Thursday, January 31, 2013

BREAKING NEWS: Final Approval To Suspend Legal Limit of National Debt

Debt Ceiling Suspended
Dan O'Brien

According to the Washington Post, final approval for a plan to temporarily suspend the legal limit of the national debt has been put into play. A 64-34 vote was passed on to the President for final approval and the signature of the Oval office. The ability to continue to borrow in light of a potential default pushes back a possible default until August and allows the lights to stay on. Previous estimations have the government running out of funds by March. On May 19th the limit will be reinstated and the ticking time clock will be activated once more. There will be a proposed $450 billion dollars added to the debt during the suspension of the legal limit. March will still mark the need for renewed budget talks, but it appears a band-aid has been applied for the time being.

View some of our other economics articles:

Harbaugh's Heroes: Ray Rice vs. Frank Gore

Ray Rice vs. Frank Gore
by Dan O'Brien

Photo credit:

The comparisons continue; this time with two premier backs. Frank Gore became the leading rusher in 49ers history this year and has stuck with the team through thick and thin. Ray Rice became the main attraction of a powerful run game the moment he stepped on the field. Both of these running backs are strong downfield runners who are not afraid of some contact. Part of what makes this Super Bowl (or Harbowl) so fascinating is that the match-up is between two old-style clubs: a strong run offense and a hardnosed, lights-out defense.

Ray Rice
Photo credit:

Ray Rice is a complete running back. He is great off-tackle and he is great in the open field. He has the speed and the strength to be considered an elite running back, which he most certainly is. When he came into the league in 2008, he was not the first option for Baltimore. This, however, quickly changed. In 2009, he rushed for 1339 yards and 7 touchdowns. He caught 78 passes for 702 yards, solidifying his presence as a double-threat back. In 2012, the year that matters because the Ravens are in the Super Bowl, he rushed for 1143 yards and 9 touchdowns; he added to that 61 receptions for 478 yards. Despite a strong season, this was by no means his best season. 

Frank Gore
Photo Credit:

Frank Gore is a part of 49ers history and this game might mean more to him than a lot of the other guys on the team. Gore, while being a powerful runner, is not the same dynamic back that Rice seems on track to be. He rushed for 1695 yards and 8 touchdowns in his first year as a starter (2006), which are monster numbers, but he managed to only hover around 1200 yards for the remainder of his career. If you add 61 receptions for 485 yards, then you are talking about more than a 2000-yard season in 2006. Fast-forward to 2012: this was a pretty good year as well, as he rushed for 1214 yards and 8 touchdown, adding to that 28 receptions for 234 yards. It seems clear to me that he never recovered from the knee injury, taking a little power and speed out of his step.

Opinion Time

Both teams are going to threaten the run. Both defenses are prepared for the run. Both of these running backs are willing to stretch and fall for that extra inch. I feel like Kaepernick should be included in the running back conversation, simply because the threat of his quickness and the Read-Option make the 49ers running game more of a threat. Gore average 4.7 yards per carry for an average of 75.9 yards per game. Rice average 4.4 yards per carry for 71.4 yards per game. Those numbers are too close to call. Gore had three fumbles on the year, one of which was taken back for a touchdown, while Rice had only one. I think whichever team wins the contested run game will inevitably emerge victorious this Sunday. With numbers this tight between two powerhouse running backs, something has to give.

More about the author: A psychologist, author, philosopher, freelance editor, and skeptic, Dan O’Brien has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Portent, The Path of the Fallen, Book of Seth, and Cerulean Dreams

Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) 

Visit his blog at

Our Pacific Northwest; Second Hand Store Makes First Rate Discovery

Our Pacific Northwest

Second Hand Store Makes First Rate Discovery

Some of us find hidden gems when we venture into a second-hand store, but employees at a Goodwill store in Seattle found a true treasure. The Seattle Pi reported yesterday the employees found an antique vest made by Native Americans centuries ago. According to the report, the employees found the tribal vest in a trunk which was donated over six years ago. Based on the design and the beading, members of the Burke Museum of Natural History in  Seattle believe the vest is originally made by the Blackfoot tribe, who once defended their homeland in the Black Hills of South Dakota in a notorious rebellion against the United States government in the 19th century. The report went on to state the vest was likely sold at train stations after the rebellion, and its estimated value today is $5,000. Despite the temptation to cash it in, the vest will become a permanent feature of the Burke Museum. This piece of Native American History will now be appreciated through the ages in our Pacific Northwest.

Photo Via Seattle Pi

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Harbaugh's Heroes: Flacco vs. Kaepernick

Flacco vs. Kaepernick

by Dan O'Brien

As the drama unfolds this Sunday in the aptly named Harbowl, there is something fascinating brewing in the background, estranged match-ups that seem ripe for comparisons. Leading up to Super Sunday, we here at Empirical are going to provide our two cents about the marquee match-ups in this brother bowl. Joe Flacco has been called many things, chief among them "weak under pressure" and a "loser" for not making it to the Big Show. This has now changed, right before a contract year I might add, in that it certainly puts into perspective a winning quarterback who had yet to win it all. Colin Kaepernick was at the center of a QB controvery in the Bay that turned out to be less a controversy and more a misunderstanding by the public as to what was in the best interest of the team.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Joe Flacco

The 6’6” quarterback from the University of Delaware has over the course of his short career (starting in 2008) racked up some impressive statistics: an average completion rating of 60.5 percent; 102 touchdowns to only 56 interceptions. The worst season under Joe Flacco the Ravens went only 9-7, a telling statistics given the presence of a playoff wrecking ball like the Steelers being in the same division. What is most interesting about this run of winning seasons (every season since Flacco has started has been a winning season) is the lack of jewelry, the true testament to the efficacy and noteworthiness of a quarterback. Another notable Flacco fact, despite not appearing in the big game at season's end,  he does hold the NFL record for most playoff road wins. While his averages are striking when juxtaposed with the same quarterback class, which includes another perennial winner as-of-yet to make it to the most important Sunday of the season, Matt Ryan, is the criticism that he [Flacco] does not have what it takes to join other Super Bowl winners.

