Autumn Equinox

I happened to be in Salt Lake City during the equinox, where I learned that Utah has outlawed a lot of things. One random example: Happy Hour. Probably Utah also prohibits human sacrifices during equinox celebrations – I didn’t even bother to ask.

So aside from weird rules what else is there in Salt Lake City? Mountains. As my many readers know, I love to photograph interesting celestial events. So I went for a hike to get this equinox sunset:

Salt Lake City autumn equinox, 7500′ ASL

These foothills can be deceptive. I parked at one between the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons and began to climb straight towards a peak. The first few hundred feet was fine gravel, so I had to kind of scamper from weed to weed to avoid sinking and sliding back. Then I reached sturdier ground which supports thickets of shrub-like oak trees. Those obstruct the view of what’s above, so I couldn’t be certain whether I had a good path ahead. I did eventually run into a trail bearing human footprints (though I saw no one else the entire hike). The trail wound back and forth between rocks and trees, and it was still very strenuous: When I got back I checked a topographic map and found that the straight-line route I followed from 5500 to 7500 feet averaged a 45 degree slope!


Here is my new favorite breakfast: A chocolate protein smoothie with banana, peanut butter, almond milk, and cold-brew coffee concentrate.

For more than two decades previous my breakfast was half a box of Post’s Great Grains Raisins Dates Pecans. Every few weeks drug stores would put that cereal on sale and I would buy every box on the shelf. (Before COVID sale prices would be $2.50/box. 5+ years ago $2/box. $1.50/box before that, and 20 years ago the (Air Force) base commissary would often sell them for $1/box!) Keeping a stock of more than 60 boxes was not uncommon. Here’s a typical view of my pantry:

My custom is to steep cereal in milk for a few minutes until it gets a little soft. I used to use skim cow’s milk, but some years ago I developed a lactose sensitivity and switched to almond or oat milk.

There was an interlude about 20 years ago after I bought a batch of this cereal that was infested with moths. That took away my appetite for it for a few years, during which I switched primarily to General Mills’ Basic 4 cereal.

In college and earlier my appetite was enormous: In dining halls I would fill my tray with 4-6 bowls of cereal (granted, dining hall bowls aren’t very big), leading people to jokingly suggest that I switch to Total cereal. Total is just boring cereal that General Mills mixes with extra multivitamins. For many years they ran commercials like this showing how many bowls of competing cereals it would take to accumulate those extra vitamins:

Perseid Meteors

Perseid Meteors, composite image by David Bookstaber
Perseid meteors. That’s Jupiter near the middle of the frame.

I set up my old Sony A77II with an intervalometer for an hour and managed to capture these Perseid meteors. I was using my widest lens, 16mm, shooting ISO 1600 with 10 second exposures. It took some real work to post-process and compose this image: I had to find the frames with meteors and stack and align them in Photoshop. The result is nothing great for several reasons, including that (a) meteor shower photos should use a wider lens, and (b) should include a horizon or some ground feature for perspective.

It’s easier to get better results using a smartphone, not only because a typical smartphone has a very wide lens, but also because software can take care of identifying frames that contain meteors and aligning them. After the fact I checked the app store and found at least one cheap app that does this with a built-in “Meteor Mode.”

Why Chester County Cops Dislike Me

When I lived in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, a neighbor was murdered in her home. I had installed a video surveillance system around my house when I first bought it 6 years prior. (My house was isolated from the street and backed up to a county trail that I thought could be a source of trouble, but to that point nothing bad had happened.) When detectives came knocking I suggested that my video might have picked something up that would help them with the crime. But when we went to the corner of the basement where I had the recorder, we discovered that it had no power because it was plugged into a GFCI outlet that had tripped. The last recordings showed a thunderstorm a few weeks prior.

This misfortune really piqued the police. They came back with search warrants, not only for my surveillance system, but also for all of my computers! (Evidently, at least in Chester County, Pennsylvania, judges will sign any warrant put in front of them.) They took all my electronics to their “computer forensics lab” and told me I would get them back when they got around to imaging them. They didn’t care that my job and income depended on my computers. They seemed determined to punish me for … I guess buying a house next door to someone who would later be murdered, and failing to monitor my private video recorder?

