Each year we greet December
Decked out in green and red.
We count the days ’til Christmas,
And dream of what’s ahead.

We picture happy moments —
The sights, the sounds, the smells —
But as the month progresses,
Our tension level swells.

Instead of just relaxing
And taking things in stride,
We structure every minute,
All knotted up inside.

We haul out wreaths and garlands
And fight with tangled lights.
We decorate our rooftops,
Despite our fear of heights.

We wander seven counties
To find the perfect tree —
A process that requires
A forestry degree.

We send out inkjet letters
To people far and near,
Recounting every detail
About our boring year.

We gobble mounds of candies,
Cakes, cookies, tarts and pies,
Which somehow seek out pathways
Directly to our thighs.

We hear our favorite carols
Five hundred thousand times.
(It almost makes a person
Appreciative of mimes.)

We sit around at parties
We’d rather not attend,
Conversing with the husband
Of our neighbor’s cousin’s friend.

We start exchanging presents
With folks we’ve barely met.
(“Gee, thanks, I’ve always wanted
A mini-ratchet set!”)

As Christmas Day approaches,
Sheer panic fills the air.
The malls are packed with shoppers,
All tearing out their hair.

But there’s another option —
Not gimmicks, or a trick.
Let’s take our inspiration
From jolly old St. Nick:

It’s giving, not receiving,
That matters most, we’re told.
The gifts of love and friendship
Cannot be bought or sold.

So give yourself a present —
Wrap up your Christmas stress,
And mail it off to Nowhere,
With no return address.



For the first time, we can see one of the most iconic photographs
from World War II as an authentic sterescopic image.

Tampa, Florida

Originally published in a different form in The Tampa Tribune (2005).

  After four days of staggering losses in their mission to capture the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima, U.S. troops were in desperate need of a morale boost.

  It came about 10:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 23, 1945, in the form of a small flag affixed to a heavy iron pipe.

  Sgt. Lou Lowery, a photographer for Leatherneck magazine, documented the scene as a half-dozen fellow Marines raised their improvised flagpole at the rubble-strewn summit of Mount Suribachi.

  It was the first time a U.S. flag had flown over Japanese territory.

  Lowery captured the historic flag-raising in a series of black-and-white photographs. Moments later he was tumbling down the side of the mountain to avoid a Japanese grenade attack. Although his camera was smashed, Lowery — and his film — survived.

  But Lowery’s photographs, like the dramatic event he had documented, were forever overshadowed by the iconic image of a second flag-raising two hours later.

  As Lowery descended Suribachi, hoping to find another camera, he encountered other photographers on their way up the rugged slope. Among them were Marine cinematographer Sgt. Bill Genaust and still photographer Joe Rosenthal of The Associated Press.

  “I didn’t have any thought that there would be a second flag-raising,” Rosenthal recalled. “Didn’t know it until I got to the top.”

  Detractors have claimed that Rosenthal orchestrated the second flag-raising and that his celebrated photograph had been posed. In their 1995 book, “Shadow of Suribachi,” historians Parker Albee Jr. and Keller Cushing Freeman dismantled those charges.

  Soon after the first flag was raised, Albee and Freeman wrote, commanders decided it should be replaced with a much larger battle flag, one that could be seen more easily by fighting men across the island and from ships offshore. The first flag was to be lowered as the larger flag was raised.

  Genaust and Rosenthal stood side-by-side atop the windswept mountain at an arm’s length from each other. Out of the corner of his eye, Rosenthal noticed the second flag being readied, and he and Genaust quickly swung their cameras up.

  Rosenthal’s camera allowed him to capture one image during the flag-raising; Genaust’s film footage shows it to have been a spontaneous event — not a contrived or practiced pose. Five Marines and a Navy corpsman lifted the metal flagpole in a quick, fluid movement.

  A single frame from Genaust’s film freezes the action at precisely the same split-second as Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.

  The striking similarity of those two images has been noted by a number of World War II historians. An intriguing photographic prospect had gone unexplored for six decades, however.

  By juxtaposing Rosenthal’s photograph with the matching frame from Genaust’s film, it is possible to produce an authentic 3-D image of the Iwo Jima flag-raising. For the first time, we can see one of the most iconic moments in U.S. military history with a real sense of depth and spatial relationships.

  The 3-D effects are not the result of digital manipulation or computer trickery. They are based on the same photographic techniques that have been used to produce stereoscopic imagery for more than a century.

  A 3-D photograph allows the viewer to see a single image from two slightly different viewpoints, mimicking the natural separation of human eyes.