The more important and relevant statistic is how Flacco stood up this year. The Ravens went 10-6, though this seems better than the late-season lull in Baltimore right before Ray Lewis announced his retirement at the end of the season and the AFC juggernaut gathered steam. He completed 317 of 531 passes (59.7 percent) for 3817 yards over the course of 16 starts. (I realize that you know a regular season is 16 games, but it becomes important we when compare him to a fresher quarterback who started half as many games.) He was fairly efficient, throwing 22 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions. He had an 87.7 Quarterback rating; a statistic that I think has been given too much weight in the current NFL climate.

A pretty solid year for a consistent quarterback chasing greatness.

Colin Kaepernick

The 6’5” quarterback who came out of Nevada-Reno has been spectacular this year. There was some speculation about his game and field management when Jim Harbaugh first benched Alex Smith after a concussion. I would think that the doubters, for the most part, have been silenced by this point in the season. With Kaepernick at the helm, the 49ers were able to do what they could not do last year: make the Super Bowl. In the 7 games that Colin started, San Francisco went 5-2. He made 136 out of 218 passes (62.4 percent) for 1814 yards. He threw 10 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions. His QBR of 98.3 is impressive, but I do not think it is as telling as many people would like to believe.

Not bad for a second-year back-up quarterback starting for a team in the Super Bowl.

So What?

Looking at the numbers, you might shrug and say So What? The numbers are pretty close and if Kaepernick had played a whole season his numbers would be about the same or marginally higher. I could regale you with statistical analysis (but this is not ESPN and I do not get paid as much as John Hollinger), but needless to say a little goes a long way in terms of what is significant.

There is a key difference between these two quarterbacks that warrants mentioning: mobility. Both are tall and athletic, but Kaepernick has a very similar game to RG3, Russell Wilson, and Michael Vick. The threat of the Read-Option, even if it is only run three times per game, gives defenses the fits. Jim Caldwell calling the offense certainly gave the Ravens a much-needed boost in the passing game, but there are only so many times that you can Ray Rice the ball on a first down before a defense knows it’s coming and renders it ineffective. The 49ers have quietly created a three-headed monster with a dynamic passing game (with Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, and an aging, but spry, Randy Moss), a monster running game fronted by Frank Gore, and the late year brilliance of a young Kaepernick.

I think we might be in for a slugfest this Sunday after all….

More about the author: A psychologist, author, philosopher, freelance editor, and skeptic, Dan O’Brien has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Portent, The Path of the Fallen, Book of Seth, and Cerulean Dreams

Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) 

Visit his blog at

The February Issue is Available!

The February issue is now available on newsstands, at your local Barnes & Nobles, and digitally from your favorite Pacific Northwest magazine!

Our Pacific Northwest: Ticketmaster Helps a Fan's Super Dreams Come True

Our Pacific Northwest

Ticketmaster Helps a Fan's Super Dreams Come True

Ticketmaster, criticized in the past by some musical artists and their fans for unfair ticket prices, displayed a rare act of compassion for one unfortunate Bay Area resident. Earlier this week, the Oakland Tribune reported Santa Clara resident Sharon Osgood was duped out of Sunday’s Super Bowl game between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. According to the Tribune, Osgood wired nearly $6,000 to a Raven’s fan for tickets, only to receive an empty box with “Go Ravens! LOL!” written all over it. Soon after the Tribune released this initial story, they reported today Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard personally called the Osgood residence to inform them they will be receiving four free tickets to Sunday’s game in New Orleans. The 49ers front office also made a call to the season ticket holder with another free ticket offer. Altogether, Osgood received five free tickets for her and her family to cheer on their team after all. Empirical would like to commend Ticketmaster for reaching out and exhibiting a seldom seen act of kindness for a resident of our Pacific Northwest.

Sharon Osgood, Photo Via Oakland Tribune

February Excerpt: Genius or Folly? by Marianne Werner

Genius or Folly?
Marianne Werner
PHOTO: Marianne Werner

At face value it may seem like folly. But beyond its bizarre incompleteness, its exaggerated surrealistic orchids, and its concrete carcasses of sculpture, is an unimaginable outdoor museum, hidden inconspicuously in a tropical jungle high in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico.

Spend hours meandering in dense, seductively growing rainforest foliage; uncover unique flowers beneath enormous hanging leaves; follow staircases to nowhere while gazing up through multiple stories of massive architectural dinosaurs: you will experience nothing short of a triple E ticket at Disneyland, as a friend and I did when we recently visited Las Pozas. Reflecting on the uninhibited awe we both had felt during our wanderings while pausing at the clear, blue-tinted pools of Edward James’ dream-creation, Kate remarked, “Who says he’s not a poet?”

Las Pozas (the pools) is the result of the creative imagination of Edward James combined with the cultural spirit and hard work of indigenous people of Mexico living in the mountainous jungle area that lured him because of its natural beauty and magical ambience. Over the course of several decades, his vision of paradise came to life as huge surreal concrete forms that rose from the rainforest surrounding gorgeous natural pools near the village of Xilitla (He-LEET -la) in the state of Huasteca, north of Vera Cruz. What remains today is evocatively fascinating: incredible sculptures that rise mystically from thick rainforest growth, perhaps one of the most underappreciated architectural feats of modern times.

James was born in 1907 in Scotland to parents whose enormous wealth enabled him to have a lifetime of privilege, and early on he became a lifelong patron of the arts. His own youthful creativity was thwarted by Stephen Spender’s critical review of his collection of poems, The Bones of My Hands. He became particularly enmeshed in the Surrealistic movement that began in the early 1920’s and was a sponsor and supporter of Salvador Dali and René Magritte. However, Avery Danziger, in his 2009 documentary Edward James, Builder of Dreams, states “… he was not a surrealist. Rather it was his life as he lived it that was surreal.”

As fond as he was of the Surrealists, over time James tired of patronage, and he began searching for his own artistic outlet. That search came to fruition when he visited Mexico in the mid-1940’s. During his travels he befriended a young man, Plutarco Gastelum, and the evolving lifelong friendship between the two was to become a driving force behind realization of James’ dream. Under Gastelum’s guidance, James purchased 80+ acres in the Mexican jungle near Xilitla.

