Possibly My Most Poignant Photograph Ever

I think this is possibly my most poignant photograph ever. It speaks volumes to me—on many different levels. I was doing a photo assignment in 2013 for The Yucatan Times newspaper (in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico) about Merida’s small community zoo. I came across this ageing Chimpanzee who appeared to have been in captivity for many years; he was looking at me curiously through the bars of a small window in a heavily padlocked door. What I saw was indescribable sadness.

We lay (non-scientific) humans are often accused of anthropomorphizing the wild things around us. I have my own feelings about this subject, but suffice it to say I think we share many emotional traits with our wilder cousins: pain, sorrow, anger, joy (and even humor) to name a few. I know that many scientists would disagree with that notion, but I’ve seen so much empirical evidence to the contrary, that I firmly believe we have much more in common than not.

This image haunts me to this day. This Chimpanzee did not seem to be mistreated in any way—his enclosure was very big (this was a side door only), he seemed to be well fed, but he was alone. And, like humans, Apes are social creatures. The Chimpanzee genome makes it the closest living relative of the modern human—given that information how can we not view our distant cousins through more compassionate eyes? When I looked into the eyes of this creature I saw intelligence looking back, how about you?

 “The DNA sequence that can be directly compared between the two genomes is almost 99 percent identical. When DNA insertions and deletions are taken into account, humans and chimps still share 96 percent of their sequence. At the protein level, 29 percent of genes code for the same amino sequences in chimps and humans.”

The subject of zoos is a flash point issue, but regardless of what side you come down on I think we can all agree that a more humane approach to our interaction with other life forms is warranted. As scientific knowledge increases we are finding fewer and fewer differences between other high-level life forms and ourselves. Whales, Dolphins, Elephants and Great Apes share uncanny similarities with us—and even lower life forms display a level of intelligence and emotional range far beyond what we once thought possible.

Guy’s Night out With Old Friends

L to R: Clyde, Harry and Gary

There’s nothing better than getting together with old friends. Now that I’m back in San Diego for a short visit my old (guy) banking buddies decided to host a barbecue in my honor complete with: food, drink and cigars. Wayne generously offered up his backyard in Chula Vista for the get-together (a venue used in the past for similar events and poker games). His tolerant wife, Tina, wisely absented herself from the gathering, probably in a bid for survival and self-preservation.

Mark

I’ve known most of these men for over 20-years and some for almost 30-years. We have been through thick & thin together—the good and the bad. I entered into banking in 1984 after spending years in the military, sales and sales management. For the next (almost) 30-years I worked closely with these guys—they covered my back and I covered theirs. My banking career was tumultuous, partly because of my personality (confrontational) and partly because of the upheaval in the financial industry.

Jeff

In the late 1980s and early 1990s it was the Savings & Loan crisis. I was working for HomeFed Bank at the time, first on the corporate side and later on the retail banking side. I met Mark, Gary, Harry and Wayne at HomeFed. HomeFed Bank was eventually taken over by Great Western Savings where I met Jeff and Clyde who have both become great friends. Later still Great Western Savings was acquired by Washington Mutual Bank (WaMu) headquartered in Seattle.

Clyde

Eventually WaMu was acquired by JPMorgan Chase Bank (a dark day in our banking history). Some of us found the Chase experience to be a horrible experience and we eventually moved on to other banks or retirement. Note: Chase if you’re monitoring my social media don’t hold my feelings against any friends I might have still working for you. You are BASTARDS and you know it and I wouldn’t put it past you to lash out at my buddies still in your employ. DON’T FUCKING DO IT.

L to R: Clyde, Harry, Gary and Wayne

The evening with my friends was GREAT and lasted over five hours (it started at 3 p.m. and went on until about 8:30 p.m.). Wayne and Clyde served up smoked ribs and sausage with a real “bite” (nice and spicy seasoning), Clyde provided the beans & ham and some pasta showed up from somewhere. Jeff furnished the cupcakes (both vanilla and chocolate). Drinks ran the gamut from Scotch to Gin, including beer and some 100 Proof real Moonshine from Kalifornia Distilleries.