  When two nearly identical images are directed independently to a viewer’s eyes, the brain combines the resulting visual signals to produce a single merged image. The separation of viewpoints results in a natural stereoscopic effect.

  The most common example of this 3-D process is the View-Master, a toy that sends slightly different images to the viewer’s eyes through two separate lenses.

  The images accompanying this article provide two different ways to see the flag-raising photographs as a single three-dimensional image. If you have access to a standard pair of 3-D glasses with red and blue lenses, you can view a red-blue stereoscopic version of the image at the top of this page. Or, to view the 3-D effect in an unassisted manner, follow the step-by-step instructions provided with the paired black-and-white photographs, below.

  These unique stereoscopic images were produced with the technical assistance of Boris Starosta, an expert in the field of 3-D photography. Seeing the assembled photographs for the first time, Starosta was surprised by the realistic depth of the 3-D image. “In the tiny subgenre of ‘found’ or accidental stereos,” he wrote, “this one has got to be the most interesting one I’ve ever seen or even heard of.”

  “You’ve got quite a find on your hands.”

  Author and historian Albee supplied the appropriate frame from Genaust’s film — seen on the left, below. Rosenthal’s photograph, on the right, is from the archives of The Associated Press.

  Albee notes that the three-dimensional image is more than a simple curiosity. “3-D enables us to view with greater clarity this historic moment.

  “When the Marines’ first effort was made to identify the men in the photograph, only the names of five men were sought — the hands of a sixth man not being readily apparent,” Albee said. “3-D, however, allows the viewer to quickly detect the presence of that sixth man.”


All three-dimensional images consist of two slightly different views of the same scene, one for each eye. By directing these images separately and simultaneously into each eye, the viewer’s brain is tricked into seeing a single fused image that produces a sense of stereoscopic depth.

Through a process known as free-viewing, many people are able to observe this sense of depth without the aid of 3-D glasses or viewers.


  1) The paired black-and-white photographs, above, are positioned in a cross-eyed format. That means the image on the left is for your right eye and the image on the right is for your left eye. To prepare for free-viewing of the 3-D effect, look at the paired photographs in a natural, relaxed manner from a comfortable distance — at an arm’s length or slightly farther.

  2) Gradually cross your eyes until the pair of images doubles to four. They will appear to be somewhat out of focus. (If you have trouble, try holding your index finger halfway between your eyes and the screen. Focus on your fingertip and you’ll notice that the photographs in the background have doubled.)

  3) Next, slowly uncross your eyes until the two pairs of images begin to overlap. Direct your attention to the center of the overlapping area, where you will fuse the left and right images. When your eyes are crossed just the right amount, you will appear to be looking at three blurry images.

  4) Keeping your eyes crossed, examine the blurry details in the fused center image, and relax. After a few moments your brain will allow you to focus on the details without uncrossing your eyes, and the image will pop into sharp focus. The stereoscopic depth of the fused photographs should quickly become apparent.

  PLEASE NOTE: Some people find it easier to concentrate on the dots above the photographs. When the fused center dot comes into sharp focus, let your eyes drift down to the photographs without changing your focus. The free-viewing process can be somewhat stressful; If you should experience discomfort, discontinue and return to the task later. As you become more accustomed to the procedure, your eyes will relax and the discomfort will be reduced.

Source: Boris Starosta; To view additional 3-D images from photographer Boris Starosta, go HERE.

Another method for viewing the stereoscopic flag-raising photographs:

  My brother Eric recently told me about some interesting “twitchy” 3-D photographs that were collected by Mental Floss blogger David K. Israel. These images are based on standard stereoscopic techniques, which capture a single scene from two separate vantage points, just inches apart — in the same manner that our eyes and brain combine two slightly different perspectives to produce a sense of three-dimensional depth.

  As Israel explains, it is possible to produce a simple animation by alternating between the left and right images of a stereoscopic image, “twitching ever so slightly from the minuscule difference in perspective. The resulting effect creates images that have a sense of depth and three-dimensional quality to them, without the need for those annoying glasses.” Israel’s Mental Floss blog post, HERE, presents a small collection of animated 3-D images, including this one from Portland-based art director Matt Moore:

  The same techniques can be applied to the paired photographs of the Iwo Jima flag-raising:

  This simple “animation” of the two flag-raising images clearly shows the different camera angles of the two photographers. Marine cinematographer Sgt. Bill Genaust stood to the right of Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, and shot the scene from a slightly higher elevation. In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rosenthal photograph, Private First Class Rene Gagnon is barely visible on the far side of the flag pole; In the frame from Genaust’s film, Gagnon comes more fully into view. Also, because Rosenthal had taken a position that was somewhat lower than Genaust’s, the background of his famous image shows less of the island below Mount Suribachi’s peak.