If you would like to read more of this article in Empirical, the February issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Pacific Northwest: Crocket Owner Fined for Tarnishing Frontier

Our Pacific Northwest

Crocket Owner Fined for Tarnishing Frontier

Photo via The Columbian

The Columbian reported yesterday the owner of the Davy Crocket, an oil barge which caused a massive oil spill in the Columbia River in 2011, has been fined $405,000 by the Washington State Department of Ecology. According to the article, the Davy Crocket was purchased by Principle Metals LLC in 2010 before the company’s owner decided to scrap the ship with thousands of gallons of oil still on board. The vessel, which formerly served in World War II, eventually lost its battle against time and began to leak oil into the Columbia River. Efforts to clean the spill took 10 months and, according to the report, cost taxpayers more than $22 million. Although this amount initially seems shorthanded, it does not include bills the Coast Guard and other agencies will likely foot Principle Metals with in the coming months. Bret Simpson, the owner of the barge during the spill, has pleaded guilty to two criminal violations, and will be sentenced sometime in March. The damage caused by the spill will impact the river for years to come, but it is satisfying none the less that justice will be served for those who neglected the precious ecology of our Pacific Northwest.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Policies of Polarization

The Offer

Why Human Rights Matter


Lincoln and the Radical Defense of Liberty

Introducing the February Issue

Aldous Huxley Revisited

Genius or Folly

Second Time Foster Child

Our Pacific Northwest: Dupre is Down from Denali, But Not Out

Our Pacific Northwest

 Dupre is Down from Denali, But Not Out

The Anchorage Daily News reported yesterday Lonnie Dupre of Minnesota has returned to base camp after his third attempt to become the first human being to conquer Mt. McKinley, North America’s tallest peak at 20,320, in the dead of winter by himself. According to the article, the 51-year-old reached 17,200 feet Thursday before stopping to build a protective snow cave. Dupre intended to use Saturday as a day of scheduled recuperation, but instead spent even more energy fortifying his cave from the -35 degree temperature. Dupre spent 19 days on the mountain before radioing his base camp he would be climbing back down in fear of succumbing to the unforgiving elements. The report went on to state Dupre spent a week at 14,200 before turning back last year, and additional seven days at 17,200 again in 2011 before giving in. Though 16 people have conquered McKinley in between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a time when daylight is a rare luxury, Dupre is trying to be the first human to accomplish this feat alone. Empirical would like to commend Dupre on his courage to not only attempt this dangerous feat, but also not letting vanity lead him to disaster. We wish him the best of luck and health in any future pursuits of reaching the top the most menacing winter peak in our Pacific Northwest

Photo via Flickr

February Excerpt: Lincoln and the Radical Defense of Liberty by Olav Bryant Smith

Lincoln and the Radical Defense of Liberty
Olav Bryant Smith
Lincoln Memorial
PHOTO: Anna Fox

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln began a speech with these words at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” The speech became known as the Gettysburg Address. It is widely known as one of the great speeches in human history. One aspect of its greatness is that it re-asserts a principle of American political philosophy as the touchstone of our republic–this principle that “all men are created equal.”

Nations–as opposed to a collection of more-or-less isolated individuals, or individual states–must have some philosophical principles that guide it through thick and thin, and bind together an otherwise disparate population. Teddy Roosevelt astutely pointed to the real power of the presidency when he referred to his “bully pulpit.” Time and time again, it is the president’s primary role to rally and unify the nation around one or more foundational principles. For Lincoln, it was the principles of liberty and equality, and the preservation of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

I turn to Lincoln in this issue partly because February is the month that we celebrate the birthdays of Washington (22nd) and Lincoln (12th). But I turn to Lincoln especially because the movie sensation of late autumn was Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, with a wonderful screenplay written by Tony Kushner, and with Lincoln portrayed by actor Daniel Day-Lewis. In the first 26 days, Lincoln grossed almost $86 million in ticket sales. As I watched this film in a local theater, twice, I saw a wide variety of citizens (from young to old), wanting to participate in this democratic experiment of ours, on the edge of their seats as they waited anxiously to find out the resolution of a story that was in fact resolved 150 years ago. What was the hook? Why were we drawn to a movie about the struggle between a president and congressional leaders over a legislative action taken during the Civil War? What does this interest say about us as a people? Why are we drawn to the feet of Lincoln once again to learn what it is to be American?

One clue, I believe, is that Spielberg has repeatedly directed films that reveal heroes in struggles of good versus evil. The great dramas of world history are always struggles of good versus evil, though it is not always easy for those caught up in the struggles to recognize their own evil. World War II has provided the backdrop to a number of Spielberg’s films, such as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. This time, Spielberg has clearly recognized an opportunity in something much closer to home. In his films about World War II, we never stray far from the fact and horror of the Holocaust. In this film about Lincoln, we never stray far from the fact and horror of slavery.

The film begins after Lincoln’s second term has begun and African-American troops had begun to serve in the Union Army. Using special war-time powers, Lincoln had freed slaves through executive fiat–The Emancipation Proclamation. But he was concerned that this would not hold up in the courts in the long run. Thus, a constitutional amendment was introduced, and had been passed by the Senate once, but had subsequently failed in the House. With the closing days of the war ahead, Lincoln was determined to see it through to passage this second time before reuniting with the southern states.

Familiar enough to contemporary ears, we learn of a divided Congress. Deals would have to be made to assure enough Democratic votes to reach the required majority of two-thirds. The amendment had failed the first time due to a vote strictly on party lines: Lincoln’s Republican Party voting in favor, and Democrats voting against. The film thus becomes an entertaining adventure of political wrestling and intrigue as Lincoln’s administration, led by Secretary of State Seward, unites various factions of Republicans and attempts to win over Democrats by any means possible. The movie is great fun, and I leave it at that, recommending that you see it for yourself. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Lincoln has left many of us in awe. Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals, when she saw the film, said that she felt like she’d seen the real Lincoln.

If you would like to read more of this article in Empirical, the February issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Through My Empirical Lens

Through My Empirical Lens
Nick Dobis

 "Hoo-rah Ladies"

This week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the final barrier for women in our armed services. On Thursday Panetta signed an order at the Pentagon which lifted the ban on women joining men in ground combat units, a move which according to the Los Angeles Times will create over 230,000 combat jobs for our ladies in uniform. This step towards equality hasn’t come without a contentious debate, fueling mountains of comments on blogs and news articles all across the internet. Many of the comments celebrate this historical decision, but there were many more casting doubt about sending our daughters, mothers, and sisters into the menacing teeth of war.

