when quite a few congregants participated in Cardboard Testimonies. While the choir sang and the lights were down, people would step onto the stage with a large piece of cardboard in their hands. The spotlight was trained on these people so the signs were easily visible. Written on the cardboard was a message about some tragic event that took place in that person's life. After giving time for everyone to read the message, the cardboard was flipped over to reveal an encouraging message about how, through the help of God, tragedy was converted to healing, or at least the person had been given the wherewithal to endure the problem. It was a powerful and moving event. My wife was in tears and I, not usually very emotional, started to tear up as well. Stories of healing in the face of devastation seem to always bring out raw emotion in me. However, being the skeptic that I am, I always try to retain my rationality throughout.

While I know that most, if not all, of the people on that stage believe that it was God that saw them through the hard times, I am not convinced. I believe that most people have the innate ability to overcome life's problems on their own. It's just that some people doubt that ability and need to have an outside source of comfort to press them forward. As our preacher said this morning, if you are in a boat that you want to hold it in position in the face of a storm, you need an anchor. Keeping the anchor onboard (relying on self) allows the boat (ourselves) to be tossed about by the storm (life's circumstances). However, throwing the anchor overboard so that it is latched onto something external to the boat (God) will help hold it steady. This is a very good analogy, but I don't believe it applies in this circumstance.

I have known a number of people who are not believers that have been able to endure life's difficulties just fine. They had the ability to handle the rough situations in other ways besides turning to God. This suggests to me that we humans have the capacity to overcome our problems inherent in ourselves. However, I understand that it is not easy, and I can understand why people want to throw up their hands and rely on a more powerful source to help them through. In fact, a good unbelieving friend of mine, who has been and still is enduring a troublesome disease and whose wife is a cancer survivor, recently told me that he sometimes wishes that he had faith in a higher being. He thought that such a belief might bring more comfort during the bad times. Yet he, like me, believes that the existence of God is a matter of fact, not faith. In other words, God's existence or non-existence can only be determined through investigation, not by our feelings or emotions.

I am conflicted. It is sometimes difficult to discuss these things with people who sincerely believe that God has moved in a powerful way in their lives. I feel as though I am somehow shooting down that which they find most important in their lives. So, I try to tread lightly. Yet, as I told a believing friend of mine at lunch a few days ago when he mentioned the importance of faith. There is something even more important: TRUTH!