Thursday, January 31, 2008

Danger! Treachery is afoot!

It has now been brought to my attention that I appeared in three different people's dream lives last night.

Coincidentally, all three of my friends' names begin with the letter "C," and in all three cases I was in some sort of seeming peril.

10:07ish the AM:

I walk into my friend Chris's room and he proceeds to regale me about how, within the limitless scope of Dreamworld, he saved me from getting beat up by a bunch of big dudes.

We, accompanied by a couple of female companions, were on our way to a certain house which was known for its privacy. Apparently no one lived there, but it was still in pristine condition that was optimal for wooing women.

Unfortunately for us, someone had beat us there and was already entertaining guests. I reportedly went up to the door to see what was going on when I got manhandled inside by, as I mentioned before, a bunch of big dudes.

Anyway, Chris, being the hero cowboy that he is, got into my truck (told you he was a cowboy) and decided that it would be a good idea to crash it into the house. He ramped up the front steps, sailed through the gigantic glass doors and then hurtled through the other side of the house, ending up airborne above the rather large pool in the backyard.

At this point, Chris climbed out of the truck. Not wanting it to land in the pool, he used his superhuman cowboy strength to yank it out of harm's way and set it down gently on the other side of the concrete pond. It was damaged from the in-house carnage, but fixable, he told me.

Then, he started throwing guys in the pool and beating people up. It ended in a rather elaborate showdown with the boss, whom Chris "choked out with his foot." Afterward, they got their picture taken together.

Great dream.

10:42 in the AM:

My friend Courtney informs me via text, "In my dream they told me you died. But you didn't. The end."

After further questioning, I ascertain that she knew this because I was "sitting on some steps outside a building and then hiding."

1:45ish in the PM:

In the student center run into my friend Caitlyn who tells me that she, too, had a dream about me. This time, however, I was just running a lot. E.g. she would be standing there talking to someone, and suddenly I would run across her periphery.

So, all in all, kind of a creepy day considering most people don't remember their dreams, and even when they do they usually keep them to themselves.

But, if there's one thing I learned from Greek mythology, it's to not try to evade fate.

Celebrity obsession must be curbed

When Heath Ledger died last week, people across the nation were appalled.

Think back to when you first heard about his death. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. Somehow, I was under the impression that celebrities live for an inordinately long time. They’re supposed to be invincible. It seemed such an unexpected blow that someone could die so young.

At the onset, I felt like someone I had known for a long time was gone.

In an interview with the New York Times on the day of Mr. Ledger’s death, Nichole Vaughan, a law student at New York University, said that she was greatly affected "because of the way our generation is; we just sort of feel we're a part of each other's lives."

Is this really true? Do we all truly feel pleasantly connected to the stranger on the sidewalk? Closeness is a sentiment that is very unusual to find in today's isolationist society, much less in New York City.

While I am in no way attempting to diminish the tragedy of death, it seems to me that an undue affection has been given to celebrities and that we have exalted them to inappropriate levels--almost to the status of demigods.

After my preliminary thoughts on Mr. Ledger’s death, I realized that I don't feel the same way for the girl in the eleventh grade who is killed by a drunk driver. I don't feel the same way for the flag draped caskets that come home from any one of our many conflicts.

Our young adult life has become like high school on a larger scale. We have filled the role of the jock with the professional athlete. We’ve filled the role of the beautiful, popular people with movie luminaries and rock star heroes. Politicians, though divisive, even have a place of high regard in our convoluted social scene of glitz and glamour.

But what about those who are down and out? What about the poor, the hungry, the homeless? What about the whores, the pimps, the drug addicts? What about the middle class?

Am I saying that we need to obsess over these people as much as we gorge ourselves on fame? Hardly. Rather, we need to adopt a caring mindset that produces acts of service.
We need to stop giving celebrities so much unwarranted divinity, and we need to start concerning ourselves with the rest of the human race as much as we worship those in the limelight.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Take a helium taxi home to me

Today I experienced half an hour of concentrated happiness.

I got to take the briefest chunk of time out of my normally hectic day and forget about anything but just sitting in the company of two people who are bright spots in my life. This was a good experience for me on a number of levels.

The first thing that struck me is how valuable time spent with someone is. There is something intangible about being with someone. I have a few friends that I mainly relate to via correspondence. (Interestingly enough, I feel like I have some of the more meaningful relationships with friends who are apart). But, as I was sitting with my two friends, I looked at the one who lives away, and I realized that this was really a great moment. So great.

It's obvious to say it, but physical presence gives a reality to friendship that you can't obtain looking at a computer screen, reading a piece of paper or speaking over the telephone. Of course, out of the three, communicating via e-mail or instant message is the least personal. At least with the telephone and handwritten letters, there is a piece of the other person transmitted also. A voice, a style of handwriting.