One of the most common questions posed by readers was whether or not women can really handle the stress and reality of combat? Personally, I think if women can survive the stress and reality of childbirth, I’d be willing to nominate them for at least a purple heart for enduring an experience men can only begin to fathom. Any woman who is able to run the gauntlet of both basic and specialized military training successfully has earned the right to join their brothers in arms.

Will they be able to lead men in combat? The answer, they already have. The Seattle Times had a chance to catch up with Linda Bray this week, a former Army Captain who became the first woman to lead men in combat during the invasion of Panama in 1989. According to the Times’ article, Bray and 45 soldiers went toe-to-toe with Panamanian Special Forces. Bray led her platoon on an attack which killed three enemy soldiers and overtook the barracks being held by the Panamanian’s, eventually confiscating a large cache of weapons. Instead of being awarded a combat commendation, Capt. Bray was berated by her superiors for making a quick decision to lead her soldiers into the fray.

 Capt. Linda Bray, Photo Via The Seattle Times

One argument which caught my eye by an individual on a particular news site was that men wouldn’t be able to handle the site of “women being blown to smithereens”, and “our male soldiers will put themselves at unnecessary risks to save female soldiers.” This comment concerned me because many of our soldiers today have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD after seeing their male companions killed in action. I have not, and thankfully will never find myself in combat. But I’d like to think if I ever was immersed in the frightening fog of war, the last of my concerns would be the sex, creed, and race of the man, and now, woman next to me.

The men of our military have made unnecessary, yet harrowing risks to save the lives of their brethren throughout our nation's long and bloody history of warfare. The 3,459 recipients of the Medal of Honor stand as testaments to that ultimate sacrifice. In case you were wondering, one of those recipients was a woman. In an article from the Armed Forces Press Service, Mary Walker volunteered as a nurse in Washington’s Patent Office Hospital during our nation’s Civil War, eventually becoming the first woman doctor to serve with the Army Medical Corps. The Army awarded her the military’s highest honor for her wartime service tending to soldiers not only at battles in Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia, but remaining faithful to her duties while a confederate prisoner of war for four months.
To the ladies serving in our armed forces today, I’d like to commend you for earning a right that has been a long time coming. Thank you for your willingness to serve our country, and I wish you all the best of luck and safety I can. Somewhere in the depths of time, I’d like to think "Rosie the Riveter" is flexing her arm in satisfaction just for you.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Our Pacific Northwest: Ramps to Nowhere Will Be No More

Our Pacific Northwest

Ramps to Nowhere Will Be No More

Northwest News reported yesterday that the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle will soon be undergoing some tremendous changes. With a combined effort of the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Arboretum and Botanical Garden Committee, the infamous “ramps to nowhere” built within the arboretum in the 1960's will finally be torn down. The freeway project was halted five decades ago due to resistance from local citizens and environmentalists. Along with the dismantling of these giant concrete and rebar structures, an additional $20 million of improvements will be made to the arboretum, which is home to 10,000 species of plants and animals. According to the report, improvements to what many consider one of Seattle’s greatest gems include a new trail system which will loop through the park, as well as restoring creek beds and improving botanical features. The project announced in a press conference yesterday is long-awaited vindication for those who first fought to preserve a majestic landmark of our Pacific Northwest.

From the Empirical Archives: A Moment With Ingrid Taylar

A Moment With Ingrid Taylar

Originally Published in the July 2012 issue of Empirical

Empirical interviews Ingrid, a writer and photographer who has recently moved up the coast from San Francisco to Seattle, and examines her world of photography.

Empirical: Hi Ingrid. Your photography work in San Francisco, especially the bridges, is what initially caught our eye. How did you get started in photography?

Ingrid: I’ve had a camera in my paws since I was seven years old. We were expats in Europe, and my parents bought me a Kodak Instamatic to document my experience. That’s not to say that I took anything of significance, or even anything that verged on decent composition. But, because of that gift, it became the norm for me to carry my camera in one hand and my stuffed toy in the other.

Empirical: That’s a nice image. I think many of us started in similar ways. When did you begin taking photography more seriously?

Ingrid: I was a casual shooter for a long time, even with the film SLR my dad and I picked out after high school graduation. I had a 50mm lens, and I used that camera – a Fujica AX-1 – like a snapshot device. It was token usage of a powerful tool. There were two significant events that inspired me to go further with my photography. The first was my job with, writing and editing their San Francisco website. The second was a simultaneous volunteer gig my husband Hugh and I started at a wildlife hospital in the Bay Area. That’s when I first realized the potential of my camera as an instrument of my personal passions.

Empirical: What was it about those events that made such a difference?

Ingrid: The old adage – write about what you love, photograph what you love – came to fruition through my lens simply because I finally discovered what it was that I loved to photograph. And that was … the San Francisco Bay Area and, in particular, the nature and wildlife of Northern California. I was on foot several days a week with my camera, covering neighborhoods and events around the Bay Area. Because of my immersion with wildlife at the hospital, my eye was also trained for the anomalous shapes and movements in that landscape – the wild things to which I’d always been drawn. It helps that Hugh has an extraordinary photographic eye, and through his lens, I began seeing much more of the marvelous in my everyday world …. my allusion to Bill Moyers who said that creativity is “piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.”

Empirical: That’s a beautiful way of putting it. We think it’s marvelous how you not only have an eye for angles, shapes, and color in architecture, but how you penetrate through that mundane into the world of nature. How did that develop?

Ingrid: Through my telephoto, I began to connect with my subjects in a way that allowed a relationship of sorts. This contrived intimacy with my home terrain and with my wild subjects got me addicted to the process. More importantly, photography drove my commitment to wildlife and wild spaces in ways that changed me and my perspective forever. I think it’s important to add that I consider nature photography a genuine privilege, and do my best to abide by good field craft and strict wildlife photography ethics.

Empirical: You mentioned, too, that you wrote an online column. Is that how you got your start in writing?

Ingrid: I started off writing a column for a natural health magazine, did various forms of writing throughout the years, including some technical and copy writing. My most recent full-time writing job was my work with When I left About, I transitioned into research work through the serendipity of an internet search. An author found my work through and hired me as a researcher for two ongoing series of thrillers. I supplement that work with freelance jobs as they come up, I also maintain my nature blog, and I’m always working on personal writing projects on the side. You know, as they say in L.A. – “multiple projects in various stages of development.”

