Saturday, December 6, 2014

Serial and other criminal justice uncertainties.

I have been listening to a weekly podcast called “Serial” since its unveiling. The show is structured in a format where a long story is told piece by piece over a series of weeks kind of like a TV show might be or how I imagine an old radio drama would have been. This podcast has been on for 10 weeks now. The topic of this podcast is a murder trial that took place in the mid 90’s and the conviction of a defendant who at the time was in his teens. If this piques your interest go check it out. I will not get into the details of the story here.
I don’t know if the defendant was innocent or guilty and to me that is not the most interesting part. If the police arrested and the court convicted guilty man then I guess that is good. But what interests me is the theme of the investigation, which is the police work and trial that took place. It is a constant reminder to me of the flaws in our system. It is a good system but it is inherently flawed and open to manipulation and exploitation. In this podcast many questions are brought up and discussed. It seems hard to believe that this many things could be left open ended in a case and that so much evidence one thinks exists in a case was not present in this case.
This story reminds me of other stories I have heard or read about. The book “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham details the wrongful conviction of a man for murder who is sent to death row. This book show in disturbing detail the strange  twists and turns an investigation and trial can take leading to an innocent man being sent to death row.
In a recent story a man in Texas is scheduled to be executed after being  sentenced to death during a trial where he called Jesus and JFK to the stand. In this story the guilt of the man is not in question but the penalty is and the conduct of the court is. A man that is clearly mentally ill is allowed to represent himself and then sentenced to death despite the fact that it is illegal to execute someone who is insane.
When I hear of these strange occurrences in our criminal justice system It creates significant cognitive dissonance for me. It just does not commute. Growing up I learned how our justice system works and it seemed fool proof. Police investigate and arrest the guilty party based on evidence, the lawyers try the case with the facts weighed against reasonable doubt, and then the jury makes the decision based on the evidence. How could it go wrong? Apparently very, very easily and in so many little ways that all compound each other to make potential fiascoes like the few I’ve mentioned as well as I am sure countless others I am not even aware of.
I think part of the problem with accepting the faults in our system is that for the most part unless you work in the system or experience the system first hand most people are truly ignorant of how it works other than the cursory education we receive on the subject probably in elementary school. Then we grow up watching television shows about police and lawyers and courtrooms. In these TV shows everyone is honest and competent and respectful of the law. Justice is served. These are the ideas that permeate us as we grow up. Most people, myself included, probably get their knowledge of the criminal justice system from “Law and Order”. Don’t get me wrong I love “Law and Order” and other similar T shows but in those shows we only see the good stuff. The stuff that makes good TV. We don’t see the minutia, the mistakes, the errors, and we don’t see all the strange things that can apparently happening our system that we are never aware of until people report it to us.
When I come across these instances of inconsistent execution of our criminal justice system it really makes me feel like any outcome is possible for anyone who is involved with the system. It is really a cause for concern for me. I don’t pretend to know how to fix it. That is for smarter people than I. But it does seem clear that we somehow need to do a better job on a variety of fronts. I don’t envy the jobs anyone in the legal system does from police to lawyers to judges and juries and all the support staff surrounding them. They have some of the most important jobs in the country and some of the most highly scrutinized jobs in the country.
I think for the most part our criminal justice system gets it right but when it goes off the rails, boy does it go off the rails.

Ideas that never see the light of day

I find that throughout the day I have a variety of ideas come to mind.  Bet this happens to you too. I often have enough ideas pop into my head that at some point I have forgotten at least one or more of the ideas I thought of. Some ideas are not important and are little frivolous things with really no significant consequences if I forget them. Other ideas are more important to me and may have to do with business, photography, art, dogs, or a variety of other topics that interest me. Some of these ideas are things that I would like to research a little more or read up on. Some of them I would like to write down and see if I can find a way to make these ideas work for me in some real way and incorporate them into my life. To help me do this I have started writing things down more (typing them up in my Evernote app). This way I at least don’t forget them and can come back to them and reference them and rewrite things and make changes and updates as I find out more information.

I find that actually making my ideas happen is where my shortcomings factor in. I love to think of things and think about things. I have a constant flow of information that I like to read and listen to and this inspires me with new ideas and thoughts frequently. And these ideas get added to my list. I write them down and describe what I think I would like to do. And then……. And then nothing. It fizzles out. That nice long list of ideas and goals and projects that I have generates very little actual action. Nothing gets produced. Nothing gets done. It’s not that I stop thinking about the ideas or topics I have noted. It’s that I just can’t bring myself to make any further progress. I am a world class procrastinator for one. I can always find a reason to put things off or something else I can do instead. Like write down more ideas. I also, as many people probably do, experience significant anxiety about taking any further action on a variety of tasks. This part of making it real creates some real, at least in my mind, fear. Fear of exposing myself to the world, or that one person I have to send this to, to try to move on to the next step. I am afraid I will be rejected. Afraid to be exposed as a fraud. Afraid to succeed? If I take that next step and I am not rejected then I have to do more work and then probably expose myself to even more people and possibly even more rejection. Is it in my head or is it real? I don’t know. Maybe it’s both.