Shawn and Joel

A few of us (Clyde, Joel, Shawn and me) consumed some cigars along the way—but mostly we just talked and LAUGHED. We laughed a lot. And we remembered. We remembered the bad times but mostly we remembered the good times. After 5-years there was a lot of catching up to do; I wanted updates on their lives and they were interested in our travels. I did learn that we’re not party animals any longer, we drank in moderation and broke up the shindig way before midnight. Thanks for a wonderful time my friends. 

Stephen F. Dennstedt

I Couldn’t Keep the Smile off My Face

My Friend Vickie and Me

Last night I had the opportunity to spend time with some truly remarkable friends. When I left the USA five years ago I didn’t think I had a friend left in the world; last night put the lie to that thought big time. A huge THANK YOU to MJ (Marijoyce) for putting it all together, and to all the wonderful people who took time out of their busy schedules to attend and reconnect. Most of the folks were from my banking days but a fair number of non-banking friends also showed up. Wonderful.

I couldn’t keep the smile off my face and my cheeks kind of hurt this morning (but it’s a good hurt). I could have spent hours on end talking to each friend in turn, but Happy Hours aren’t conducive to long-winded in-depth conversations. I would estimate there were at least 30+ attendees (I will have to do a headcount once I see the pictures) which both surprised and pleased me. I was hesitant about returning to the States and reconnecting but I shouldn’t have been.

There was Don and Danny who I hadn’t seen in over 34-years (from maybe the best company I ever worked for); there was Judy my first Operations Supervisor who helped me to become a better manager and Lilly and Norma who continued the effort to further develop me—not an easy task for them. There was Tim a fellow wildlife photographer and photographic inspiration and MJ, Bev and Gary who were branch manager buddies. My good friend Andy (who is now retired and living the good life).

My special buddy Vickie (the Vic-meister) pictured above and her husband Carl. Carol, Christina and Mary who became friends later in my banking career. There was Loni the one person who encouraged me to follow my dreams of becoming a professional photographer (thank you Sweet Pea). Ryan who was a great employee, a good friend and still makes me laugh. Marcy was there—probably the most patient boss I ever had (and the only one I ever apologized to for being such a jerk).

My son Shawn (who transported us to Hooley’s Uber-style) and Joel (my brother and ever constant travelling companion) were also there. They had met some of my friends before; others for the first time. Some folks unfortunately had to cancel at the last-minute for various reasons but hopefully we’ll hookup before I leave again sometime around August/September. The evening was a complete success as far as I’m concerned and I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute. Once again, THANK YOU MJ.

 

 

Entering My Seventh Decade on Planet Earth

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Birthdays are a time for reflection (and celebration). I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I am seventy years old. As is my want I have divided my life into seasons (seems appropriate somehow). With the somewhat optimistic expectation that I will endure until I am eighty-eight I am now in the early winter months of my life.

There have been a few close calls along the way: a leukaemia scare when I was a kid, two rattlesnake bites (at ages 8 and 10), Vietnam, Dengue Fever in Yucatan and a health crisis in Guatemala. But, hey, I’m still here and kicking—a little beat up but still causing trouble. Pirates, renegades and scoundrels have an obligation to cause trouble.

I spent the morning out on the patio smoking a Perdomo 20th Anniversary cigar, drinking a double (maybe a triple) Glenlivet 12-year old Scotch whisky and re-reading the true-life adventure The Man-eaters of Tsavo by J.H. Patterson (the remarkable tale that the movie The Ghost and the Darkness was based on). Not a bad way to start the day.

Tonight I will be celebrating this hallmark event with my son Shawn and brother Joel over drinks (maybe a couple), steaks and whatever else comes to mind. A second celebration, early next week, will include my granddaughters Lianne and Jaimee. But before that we will be getting together with my guy-friends for a barbecue this Saturday, more drinks and possibly a few cigars. On Tuesday many of my friends (about 30 in all) treated me to a great Happy Hour at Hooley’s Irish Pub in El Cajon. Life is GOOD.