Empirical: What are your goals in photography at this point?

Ingrid: I regularly donate photos for environmental or wildlife causes – for auctions, fundraising events, or nonprofit publications. My primary motivation, outside of the pure enjoyment of shooting, is to use my camera as a conduit. I always hope I can translate even a morsel of what I see through my lens, to someone who might be viewing my images. If a photo can, in some way, inspire someone else to care about the subjects I photograph, then I feel I’ve accomplished something. I’m constantly honing my technique, and have numerous aspirations in terms of expanding my skills and endeavors.

Empirical: What kind of equipment do you use?

Ingrid: I use Olympus gear, for the most part. My constant companions are my Olympus E-3 and my walk about 70-300mm and 14-54mm lenses. This summer, I’ll be experimenting with a micro-four-thirds (mirrorless) camera and also a new wildlife lens.

Empirical: Can you walk us through some of your photographs? I love the Space Needle shot.

Ingrid: It’s called “Wolf Moon at the Needle.” I shot this as a Wolf Moon rose behind the Seattle Space Needle. This image is actually two exposures layered together – one exposed for the Needle, one for the moon. Nothing else was altered in terms of juxtaposition or size of the moon.

Empirical: As I said, I was immediately drawn to your bridge photography, including the Golden Gate shot. Can you tell us about that one?

Ingrid: Yes, I thought that was the bridge photo to which you were referring. I took a long exposure of the Golden Gate Bridge on a July evening. The slight haze in the sky reflected back some of the light below, and rendered the tones more golden. Shot from Fort Baker in Sausalito.

Empirical: Where did you find all those birds in the bird shot?

Ingrid: I call that “Shorebird Nation.” This was shot in the East Bay, at Arrowhead Marsh in Oakland. I sat at the far end of a dock as huge numbers of shorebirds were arriving to sit out a wind storm. Each arriving group landed behind the rest, nudging the whole flock forward toward me. Eventually, the dock got so full of birds, these shorebirds were just feet away from me and my camera, not bothered at all by my presence.

Empirical: There’s another lone bird shot here, too, with beautiful gold coloring around it.

Ingrid: I photographed this scene in Redondo Beach, in Southern California. This one Brown Pelican was perched on a breakwater during a vivid display by the setting sun. The sunset had the appearance (to me) of a volcano erupting behind the silhouette of the rock wall and the pelican, hence the name of the photo, “Pelican Fire.”

Empirical: We see that you like to get close. That macro shot of the drops on the leaf is spectacular.

Ingrid: That’s called “Conveyer Belt of Raindrops.” It’s one of my favorite macros, taken in a beam of sun, after a Seattle downpour. The drops pictured are, in fact, raindrops. I don’t use spray bottles or other artificial means of creating droplets.

Empirical: The reflected skyline shot is very creative. It took me a while to figure out where those textures were coming from.

Ingrid: It’s called “Reverse Reflected.” This is part of the Seattle skyline, reflected in a huge puddle on a waterfront pier. I flipped the image upside down, so the texture you see in the “sky” pictured here is actually the puddle and pier boards, and the “reflection” below is actually the real person, skyline, and sky.

Empirical: The sky around the volcano is amazing. What’s going on there?

Ingrid: There are spectacular weather days where lenticular clouds form above Mt. Rainier like flying saucers. This was shot as the sun went down, from a hillside south of Seattle. The colors are real, reflecting the remnants of daylight, sunset and the coming twilight. I call that one “Rainier and Its Lenticulars.”

Empirical: It’s a wonderful collection, Ingrid. Thank you for sharing them with us.

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Flash Fiction Friday: Cheating Boyfriend's Bicycle

Cheating Boyfriend's Bicycle
Audrey DiPlacido

For Sale: Classic Cyclocross bicycle, custom built three months ago by the cheating bastard I hurled out of my life last Saturday. Included are new cross wheels and tires; the frame and all parts have been uniquely painted by that cheating bastard. This is a 2012 Custom Project Bike (photo attached) built for the prestigious Cross Vegas competition. The right side is a corrupt sapphire blue and the left is scandalous red; there is a silver skank stripe down the middle to separate the two colors and all lettering is shaded to give the deceitful appearance of mud splatter. Preferred sale would be piece by piece i.e. hubs, rims, cranks, derailleurs, cranks, stem, saddle spokes, etc. All offers considered with special consideration going to those willing to pose/post the break up of this bike on You Tube for my ex’s cycling team to view!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Our Pacific Northwest: Ducks of a Feather Football Together

Our Pacific Northwest

Ducks of a Feather Football Together

For the first time in over 70 years, Oregon football will once again be led by a native son. Earlier this week, the University of Oregon held a press conference for homegrown Mark Helfrich, who’s taking the helm of the Ducks with Chip Kelly migrating to the NFL. In a report filed by the Register-Guard, Helfrich and the University agreed to a five-year contract with an annual base of $1.8 million, roughly the same amount Kelly made his first season as head coach of the Ducks in 2009. Helfrich attended Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Ore., where he excelled on the football field. He went on to play college ball at Southern Oregon where, according to the report, he led the NAIA in total offense as a sophomore. Helfrich eventually became a graduate assistant at Oregon in 1997, and then spent a few stints at Boise State, Arizona State, and Colorado before coming home to become the Duck’s Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach, which he’s held since 2009. The report also noted Helfrich will become the 32nd head coach in Duck football history and the first native Oregonian since John Warren in 1942. Helfrich appeared to be the University’s obvious choice, who promised to “attack, in all phases,” a program mantra since the Kelly era began.

