THAT GOOD OLD RULE OF THIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: The Rule of Thirds

Photography – Garry Armstrong and Marilyn Armstrong

The whole point about this rule — which is not a rule, but a guideline — is to try to urge photographers to not put everything dead-center of the photograph. Moving things around so that they are off-center make the picture more “active” and interesting. It gives it a sense of “action” that moves the viewer’s eyes.

Blackstone River in Rhode Island – Photo, Garry Armstrong

Except when you absolutely need something right in the middle and there are pictures which call of that.

Hey, you’re a photographer. Guidelines are useful, but they are not a replacement for artistic judgment or using your eye to get the picture the way you want it.

Marilyn with the camera – Photo, Garry Armstrong

Yesterday, Garry and I went out shooting because it was a nice day and the rest of the week will be alternatively gray, rainy, very rainy, monsoon-like, and chilly. We’ve had the wettest April on record and I’m hoping May won’t be equally damp.

Half my garden has drowned in the mud and I can’t even try to fix it because it’s still raining and the ground is like quick-mud.

A chubby dove – Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

We went down to the Rhode Island end of the Blackstone River yesterday. Why there? Because they are doing roadwork on our street in the direction of town and now that they’ve passed laws against driving while dialing, everyone makes their phone calls or sends texts when they are at a stop sign.

Two Goldfinches – Photo, Marilyn Armstrong

The result is a really slow progression of cars. Since all of our local roads are just two lanes (in some cases barely even two), one slow car stops everything.

We went the other way where there was no traffic. And we took pictures.

RASH! – Marilyn Armstsrong

RDP Friday: RASH

I have a rash and it itches. Occasionally, if I scratch it a lot — which I often do in my sleep — it hurts, but mostly it itches so much I’m ready to tear my skin off. Cortisone (or some chemical equivalent) helps, but nothing cures it.

What is it?

I don’t know. I’ve had it for most of my adult life as did my mother. More than 20 million people suffer from itching rashes of unknown origins. Most, like mine, come and go with no obvious cause. I have found a couple of natural creams that help and corn starch powder with zinc oxide sometimes helps, too. But mostly, medical science has made no significant progress in curing it. Whatever it is.

Until a couple of weeks ago, it only attacked areas of my body that are normally covered by clothing. At least I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of answering the time-worn question: “Oh my God, what’s wrong with you?” Or, the ever-popular: “What the hell is THAT?”

Thank you for sharing your horror at my condition. Recently, my eczema or dermatitis (take your pick, it’s been called both) spread to my right forearm. I admit it’s not pretty, but it isn’t contagious and it won’t kill me. It may, however, drive me insane with the itching.

I can ignore pain, but itching blocks all other sensations. All you can think about is how much you’d like to scratch. You know if you start scratching, it will get worse, though sometimes that barely seems possible.

DEALING WITH FRIENDS who have A RASH


  1. Try not to look horrified.
  2. Don’t stare.
  3. Do not let your jaw drop.
  4. Do not ask “Doesn’t that bother you?” Of course, it bothers him/her/me.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the concern, but if you look sufficiently awestruck at the rash on my arm, I will feel obliged to give you my entire spiel on rashes, the history of how dermatology has made no advances in treating itching skin conditions, and how aggravating people who itch find people acting so alarmed at those of us who do (itch, that is).

Eczema or dermatitis “of unknown origin,” also called “contact dermatitis” (contact with what?) is really common. There is a very good chance that you will — at some point in your life — have a rash that itches. It will be red and ugly. And annoying people will ask you about it.

You will have no idea what caused it. Your doctor will have no better idea than you. Over-the-counter cortisone cream won’t help much. The slightly stronger prescription goop from your doctor will help (but not much) more.

Coal tar soap and ointments may also help to lessen the itching, but it turns everything — towels and wash clothes — black.

I’ve also got several kinds of natural creams that include aloe and other natural “stuff” and more than a dozen other things including bee pollen and some strange variety of honey. Generally, this works better than most of the commercial cures, but not always. Sometimes, the doctor’s stuff is the only thing that works. I use it when it’s really bad enough.

MacArthur-Quote-1

It gets better, it gets worse. Washing makes it better or worse. You have to be careful what soap you use and how hot the water is. Hot water makes it much worse. Ice helps, though. This is not just me, it’s a general rule, but no one knows why. My theory as to why there has been no research done on these rashes is that companies make fortunes selling cures. It isn’t lethal, so why spend money on cures when you can have lifetime clients buying everything in the hope that it will work?

Essentially, no one knows anything much about this itching rash thing. Not lethal and non-contagious, there no vast army of doctors seeking cures for non-specific rashes of indeterminate origins. Meanwhile, the older I get, the more permanent the rash has become. It used to go away for years at a time, but these days, it diminishes but never disappears.

If it finally goes away for a while, I know that, like General MacArthur, it will return.