Ethics in Journalism, a Followup

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Whenever I delve into American politics I run the risk of alienating a segment of my audience. That’s how polarized we are as a Nation and a People. I am not a fan of Donald Trump or his former Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton—I was very vocal about not voting for either one of them.

But what concerns me even more is the degradation of American media news reporting. See my earlier post: How To Find Unbiased News Reporting. The Fourth Estate (the Press) has subordinated itself to the new Fifth Estate (the Blogosphere, Opinion Editorial and Entertainment).

Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America, will bring about his own destruction (and he will do this sooner rather than later). The seeds of his destruction are sown deeply in his personality, character and psychology and they are rapidly germinating in the hothouse of the Presidency. This becomes obvious to any observer of daily events as they unfold.

However, if Hillary Clinton had been victorious in her bid for the White House I think we would be going through the same political convulsions—albeit at a less frenetic pace. As you can see I was very disturbed by the two choices presented to the American electorate and I acted accordingly. But back to the Press and its mishandling of the daily news cycle. Journalism has an historical ethical mandate to remain objective and unbiased much like a judge in a court of law.

Any casual observer of modern-day reporting by (most) news organizations will put the lie to that sacred mandate—it’s gone and probably forever. Interestingly enough, as a photojournalist, if I submit a photo to a news agency that has been altered in any way (i.e. Photoshop) no matter how minor the alteration I will be fired and discredited as a photographer. My career as a photojournalist would come to a screeching halt and I would be ostracized from the profession.

It is time (long overdue actually) for the American public to demand that our institutions and officials behave in an ethical professional way. Ethical behavior must start in our homes, schools, churches and public institutions. There must be consequences for unethical behavior and violators (especially those demanding public trust) must be held strictly accountable. Over the years public trust has eroded towards our institutions: government, courts, schools, churches, law enforcement, medical and others.

Maybe, like an alcoholic or drug addict, our country has to hit rock bottom before it can regain its moral compass. It’s certainly at the lowest ebb I’ve seen in my seventy years with the possible exception of the Nixon years. Our country will either reclaim its government and institutions or it won’t—the jury is still out. I find it ironic that as a photojournalist I am held strictly accountable for my actions but that the President of the United States, our elected officials and civic leaders and organizations are not. And that includes the Press.

To my fellow journalists: Your job is NOT political activism. Your job, simply stated, is to report the important events of the day factually, objectively and to the best of your ability. If you will stick to your job events will resolve themselves. Throwing red met to the masses only exacerbates an already untenable situation. The People need facts on which to base their decisions and their political activism; in our democracy the rest happens in the voting booth. DO YOUR JOB.

Note: This blog is mostly about photography, writing, travelling and lifestyle. Politics and Religion are pretty much taboo (although I will admit that Politics does occasionally creep in). I’m not out to provoke or antagonize anyone; I would rather stimulate some critical thinking and dialogue among my readers. Please feel free to comment at anytime with the proviso that you keep it civil and respectful. Name calling, profanity and bullying have no place on this blog. Thank you for your consideration. SFD 

 

How To Find Unbiased News Reporting

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Today it is very hard to find unbiased news reporting. When I was a kid growing up in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s we trusted our news sources. At one point in time Walter Cronkite was voted the most trusted man in America. *Cronkite never let his personal politics intrude on his news reporting. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

Note: There was one time, shortly after the 1968 Têt Offensive in Vietnam, when he shared his conclusions about the Vietnam War. But that was done only after getting permission and clearly stating that it was his opinion (see statement here). Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous reply: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

I can even remember a time (not so very long ago) when newspapers, radio and television made a clear distinction between hard news reporting and OpEd (opinion editorial) commentary. Such is not the case in this day of Fake News. Today, more than ever, it’s important to find news sources that you can trust (to a point). There is no fault in approaching everything with healthy skepticism.

I will state, by way of full disclosure, my personal political affiliation: I am registered as an Independent. For most of my voting life I was a registered Democrat but the party eventually drifted too far left for my liking and I didn’t favor many of their candidates for political office. In truth, by today’s definition, I am probably more Libertarian in philosophy: I lean to the right fiscally and more to the left socially. I have lost more than a few friends over the last few years because of my political leanings—both right and left.

