Follow the Puppet Strings

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The following was submitted as a Letter to the Editor and printed in the February 22, 2017 edition of our local paper, The Tipton Conservative.

Like many Iowans, I am extremely disappointed with last week’s legislative action to dismantle the collective bargaining powers of public employees. This legislation will adversely impact the lives and careers of many of my friends who are teachers, or who work in the public sector. It will force our young professionals to think twice before embarking on careers here rather than pursuing better opportunities elsewhere. It will hurt our rural communities, where school districts and public works are often primary employers. Down the road this could very well lead my wife and I to question if the quality of life I grew up knowing, due largely to the value of Iowa’s public education system, will remain; if this will still be a great place to raise our child, and if it’s truly in our family’s best interest to settle here permanently.

As saddening as it is to consider the 184,000 Iowa families likely to be hurt by this measure, it is equally infuriating to understand how this all played out. Despite earlier claims that they would only consider minor tweaks to the State’s 43-year-old collective bargaining rule, Republican leaders capitalized on House and Senate majority to gut the law completely. With little warning or consultation, exploiting rarely used procedure to limit floor debate, and while thousands of teachers, firemen, police officers and concerned citizens pleaded to be heard, the bill was raced through both chambers in a thinly-veiled attempt to limit public awareness and outcry. None of this was in the true interest of Iowa workers or reflective of Iowa values. Instead, it was the direct result of union busting tactics born of dark money and out-of-state interests. Governor Branstad eagerly signed the bill less than 24 hours later, behind closed doors but in the company of Drew Klein, a henchman for “Americans for Prosperity” –the shady, ill-reputed Koch Brothers funded Super PAC.

Worse yet, this is only the beginning. Bills still pending in this legislative session include plans to eliminate the Iowa Department of Education (SF 29) to end current retirement offerings for future public employees, including teachers, fire fighters and police (SF 45) to ban teachers from speaking out on education matters (HSB 47) and to eliminate the tenure system in our universities and community colleges (SF 41.) Each of these proposals are suspected derivatives of think tank drafted template bills, adapted from a national playbook and created to push the agenda of shadow organizations. And each attack, if approved by our lawmakers, will cause reprehensible harm to thousands of hard working people who represent the best of what Iowa has to offer.

It’s time for voters to wake up and realize what’s going on; not just in Iowa but all across the nation. The greatest threat to our democracy and to our livelihoods is not illegal immigration. It’s not the welfare system or affordable health care. It’s billionaire greed and blind partisan support. And until we hold our elected officials accountable, it will continue to prey on our working class and thrive on our apathy.

Josh Meier
Tipton

 

Links to the bills mentioned above and currently pending (at the time of this writing) in the Iowa legislature that will impact public education. If you scroll down to the end of each bill you will find a section that offers a more concise explanation.

SF 29 Eliminates the Iowa Department of Education
SF 45 Ends access to current retirement programs for newly hired state employees
HSB 47 Prohibits teachers from speaking out on education matters
SF 41 Eliminates tenure system in Iowa universities and community colleges

And finally, this video courtesy of Iowa Senator Matt McCoy provides a little more insight to what is happening in Iowa and across the nation, thanks to Citizens United, the Koch Brothers, model legislation, and our very own Governor Terry Branstad. Click Here.

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Best of 2016

For the past few years I have enjoyed following along with what has become an annual tradition for many photographers, the Jim Goldstein “Best of… Photo Project.” This is an opportunity for hobbyists, serious amateurs, and professionals alike to reflect on their work and experiences of the past year and to share a sampling (usually what they feel are their 5-10 best or favorite images) with the rest of us. It’s also a chance for photo lovers to discover new talents, make new friends, and join in camaraderie for networking and inspiration. Each season I look on with great appreciation for those who have shared their collections, and honestly every year for the past several I’ve had the intention of doing the same. You know how it goes, though. The holidays hit, I finally have a chance to catch my breath after a busy show season, I’m generally months behind in my edits; and somehow I manage to let the opportunity slip away. Until now, that is…

Somehow this year I am a just little more on top of things, at least in a photography sense. Now don’t let that fool you. I still have a couple thousand images from trips this summer and fall (Northern Rockies and New England) that I need to finish processing, and do believe there are a few gems in there that would have been included here if they were ready. I only disclose that because I don’t want any of my regular readers to grow concerned- in no way have I suddenly become organized or managed to entirely catch up! But I am at a point where I feel comfortable contributing this collection as a fair representation of my work from the past year. For good measure, I also put together an Honorable Mention series, which was posted the other night and can be viewed HERE. It’s never an easy task, selecting your favorite images, and even now I feel like maybe some of those should be swapped out for some of the shots you see here; but it’s all in fun so I’ll let the original selections stand.