Published August 19, 2012


  It wasn’t the sort of painting that belonged above a sofa.

  Putting it in the kids’ room wouldn’t have been a good answer, either — particularly at bedtime.

  Now and then, I made half-hearted suggestions to display it elsewhere in our house, but my wife had other ideas. (Most of her other ideas involved a Dumpster.)

  So the painting sat, out of sight, just taking up space.

  Why did I keep it?

  I knew it wasn’t some long-lost masterpiece by one of the world’s great painters. It likely was worth even less than when I’d spotted it decades earlier in the window of a thrift shop in Dubuque, Iowa. An atypical thrift store find, this tortured depiction of human anguish was worlds away from paint-by-number kittens and windmills. It was Vincent van Gogh meets Vincent Price. It was Norman Rockwell meets Norman Bates.

  I had to own it.

  Checking the back for a price tag, I was astounded to learn that the artist was someone I actually had known: my previous boss, a soft-spoken family man named Sid.

  I really had to own it.

  The best thing about the painting was its title: “HEY WORLD, LOOK AT ME.” (It seems that Sid may have had some issues.)

  As much as I appreciated the irony of its origins, I had no good reason to keep the painting. I lost touch with Sid long ago, and it seemed unlikely that I’d ever find a suitable place to display his handiwork; Very few homes have dungeons these days. I thought about tracking Sid down, to return the painting to him. But, knowing he’d managed to rid himself of it once already, I presumed he might not be thrilled to see it again after so many years.

  Which raised a serious question: If Sid could get rid of the painting, why couldn’t I?

  It’s easy to understand why we hang onto old photographs and love letters. They often evoke warm memories of good times. Our reasons for clinging to dusty fondue sets and gum wrapper chains are a bit more obscure.

  When possessions become obsessions, it’s time to face the situation squarely — which is what I did with Sid’s painting.

  I wrote about it for the newspaper, as the central focus of a story about completely useless possessions. “Guilty Treasures,” we called them. At the end of the story, we invited readers to submit stories and photos of their own worthless junk. “If your item is the weirdest of the weird,” I wrote, “Sid’s painting will be yours.”

  I promised to personally deliver Sid’s painting to the lucky winner’s doorstep, with a single stipulation: “Just promise me you’ll keep it away from the Dumpster.”

  A number of people wrote in to describe their most dubious belongings. One guy talked about his hobby of collecting chunks of roadside debris — car parts, bolts and other pieces of heavy metal — which he then recycled into paperweights. One of his favorite pieces was the logo plate from the front of a discarded Gibson Frost Clear refrigerator.

  Another reader told us about a collection of artifacts from her days as an employee at Heritage USA, a defunct North Carolina tourist site started by TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker: tapes, books, pins, dolls, puppets, and a Tammy Faye Cosmetics emery board imprinted with her signature.

  We also heard from a teacher who had snagged a somewhat unusual memento during a 1973 trip to Moscow — her first time out of the United States: “the strip that they put around a toilet seat to let you know that it was cleaned.” The paper strip was from the Hotel Rossiya, just steps from the Kremlin, Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral.

  “They didn’t have a lot of souvenirs over there.”

  Our prize-winning submission came from a young woman named Lucie, who confessed her abiding fondness for ’80s New Wave pop star Adam Ant.

  “I was in love with him when I was 13,” Lucie told us. “Everything about him. The look, the music, the pirate uniform …”

  Lucie collected anything she could find that pertained to the British singer who had given us the song “Goody Two Shoes.” His albums adorned her walls, and his music played from home-recorded CD compilations. Although Lucie’s husband, Barry, wasn’t much of an Adam Ant fan, he never tried too hard to contain his wife’s Ant-thusiasm. “He lets me have my little crushes,” Lucie said with a laugh.

  What was it, exactly, that put Lucie’s Adam Ant collection at the top of our “Guilty Treasures” heap? How did her Ant pile enter the guilt-ridden realm of utter uselessness?

  “I have a bunch of movies he made,” Lucie told us, “but I have never been able to make myself watch them.”

  At the time, the Internet Movie Database listed dozens of Adam Ant’s movie roles and “notable TV appearances.” Lucie faithfully collected the videos, but hadn’t yet found the nerve to watch one — fearing her idol might be a horrible actor. “I’m scared that I’ll feel less for him, that I’ll be real unimpressed.”

  Which brings to mind Lucie’s then-five-year-old son, Michael, another fan of Adam Ant. Lucie told us that Michael would dance around the house whenever he heard old ’80s music.

