Thursday, October 21, 2021

Autumn, Adnan . . . and Art?


As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been enjoying experimenting with Prisma, a photo-editing mobile application (or app) that “uses neural networks and artificial intelligence to apply artistic effects to transform images.” I quite like some of the effects that can be created using this particular app.

Lately, the two subjects of my use of the Prisma filter, Aqua, have been the current season of autumn and my friend Adnan. They are both subjects that I find very photogenic, and so my photography of each of them is the basis of the Aqua-filtered images I share this evening.

I also share the following excerpt from Sam Levins’ 2016 Guardian article about Prisma and its ability to “turn photos into works of art.”

Prisma is reinventing the concept of filtering photos with technology. While the concept of adding filters to photos has been around for years, the Prisma iOS app is unique in the way that it relies on a “combination of neural networks and artificial intelligence” to remake the image.

What that means is the Prisma tools aren’t the kind of art filters that Instagram uses where the filters overlay the original photo. Instead, Prisma goes through different layers and recreates the photo from scratch, according to the app makers, who are based in Moscow.

“We do the image fresh,” Prisma co-founder Alexey Moiseenkov said in an interview Thursday. “It’s not similar to the Instagram filter where you just layer over. . . . We draw something like a real artist would.”

. . . Since Prisma has spread, some have complained that the app could devalue the work of real artists and take away work from painters who make art by hand – not within seconds on a smartphone. But for now, the app remains hugely popular, and Moiseenkov said he expects its user base to continue its rapid growth.

Moiseenkov’s background is computer science and he’s not an artist himself. But he said he grew up loving painting and that his favorite artist is Camille Pissarro, the Danish-French impressionist. “People want to create something, and we allow them to experiment,” he said.

– Sam Levins
Excerpted from “Prisma: The App That Turns
Photos Into Works of Art

The Guardian
July 14, 2016


I should note that at one point in his article, Levins contends that Prisma “lets users instantly transform mundane images into Picasso paintings,” the implication being that the app can transform bad photos into great works of art. I actually don’t agree with this. After all, a crappy photo is going to be a crappy “work of art.” Composition is key here, and that can’t be changed no matter how much you make your photo look like a painting.

In commenting on my photography, people often tell me I “have a good eye,” which is really what composition is all about: seeing and composing the various objects within one’s chosen frame of vision thoughtfully and meaningfully; artistically, in other words. A good painter does this just as a good photographer does. Good composition should draw us in, make us wonder, maybe even make us see things differently and think about things differently. With such composition missing from either art form, the result will always be, to use Levins’ word, “mundane”



I invite you to spend time with my images of autumn and of Adnan, and to decide for yourself if they are works of art, mundane, or something in between. And I hope that you'll not only come to a decision about that, but that you'll also know why you came to the decision that you did.



See also the previous Wild Reed posts:

AUTUMN
Autumn: Season of Transformation and Surrender
O Sacred Season of Autumn
“Thou Hast Thy Music Too”
Autumn – Within and Beyond (2018)
Autumn – Within and Beyond (2016)
Late Autumn Light
“This Autumn Land Is Dreaming”

ADNAN
Blue Yonder
November Musings
Morning Light
Adnan . . . with Sunset Reflections and Jet Trail
Adnan . . . Amidst Mississippi Reflections
The Landscape Is a Mirror
In This In-Between Time

NATURE AND SPIRITUALITY
“I Caught a Glimpse of a God . . .”
The Prayer Tree
The Prayer Tree . . . Aflame!
Cosmic Connection
The Mysticism of Trees
Holy Encounters Where Two Worlds Meet

Related Off-site Links:
A New Popular App Called Prisma Has Insanely Cool Photo Filters That Make Instagram's Feel Boring – Danielle Muoio (Business Insider, July 8, 2016).
Prisma Uses AI to Turn Your Photos Into Graphic Novel Fodder Double Quick – Natasha Lomas (TechCrunch.com, June 24, 2016).
8 Photo Editing Apps That Should Be On Your Phone in 2021GQ India (October 10, 2021).

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Marianne Williamson on the Tenth Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street


Last month (September 17 to be exact) saw the 10th anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement against economic inequality that began in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City's Wall Street financial district. It gave rise to the wider Occupy movement in the United States and around the world.

In marking this anniversary, Julianna Forlano of Act.TV interviewed author, activist, and former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, who ten years ago participated in Occupy Los Angeles, part of the wider Occupy movement.