It takes a few hours to make a forensic copy of a hard drive, but the police didn’t return my computers for over a week. Months went by and they didn’t return my surveillance recorder (which stores everything on a standard hard drive that is easily cloned). I repeatedly asked the detectives and the assistant district attorney (ADA) who had joined the murder investigation (still unsolved) to return it, and they did not. I suggested that if they wouldn’t clone it they could just keep the hard drive and return the recorder to me, since I could install a new drive to get it back in operation. They continued to ignore me. So more than a year later I petitioned the court that had warranted its seizure to order them to return it to me. The ADA really didn’t like that!

I mention all of this because it provides another explanation for why some Chester County law enforcement officers subsequently took a special interest in harassing me. To be continued…

Bullies and Mismatched Senders

As described in Malcom Gladwell’s book Taking to Strangers, a strong body of research has revealed that many people have mannerisms that are incorrectly interpreted by others. The academic literature refers to such people as “mismatched senders,” because their non-verbal communication does not match what they intend to communicate. Or rather, to place the blame where it belongs: Many people erroneously think that they can deduce things from non-verbal communication, and mismatched senders are the victims of that error.

I am a mismatched sender. I have often been told this by people who become acquainted with me. Apparently my bearing superficially suggests an arrogance that really isn’t there. I am prone to smile or laugh when I am nervous or confused. Et cetera. Unless you have read Gladwell’s book, you might be surprised at the problems this can create.

I have also been a target of bullies my whole life. Physical bullying mostly stopped when I became dangerous: At age 12 I gave two bullies black eyes and that was the end of that. There was no payoff to psychological bullying because I didn’t have many friends and didn’t seem to care.

But I’m still an attractive target to people who are looking for somebody to take down a notch. Where do bullies go when they grow up? I believe a disproportionate number go into law enforcement, where they are equipped and paid to bully, and where their victims are at a systemic disadvantage to defend themselves. Police abuse has finally gotten enough attention that this should not be a controversial hypothesis. And this hypothesis might explain some of the abuse I have personally suffered at the hands of law enforcement. (More on that to come in future posts….)

Criminal Injustice: Missing Evidence

Previously I described how being battered by “Alice,” my mentally ill girlfriend, resulted in police arresting me. In this post I will briefly highlight some of the subsequent violations of rights and law committed by the police and prosecutors in that case.

When police entered my house, they ordered me to come out of my office where I had retreated to avoid further battery at the hands of Alice. I complied and was met with two police officers pointing their Glocks at me with their fingers on the triggers. Pointing a firearm at a person constitutes felony assault if not justified. (See the prosecution of the McCloskeys for a recent and famous example.) Were the police justified in assaulting me? The system will never consider that question for several reasons. First: Police officers virtually never stop or hold to account their “brothers in blue” for committing crimes. Second: Even when criminal acts of police are reported, prosecutors virtually never pursue them. Third: This particular assault was not recorded, and here it gets suspicious: Both officers were wearing body cameras. One of them was oriented in such a way that we could see his finger on the trigger, but could not clearly see where his gun was pointed. I believe that the other officer’s body camera did record him pointing his gun at me. However, when we subpoenaed the footage the police claimed that his body camera had failed to record anything until a minute after I was in handcuffs, so that’s all we got.

That’s not the first piece of peculiarly missing recordings. I was taken to the detention area of the local police station. Cameras and signs there prominently declare that everything is recorded at all times. It was there that police read me the Miranda warning, and in response I clearly told the two officers in attendance that I did not want to answer questions while under arrest. One of the officers was wearing a body camera. A few hours later the police questioned me at length. I assumed that, because I had objected to custodial interrogation, my statements could not be used against me if I was charged with any crime. Well, it turns out that all recordings of the detention area from that day were “accidentally” not saved, and the officer who heard me invoke my rights had his body camera audio muted during that period (as is, he claimed, department policy), though after he left the area he was recorded telling another cop who asked about me, “He’s not talking.” I was in fact charged and tried for crimes in this incident, and when I objected to the use of my subsequent interrogation based on having invoked my right, the judge said, “Well, we don’t have a record of you invoking your rights, but what I will do is admonish the police to be more careful in preserving these recordings in the future.”