The other thing I realized is that I don't often participate in an activity and focus just on that moment. When I am in class, I'm thinking about stories that need to be written or photos that need to be taken. When I'm in chapel, I'm thinking about homework that needs to be done, and in most cases I've brought some to work on. The problem with this is that not giving my full focus to the task at hand means that I end up doing a half-assed job on both things.

The worst aspect of this is that I am unable to enjoy the things I like because I have labeled them as work. Here, only a week and a half into the new school year, I am suffering from the disease of not being able to do things I enjoy because I have classified them as work.

I really do have a good time writing for the newspaper and taking photographs, but because they have become required I have become tricked into thinking they are undesirable. Hence, I waste time. Yesterday, despite all my best intentions to be productive and use the day as opportunity to catch up with responsibilities, I wasted a full four hours. And I didn't have fun.

It's a mean town but I don't care
Try and steal this
Can't steal happiness

Night settles, still working on a way to breathe
Don't you go, don't you go down
Take a helium taxi home to me

--"Happiness" by the Weepies

Captain, my captain

I'm working on a story for the University newspaper about new leadership on the Rugby club team. The club is unique because they have no official coach, and the captain is responsible for leading practice, coming up with plays, overseeing drills, and managing the team while also continuing to be a contributing player to the team. He runs drills along with the other players. The guy running out of the picture is the former captain.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I've got Holland on my mind


A few more shots I had lying around. I figured it was time to blow the dust of them and put them up.

The view from the water:

40 percent of the traffic in Amsterdam is by bicycle. And, it's the best way to see the city.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I have to feed them facts to be alone

So, back at school.

It's good to be back; I'm glad for the two years I've spent here. They've been learning years, and this is where I fell in love with journalism.

Last night, I visited some friends for the first time in a long while. It was nice; there've been a lot of good memories there, and a lot of wise advice given. But it's a different feeling now, both for reasons known and unknown. It's an odd feeling. A separating feeling--removal. But it's also peaceful in its own way, this observational role I've taken.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget.
Like the strangers that you've met.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Rats with wings

(All photos--Peter Motson)


The scene off-camera:

(Imagine a pudgy, effeminate, Dutch waiter with an accent).

"Och, ze pigeons are dirty creatures. Zey are like rats wis wings," he says as he sees us watching the birds.

At that point, he clears our table while singing softly to himself, "Shakin' da ass, shakin' da ass."

Well, the motion is intriguing.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Seth Putnam's 115th dream, featuring Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt visited me in a dream during an afternoon nap on Friday.

Some of the details are hazy, but here's the basic gist: I was at a rally for some candidate, and unbeknownst to me, Brad Pitt was lined up as the star power for the event. (I'm sure this detail of the dream was inspired by the recent glut of celebrities and politicians I have been cavorting with.)

As chance would have it, I ran into Mr. Pitt on the way to the water fountain. Remembering that he attended Mizzou's journalism school, I decided to ask his advice on whether or not I should transfer from my current alma mater to MU.

"Mr. Pitt--" I began, but he cut me off.
"Yeah, yeah, you want my autograph or my tie or something, right?"
"No, I just want to ask your advice about something."

He appeared to be surprised, and graciously allowed me to pose my question.

However, at this point, my point of view in the dream changed, and I found myself in the other room messing with my camera. I walked out of that room and happened upon Brad Pitt again talking Two of me in the same dream? Nuts.

The conversation Brad (yes, we're on a first name basis) and myself were having seemed to be confidential, because they were speaking in hushed tones, and I couldn't overhear what was being said. Apparently, Brad had some reeeeally important wisdom to impart.

All I know is that when we were done talking, my other self seemed pleased. So, I'm assuming he told me I should transfer or something like that.

At that point, I morphed back into my other self and Brad and I started doing magic tricks. I don't recall exactly what my trick was, but he held his suit coat open and displayed a tie--identical to the one he was wearing--hanging out of his inside pocket.

This really isn't a magic trick; it just shows that Mr. Pitt is an astute celebrity and keeps an extra tie on hand for his fans. Maybe next time I see him I'll ask him if I can have his spare.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Iowa Showdown: Press Pass


So Huckabee won out over his republican competitors in the Iowa caucuses. That's old news.

He gave pretty much the same speech he gave at his rally on Tuesday night, so that's nothing new. Huckabee, like Obama, is most certainly playing on change as his major selling point with voters.

However, Huckabee himself was not the most exciting part of that night for me.

I stopped by the media table at Huckabee's watch party at the Embassy Suites in Des Moines last night to see if I could get my hands on a press pass.