As well as sharing her insights on the significance of the Occupy movement, Marianne also talks more broadly about the spiritual and moral nature of social justice movements. It’s a 13-minute interview that’s well-worth watching.





Related Off-site Links:
Happy Birthday, Occupy Wall Street – Jonathan Smucker (The Intercept, September 17, 2021).
Occupy Wall Street Changed Everything: Ten Years Later, the Legacy of Zuccotti Park Has Never Been Clearer – Astra Taylor and Jonathan Smucker (New York Magazine, September 17, 2021).
“Another World Is Possible”: How Occupy Wall Street Reshaped Politics and Kicked Off a New Era of ProtestDemocracy Now! (September 17, 2021).
The Real Story of Occupy Wall Street Is What’s Happened Since – Nathan Schneider (Rolling Stone, September 17, 2021).
Occupy Wall Street Trained a Generation in Class War – Nathan Schneider (Rolling Stone, September 17, 2021).
Thinking About Art on the 10th Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street – Noah Fischer (Hyperallergic, September 17, 2021).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Christopher Hedges: Quote of the Day – October 1, 2011
Rocking the Cradle of Power
Jason Easley: Quote of the Day – October 2, 2011
Something to Think About – November 30, 2011
A Song and Challenge for 2012
Threshold Musings

And from the archives of The Progressive Catholic Voice, see:
Reflections on Occupy Minneapolis – Mary Lynn Murphy (February 20, 2012).
Occupy Minneapolis: Spring Remembrances – Mary Lynn Murphy (February 29, 2012).

Opening image: Tracie Williams.


Thursday, October 14, 2021

Remembering Uta Ranke-Heinemann, 1927-2021


In putting together the most recent installment of The Wild Reed’s "In the Garden of Spirituality" series, I discovered that theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann died earlier this year.

I first became aware of Uta when on Australian TV back in the early 1990s, I viewed the British documentary, Through the Devil’s Gateway: Women, Religion and Taboo. Uta was one of a number of female scholars and writers interviewed for this series. I was immediately impressed and inspired by her theological insights and the direct (some might say confrontational) way she shared them.

Years later I read her landmark book Eunuchs For the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church and its follow-up, Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith. About the latter, renowned historian of religion Karen Armstrong notes that it “skillfully disentangles the web of contradictions and improbabilities that surround the Christian story to reveal the essential underlying truth.” (For excerpts from Putting Away Childish Things, click here and here.)

Armstrong’s comment highlights the fact that Uta Ranke-Heinemann’s writings were radical in the truest sense of the word; they went to the heart or root of the Christian story, and thus of human religious experience. Her writings can rightly be described as trailblazing. Not surprisingly, they were (and remain) controversial for some. Yet for others, myself included, they were liberating. As such, they definitely influenced the expansion of my thinking on gender, sexuality, and church authority. And for that I’m grateful.

There’s not much online about Uta’s passing or the important theological contributions she made in her lifetime. Accordingly, I’ve put together the following which is drawn from Wikipedia and from this article published shortly after her death.

Rest in peace and power, Uta. And thank you for your prophetic witness through your liberating writings.

________________________


She was the world’s first female professor of Catholic theology and quickly became a vocal critic of the Roman Catholic hierachy: Uta Ranke-Heinemann, the eldest daughter of former Federal Republic of Germany President Gustav Heinemann, died at her home in Essen, Germany on Thursday, March 25, 2021. She was 93.

Her son Andreas Ranke announced her death to the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur, saying his mother “fell asleep peacefully in front of relatives.”

Uta Heinemann was born on October 2, 1927 in Essen; her parents were Calvinist Protestants. Her father Gustav Heinemann was the third President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969 to 1974. He was the first member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) to hold the presidency.

In 1945 Heinemann was the only female to attend the Burggymnasium in Essen, where she graduated from high school. She went on to study Protestant Theology. She converted to Roman Catholicism in 1953 when she married a Catholic religion teacher, Edmund Ranke. The couple had two sons. She was promoted to doctor in 1954 in Munich, making her the first woman to be so (together with Elisabeth Gössmann). One of her fellow students and a friend at that time was Joseph Ratzinger, later known as Pope Benedict XVI, about whom she later said, “[He] always had the aura of a cardinal, and the highest intelligence, with a total absence of the erotic.”

In 1969, Ranke-Heinemann became the first woman in the world to be habilitated in Catholic theology, at the University of Munich. She subsequently held the Essen University chair of ancient Church history and the New Testament from 1970.