Photo via

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Our Pacific Northwest

Our Pacific Northwest
Stanford Makes Big Steps Towards Aiding Those With HIV

A week after their Berkeley counterparts announced a prototype for artificial leaves with the potential to produce clean fuel; The San Francisco Chronicle reported today Stanford scientists have created a technique to genetically engineer immune cells in order to make them more resistant to HIV. It has not been tested on people yet, but the article indicated if the technique proved successful in human trials, it can provide a less rigorous choice to the lifetime of medication those infected with HIV cope with. According to the article, the latest regimen of HIV drugs focuses on two particular receptor genes in T-cells, which is how the HIV virus infiltrates the body, eventually leading to AIDS and a crippling of the immune system. The technique developed by the scientists at Stanford greatly strengthens these receptor genes, making the continuous intake of expensive HIV drugs unnecessary. Scientists hope to begin human trials within the next five years. This indicates a small step for those suffering from this terrible disease, with hopes of living a more fulfilling life due to the help of some of the brightest minds in our Pacific Northwest. 


From the Empirical Archives: Submarine by Christopher Woods

Christopher Woods
PHOTO: US Navy Imagery

Originally Published in the July 2012 issue of Empirical

Open to the public for the weekend,
my father and I go to take the tour.
The mammoth hulk of a thing awaits,
men in their sailor whites at attention,
the day brilliant as we leave the deck
to venture below where the nuclear
organs of this deep diving machine wait
in silence for the order, the moment
for which they have been created.

My father, working with one lung,
sees the ladder we must descend.
If he thinks it might be difficult
for him to manage those rungs,
he does not say.
I say, go first, take your time.

I watch his careful descent
as he disappears below me.
I think of things leaving,
how the sub will soon
leave the dock for duty,
plunge into the wet deepness
of dark nothing we will never see.
But I know there are all kinds of nothing.
I grab the top rungs, begin my own
descent into the sub, the sea,
and, soon, life without my father
going first.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Our Pacific Northwest

Our Pacific Northwest

Remembering Gordon Lee Rowan

After days of uncertainty, it has been confirmed three of the thirty-eight workers killed during a terrorist takeover of a BP gas plant in Algeria last week where Americans, one of which being Gordon Lee Rowan of Sumpter, Oregon. In a report filed by The Oregonian, Rowan was in charge of the fracking program for the station's natural gas and oil production. Rowan was raised near the Snake River and after graduating high school in 1973 completed a petroleum engineering program at the University of Oklahoma. After serving in the military, Rowan made a home in Phoenix, Ariz., but traveled around the world to conduct his work. The report went on to state Rowan’s wife died nearly five years ago, but is survived by two grown sons who are also engineers. Rowan was likely going to retire at the end of March. Empirical would like to take this opportunity to give our condolences to the friends and family of Gordon Lee Rowan who will remember him as a wonderful man and a native son of our Pacific Northwest.
Photo via CBS News 

Monday, January 21, 2013

From the Empirical Archives: Embargoed Brothers by Tim Weed

Embargoed Brothers: An American Off-Limits in Cuba
Tim Weed
PHOTO: anna 78/Flickr

Originally Published in the July 2012 issue of Empirical

A decade ago I was riding along the Havana Malecón in a white and blue ’57 Ford with a four-cylinder Toyota engine. The taxi driver overheard my companions speaking English in the back seat. “Where you from?” he asked in Spanish.

“Estados Unidos,” I replied.

“I thought so. The way they were talking, I thought I was in a film.”

We drove on in silence, the Ford creeping along the broad seaside avenue, the red sun dyeing the azure horizon beyond the flamboyant decay of the antique city. “It’s a shame our governments can’t get along,” he said after a moment. “I’ve always thought Cubans and Americans were like fruit from the same tree. Like brothers, you know?”

“Both proud?” I asked, recognizing the outlines of a familiar conversation.

“Yes, and friendly. Open-minded.”

Such encounters always make me smile. It’s a rarity anywhere in the world to be liked for being an American, and I have to admit: it feels good. It’s one of the reasons I keep going back to Cuba. Between 1999 and 2004, I visited the country frequently on a special educational license from the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The longstanding US prohibition against Americans traveling to Cuba had begun to loosen a bit, and everyone you talked to–American and Cuban–was convinced that the embargo would be ending soon.

PHOTO: Natalie Maynor
Fast forward to today. The embargo still stands, and the Cuban people still love Americans. On a recent visit to Havana I shook the hand of an old man in a convenience store, beaming, affable, and drunk. “Cubans and Americans are just the same, except Cubans are hungrier,” he remarked. “Which is why I’m so skinny.” He lowered his chin to indicate his bony frame.

Many Cubans are skinny, because even with the government-issued ration books that keep people from starving to death, it’s impossible to put together a month’s worth of three square meals a day. Most people appear lean and healthy, hungry but not malnourished. Those who work in hotels, rental agencies, and other tourism-related businesses are better fed, even chubby.

Before we said good-bye, the old man asked for a convertible peso (C.U.C.), and I didn’t hesitate to give it to him. He may have been a drunk, but there was no question he needed it more than I did.

Whether the average Cuban’s nagging hunger is due more to the ills of a command-and-control economy or the stifling chokehold of the fifty-year American embargo appears to be an open question. A high-ranking officer at the US Interests Section–which serves as our unofficial embassy in Havana as the Cold War drags on in this strange time-warped corner of the Caribbean–recently assured me that the embargo doesn’t matter. “It’s not like they can’t buy their goods from other countries,” she pointed out.

True enough, I suppose. But think about the economic stimulus that might be created by allowing free commerce between this island nation of eleven million people and a market of 310 million of the world’s wealthiest people, whose nearest beach is less than ninety miles away. The hordes of high-tipping tourists alone would create a major shot of adrenaline for the Cuban economy. Barring a major shift in US politics, however, such an economic sea change does not appear imminent.

Despite it all, Cubans go on loving Americans. I find myself shaking hands with every taxi driver, every impromptu tour guide and street musician, every artist or fisherman or mechanic who takes the time to explain the make-do ingenuities of Cuban life. The Cubans you meet in the course of a day are so generous with their friendship, so eager to help, to facilitate and enlighten, that you feel you are in the company of close cousins, indulgent aunts and uncles.

PHOTO: Philipp Volmer
The director of an arts foundation in Havana recently explained the roots of the Cuban-American affinity. Before 1959, Cuba was more Americanized than any other country in the world. American corporations had satellite offices in Havana, and there was an undersea telecommunications cable that ran across the Straits of Florida. As a child in the 1950s, the foundation director remembers eating at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, living in a house stocked with the latest American laproducts, and watching Gunsmoke and I Love Lucy on TV. The streets of Havana are a living museum of vintage American cars, but the relationship goes deeper than that. Cubans of a certain age, he pointed out, almost feel like Americans themselves. This is one reason the “reunions” that take place multiple times a day when Americans travel to Cuba are so warm and emotionally charged.