The next time someone asks me “What’s that?” I plan to tell them: “Leprosy. Easily controlled by antibiotics.” That should end the conversation quickly,

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION FOR THE UNKNOWING – Marilyn Armstrong

Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  — slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

American history is no different.

It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third-grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens. Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity.

All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want a war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons:

      • Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships
      • We were ill-equipped to fight a war
      • We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns
      • Our population was too small to sustain an army
      • We had no factories, mills or shipyards
      • We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain
      • We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. We wanted to be British. Why? Because there was no America. There was no U.S.A. Creating the U.S.A. was what the war was about, although taxes, parliamentary participation, and slavery were also major components.

We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections, to be equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on taxes.

We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was never the issue. Everyone pays taxes — then and now.

We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out better than we could have hoped.

Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical things:

      • British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively
      • French ships and European mercenaries.

Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had warships and trained seamen to man them.

We didn’t have anything like that. French participation was the key to possibly winning the war. Oh, and we promised to pay the war debt back to France. Lucky for us, they had their own Revolution, so when they asked for the money, we said “What money?”

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not eager to slaughter people they considered Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they might have. If they had, who knows?

Did we win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

I side with those who think the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom, a short time before, they had been friends and with whom they hoped to be friends again. And of course, many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, similar to a civil war.

Boston massacre

Many British citizens sympathized with the colonists including a big percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. They did as they were ordered but without enthusiasm.

No one in the British government — or high up in the army — believed the colonies had any chance of winning. They were convinced we’d work it out by negotiations. Eventually. Many felt the fewer people killed in the interim, the lower would be the level of hard feelings afterward.

The Beaver and the Tea Party Museum in Boston

But, there was one huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

British surrender at Yorktown

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths. We are no exception. Now that we have grown up, we can apply some healthy skepticism to our mythology. We can read books and learn there’s more to the story than what we learned as kids. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary War also known as “The War of 1812.” It was really the second of two acts of our Revolution — which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

Andrew Jackson’s big win at New Orléans in 1814 kept the British from coming back. The battle took place a full 10 days after the war ended. Losing it would no doubt have encouraged the British to return, but the Battle of New Orléans was not decisive. By then, the war was over.

Battle of New Orleans (10 days after the Revolutionary war ended)

No one had a cellphone, so they didn’t know the war was over. I contend the course of history would be very different if cell phones were invented a few centuries earlier.

Only crazy people think guns and killing is the solution to the world’s ills.

Guns and killing are the cause of most problems. It horrifies me such people gain credence.

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was no better form of government than ours — or at least as ours used to be. No government offered better protection to its citizens.

Intelligent people don’t usually throw away the good stuff because someone lost or won an election, or a jury brought in a bad verdict. At least that’s what I used to believe. I’m not sure I was right.

An educated citizenry and a free press are our best defense against tyranny. As long as you can complain openly and protest vigorously against your own government, and the people on TV and the news can say what they will about the government — whether or not we agree with them — we are living in a free nation.

That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom.

It allows fools to rush in where angels would never dare. Support education. Encourage your kids to read. Let’s all read.

Education benefits everyone.

THE END OF REPUBLICAN ROME – Marilyn Armstrong

Cover of "Imperium"

Imperium, by Robert Harris
Random House
Sep 7, 2010
Fiction – 496 pages

It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome.

In America, we complain of corruption. Lying politicians. Fearing the end of our Democracy. We wonder about conspiracies. We brood darkly on the failure of the government to address issues of inequality.

We deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell or, depending on our point of view, has already gone to Hell.

Except that the government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always hellish. Compared to Rome, our government is a clean machine, as clean as a fresh snowfall. It’s a matter of perspective.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...

Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Reading history puts the world in which I live into perspective. Whatever problems we face, we — the human family — have faced them before. We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive is greater (for the most part) than our ability to screw up.

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve undoubtedly heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, more famous as an orator, Cicero rose to power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from Republican to Imperial. Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history.

It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power the earth had ever seen … and the end of the greatest republic the world would ever know.

Perspective.

Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and displaying a dogged determination and persistence in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro, is the inventor of shorthand and has become the author of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice, the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

imperium audibleRobert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to ours.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain, the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle, paperback, and Audible.com.

OUR FIRST TULIP (MAYBE THE ONLY TULIP) – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – April 26, 2019 – Tulip

We had two sunny days and after this, it’s supposed to pour with heavy winds for the next few days. So we got out and took some pictures.

Thus I learned we have a tulip. One tulip. One yellow tulip. I see no evidence of future tulips, but this is our tulip. I also have a bunch of completely dead rhododendrons — with a bunch of new ones. I’m not sure how to deal with this because I can’t actually reach the plants. I’m too short and the ground is all mud. Maybe the rain will end one of these days.

The Yellow Tulip

Another (but really the same) Yellow Tulip

It’s official. It has rained three times for every day of not-rain. It has been continuously raining or about to rain for the entire month. April showers? How about April monsoons?