That said, here is my inaugural contribution to the Jim Goldstein Photo Project. Many thanks to Mr. Goldstein for the great work he does in putting this together. Like I say, I’ve enjoyed looking on for years and am grateful for this chance to throw my work into the mix. And for anyone interested, once the submissions are gathered a list will be compiled with links to all of the entries. I’ll pass that along here and through my social media channels- so look for that in the coming weeks and prepare to be amazed by some of the awesome work that this project elicits.

And now, in chronological order, my Top 10 images of 2016…

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Tidal Stream, Newport Beach, California

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The Watchman, Zion National Park, Utah

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Old Barn, Yellow River State Forest, Iowa

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Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

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Malanaphy Springs State Preserve, Iowa

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Lake Macbride State Park, Iowa

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The University of Iowa, Iowa City

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Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

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Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

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Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine

 

Of course, with the reflection of a year passed it’s only natural to look ahead at what’s to come. 2017 is going to bring great change to my life, as my wife and I prepare to welcome our first child in just a few short weeks. What will this mean for my photography? Only time will tell. But while travel will certainly be limited and other priorities will soon dictate my day-to-day, I do intend to carry on in some capacity. I’ve always been a strong believer in living and leading by example, and I want my child to understand the necessity of passion and perseverance in life. When it comes to career success, nature photography is no easy gig. But I’m going to keep trying; keep working hard to improve and fighting to find a way- if for no reason other than proving to my child that we never give up on our dreams.

Happy New Years, Everyone!

International Day of Forests

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March 21-

Today we celebrate the International Day of Forests, an annual event created by the United Nations in 2012 to raise awareness of the many functions that forests perform which are vital for life on Earth. In addition to providing habitat, food, medicine and acting as carbon sinks to reduce the acceleration of climate change, forests also play a key role in supplying us with freshwater. This essential service is recognized in 2016 with the event theme “Forests and Water” in honor of that ecological relationship.

According to the UN International Day of Forests Event Page

-75% of the worlds accessible freshwater is supplied by forested watersheds and wetlands

-Roughly a third of the worlds largest cities rely on forests to protect drinking water supplies (for example, New York City draws much of its water from wild lands in the Catskill Mountains)

-Forests act as natural water filters

-Nearly 80% of the worlds population lives in threat of impeded access to clean, fresh water

Unfortunately, even with modern understanding of the complex interrelations between forests and watersheds; or the almost universally accepted knowledge on the realities of climate change, deforestation still occurs at a staggering rate. Our planet loses an area roughly the size of England each year due to timber harvest and the clearing of forested lands. This exposes vast watersheds to contamination, destroys entire ecosystems and contributes almost as much in total CO2 emissions as the global transportation sector.

While it’s going to take a monumental effort to reverse such a trend we’ve got to find a way. It falls on each of us as consumers to do our part and to live in a more sustainable manner. Please educate yourself on the impacts of deforestation. Reduce, reuse, and recycle paper and timber products. When necessary buy only sustainably sourced lumber. And know where your food comes from. Avoid products that contain palm oil or other ingredients that contribute greatly to these problems. It may take some individual effort to get informed and to break old habits, but there really is no other viable option. The future of our planet (and specifically the life it supports) depends on it!

Edinburgh Christmas Market

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Wrapping up my weeklong feature on last November’s trip to Edinburgh today with a look at the Christmas Market. Edinburgh goes all out in this annual tradition, hosting a six week market full of food and craft vendors and carnival rides that runs from late November to early January. We were fortunate, having traveled over the American Thanksgiving holiday, to be here toward the start of this years celebration.

The lights and decorations filling Princes Street Gardens are a sight to behold, especially with a giant ferris wheel and the sixty meter tall “Star Flyer” towering with the gothic Scott Monument over the market below. Dozens of vendor booths line the concourse selling traditional foods and mulled wines along with a variety of handmade wares ranging from glass ornaments to woolen tapestries. It’s an appropriately festive scene, so if you’re considering a winter visit to Edinburgh you may want to schedule accordingly.

If you go, however, I would recommend to make sure that your appetite is in order. I’d say of our experience the only downside came of my own undoing; though not intentionally… I guess this could be considered something more biologic in nature (or sinister, as it felt at the time.)  Let me preface this by reminding that at this point we’d traveled through three countries in three days. In this stretch I went from my normal relatively healthy eating habits at home to airport fast food to airline food to pub meals in Ireland and Scotland. Throw in the stress and fatigue of travel, and by this, the third night of our trip when we visited the Christmas Market, my stomach was in absolute fits.