While the fear and anxiety may be real, is it justified? If I am rejected what have I really lost or suffered? There is no real physical threat but the threat is to my psyche and my psyche is very sensitive to that threat. I should be able to overcome it. I tell myself this all the time. It is not logical to fear sending an email, making a phone call, or submitting my photography to an editor. What is the worst that can happen? They can tell me no thanks or just ignore me. And I have been told no in the past and it hasn’t hurt me and it hasn’t closed the doors to those opportunities. I can contact other people with my ideas and get a yes eventually if I keep trying. So why is it that I have such a hard time moving on to this phase of idea and project fulfillment? Perhaps I will never know. Maybe I am not meant to know. It seems so simple. Just write a letter and hit send. But it is so much easier for some reason for me to sit here in my cozy box in my comfort zone where I do not have to take that chance. I don’t have to reach out and make contact and expose myself. Will I ever be truly happy in my career that way? Probably not, but I will be safe. Do I want only to be safe? No I want to be happy. I have spent my whole life with the single-minded idea that I want a career I enjoy and find fulfillment in. SO why is it so hard for me to take the necessary steps to make that happen. Why am I afraid of finding happiness, of fulfilling myself? Maybe I am afraid that after all of this work and thought I will be wrong and I will not be fulfilled by my choice of pursuits. Maybe that is the real fear that is holding me back.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Brynn enjoying Steege Hill

I took my dog Brynn to Steege Hill Nature Preserve that is through the Finger Lakes Land Trust. Here are some photos of Brynn enjoying the preserve as well as some photos of the scenery which includes and a large pond. 

Stopping to help a dog

Today on my way home from work I saw this huge soggy dog standing on the sidewalk in the pouring rain. I thought should I stop and check on him. But maybe he's just out front to go potty and their human was watching from the door. Then soggy dog started walking away as I slowly drive by so I pulled over and watched and soggy dog kept walking. I thought am I really going to be the person that runs out in the pouring rain to check on a dog..... Of course I am. This soggy but friendly Newfy was wondering away from home and luckily had a collar and tags on. Thankfully he had only gotten a few houses away from home when I saw him and stopped. So I held his collar and walked him home rang the doorbell and have him back to his human who was very thankful.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Drone Photography

In march of last year I began writing this article after reading another interesting article in National Geographic. The article was related to the use of drones. There had been a lot of coverage about the United States use of drones at that time and it all sparked an idea in me. Unfortunately the article got shelved while I started working on other projects. The article I was writing was from a theoretical point of view, but now it appears it is reality. So read this short article and then check out the real deal.

As I was reading an article in the March 2013 National Geographic magazine I had to stop as inspiration for this article struck. The article was about drones, which are a controversial topic. Drones hold a lot of potential, potential for good and ill. I prefer to see the potential for good.

As a wildlife and nature photographer I began to imagine the possibilities which were hinted at in the article. 
The possibilities for documenting wildlife, habitats, and behaviors that are currently difficult to observe in the wild are unimaginable. As this technology improves there is so much that could be done. 

I first thought of wildlife specials like big cat diary in Animal planet. Forget trying to navigate the savanna in jeeps with break downs and slow moving over rugged terrain. Simply send out a drone and follow the wildlife and zoom in or fly down to get images of the behaviors you are trying to study. 

Trying to fund a radio collared animal to continue a study? Send out a drone to home in on the signal and send the coordinates back to you. Perhaps even anesthetize the animal via drone. We can launch attacks via drone a tranquilizer should be comparatively simple. 

The article alludes to a spy drone designed to look like a hummingbird. Imagine the possibilities of being able to infiltrate animal habitats completely camouflaged as an element naturally occurring in the environment. Currently this is often done by getting up extremely early and staying in a hide for extremely long hours for days on end waiting to observe behaviors often in inhospitable environments. Imagine being able to accomplish this from the comfort of a lodge. This technology could even reduce any impact caused by our attempts to document animals.

The downside to this technology is it would remove us from the amazing experience of seeing the wildlife in person. I don’t think there is anything in the world that can replace the feeling of experiencing wildlife first hand and I believe that feeling and the associated emotions are critical for protecting and conserving our wildlife and their habitats but I think there are clearly situations where the use of technology would be preferential as a way to get better data as well as protecting wildlife and habitats from increased stresses. 
To see my speculations come to life check out Will Burrard-Lucas (, a professional wildlife photographer from the UK who uses innovative tools such as BeetleCam and now BeetleCopter to gain unusual perspectives. This seems to be drone photography as I imagined it come to life. I am excited to see where this will go.

