Thursday, May 9, 2013

How Much Longer?

The news these days is filled with incidents of tragedy.  A teenager hangs herself in despair after being bullied.  Athletes commit gang rape and are given minimal punishment, if any, while the victim is demonized as a whore.  A group of men beats up a homosexual for no reason other than he was gay.  Sexual assaults in the military seem to be on the rise.  We lose 30,000 people to guns in the USA every year.  These are all violent acts.

Most all of us have learned that certain things are simply unacceptable.  We no longer have much tolerance for racially-motivated violence.  We no longer think it reasonable that some people can enslave others.  There is no tolerance for violent religious persecution.  So far as I know, pedophilia has been rejected as acceptable behavior for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. 

I suppose at some point in history, it was felt that institutional slavery, and attacks on other races or religions were just part of "human nature".  That nothing could ever be done about those things because we humans are flawed and beyond any redemption.  So there would be no point to trying to eliminate such evil acts.

Nevertheless, a horrible civil war was waged in the USA that ultimately eliminated overt slavery as an acceptable institution in this nation.  Most nations around the world have, indeed, outlawed slavery - how well this is enforced is another issue.  Here in the USA, numerous laws to eradicate racial discrimination have been enacted, and the descendants of the freed slaves are now protected by law from the sorts of evil that had been perpetrated on them during the post-Civil War period.  Again, enforcement of these laws can be problematic, but the vast majority of Americans now reject racism as an institution.  Persecution and discrimination against jews (and other minority faiths) have been rejected by most reasonable people in the USA.  Atheist continue to be vilified and hated by many Americans, so there is work to do on that score.

My main point here is that the "human nature" argument is fundamentally flawed.  Humans are not entirely driven by self-centered instincts.  We can choose to disengage from those behaviors we see as immoral and evil.  But such choices must be made one person at a time.  Events might stimulate large numbers of people to repudiate a particular immoral action, but each individual human being  still must come to conclude that some aspect of their character must change.  Laws can be passed (usually when most people already have accepted some change) but no one other than the person can change his/her own mind.  We often resist changing our mind just because someone else thinks we should, in fact!  This can be considered "legislating morality" - a notoriously unsuccessful thing to try.

The key is our collective attitude toward something.  If most people feel that some behavior is unacceptable, then legislation can be passed by majority rule, subject to scrutiny regarding its constitutionality. So you have to ask - do most Americans actually favor bullying, gang rape, violence on the basic of sexual orientation, sexual assault in the military, etc.?  Is that who we really are?

When it comes to bullying, gang rape by athletes, or violence against people because of their sexual orientation, these will continue to occur so long as people continue to believe that such acts are more or less "harmless".  Yes, the victims of bullying, gang rape, or discriminatory violence can survive and may even go on to prosper.  But ask the victims what they think about such things, and I'm pretty sure they don't consider what happened to them harmless.  For some victims of such things, their lives are damaged forever and perhaps even destroyed, and a few of them commit suicide eventually.  Is that harmless?

So when are we going to start doing something serious about bullying, gang rapes, and other evil violence?  Spineless, willfully ignorant school administrators don't want to get involved in battles between families (the bullies, the rapist jocks, they have parents, too, who always believe their children are veritable saints).  There seems to be a "let things work themselves out" attitude, and that such violence is inevitable.

If pedophilia is inevitable, does that suggest we should ignore it?  Should we ignore religious and racial discrimination?  Should we ignore slavery, if it were to arise again?  If you give up a just cause using the "human nature" argument, you're simply allowing the evil to continue unabated!  You become part of the problem!  How much longer will we continue to tolerate these things?  Are we willing simply to let immoral, evil behavior go unchallenged?  Remember the words of Edmund Burke:

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Storm Chasing - Hobby or Profession?

In the years following the end of my university education, I've mostly done my storm chasing in a 2- or 3-week "chase vacation" mode, with only a very few "spot" chases (one noteworthy spot chase was on 03 May 1999!).  This essentially means that I have a fixed window for chasing, and if little or nothing happens during that window, or if I screw up the opportunities (which happens frequently) within that window, then my chase year could be seen as pretty much a dud.  I've gone entire years without seeing a tornado, and even a few years without seeing a good supercell storm!