With that being said—I have been accused by others of being: a Liberal, a Conservative, a Socialist, a Communist, a Radical, an Anarchist, a Vegetarian (I was for a while) and a Buddhist (I followed a formal Buddhist path for many years). Suffice it to say that most folks haven’t quite figured me out (at least not politically). And honestly I don’t really give a rat’s ass what others think about me politically (or any other way for that matter). Their accusations fall on deaf years.

Whether you lean to the right, the left, or somewhere in-between (like me), it’s still important to have ready access to unbiased hard news reporting. If you surround yourself with news sources that simply pander to your own particular leanings, biases and prejudices you learn nothing new and gain no meaningful insight into the views and thinking of others. Without complete understanding compromise is not possible—and extremist views left or right are not helpful when trying to govern this nation.

As a nation and a people we are extremely polarized here in the United States. If the Roman Circus we call the media wasn’t so hellbent on throwing red meat to the masses this situation might not exist, or at least it might exist to a lesser degree. The Fourth Estate (the mainstream Press) has increasingly mirrored the new Fifth Estate in its approach to reporting and manipulating news events. When news reporting became entertainment and a profit center instead of a neutral objective public service it sounded its own death knell.

You’re probably fed up with politics and news reporting writ large. I don’t blame you. But if you’re still interested in the events of the day, truth, justice and the American Way—and the challenges that face us everyday as concerned citizens you’re going to have to work harder to uncover the facts. Can it even be done these days? I don’t know. I do know that I am trying to find some reliable new outlets. In that effort I offer up these suggestions:

  1. Stay away from Cable TV news. MSNBC (biased towards the Left) and Fox News (biased towards the Right) are two good examples (I would throw in CNN too).
  2. Stay away from Blogs. Blogs (including this one) are simply about opinion and not about facts. Read them for entertainment but not for hard news.
  3. Network TV news (ABC, CBS and NBC) here in the USA is somewhat middle of the road but leans left in my opinion (not necessarily a detriment to factual reporting but should be considered when listening to and evaluating the news). Since becoming profit centers and entertainment they are quick to offer up provocative headlines and soundbites. Also, most news outlets are so quick to air news (heavy competition to be the first) that they sacrifice sound established vetting practices.
  4.  Facebook is a total bullshit news source. Your family & friends post and share what they want to believe which often has nothing to do with the facts (opinions are not facts).

Have I been able to find any reliable sources for news? I think I have but you should research those sources for yourself. The Buddha was fond of saying: Don’t believe me prove it to yourself. However, when proving it to yourself don’t fall into the easy trap of choosing sources that only pander to your point of view. Select sources that present both sides of an argument and leaves you to make the final decision. I find it interesting that three of my recommended news sources are headquartered in the UK.

Reuters

BBC News

The Independent

PBS NewsHour

The Real News Network

Wikinews

To check on the veracity of any news items you suspect of being Fake News try these two sources:

Snopes.com

FactCheck.org

Come See Me Before I Leave San Diego

Stephen F. Dennstedt

INVITATION to all of my friends in the San Diego area: You are ALL invited to attend a Happy Hour on May 16th (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. (spirits, food and good conversation). I hope you can stop by and visit.

Time: May 16th (Tuesday) at 6 p.m.

Location: HOOLEY’S IRISH PUB 2955 Jamacha Road, El Cajon (Rancho San Diego area) 92019

It’s been over 5-years since I was in San Diego and it would be GREAT to see all of you again. In addition to myself my brother Joel and son Shawn will be in attendance.

I’m posting this invitation on my blog because different folks follow me on my different venues: my website Indochine Photography, my Facebook personal page and my Facebook business page (and of course this blog). I left the USA over 5-years ago and this is my first return visit. Besides refreshing my travel gear (both personal and photographic) the main reason for my return is to visit family & friends. I know that schedules are busy for most of you but having a chance to see you again would be wonderful.