The prosecutor in the trial also tried to exclude a terrifying audio recording of Alice threatening to kill me and herself. That recording would fall under the category of “potentially exculpatory evidence,” which prosecutors are duty-bound to produce to the defense. (They did not produce it, but I happened to have separately saved the recording, which is how this came to light.) Withholding exculpatory evidence (“Brady material“) is a flagrant violation of the prosecutor’s oath of office, and also a violation of a lawyer’s professional obligations. This was brought to the judge’s attention. Did the judge impose sanctions on the prosecutor for attempting to corrupt due process in his court? No. Was the prosecutor investigated by the bar? No. My lawyer explained to me, “That’s business as usual here.”

There was audio recording of the night in question that Alice had created by (bizarrely) activating and hiding a digital dictaphone in the living room. That device was seized by the police during a warranted search. However, the detective who had analyzed it was retired and unavailable for the trial. Written police reports are not admissible at trial unless authenticated by an officer. My lawyer attempted to get the detective who replaced the retiree to confirm, under oath, what the report said. The detective evaded doing so. My lawyer told me, “I know all of these cops. Some of them are good guys. He is not one of them.”

Lady Justice struggling with all the missing evidence

Father Birds: Killdeer

Killdeer are common birds of the plover family (like the mourning doves I showed in a previous post). Their name supposedly comes from their loud and distinctive call, which bird guides say sounds like “kill-deer,” though I don’t hear that at all. There’s a video of one at the bottom of this post so you can hear and judge for yourself. As with mourning doves, both parents stay to incubate and protect the eggs, which take 3-4 weeks to hatch. Killdeer chicks are precocial, meaning that they can walk and feed themselves soon after hatching. The parents still tend to them and protect them from danger. They learn to fly when they are about 3 weeks old.

Following is a gallery of photos I took of killdeer I found nesting in my yard. I was alerted to their presence by the antics of the mating pair protecting their four eggs. First was a persistent and attention-grabbing tweet. Once my eye found one of the parents, the bird began its famous “broken-wing” act, which is used to lure predators away from their nests: the killdeer will pretend to have an injured wing, dragging it and beating it against the ground while making pitiful cries. The idea is that a predator will follow the seemingly easy prey as the killdeer leads it further and further away from the nest. When the predator is far enough, the killdeer fly away. This actually makes it easy to find the nest: Just go in the opposite direction of where the killdeer is drawing you. The closer you get the to its nest the closer the killdeer will come to you in an attempt to distract you.

So I did find and photograph their eggs, but I didn’t want to overly traumatize the birds so I returned with my 300mm lens to get these photos from a reasonable distance.

The eggs are sort of camouflaged, but leaving them in a clutch like that on open ground still doesn’t seem to me like a great strategy.

Killdeer doing its “broken wing” distraction dance and cry.

Father Birds: Doves

Mourning doves are one of the most common and widespread birds in North America. They get their name from the distinctive (and incessant) cooing sound they make. Male mourning doves are also devoted and protective fathers. In honor of Father’s Day, here are some photos of both parents caring for a fledgling.

Once a pair of mourning doves mates, they usually stay together for life. They work together to build a nest, usually on a tree branch or a ledge. The nest is made of twigs, grasses, and leaves, and is often flimsy and loosely constructed. The female lays two eggs at a time, which are incubated by both parents for about two weeks. The father usually takes the day shift sitting on the eggs.

After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the chicks “crop milk,” which is a thick mix of protein and fat they secrete in their crops (a part of the esophagus where they store seeds) and regurgitate for their chicks to eat out of their mouth.

Mother mourning dove feeding fledgling

The chicks grow to near full size and fledge in just two weeks! In these photos the fledglings are almost as big as their parents and will leave the nest in a few days.

