Why I like Obama’s Portrait


Photo: ABCNews

The official portraits of Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald have been revealed.

At first, I liked them but thought, “Those are the official portraits, to be in the gallery? I don’t know how I feel about that – they’re so….modern!”  Then I remembered we are in the 21st century and I should not be expecting more of the same…in fact, I should be embracing something new.

So, here are my thoughts on the Barack Obama portrait.

It is fresh.

He is in a flower garden, which is fresh and fragrant and alive.  He is not inside by a stack of books, which would showcase the past.  He is in the present moment.

It is vibrant.

Look at the diversity and colors of flowers.  America is diverse and colorful, and this portrait seems to be saying that is beautiful.  And if you plant seeds and care for them, beautiful flowers will grow and blossom.

Also, when you visit the gallery, guess which Presidential portrait will appeal to children?  The colorful, vibrant one – the future generation will be choosing this version of America.

He is an outsider.

The President is not inside the White House like past Presidents.  He is an outsider.  But, he’s sitting in contemplation.  (And, he’s been there a while, as the flowers are not crumpled from his footsteps.) There’s a feeling that even though he doesn’t have history physically surrounding him, we as viewers can see him thinking about everything that has happened in the office, and what his role will be in history.

There’s a wall.

A wall of flowers.  No bricks, no stones, no glass.

Here’s the image, to be displayed in the great hall: a man looking strong but kind in front of a wall of flowers.  It’s pretty great.

I then listened to the artist talk about the work, and discovered the meaning of each flower in the painting.  I highly recommend going to YouTube and watching the video of the unveiling.











99% female

You may have seen Australia’s high temperatures in the news, reaching 117 degrees F this past week.  Obviously, this is harmful for agriculture long term, and will worsen drought and the fire season.  It also spells trouble for wildlife.  Bats have basically boiled to death, falling from trees.  Bats help control insect populations.

The Great Barrier Reef is also suffering, with coral bleaching.  Sea turtles are showing evidence of the climate change strain…scientists were surprised to discover 99% of this year’s hatchlings were female.   This gender bias is due to the high temperatures.


(Photo of a turtle in my hometown)

Clearly, if this is a long term trend, and it looks like it will be, populations of sea turtles will become endangered.  Other animals like crocodiles and certain lizards also have gender determined based on temperature.

According to NBC News:

There are also some “practical” intervention methods scientists can take to help relieve the gender bias, such as putting up shade tents around breeding sites or spraying artificial rain to cool sand temperatures, O’Gorman said.

Holleley said that while short-term intervention could help populations, it could also have unintended outcomes and potentially make the population more vulnerable if those intervention methods were suddenly taken away because of funding or changes in administrations.

“You’re kind of in a Catch-22, do you intervene and potentially have an adverse outcome as an unintended consequence,” she said, “or do you let the population be and see what happens — it’s very difficult.”

A sobering read

The New York Magazine article by David Wallace-Wells begins with this statement:

“It is, I promise, worse than you think.”

He goes on describing climate change and how it will affect us this century.  Some points:

-Heat temperatures and humidity, especially in the tropics, will rise above levels that our body systems can handle, expect death rates of animals and humans to rise, especially among children and the elderly.

-Oceans will not only rise, they will become more acidic, further damaging coral reefs which we depend on for biodiversity.   Expect a fishing crisis this century.

-Fish will not be the only food shortage.  Drought will make once arable land useless for crops and unfrozen lands won’t have rich soil to help us out.

– Disease will spread quicker with mutations we cannot expect.  One example: There is bacterium in the Siberian ice, which can unfreeze and be ingested by animals and spread to humans.  It’s not science fiction.

-Conflict will occur as people compete for dwindling resources. Look for more war and strife this century.

-If you think the recession was tough, get ready for more economic hardship.  Remember reading about the Dust Bowl?  Now imagine that situation becoming standard in many populated areas.

Needless to say, it is a massively discouraging article, especially as we read this week that the US wants to open more coastal water for oil exploration.

The takeaway: It is not too late to care.  Support scientific R&D, live a ‘greener’ life, support organizations and businesses that care for our planet, educate yourself on the issues, and vote for candidates who are concerned about the environment.




Gucci goes fur-free

Good news from thecut.com, a popular fashion site.  Gucci, a brand famous for its use of fur, will no longer use it.  The fur trade is cruel to animals, and this is encouraging news.  Here is an excerpt from the article.

Gucci is the latest fashion brand to go fur-free. During a talk at the London College of Fashion on Wednesday, Gucci President and CEO Marco Bizzarri announced that as of its Spring 2018 collection, the company will “no longer use, promote or publicize animal fur.”

The brand also announced that it would be joining the Fur Free Alliance, an organization which “focuses on the deprivation and cruelty suffered by fur bearing animals both in wild trapping and industrial fur farming.” In addition to refraining from any future fur use, Gucci will be organizing a charity auction to sell off its remaining animal fur items, with proceeds going to LAV, an Italian animal rights group, and the Humane Society of the United States.

This is a significant departure for the company, which has previously incorporated animal fur into many of its designs, including kangaroo fur-lined loafers. As Vogue points out though, the move is not entirely unexpected, given that Kering, Gucci’s parent company, has been working towards increased sustainability for some time now. With its pledge, Gucci joins brands like Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Madewell which have also decided to go forgo the use of fur.

Jazz Festival

IMG_4627Every year my city puts on a fantastic Jazz Festival.  This year the event lasts nine days and I went downtown for day 1.  The headliner was Joss Stone, a singer/songwriter I’ve long admired.  I remember “Soul Sessions” blowing me away at her vocal talent.  But, she continued to impress me by doing projects that she was interested in, even if it did not make the big bucks.  She has dabbled in reggae, blues, jazz, soul…

She also has a passion like I do for elephants, visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the GRI Elephant Orphan Project.

Anyhow, Rochester’s Jazz Festival also has some terrific free performances, so if you’re in the Western NY area, check it out.


Photos: my photos of Rochester Jazz Fest – yes, I was far away, but Joss Stone sounded great!




Snow Leopard Trust

My local zoo is finally expanding the area for their snow leopards; their previous enclosure always broke my heart a bit.  Snow leopards, like elephants, are struggling in the wild with climate change, poaching, and human/animal conflicts.  There are only between 4000-6000 wild snow leopards in the world today.

The Snow Leopard Trust has been instrumental in saving the snow leopard.  One of their projects includes providing livestock insurance – herders who wish to receive compensation for lost livestock must protect snow leopards.  Another provides income to women by purchasing their handicrafts and selling them through the Trust all over the world.  They also create eco-camps and nature clubs for children to  learn about conservation, and run adult educational seminars on a regular basis.



Proposed budget would hurt wild horses


(Photo: every week in the spring I do volunteer work with children and domesticated horses)

Wild horses are a symbol of the “Wild West”, often seen as emblematic of the American spirit.  Yet, they have been controversial for decades.  Ranchers have longed bemoaned the wild horses’ presence, and complain that protections for the animals have created problems of overpopulation.  The new budget proposal seems particularly cruel to the horses, however, as it would allow horses to be sold overseas for slaughter.  This would reverse protections both Democrat and Republican Presidents have championed for over forty years.

From CNBC:

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal calls for saving $10 million next year by selling wild horses captured throughout the West without the current requirement that buyers guarantee the animals won’t be resold for slaughter.

Wild horse advocates say the change would gut nearly a half-century of protection for wild horses — an icon of the American West — and could send thousands of free-roaming mustangs to foreign slaughterhouses for processing as food.