On a recent trip I stayed in a casa particular, a government-sanctioned private home serving as a bed-and breakfast. This casa was a sixth floor apartment in a 1950s building, nicely furnished with the wellused American period furniture and appliances common in Cuban houses, with views over the pleasantly leafy Vedado neighborhood down to the Malecón, and to the blue Gulf waters beyond. My hostess, Olga, has lived here since 1963. A professor at the University of Havana, she loves to talk, lecture, tease, banter, and surprise you by offering ways of looking at things you haven’t thought of before. She’s expressive and gracious, often reaching out to touch you mid-conversation to stroke your chin or squeeze your shoulder. Her voice is deep and gravelly from too many years of smoking. As a teenager she participated in Fidel’s youth brigades, sent out into the countryside to educate the campesinos.

I asked if she remembered the Revolution. She did, of course, but it was the Missile Crisis she wanted to talk about. She still has nightmares from those anxiety-filled weeks, when the residents of Havana crouched in their living rooms expecting to be bombed into oblivion at any moment. “Kruschev didn’t understand one thing, though,” she said. “Americans and Cubans are the same. Deep in my heart, I knew Kennedy would never bomb us.”


Havana is glorious, mesmerizing, simultaneously joyous and sad. It’s one of the few world capitals I know where you can see the moon and stars at night. Exquisite architecture, much of it badly in need of paint and renovation, lines streets that seem poised to explode at any moment into violence or dancing. Strangler figs slurp the ground with roots that slouch lazily upon each other like boneless fingers, or time-lapse tribes of sleep-deprived worms. Finned American cars from the 40s and 50s combine nostalgia and menace, showcasing Cuban defiance and resourcefulness and taste. Little girls do surprisingly accomplished handsprings on the beach; highly talented musicians frequent every restaurant and square; boxers spar in run down courtyards; taxi drivers have Ph.D.s; and the waitress in your neighborhood paladar may well be a poet, a dancer, and a moonlighting doctor, all at once.

PHOTO: Nick Castle

Decades of privation have honed Cubans’ special talent for making the best of what they have. In Havana and elsewhere on the island, you’re always running into amazingly skilled people: mechanics, academics, doctors, artists, dancers, athletes, tour guides, inventors. In part this may be because there are fewer distractions, but it also springs from a pervasive cultural emphasis on creative excellence. People may be hungry, but they take pride in what they do. They spend many hours a day practicing it, and they do it well. This refreshing truth is another reason Cuba is such an inspiring place to travel.


On one level, Havana has remained frozen in time on January 1st, 1959, when the corrupt ruler Fulgencio Batista fled in his private jet as Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, and their triumphant revolutionary cohorts made their final advance on the city. Antique Fords, Chevys, Pontiacs, and Buicks still dominate the avenues, and elegant mansions, most subdivided into multi-family apartment buildings, are literally falling apart around their inhabitants’ ears. At the Museo de la Revolución, which houses tanks, warplanes, and the yacht Fidel and Che used to return to the island from their military training in Mexico, you can see bullet holes in an old delivery van used in an attack on the presidential palace that is now home to the museum, and more bullet holes in the palace’s grand marble staircase.

Hemingway’s house in the satellite community of San Francisco de Paula is just as he left it. His typewriter rests on a bookshelf, his spectacles on a side table, and the record of his daily weighing-in is scrawled in pen on the wall of the bathroom. On a recent trip I rode in a ’48 Dodge, beetleblack with a split windshield. The owner was a prodigious do-it-yourself mechanic, like many Cuban men. “It still has the original engine,” he said proudly, and that’s quite an accomplishment when you think about how much use it must have had over more than six decades. Most of the old cars have been switched over to Toyota engines. 

Hemingway's Study
PHOTO: Natalie Maynor
On another level, the entire country is a relic of the Cold War. Box-like Ladas, dented and street-worn but solid as war tanks, play second fiddle to the American classics, and ugly Soviet architecture–grime-soiled apartment blocks, abandoned factories and oil refineries–crop up in the most unexpected places, like the fruits of a latent Stalinist fungus attacking the ancient bones of the Spanish Empire.

One more thing that makes visiting Cuba special: the feeling that you’ve entered a kind of grimy, rustic time warp. Change is underway, though, and beginning to accelerate. The government of Raúl Castro has recently been easing the economic laws; Cuban citizens are now allowed to operate private businesses, and to buy and sell cars and houses. Compared to just a year ago, there is palpably more commerce on the streets of Havana. There is a new sense of animation and possibility. Young people wear fashionable stone-washed jeans, a burgeoning middle class patronizes a set of new stores and restaurants, and there are now as many modern cars on the streets as antiques.

Despite these changes, it’s important to emphasize that most people’s finances remain dire. The ration books only go so far. Meat, eggs, and other essential proteins are a rarity on the majority of Cuban tables. A tip of one convertible peso is standard for watching a car, helping with a bag, or providing access to something mildly forbidden at a museum or a cultural site. It sometimes feels embarrassing to engage in such transactions with Cubans, who are among the most dignified people I’ve ever known. But it is, at least for the time being, a necessity.

Many Cubans have long ago given up on making plans for the future. They live dayby- day, hand-to-mouth. “Sobrevivimos” is the common, stoical refrain: we do what it takes to survive.

“I’m going to say how I see it, and forget the consequences,” one young man in the countryside told me, having hitched a ride in a rent-a-car I was driving. “This government is not for us. It exists for one person only.” He made a familiar hand gesture, a quick stroking of an imaginary beard: Fidel Castro, also known as “tu tio,” your uncle. This young man earns a salary of twelve convertible pesos a month, about what it costs for one tourist to sit down for a restaurant meal.


If you visit Cuba, I recommend renting a car and setting out on the autopista nacional, the national highway vectoring eastward from Havana into the heart of the island. Driving the Cuban countryside is a beautiful and at times surreal experience. The scenery is achingly picturesque: tall palm groves fading into the green distance like something out of the Land of the Lost; little hardwood fincas painted blue or pink and surrounded by flowers; stunning Caribbean tableaux of well-tended cane fields and jungled limestone hills. Then you round a corner and come face-to face with the massive concrete buttresses of an abandoned Soviet factory, and you remember where you are.