About her relationship with the Catholic hierachy, Ranke-Heinemann would later remark: “But I went from bad to worse with the Catholics.” She was a vocal critic of the papal ban on contraception, describimg the fact that African women were threatened with hell for using a condom to have sex with their HIV-infected husbands as a “fatal deception on humanity.”

Ranke-Heinemann was a dedicated peace activist. During the Vietnam War she supported the ban on napalm bombs and visited Communist North Vietnam.

In 1979, she organized food for Cambodia which at the time was experiencing a famine.

She taught Catholic theology from 1980 in Duisburg, and from 1985 in Essen. In 1987 Ranke-Heinemann contradicted the church dogma of the Virgin Birth, saying that the stories of Mary’s virginity should not be taken literally but rather as “models of the imagination at the time.” The then Essen bishop, Franz Hengsbach, subsequently withdrew her education license. She lost her chair in Essen, but was given a church-independent chair for religious history. In 1988 she published her principal book dealing critically with sexuality in the Catholic Church, in English Eunuchs For the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church. Many editions followed, and it was translated into twelve languages.

In 1999, the renowned pacifist was a candidate for President of Germany, without party membership, but lost to Johannes Rau, the husband of her niece Christina.

Her book Nein und Amen (“No and Amen”), announcing her break with the church, was first published in 1992 and reprinted several times; the book was translated into English as Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith. Spanish and Polish translations followed. She revised it in 2002, after the death of her husband, with the new subtitle Mein Abschied vom traditionellen Christentum, "My farewell to traditional Christianity."

Ranke-Heinemann did not deviate from her criticism of the church in her later life. The election of her former fellow student Joseph Ratzinger as pope did not change this. “I am disappointed,” she said a year after Benedict XVI took office. “I was hoping he would finally get rid of celibacy.”

In another interview, she declared: “I don’t see any future for a church in which all shepherds are men, and all women are sheep. How could that be a universal church?”

________________________



In closing, here’s a TV news story about Uta Ranke-Heinemann’s passing. It’s from a German news show, and, as I don’t speak German, I just have to assume it does a good job of summarizing and honoring her life. If you’re reading this and know German, please feel free to translate the audio of this video and share it in the comments section of this post. Thanks!





See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
In the Garden of Spirituality: Uta Ranke-Heinemann
Uta Ranke-Heinemann on the Future of the Catholic Church
Uta Ranke-Heinemann on the Burial of Jesus: “No Splendor and Glory”


Monday, October 11, 2021

“Everything Is Saturated With the Sacred”


I spent yesterday afternoon seeking and experiencing the truth of Edward Hays’s words, “Everything is saturated with the sacred, is a tabernacle of your presence.” These words are from one of Hays’s autumn morning prayers in his book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim.

Since the autumn equinox, I’ve been incorporating these prayers into my morning prayer time. They became more than words, however, when I experienced their deeper truth yesterday as I very intentionally immersed myself in the beauty of the natural world. Specifically, I spent time by Diamond Lake and at the Prayer Tree by Minnehaha Creek. Both these places of urban wildreness are located in south Minneapolis, and both have become very special to me in the past few years. (I hope my photographs attest to this!)

As is so often the case when I allow myself a “sacred pause” to be fully present in nature, I not only feel my body, mind, and spirit come into alignment, but I also sense in every leaf and stone, every wave of water and ray of light, the sustaining and transforming energy of the sacred. In ways that can only be described as mystical, I recognize my connection to – and oneness with – all within and around me.

This experience of oneness, of the Divine Presence saturating all the different aspects of the natural world, is for me one of renewal; it restores within me balance and harmony, clarity and hope.


May I see your holiness in the golden beauty of this day. May I touch with reverence all things, since everything is saturated with the sacred, is a tabernacle of your presence. Broaden the boundaries of my heart that it may encompass more than it did yesterday, as I begin this day with you.

– Edward Hays
Excerpted from “The Season of Autumn”
in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim
Forest of Peace Books, 1989
p. 64



See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Autumn: Season of Transformation and Surrender
O Sacred Season of Autumn
“Thou Hast Thy Music Too”
Autumn – Within and Beyond (2018)
Autumn – Within and Beyond (2016)
Autumn Psalm
Autumn Hues
Autumn by the Creek
From the River to the Falls
Autumn Dance
“I Caught a Glimpse of a God . . .”
The Prayer Tree
The Prayer Tree . . . Aflame!
“This Autumn Land Is Dreaming”
Cosmic Connection
The Mysticism of Trees
Holy Encounters Where Two Worlds Meet
The Landscape Is a Mirror
In This In-Between Time

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Rallying to End U.S. Militarism


Yesterday afternoon I joined with about 50 others in south Minneapolis to rally against the “endless wars” of the United States government, wars instigated and waged regardless of which of the two main political parties hold power.