  His favorite song? “Video Killed the Radio Star.”


Published October 9, 2011

  When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder was filming the scene from atop a concrete abutment overlooking the motorcade’s route. As many as eight other onlookers took home-movie footage or still photographs of the shooting, but Zapruder’s is the only film known to exist that captured the entire event. “The Zapruder Film” has been studied and debated for decades, inspiring scientific researchers and conspiracy theorists alike.

In a newly-stabilized version of Zapruder’s footage, two men clap
as President Kennedy’s limousine passes “The Umbrella Man”
and another man, who waves in the foreground.

  Recently, through the use of computers, it has become possible to produce stabilized versions of the film — minimizing the distracting “home-movie jitter” of the original footage and smoothly tracking the movement of the President’s limousine, HERE. (WARNING: Graphic content)

  By stabilizing the original footage in an entirely different manner, I have been able to shift the emphasis to the onlookers instead of the motorcade — eliminating the left-to-right panning motion of the camera and, essentially, presenting the footage in the form of seven separate and stationary “Zapruder Films.”

  For the first time, we can clearly observe people clapping and waving, or calmly watching, as the motorcade moves past them. A young boy steps from between two adults to get a better view of the President’s limousine. A woman who has been walking toward the roadway makes a sudden turn away, just as the fatal bullet strikes the President. One man dives to the ground, while other onlookers begin to back away.

A young boy steps to the side to get
a better view of the limousine.

The woman on the right prepares
to photograph the President’s vehicle.

A woman turns away suddenly as the President is fatally wounded.

One man dives to the ground as Mrs. Kennedy
starts to climb onto the limousine’s trunk.

Another group watches as a Secret Service agent
climbs onto the back of the limousine.

A man and woman watch as the limousine starts to speed away.


To illustrate a movie-themed Valentine’s Day story about
romantic actors, I produced this series of photo collages –
casting today’s stars in iconic roles from Hollywood’s past:







Published December 7, 2009

  It was drizzling, but just barely, when I left the house.

  The back of my skull was pounding, and I’ve learned that a long walk often helps to tame that sort of headache.

  I was half a mile from home when the rain and wind started to pick up. Since I was wet already — and sure to get wetter, regardless of my route — I forged on: past the recently-abandoned car dealership and the seemingly forgotten citrus grove. As I neared a large public storage building, I noticed a snapshot lying in the grass between the sidewalk and the road:

  The Serious Cheerleader.

  Despite my headache and the stinging rain, I had to smile; It was a wonderfully unconventional image, catching a tiny moment of — let’s call it “less-than-rah-rah-rah” emotion — in the life of a total stranger.

  As I picked it up, I spotted another photo a few feet away. Then another, and another. Did the photos belong to someone who was similarly caught by the wind and rain, while attempting to warehouse treasured belongings? I gathered up all the photos I could find and headed home.

  Most of the rescued images were flecked with dirt, and several were badly damaged. I cleaned them off as well as I could and began to examine them for clues.

  The Serious Cheerleader showed up in several other photos. In a sepia-toned souvenir portrait, she appeared to be posing frontier-style with her twin. (She was the one on the left, my wife and I guessed.) There also were a handful of early-Sixties snapshots of a mother and child, a Polaroid of a young girl at the beach, and two Olan Mills photos of a pleasant-looking man wearing white pants and sporting a pinkish-red tie, with a nearly-matching jacket slung over his shoulder. The Serious Cheerleader’s father, perhaps?

  Although some first names had been penciled onto the back of a few photos, the only last name belonged to the man with the pinkish-red tie. With that information and little else, I turned to the Web — and found, on my very first search, a reference to a Life Group leader at a church less than three miles from my home.

  It was mid-morning on a Sunday, so I took a chance and drove to the church to find out whether anyone there might be able to identify the mother with the baby, or the young girl at the beach, or the man in the pinkish-red tie, or The Serious Cheerleader.

  The worship service had just started. Before I had a chance to talk with the handful of parishioners who were chatting quietly in the main entry, I noticed a wall plaque that included photographs of the church elders — and immediately recognized a somewhat older version of the man in the pinkish-red tie.

  Within seconds, he came through the doors of the chapel, and — after catching a glimpse of the rescued photos — gently touched my arm and told me his prayers had been answered.

  A few days earlier, he and his wife had driven to a nearby town for a family gathering. They loaded up a plastic tub with photo albums, baby books and other mementos, in order to share them with relatives. Upon returning home, they somehow forgot to remove the tub from the back of their pickup — inadvertently leaving the tailgate down, as well.