PHOTO: neiljs
At least by outward appearances, not much has changed since the fall of the campo socialista in the early 1990s. With the demise of the Soviet Union came an end to ambitious infrastructure projects such as the autopista, most of which is still in excellent shape, in part because it sees so little traffic.

On a recent trip I spent a few days at that landmark of US-Cuba relations, the Bay of Pigs. In a small museum you can see some of the thinly disguised US warplanes that were shot down by the Cuban army, and you can stay in an ugly cinderblock resort run by the state. The food is terrible. A kind of malaise prevails among the workers in this and most other state-run resorts. They tend to be well-fed, harried, inflexible, and sour–the very opposite of most Cubans you encounter in the street.

But the seawater in the Bay of Pigs is limpid azure. Healthy coral heads teem with fish. There are sponges and waving sea fans, and polyps like miniature palm trees that shrink back into the rock if you wave your hand at them. It’s everything I remember snorkeling to be back when unbleached, untrammeled coral reefs were the norm in tropical regions around the world. Now they are rare, but it shouldn’t be surprising to find them in Cuba. Across the island there are unspoiled beaches, well-forested mountain ranges, and intact mangrove swamps serving as nurseries for new marine life. Chalk it up as an achievement of the Revolution understanding also that there are benefits to fifty years of political and economic isolation.

Cuba’s population is relatively urbanized; so much of the countryside feels, well, empty. Empty of tourists at least, once you get away from Old Havana, Trinidad, and the crowded beach resorts of Varadero. Will this atmosphere change if and when the embargo is lifted? Most Cubans I’ve talked to seem to have given up hope of that ever happening, and it’s easy to understand their perspective.


On a recent trip some friends and I visited Trinidad, a Unesco World Heritage site, for its remarkable concentration of colonial architecture. In Santa Clara, we stopped by the monumental black statue of Che Guevara that looms over the countryside like a throwback to the myth-making grandiosity of the ancient Mediterranean. We drove through Remedios and Caibarien, pretty colonial towns with spacious plazas that fill up in the evenings with strollers, hawkers, and various citizens eager to supplement their incomes with a few extra pesos.

PHOTO: neiljs
Cubans are fascinated by new technology the same way Americans are fascinated by Cohiba cigars and antique American cars. Our rental car was a compact Kia, nothing fancy, but the way people stared as we drove through towns in the countryside, it might as well have been a Rolls Royce. One friend in Trinidad was fascinated and even somewhat incredulous about the automatic locking mechanism in our little Kia, which, after a short test drive, he declared in awestruck tones to be “one of the best cars in the rental fleet.”

When the embargo ends, anything new–from iPhones to Hyundais–will be a huge temptation to Cubans. They will snap up such technology the moment they can afford it. This is likely to be particularly true of the Internet, which the state has thus far prevented from extending its tentacles as it has in virtually everywhere else, and which will provide for Cubans a craved-for opening to the rest of the world.


If you go to Cuba, it’s worth taking a drive out the great causeway or pedraplen, fifty kilometers out over the Caribbean to the Cayería de Santa María, a complex of hundreds of coral keys supporting a vast ecosystem of mangroves, reefs, and sugar-sand beaches. When the causeway was built, the government had apparently planned a Varadero-style development, but when I visited in 2002 it was a quiet paradise, with only two hotels and plenty of breezy Caribbean solitude. That year we spent an afternoon on one of the most idyllic beaches I’d ever seen, completely unspoiled, with the finest white sand imaginable, gently swaying coconut palms, and a vast natural basin of tepid seawater so clear you could almost breathe it.

These days the Cayería is a little more built up, and access to that unforgettable beach is now blocked off by an expensive members-only hotel. But it still seems removed from the rest of Cuba out here, a quiet Caribbean paradise of the kind that is increasingly difficult to find. It’s a good place to end a trip to Cuba, and to reflect on what the future holds.

PHOTO: Stephen Colebourne

When the embargo ends, how much will Cuba change? Will you still see the old Chevys and Oldsmobiles on the Malecón? The ubiquitous Ladas, the putt-putt cocotaxis, the ancient tractors and bicycle taxis and horse drawn caruajes? More importantly, will the Cuban people maintain their special character? Their resourcefulness, talent, and hard-won dignity? I think they will. Perhaps it will be easier to buy familiar products, and there should be a lot more variety in available food. But Cubans are too independent to become completely bewitched by our culture of McDonald’s and iPhones. Hopefully, they’ll apply the same ingenuity to this new bounty of capitalist exchange that they’ve applied to five decades of economic isolation.

Contrary to what some might expect, the Cuban Revolution is too ingrained to come crashing down the day Fidel dies. The Revolution permeates the municipalities and the ministries, from tourism to agriculture and education and beyond. It’s not just the Castro brothers, though it is important to understand that for most Cubans they and the Revolutionary compatriots they have outlived are analogous to George Washington and Paul Revere to Americans: founding fathers who have reached the plane of the mythological.

Cubans are proud of their Revolution. Does this mean they don’t bemoan their current economic state, and aren’t tired of so many years of non democratic, one-party rule? No. Most Cubans I’ve talked to, even the more “revolutionary” ones, long to see more freedom, more openness, and, emphatically, more economic opportunity. But that doesn’t change the way they feel about the Revolution itself. Not only what it has accomplished in health and education, but its heroic David and Goliath character–its proud history of standing up to the colossal enemy to the north. Fortunately for those Americans who want to travel to Cuba–and I hope that all Americans will soon have the unconditional legal right to do so–Cubans are good at making distinctions between a government and its people.

PHOTO: Natalie Maynor

Meanwhile, assuming there is a transition to Western-style free-market capitalism, it is likely to be gradual and incomplete. Perhaps Cuba will become a kind of miniature Caribbean China, with state control of social services and infrastructure and a vibrant, prosperous private sector. It is reasonable to hope that these proud people will keep hold of the undeniable progress they have made in health, education, and social welfare, even as they gain the freedom to travel, assemble, speak freely, and provide for themselves and their families. But in the end, whatever happens, Cuba will still be Cuba–like nowhere else in the world.

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