Not Quite As Perfect as We Might Wish


Readers know that I’m an ACLU fan.  I’ve encouraged donations to their efforts (I made a non-trivial contribution last year myself).  I think highly of their defense of civil liberties.  And I think that, over all, they remain on the side of angels.

However, and it’s a major “h0wever,” all is not well in ACLU-land.  Questions have recently been raised over its dedication to the liberties for which it is named.  Some have accused it — especially the national organization (as opposed to the quasi-independent state and local chapters) — of being selective in its defense of civil liberties, especially speech, avoiding cases that its donors might find abhorrent.  Read the exchange of commentaries in The Volokh Conspiracy.  The gist of the exchange:

[From attorney and former member of the ACLU of Massachusetts Board of Directors:]

[S]ome ACLU state affiliates are very protective of speech, even if national too often falls down in that arena (which, sadly, it does). And so it is not unusual to find a state chapter taking on a case involving very controversial and politically-incorrect speech that national would not touch. I have found this very often, for example, in the area of campus free speech.


When the Mohammad cartoons imbroglio erupted, the Massachusetts affiliate posted a very strong First Amendment statement on its website, affirming the right of newspapers to insult Islam and their right to be protected, by the state, in doing so. National’s website was silent, although the executive director claimed to have given a single, unpublicized speech to some group on the subject.

[Rejoinder from Steven Shapiro, National Legal Director of the ACLU:]

…. Harvey is correct in pointing out the work that ACLU affiliates around the country have done — and are continuing to do — defending the free speech rights of controversial speakers across the political spectrum. He is wrong to suggest that the national ACLU is less vigorous in its defense of the First Amendment. Earlier this year, for example, the ACLU filed an amicus brief successfully urging the Supreme Court to overturn a jury verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church for promoting their homophobic message during a peaceful protest at a military funeral. It may not have been a “politically correct” position but it was a principled one. To be sure, we do believe that there is a point at which speech can cross the line to unprotected harassment and discrimination. In most instances, I suspect Harvey and the ACLU would agree on where that line is. The fact that we may occasionally disagree on what is clearly a complicated issue does not mean that the ACLU has retreated in any way from its commitment to First Amendment principles. Harvey’s claim to the contrary is both unwarranted and unfair.

[Then finally a comment by dedicated ACLU-watcher and -critic, Wendy Kaminer:]

[C]onsider U.S. v Williams (2008), in which the Supreme Court upheld provisions of the PROTECT Act that criminalized falsely pandering child porn — provisions the 11th circuit rightly deemed “vague and standardless as to what may not be said.” The PROTECT Act was the successor statute to the 1996 Child Pornography Prevention Act, which the Court struck down in Free Speech Coalition v Ashcroft (2002.) The ACLU submitted an amicus brief in that case and hailed the decision as “a forceful defense of First Amendment principles.” That was then. A few years later, with a new regime firmly in place, the ACLU exercised its right to remain silent about the PROTECT Act, while the National Coalition Against Censorship and the First Amendment Project filed an amicus brief. A 7 – 2 majority upheld the Act, which, as Justice Souter observed in dissent, dramatically undermined First Amendment protections the Court had extended to virtual child porn only a few years earlier (partly at the urging of the ACLU.)Why would the new ACLU fail to defend this important 2002 victory for freedom of speech and thought? Defending virtual child porn is probably not all that popular with donors; besides, how many people would notice or care about its absence from this case?

These are only small extracts.  The entire trio of commentaries makes for very interesting reading if you are a civil liberties aficionado.


This is Cool Department

It’s a small story, among the millions of stories to come out of WWII, but the fact that it’s a story for which there is documentary proof is amazing, and only recently came to light.  Check out the video:


A Little Knowledge … Department

I recently came across an image by a well-known photographer of landscapes.  The color balance looked “off” to me.  I’ve seen similar problems in others of his images.  It’s usually a problem relating to his camera’s white balance sensor misreading the scene.  In this case, the photo had a huge amount of open, blue water and clear blue sky, and I suspect that to compensate for this the camera’s processor skewed the white balance toward the complementary color, yellow, resulting in that muddy look you sometimes get in landscapes.  As a result, for example, trees look more yellow than green.  The “gray” rocks in the scene were definitely too yellow.