  After a later trip to Wal-mart, they realized that the tub was missing. They found the lid near the turn lane into the store, but not the tub itself. No baby books, no albums, not a single photograph.

  The spot where The Serious Cheerleader caught my eye was about a block away from the entrance to Wal-mart, and on the opposite side of the road. I returned to the scene and, before the Sunday service had ended, tracked down several dozen additional photos and family records.

  Even though most of the tub’s contents haven’t been recovered, the family considers it a blessing that anything at all was returned to them.

  I never would refer to my actions as “the answer to a prayer.” But that’s how the church elder and his wife see things — along with their granddaughter, who was photographed as a young girl at the beach. And her mother, The Serious Cheerleader.

  And that’s fine with me.


Published November 22, 2009

  When I learned (via Twitter) that radio and TV talk host Glenn Beck had scheduled a rally and book signing in The Villages — a sprawling “golf car community” in central Florida — my journalistic goal was immediately clear: I would join forces with my friend Bill, an ardent conservative, to attend the rally and collaboratively dissect its social significance.  Bill considers me to be a liberal;  I consider myself to be independent.

  Unfortunately, the demands of Bill’s work wouldn’t allow him to break away for a full afternoon.  With the loss of this clever journalistic peg, my enthusiasm for a 90-minute Glenn Beck road trip began to wane — until I remembered the John Prine CD anthology that I had been itching to crank up. (Yes, I still listen to CDs.)

  The soundtrack for my drive was a bit of a stylistic mismatch, I suppose.  “Illegal Smile” and “Sam Stone” don’t strike precisely the same tone as “God Bless the U.S.A.”  However, it did occur to me that both Prine and Beck have produced works titled “Common Sense.”  Coincidence?

  As I made my way into “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown,” the number of vehicles displaying full-size American flags increased dramatically.  I also noticed quite a few gun-related bumper stickers — although, to be fair, this IS Florida. You might spot just as many in the parking lots at Walt Disney World.

  “Is this the Nancy Pelosi convention?”

  The question came from a fellow rally-goer, as we walked toward the town square where Beck’s mid-afternoon rally was taking shape.  This genial-yet-pointed jab turned out to be a good predictor of the crowd’s overall demeanor.  You’ve never seen such an easygoing “angry mob” (as Beck would later describe them, jokingly).

  The excitement level notched up when Beck’s tour bus pulled into sight.  A roar of fond appreciation filled the loosely-packed square as he took to the stage — acknowledging the rock-star welcome with a self-deprecating poke at the president: “Man! This is how desperate people are for a leader right now!”

  I’m pretty familiar with Beck, having listened to him frequently during the first incarnation of his talk-radio show on a local AM station in Tampa. Although I enjoyed his “earlier, funny” persona, I’ll admit that I’ve had some concerns about his recent forays into fear-stoked emotionalism and his somewhat convoluted chalkboard talks.

  What Beck delivered in The Villages, however, was mostly a measured and clear-eyed vision of how the American people can effectively engage with their government and, in the process, save their country.

  “This isn’t about health care,” he explained. “It’s about money.”

  Characterizing our mounting national debt as “a global catastrophe on the horizon,” Beck drew comparisons to the Titanic’s deadly run-in with an iceberg: “It’s the Constitution that matters! Get in the lifeboats!”

  He also spoke frankly about personal responsibility.

  “We can’t decry hatred or violence if we are not peaceful people,” he told us. “We can’t complain about debt if we are IN debt.”  He even urged the crowd to adopt a healthier lifestyle — by occasionally “putting down the pie fork.”

  There were other topics, of course, such as his development of a 100-year plan for the U.S., his announcement of a series of regional “education conventions” and — oh, by the way — he has no plans to run for political office.

  Is it possible that Beck’s toned-down approach will mark a turning point in his career, toward a more constructive public dialogue?  I guess we’ll find out soon enough.  His crowd in The Villages seemed pleased with what they had heard.  “Great speaker!” said one man.  “He’s found his niche,” said another.

  On my way out of town, as I passed a bright blue COUNTRY FIRST billboard left over from Sen. John McCain’s presidential bid, I turned to John Prine’s music again — with the hope that he might provide a relevant bit of perspective.  And Mr. Prine did not disappoint;  I must have replayed the chorus of his song “Bruised Orange” three or four times:

“You can gaze out the window, get mad and get madder,
  Throw your hands in the air, say ‘what does it matter?’
  But it don’t do no good to get angry,
  So help me, I know.

“For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
  You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
  Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
  Chain of sorrow.”