The chase season for me sometimes boils down to one really dramatic experience, tornadic or non-tornadic, that can last only about 20 min or so. For me, it only takes one such experience to "make" the whole chase season!  Other chasers may set a much higher bar for themselves, of course.  That's their choice, but putting myself under that much pressure to achieve a particular chase experience detracts from my enjoyment of all other aspects of the chase. 

Consider my 1995 storm chase season:  it was a year when my cup ran over with powerful chase experiences.  Among those experiences was 08 June, when my chase partner Alan Moller and I witnessed the tornado in Pampa, TX.  The video I shot during that single event has earned me a great deal of money over the years since, right up to the present. 

But it also has taught me an important lesson.  Be careful when you sign a licensing agreement for the use of your images or video footage.  There are some things you should avoid in any such agreement:

1.  A licensing agreement should never be "in perpetuity" unless they are willing to pay an enormous licensing fee for that privilege.  An acceptable "in perpetuity" license for my Pampa footage should have been $50,000!  What The Weather Channel paid me was a little over $1000!!  The safest way to do this is via "one-time use" contracts for each specific use of the work, rather than long-term contracts.  The user might well prefer a long-term contract, but they should be willing to pay you properly for the value it represents.  At the most, the agreement should be for no more than two years.  Contracts for "in perpetuity" use should always command an extremely high price.  You can never know when (or if) the opportunity for that really dramatic image or video will ever happen again.

2.  The wording in the licensing agreement should never grant the licensee the right to use the footage "to produce, exhibit, perform, transmit, license, sublicense, sell, market, promote, distribute, and exploit in any and all media throughout the universe" (key wording in italics).  This wording makes my registered copyright protection virtually useless for anything The Weather Channel might choose to do with my Pampa footage, including charging a third party for a license to use the footage from The Weather Channel.  A proper licensing fee for such an outrageous freedom to exploit my video should have been $100,000 (in addition to the "in perpetuity" charge)!  Obviously, they would not have paid that price, and my video would never have become theirs to use as they see fit.

Potential customers for the images and video from chasers usually have legal teams who help them to exploit eager, naive chasers hoping to make some income from seeing their images and video on TV.  Read the details of any licensing agreement very carefully, and remember that any contract is negotiable.  If they're not willing to abide by what you believe are reasonable terms, then don't license your work to them!  Don't agree to be exploited!

It's not that the money means so much to me, at this point in my life.  I'm simply embarrassed by how easily I was duped by The Weather Channel to allow them to use my Pampa video with virtually complete freedom.   They're still showing it.  I wonder how many other chasers have been duped similarly.  Be wary of your dealings with The Weather Channel and other media.

It's because of the hope to make large amounts of money that chasers impose pressure on themselves to have multiple "successes" and, for most chasers, success is that "money shot" - dramatic tornado footage, with debris swirling around the tornado.  That's what sells, but represents only a tiny fraction of the range of chasing experiences.  If your goal is to be supported by earnings from your chasing, then you'll put a lot of pressure on yourself, and may become a very unhappy, bitter person.  I've seen this very thing happen to former friends of mine, who alienated themselves from the people who knew and liked them in an obsessive effort to turn their hobby into their profession.  This is literally the "dark side" of storm chasing.  You'll be exploited by the media, who are experts in exploitation, and likely wind up alienated and unhappy. 

The market for storm chase images and video was always a niche market.  The opportunity to make good money selling images and video hasn't vanished completely but the market now is flooded with the work of the now-numerous chasers with good quality digital cameras.  Making a life-supporting income from storm chasing is an unrealistic expectation, so I recommend chasers abandon that goal.  It's possible you can earn enough from chasing to pay for your chasing, which therefore is a reasonable objective.  Relax and enjoy the experience ... it should be about the storms, not about you and your financial solvency!