Now, all this would normally not be of more than passing interest to me, but this particular photographer has gone out of his way in the past to demean photographers who use Photoshop for anything more than a vehicle to get prints of their photos.  To him, I guess, Photoshop is a necessary evil, and he disdains any thought of ever learning anything about how to use it.  So, I had to chuckle to myself that here was a perfectly good photograph ruined because (1) the photographer may not have even recognized the problem for what it was and (2) even if he did, he didn’t know how to correct it!

Here’s a little Photoshop lesson:  if one of your photographs looks like this, and you didn’t take it in raw (if you did, then white balance corrections are painless and very accurate in Adobe Camera Raw, and you’re simply lazy if you don’t fix them), you may employ one of two very simple techniques to achieve a better white balance.

  1. The easiest is to (a) duplicate the background layer (<Ctrl>-J), (b) apply the “average blur” filter (menu:  Filter>Blur>Average), (c) invert the layer (<Ctrl>-I), and (d) change the blend mode to “Overlay” or “Soft Light.”  Experiment with the new layer’s opacity, but usually you’ll find something close to 100% is optimal.  This technique works because if the entire photo has been color shifted in one direction, you can reverse the effect by inverting the bias.  It does, however, tend to increase contrast.
  2. A technique with a little better chance of  approaching perfection involves creating a Curves adjustment layer.  Once you are looking at the Curves panel display, click on the gray (middle) eyedropper.  Now look for something in the photo that should be devoid of color (i.e., should be some shade of gray).  In this case, there was a mass of lichen- and moss-free rock, which is often a good candidate for this technique.  Click somewhere in the rock mass and observe what happens in the photograph.  Click somewhere else.  When one of your clicks yields a Curves setting that looks best, you can fine tune individual channel settings (Red, Green and Blue) to your liking.

A little knowledge is sometimes much better than no knowledge at all.


Admissions Department

I admit it.  I’m an Anglophile.  (No surprise there, huh Lin?)  And, if not a fan, then at least a fancier of (some of) the Royal Family — or at least its dramatic portrayal.  The Queen and The King’s Speech both enjoyed thoroughly.  (Not to mention Brannagh’s Henry V and Showtime’s The Tudors.)

No, I did not stay up to watch the wedding live, but I enjoyed seeing it rebroadcast on several occasions during the day.  A tonic good for (some) of what ails Britain.  Paraphrasing David Brooks on “The Newshour” last night, “We’ve not seen such universal Anglophilia since Alistair Cooke dined alone.”  (And Brooks, of course, ripping off John F. Kennedy.)


An Afternoon at the Opera Department

This afternoon off to the penultimate Met HD theatrical presentation of the season, Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  This is one of the biggies, although the convoluted plot requires rather a major suspension of disbelief.  The Met has released the production list for next season, but not yet the list of HD presentations.  Usually they promote that list during one of the last current season HD broadcasts, so perhaps today.  (They are doing Nabucco next year, so I hope that makes the list.)


Again from Louisville Swamp.

This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, Movies & TV, Opera, Photography, Photoshop, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Not Quite As Perfect as We Might Wish

  1. Lin says:

    Yup, it has been a good weekend and as you say, with all the doom and gloom over here, we sure needed to let our hair down and party! It’s May Day (originally Beltane) on Monday so it’s been a very nice couple of long weekends off (O.K. so I worked Easter so only one for me) and I’m spending the rest of the weekend baking scones, gardening, playing cricket and a spot of writing. Not a bad way to decompress before the inevitable return to normal on Tuesday. Hope your weekend is a good one too:-)

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