A quick flash of the student ID and voila! I was granted access and soon found myself in the section cordoned off for press photographers. I was sitting behind the big boys from Time, Reuters, Newsweek, U.S. News, and the Associated Press. Oh my God.

I struck up a brief conversation with Charlie Archambault of U.S. News. Awesome guy. The thing that was really cool was the camaraderie that existed between all of these big-name photographers. These guys knew each other and all had a professional understanding and respect for each other. Plus, this was just another routine assignment for them.

The first excitement of the evening came when they spotted a circle of Huckabee's supporters praying for a victory. We descended upon them on like a duck on a junebug.

While we're waiting for Huck to make his appearance, let me just take a minute to explain how difficult it was to work with the guy who was managing the photographers.

Now, I'm not trying to be a cocky amateur photographer; this fellow was legitimately pissing off the professional guys.

First, he's trying to get a pool of five photographers to go up to the front of podium to get shots of Huckabee giving his victory speech. Just five.

Next, he has the brilliant idea of of sending eight photographers at a time. Riiight. His reasoning? "We can't have all of you guys up there at once. That just won't work."

"You mean like it works ever other time?" asks Pulitzer Prize-winner Khue Bui, who currently works for Newsweek.

Next idea: Okay, we can all stay up there for Huckabee's initial entry, but we have to leave after 45 seconds. By this time the photographers are just agreeing to anything to get the guy to back off.

Finally, he sees the light. You can all stay the whole time, but you have to stay down, and when Huckabee gets done with his speech you have to move to the stage (in a counter-clockwise, orderly fashion) so he can shake hands with the people in the crowd. Best idea you've had all night.

When we finally do move to the stage, no one is orderly. Everyone just hops up on stage. His response? "Ok, guys move around to the other side...It's time to move...Come on guys just--goddamn it!"

(Caption--The view from my end: Newsweek's Khue Bui (left) and a photographer from the Rocky Mountain Press snap photos of Huckabee as he gives his victory speech.)

Rolling with the big boys taught me an important, though elementary lesson. When you're on assignment, always dress in dark clothing.

Early on, I realized that all of them were wearing dark colors (mainly black), but I didn't really know why. I, of course, stuck out like a sore thumb with my blue jeans and light plaid, pearl-snap shirt. Not to mention my equipment: 20D with a 28mm lens sans accessories.

Anyway, Huckabee finally comes out on stage and suddenly this guy in a white sweater toting a home video camera appears in the press section. He's not obstructing our shots (yet), but he's obviously not with the press.

When Huckabee finishes his speech and we finally do move to the stage, Whitie decides it will be a good idea to stay on the floor next to the governor and continue his home footage from there.

The photographers have other ideas. A couple of them clap hands on his shoulders and pull him back. "You're going to stand in front of us and wear white?!" One of them manages from behind his camera. Whitie is a little hurt, emotionally speaking, but nobody pays that much attention.

Taking a hint, I hastily sit down on the edge of the stage and continue my shooting from there.

(Caption--As Huckabee shakes hands with fans, a supporter from Illinois shows off a picture of the governor playing bass. Huckabee signed the photo.)

Edit (1/17):
I'm afraid I haven't fully conveyed my elation about being able to participate in this event. Despite the press manager and the video-camera-toting fan, this night was incredible. In fact, they even contributed to the evening because they provided a valuable learning experience.

This was without a doubt the most exciting experience of my young journalistic career, which is ironic considering that for the pros it was a routine--maybe even mundane--assignment. To me however, it was enthralling to follow people who get payed to report the news. It was riveting to see national news in action, be in the thick of it and then read it in the papers the next day or even within a few hours.

This solidified in my mind that this is the career for me, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have had the experience. It's given me a high that is still with me three weeks later. Brilliant.

Oh, did I mention Chuck Norris was there again? I got this shot over the shoulder of a reporter interviewing the guy who uses a live rattlesnake as a condom. Cheers.

Iowa Showdown: The man who wants to legalize marijuana


Out of all the candidates I heard this week, Ron Paul spent the most time actually discussing the specifics of his campaign platform. On Thursday afternoon, I sat in on a Q&A session he ran at Des Moines University. The meeting was pretty reminiscent of a college lecture.

Nothing particularly interesting happened; I got a couple of photos and took some notes on his platform.