Yesterday’s rally was organized by the Minnesota Peace Action Coalition, which includes a number of Twin Cities-based justice and peace organizations, including the Anti-War Committee, Women Against Military Madness, Veterans for Peace, Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, and the Welfare Rights Committee. It was held in the heart of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of south Minneapolis, which is right next to Seward, the neighborhood I've lived in since October 2019. So, yes, I walked to the rally. Cedar-Riverside was actually the first neighborhood I lived in when I came to the U.S. from Australia twenty-seven years ago. Today it’s home to one of the largest Somalian communities in the country, ensuring the nickname “Little Mogadishu.”


In its promotional material, the organizers of yesterday’s rally noted that October 2021 marks 20 years since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, an event which launched a seemingly endless series of U.S. wars and military interventions. These wars explode not only on the streets of foreign cities but also, as the organizers put it, “on the streets at home with militarized policing and growing inequality.”

Of course, related to this “growing inequality” is the obscenely bloated U.S. military budget, which the majority of politicians from both parties unquestionably support year after year.

Richard Eskow recently penned an informative piece on this very issue, noting that:

[Congress recently] authorized a one-year military budget of $768 billion. If that amount remains the same over the next decade, the ten-year cost would come to $7.7 trillion, more than twice the amount of the Democrats’ so-called “sweeping budget package” designed to help working people and address climate change. . . . The massive expenditure for war is not merely a fiscal issue. It reflects a system of governance that values war. That system was produced by a failure of political vision and an electoral process corrupted by corporate money.


Writing in the latest issue of the WAMM (Women Against Military Madness) newsletter, my friend Marie Braun questions where the humanity is in an “exploding national ‘defense’ budget.”

The devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout provide ample reason for our country to reconsider what truly constitutes national security. The massive U.S. arsenal and fighting force deployed worldwide are powerless against grave, non-military threats to national security -- from a raging pandemic to the fact that tens of millions of Americans struggle to pay for food, housing, and healthcare.

. . . Moving money from the military budget to meeting human needs will not be easy because of the many vested interests, especially weapons contractors and their powerful lobbies. And there are military contracts in almost every state.

Frequently when there is an opportunity to get rid of out-dated equipment, the cry from states and local communities is “Jobs! We will lose jobs!” However, it has been known for decades that federal spending on domestic programs in healthcare, education, clean energy, and infrastructure creates more jobs, dollar for dollar, than military spending.

In her 2019 study, Heidi Peltier of the Costs of War Project at Boston University’s Watson Institute, found that $1 billion in military spending creates approximately 11,200 jobs, compared with the jobs $1 billion creates in other areas: 26, 700 in education, 16, 800 in clean energy, and 17,200 in healthcare.


I close this post with some more images of yesterday’s rally calling for an end to U.S. militarism at home and abroad. These images are accompanied by an excerpt from Julian Borger’s article, “How 9/11 Led the U.S. to Forever Wars, Eroded Rights – and Insurrection,” published one month ago today on September 10, 2021 in The Guardian.

________________________


Over the past few weeks, the Biden administration has launched drone strikes against suspected terrorist targets in Somalia and Afghanistan, based on congressional authority dating to September 2001. This week, five terror suspects have been in court for pre-trial hearings now entering their ninth year in Guantánamo Bay, which opened its prison gates in January 2002.

The aftershocks of 9/11 are everywhere. The families of the nearly 3,000 victims are still struggling with the justice department to lift the secrecy over the FBI investigation into the attacks and the possible complicity of Saudi officials. Last week they asked the department’s inspector general to look into FBI claims to have lost critical evidence, including pictures and video footage.

[This year’s] 20th anniversary of 9/11 [. . .] is clearly not just about history. More than a decade since the last attempted al-Qaida attack against the country, America’s society and its democracy are shaped – and arguably badly corroded – by how it responded in the first few weeks after the twin towers fell.

The Authorisation for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that became law on September 18, 2001 was supposed to give the president the tools he needed to combat al-Qaida. But it is still used as the legal underpinning for drone strikes and other military operations ordered by Joe Biden around the world, most with nothing to do with al-Qaida.


The torture of suspects carried out by the CIA and allowed by legal memos issued by the Bush administration has mired the case of the 9/11 suspects at Guantánamo in tainted evidence, leaving the prosecution unable to move forward or abandon the process.