As noted, the market was full of culinary delicacies. Fried foods, candies, assorted meats, gooey cheeses- you name it, you could probably find it there. To be entirely honest I’ve always been more of a sustenance eater; I like what I like and I’m content with a simple meal. I don’t generally mind trying new things, but at the same time I don’t get particularly jazzed at the chance to do so. My wife and her family on the other hand do. I wouldn’t go as far as to call them “foodies” per se, but they certainly like to have fun and indulge in experiential grazing.

We made our way through the market, going from one food stop to the next. At seemingly every option, one of our group would stop and ask about the cuisine, purchase a sample and pass it around. Like I say, I felt sick going into the evening so the smells alone- while presumably delightful given normal circumstance, had my insides churning. Every time I turned around somebody was sticking a new food in my face, and I had to continually decline- an act of borderline treason when in company of the Wallace family. I fell to the back of the pack, partly as an evasive maneuver and part because my gait had slowed considerably in utter fear of the gastrointestinal event I thought might occur. The pain in my gut was horrendous, and I waddled along doubting that the night could possibly end in any way other than with me as the laughing stock of Scotland.

Finally I had to pull Cris aside and explain in no uncertain terms what could transpire. I had control of the situation for the moment, but just one single bite could disrupt that balance of power. While these intimate details did surprisingly little to dissuade her own appetite, my wife took mercy on me and found the compassion to try and act as a buffer.

“Here, pass this to Josh…”

“No, he doesn’t want any.”

“Well then give him some of this…”

“He says he’s not feeling well.”

“Oh come on, it’s so good…”

“He’s not hungry.”

“Will he try a gallon of haggis?”

Unfortunately Cris drawing attention to the situation brought the unintended consequence of strengthening their resolve. My in-laws, bless their hearts, always try so hard to make sure I fit in. In this case, however, their eagerness to accommodate only made things worse.

“Well he has to eat something. Here, how about one of these eight pound bratwursts.”

“No thanks,” I quietly declined.

“Oooooo. Check out this funky bread slathered in goat cheese. That might be interesting…”

My head shook violently in reply.

And so the night went, and so sometimes it goes, when traveling with your spouses family in a foreign land. Gratefully I can report that no actual tragedy would occur, just a lot of bloating and general awkwardness. In hindsight it was fun to see them enjoying themselves and I still feel guilty for being the “Debbie Downer” of the evening- but I’ll gladly take that over the alternate ending that I unlikely could have ever lived down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Mom!

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February 10-

Okay, so I rarely shoot portraits and I’m generally horrified by the notion of sharing my attempts, but today is an exception as this post goes out to a special birthday girl- my Mom, Vickie Meier.

She’s a woman who has always opened her heart and unselfishly given everything she has to provide for her family’s every whim. She taught us how to live and how to give unconditional love; and at times I can’t help but step back and marvel at the joy she brings her grandchildren, now teaching them the same. (Pictured here is my niece Melayna, one of her Grandma’s biggest fans…)

I could go on and on, but I know she’ll probably read this on her afternoon break and I don’t want to make her cry at work. Instead, I’ll just say Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you with all my heart and will be forever in debt for all that you’ve given and all you continue to do…

Yellow River State Forest

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February 9-

Well I’m just getting started on my edits from the trip I took over the weekend and will likely be sharing some winter scenes from Yellow River State Forest in the days ahead. Today, however, I thought it might be nice to offer a slightly warmer glimpse from that same location. It is afterall -5 with the windchill here today, so a little splash of color might be good for the soul.

I took this photo last May, along the bank of Little Paint Creek. Initially I thought the flower was a type of phlox, but upon closer look it only has four petals while phlox has five. Dames Rocket, perhaps? (Anybody up on their plant ID’s, be sure to let me know!)

Regardless of the flower it serves a good reminder… Hang in there, fellow Iowans. Views like this are ONLY three months away!

The Old Bull

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February 7-

It’s Super Bowl Sunday (can I even say that without paying royalties?) and once again this year my Chicago Bears are deep in hibernation. Since Carolina is probably one of my least favorite teams I guess I’ll be rooting for the Broncos; and figured to mark this occasion, why not share a photo of a Denver area resident? (I know, it’s a stretch…)

I photographed this guy a couple of years ago on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The elk were in rut and he was grazing with his harem of cows. It was fascinating to watch the way they interacted, and especially exciting when a younger bull approached. This one began to bristle before the potential challenger even came into sight, and lit off through the forest ready to fight at first glimpse of the approaching rival.

Let’s hope that old stag Peyton Manning has a little fight left in him today, and is ready to stand tall in the face of challenge.

Enjoy the game, everybody!

(Originally posted to my Facebook page on Sunday afternoon, February 7. Technical issues caused a delay in sharing the post here on my blog… But hey, the Broncos won!)