  • Less government
  • Right to own firearms
  • Pro-Life
  • Foreign policy:
    • Open up trade and travel with Cuba
    • Immediate withdrawal of troops across the world
    • Iraq is an illegal, immoral war because there was no declaration of war, and we are there under false pretenses (oil)
    • Leave now to save lives and money
    • Solve problems there by investing and trading with the country
  • Healthcare: Privatize it
    • (His plan also includes legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes)
    • No forced vaccinations
    • Everything should be the people's choice
    • Hospitals should be run by churches and communitie
  • Taxes:
    • No income tax for the middle class

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Iowa Showdown: Obama edition


Well, the Obama rally at Hoover High School in Des Moines officially one-upped Huckabee tonight.

Not only did I shake the big man's hand--he has a pretty soft grip, by the way (though this might come from the thousands of hands he shakes every day)--but I also ran into Tim Russert of Meet the Press on the way out to the parking lot. And yes, I did shamelessly get my picture taken with him.

The other exciting aspect of the evening was that I was positioned on the barrier next to the podium where the AP photographers ended stationing themselves also. Score!

Obama is an inspirational speaker. There's no doubt about that. his supporters were more excited, more passionate and by far more amped up than last night's Republicans.

Obama's message is one of hope and change, two concepts he mentions just about every chance he gets. And those ideas seem to be resonating with people.

There was also a really interesting difference in the visual aesthetic between his supporters and Huckabee's.

At Obama's rally, there was more diversity and youth participation (from later high school and college-age kids). Also, the style of dress was hipper. (Funny, but true).

At Huckabee's, there were a lot of older folk and families that had enlisted five or six of their youngest children to run around with signs and stickers and chant and yell. (This is a very prevalent theme for Huckabee; there were kids as young as 14 making phone calls at his headquarters in Des Moines right up until the caucuses opened).

While Huckabee has a lot of cute one-liners, Obama has quotes. On the hope/change theme he said that hope is not passive or naive, "hope is ignoring the difficulties before us."

And, "Nothing worthwhile has happened in this country unless somebody somewhere was willing to hope."

There was also a lot of crowd involvement at Obama's rally that almost gave it the feel of a Pentecostal prayer meeting.

His platform, which he covered briefly and without specifics included the following:
  • Restore diplomacy and renew America's standing in the world
  • Energy system that reduces climate change
  • Universal healthcare
  • Employment for all
  • Stop poverty
  • No torture

Something else he mentioned was the need for a president who believes and obeys the constitution, so it will be interesting to see whether or not he follows that document if he is elected.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Iowa Showdown: Part one


Well, here I am in Des Moines. (Don't ask how I got here). The first stop on the agenda was the Huckabee rally at the Val Air Ballroom.

Summary: Unimpressive.

Even with the appearance of Walker Texas Ranger star Chuck Norris, the event was just...flat.

Surprise, surprise. Chuck Norris actually showed up in Des Moines to help his boy clinch the top spot in the fast-approaching Iowa caucuses.

By the way, Chuck's favorite fact: "They wanted to put Chuck Norris on Mt. Rushmore, but the granite wasn't tough enough for his beard."

One sidenote that the self-proclaimed "computer illiterate" martial arts star felt was worth mentioning is that he "accidentally" choked out a marine during his visit to Iraq.

After Mr. Norris so tenuously endorsed his pick for president--it seemed like he got up there and just started talking about nothing in particular--Huckabee returned with temporary band "The Boogie Woogers."

Amidst cries of "Freebird!" (can that joke get any older?) the candidate grooved out on his bass with a selection of tunes that included "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Twist and Shout." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough even hopped up on stage and rocked the rhythm guitar.

At that point, the members of the band deteriorated into a photo frenzy, spurred on by the sudden influx of star power onto the stage.

This is really the first contact I've had with Mr. Huckabee (or any of the candidates) aside from the occasional propaganda that I've received from friends who support him. He might be great; me might not be.

For his major rally a day and a half before the much-hyped caucuses, you'd think he would have done better.

One of the more interesting occurrences of the night was my coincidental placement behind Dallas Morning News reporter Dave Levinthal, who was plunking out his story in real time. I can say that I was the first person in America to read his "Huck 'n' Chuck: This is getting random" blog entry.

One of the coolest parts about this trip is being able to see the gaggle of journalists as they do their work. Also, Tim Russert was in the crowd, so that was pretty sweet too.

During a brief hype speech before Norris' plug, Huckabee pushed a campaign of positivism in the wake of his recent decision to pull a negative ad directed at former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Huckabee came out quoting scripture and touched briefly on his platform:
  • Fair taxes
  • Pro-life
  • Marriage between a man and a woman
  • A strong military that is so badass no one will mess with us (and therefore do whatever we say?)
  • Decreased spending
  • Bipartisan dealings
  • And, becoming energy independent in 10 years.

"Who says Republicans can't have fun?" Huckabee asked as he twanged his bass.

Well if this rally is any indication, Mr. Huckabee, I do.

Tonight: Obama!