New books argue that lines can be drawn tracing the spread of disinformation on the internet and the direct challenge to democracy posed by Donald Trump and his supporters – culminating in the January 6 insurrection – all the way back to decisions taken in the febrile atmosphere that followed the attacks on New York and Washington two decades ago.

Their conclusion echoes what civil liberties organisations have been saying for the past two decades, that 9/11 is America’s auto-immune disease: the response did far more damage than the original attack.

“The betrayal of America’s professed principles was the friendly fire of the war on terror,” Carlos Lozada, the Washington Post’s non-fiction book critic, [recently] wrote.

[. . .] Spencer Ackerman, the author of Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump, argues that the amorphous “war on terror” supercharged and institutionalised enduring strands of white supremacism running through US political history.

Ackerman, a former Guardian journalist, contrasts the political response to the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, by the white supremacist Timothy McVeigh, to the al-Qaida plane hijacking attacks six years later.

In the Oklahoma case, Republicans in Congress disputed any suggestion of wider complicity of the far right. To the extent anti-terror legislation was strengthened, it was directed against foreign groups. Patriotism was identified with whiteness.

“One of the most important lessons of the war on terror is that a white man with a flag and a gun is told by the culture of the war on terror that he is a counter-terrorist, not a terrorist,” said Ackerman, adding that a direct line can be drawn between the war on terror and the January 6 pro-Trump insurrection in Washington.

“You can see from the iconography of who is in that crowd, who’s storming the Capitol,” Ackerman said. “There are a lot of people in hard-knuckle gloves and tactical gear basically cosplaying as the warriors that the war on terror and its media portrayals convinced them is the mark of valorous American behavior.”

Some of the excesses of the 9/11 era have been pruned. The National Security Agency is more constrained in its ability to collect bulk phone data, which was ruled illegal by a federal appeals court last year. The Patriot Act has been overtaken by the less ambitious USA Freedom Reauthorization Act.

But even after laws expire, the habits and reflexes of the 9/11 era remain. Karen Greenberg, the director of the centre of national security at Fordham University school of law, calls them “subtle tools”: secrecy, deliberately imprecise legal language aimed at expanding executive power, blurred lines between government agencies, and the overturning of norms. “You can get rid of all these policies, but if you don’t get rid of the tools that created those policies, forget it. It doesn’t matter,” Greenberg said.

“All these things that were created in the name of national security, we’ve seen them time and time again bleed into things that are not about the war on terror and national security.”

Her book Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump argues that the 45th president took advantage of the rupture of norms and the ballooning of presidential power in the 9/11 era in his own assault on democratic institutions.

“This wilful evasion of the limits on presidential power is something we are going to have to figure out how to address sooner rather than later,” she said.

Julian Borger
Excerpted from “How 9/11 Led the U.S. to Forever Wars,
Eroded Rights – and Insurrection

The Guardian
September 10, 2021


Related Off-site Links:
As the Congressional Budget Office Shows How to Cut $1 Trillion From Pentagon, Progressives Urge Spending on “True Security” – Richard Eskow (Common Dreams, October 7, 2021).
$3.5 Trillion for Social Programs and the Environment Is Too Expensive, But $10 Trillion for War Is Business as Usual – Richard Eskow (Common Dreams, September 25, 2021).
The Afghanistan War Is Over. But the Defense Budget Is Still About to Go Up – Dan Spinelli (Mother Jones, September 23, 2021).
What I Know After 50 Years of Covering Foreign Policy: War and Empire Are Bad – Conn Hallinan (Foreign Policy in Focus, September 22, 2021).
War on the World: How Military Build-up and War Contribute to Climate Emergency – Murtaza Hussain (The Intercept, September 15, 2019).
The U.S. Military Is One of the Largest Polluters in History – Benjamin Neimark, Oliver Belcher and Patrick Bigger (Quartz, June 28, 2019).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Phyllis Bennis on the Crisis in Afghanistan
Cultivating Peace
“The Absolute Gall”
Reacting to the Effects, Not the Cause, of What Ails Us
Veterans for Peace Strongly Condemns Any and All U.S. Aggression Towards Iran
Saying “No” to War on Iran
The War Racket
Quote of the Day – March 20, 2018
Progressive Perspectives on U.S. Military Intervention in Syria
Saying “No” to Endless U.S. Wars
Vigiling Against Weaponized Drones
The Tenth Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq
A Letter to "Dear Abby" re. Responding to 9/11

Image: Michael J. Bayly