You can also check out my photography at and follow me on social media at KRNaturalPhoto.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Mystery of Caspian: Behavior: the good, the bad, and the ugly

For those of you that don't know. My wife and I had a dog named Caspian come into our lives at about the middle of 2013. Caspian being part of our lives has been a mixed bag. We love him but we have definitely had to do some very serious thinking in regard to him that I never imagined I would do.

Have you ever said something and each time you say it you can't help but think how ridiculous it sounds. Like it doesn't even make sense but you know in your heart it is true even if it is incompatible logically? Well, that is the very essence of the story of having Caspian in our lives. I think that when we talk to the average person about our story with Caspian they look at us like we're not making any sense. I think dog lovers that are committed to helping dogs, particularly shelter dogs have a better understanding of where we are coming from. But I still sometimes feel like some of them might think we are crazy.

So here is the quick version of the story of Caspian in our lives:

My wife, Debby, was enrolled in Karen Prior Clicker Training Academy working towards becoming a certified dog trainer. She was going through the program with our Bernese Mountain Dog, Buck. Unfortunately Buck is getting older and has some health concerns and simply could not keep up with the program physically. Debby needed a new dog to go through the training with. Our other dogs were not good candidates for various reasons each different for each dog. By the way, at the time we had 3 other dogs. We decided a good option might be to work with a local shelter and see if they might have a dog that could benefit from some added training to make them little more adoptable. Caspian fit the bill. He had a little bit of a history of not getting along with strangers. He also reportedly had the potential to bite. We met him without dogs and it was a successful meet. Everyone got along and he seemed to be perfectly comfortable with us even as strangers. So we decided to foster him as he went through training. We have since adopted Caspian.

Caspian is an energetic dog and for the most part a very well behaved dog. For a dog coming from a shelter where he had been for a long period of time he fit in well in our home with us and our 4 other dogs. He is a loving and very snuggly dog. He will climb right into your lap. and curl up on you. He always wants to be with his humans. Very much a Velcro dog. It seemed odd that a dog with a reported history of problems with strangers would so quickly adapt to two completely new people.

After a bit of time we saw what his one problem behavior is. Sometimes when he is being petted he will suddenly snap at the hand that is petting him and "

try" to bite it. It seems like he is not really trying to bite us because it feels like if he really wanted to bite us he would. He usually does not successfully bite and he does not keep trying to bite. It's just a quick snap and then it is over. Sometimes his teeth will make contact but not actually bite. Once he bit Debby hard enough to cause some pain. He has never broken the skin or otherwise hurt us. What is most challenging about this behavior is that as far as we can tell there are no warning signs to tell us when he is going to snap at us or indicate that he is unhappy with being petted. So with this very cuddly dog who seems to crave attention and human contact and seems to want to be petted it is hard to determine the best course of action. The other problem with the snapping behavior is that it is relatively infrequent. It does not happen on a regular basis. I doubt if it happens more frequently than maybe once a week at the most and there are times when there are long stretches without it happening and then short periods of time where it happens frequently. In addition to this behavior Caspian appears to have some stereotypic type behaviors such as pacing around the coffee table and spinning that may be associated with anxiety.

We have sought advice from various dog trainers and our veterinarian. Some think the best course of action is to have him euthanize as he present a potential danger. We are currently looking into medication to see if that will help him and we are in the process of getting in to see Cornell behavior specialists to see what they think and find out what advice they have to offer.

We have been told we sound like people in an abusive behavior when we talk about him because we always say that he is so good 99% of the time but it's just the other one percent that is a problem. Perhaps that is a very apt comparison. We talk about how much we love him and we want to help him. He is so fun to play with and loves to fetch and gets along so well with the other dogs. We say he doesn't want to hurt us and he isn't otherwise aggressive towards us. We walk about how good he is and how well manners and affectionate, but there's just this biting thing. He is the perfect companion dog that I have been wanting since our lab passed. Affectionate, cuddly lap dog, that is energetic and ready to play and can go for long walks and hikes. Perhaps we are just overlooking a critical flaw because we want this relationship to work out so bad. We both recognize how ridiculous it can sound to say how good he is except that he tries to bite us some times.

We do our due diligence with regard to protecting both Caspian and others. He is not exposed to situations where he could harm others.

The question is are we unfit to make an objective assessment of the situation because our emotions are compromised? Or are we the perfect people to make an assessment of the situation because we have the first hand knowledge of the situation and know every aspect of his behavior both the good and the bad?

So, now the question is what do we do if Cornell also recommends us to euthanize him? How would we handle that situation? They are pretty much the experts in our area and if they don't feel it is a safe situation We may just have to make our peace with that.

We are trying to do what is best by Caspian. We want him to have a happy healthy life without harming anyone.