Borderline Personality Survivor

I survived a relationship with a woman – who I’ll just refer to using the generic name Alice – with borderline personality disorder (BPD). I had never heard of this, and I had no idea how dangerous BPD can be to a romantic partner. Here’s an excellent article about borderline personality. Or watch forensic psychologist Shannon Curry testify about BPD in the Depp v Heard civil trial: When I saw that I thought, “OMG, she could be talking about Alice.”

Before I met Alice, I had a general notion that women can be emotional and irrational and that was just part of life. (Note: BPD is primarily diagnosed in women.) So when Alice began to exhibit those behaviors I figured, “Yeah, she’s a little extreme, but you have to take the bad with the good.” A particularly dangerous part of BPD is the fear of abandonment: Once triggered, that fear would send Alice into a desperate rage. When Alice became violent I would try to retreat to defuse the situation. But in BPD, a partner retreating triggers the fear of abandonment, and in those episodes Alice would do anything possible to prevent me from escaping her presence. I bear scars from her grabbing and clawing at me. She would hide my keys to prevent me from driving away. More than once, she literally tore my shirt off as I tried to flee on foot. After I escaped, she would text and voicemail me the most horrific threats she could conjure.

And then, some hours later, she would recover and would be effusively apologetic. After too many of these incidents I told Alice that if it happened again that would be the end of the relationship. She contritely accepted that ultimatum. Her behavior had become so threatening that I also said that I needed some failsafe to protect her and myself in case it did happen again. To that she said, “Look, it’s the fear of you leaving in that moment that really makes me see red. You’re a big guy, so just restrain me until I get over it. If you don’t leave I’ll calm down quickly.”

She went several months without an incident. And then, one night, she flipped out again. So I tried to restrain her. I had 50 pounds and 8 inches of height on her. How hard could it be? It turns out that even a relatively small woman in a rage takes an enormous effort to physically contain. I didn’t want to hurt her, so I held her wrists so that she couldn’t claw me. Then I sat on her hips so she couldn’t kick me. Then I held her from behind so she couldn’t bite me. (I was almost certain that one bite to the back of my neck had broken my skin and I would have to go to a hospital for intravenous antibiotics.) After at least half an hour of this she was still enraged and fighting, and I began to doubt my strength to continue protecting myself (and her, since her tirade of threats included all manner of self-harm). Then I remembered that I had recently bought handcuffs to use in photos that I do of firearms (like these). With considerable effort, I maneuvered us to the room where those were stored and eventually got her hands loosely cuffed behind her back. That did not dissuade her at all. She came back at me, so I ran to the bedroom, got her on the bed, and straddled her thighs while keeping her head far enough away that she couldn’t bite me. I begged her to stop, cajoled her to snap out of it, tried to reason with her; but her verbal and physical assault continued for hours. I finally accepted that her suggestion that she would calm down if I didn’t leave was not going to work. So I gave up on that idea: I got her on her stomach, removed the handcuffs, and ran to my office. She was hot on my heels and I barely got the door closed. Then she began ramming the door. I braced my back against the door with my feet pushing against a heavy desk. She actually managed to pound the door latch through the strike plate, and I began to worry that I couldn’t keep her out since it was then just the weight of me and this desk on a slick wooden floor opposing her attack on the door. And then … she got another idea: Alice called the police.

Police showed up to find a woman freely roaming my house and saying that I had locked myself in my office, where I had a bunch of guns. They called out to me and I thought, “Well at least now she’s their problem.” Ha! Never underestimate the ability of police to make a bad situation worse. They ordered me to come out with my hands raised. I emerged as instructed to find two cops pointing their Glocks at me with their fingers on the triggers. I complied with their commands and was promptly and tightly handcuffed and sat on a chair. I described what had happened. I was bleeding from bites and scratches to my face, neck, and arms. Alice had no visible injuries. So did police conclude that I should be taken to a hospital and Alice should be referred to mental health professionals? No. The police decided that I should be arrested and jailed while Alice should be taken to file for a restraining order against me.

This was the beginning of an outrageous experience with the criminal justice system, which I might make into a series. Suffice it to note for now: BPD can be extremely dangerous to a partner. And a woman, no matter how small, can inflict serious physical injuries on a man – particularly when he is unwilling to injure her in his defense.