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Archives, January 15 to April 29, 2002

April 29, 2002

The David Low books I ordered from Alibris came in. Jeff Danziger is right to call him, “The Master”. I’d definitely put him in the select handful of political cartoonists who have not only defined the medium, but forcefully demonstrated its power.

I bought three Low books, all of which are out of print, so if you want copies you’ll have to do as I did, and search the used bookstores; an autobiography (with plenty of cartoons and sketches) by Colin Seymour-Ure and Jim Schoff, “Years of Wrath” by David Low – his collection of World War Two cartoons, and “The Fearful Fifties” also by David Low. The first book is very interesting as it contains not only a wealth of finished cartoons, but also excerpts from Low’s sketch books. I’m always interested in how other cartoonists go about the nuts and bolts of their work. I struggle with every line I put on paper, and its encouraging to see how other, far more accomplished artists, struggle too. Low wrote that he spent three full days on each cartoon, “Two in labor, and one in removing the appearance of labor.” Some people have a natural knack for it. Most of the rest of us have to work at it. The successful ones are the ones that keep working at it.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

April 11, 2002

Dream…

I’m sitting in a relative’s apartment living room, which is odd since that particular relative doesn’t live in an apartment, but I don’t notice that. We’re talking about this and that, and the conversation turns to reminisces about my mom. My relative sighs and looks at me sadly and says, “It’s been almost a year hasn’t it?” and I say yes, and she gives me a hug and I take my leave.

When I’ve left her apartment, I enter into mine, which is only somewhat less odd because even though I have my own house now, I’ve spent most of my life in apartments, and I reckon I’ll probably be dreaming about living in one off and on for the rest of my life. When I go inside I decide to give my mom a call. I pick up my cell phone and dial her old number. She answers, and for a while we chit-chat like old times. At some point in the conversation she tells me she’d just spent a week in Washington. Ack, says I, you should’a called, I’d have dropped down to see you for a while.

There’s a standard gag in cartoons, where the cartoon character runs or walks off a cliff, and continues on for a while in mid air, until they suddenly realize what they’re doing, at which point they start to fall. As mom and I chat away a profound joy wells up in me, and I tell her how happy I am to be talking to her after so long. “Oh, I know…” She says in that sympathetic voice she used to use, when she knew I was going though a tough patch of life. I realize then that I’m doing something that people aren’t supposed to be able to do, and at that point the phone goes dead, and I wake up.

I’ve been trying hard since mom died, to be agnostic about life after death. The logical analytical side of my brain says probably not (although Arthur C. Clarke, and Stephen Baxter’s novel, “The Light of Other Days”, has a compelling take on the matter). The intuitive emotional side of my brain keeps insisting otherwise. It’s been a struggle keeping my balance, keeping my distance from the thought that death makes life completely pointless. Maybe one day I’ll know what happens when we die. Or not. But on this morning, I lay awake in the bed, watching the light brightening in my windows, hearing the first birds of spring chattering noisily to each other, and toying with the delightful notion of mom in some alternate reality, cheerfully visiting her old friends in Washington.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

April 9, 2002

A group of us at work are deciding what to name the new laptop our team has acquired. This is not entirely a trivial exercise, since every computer on a network needs a unique name in order to identify it to the rest of the network. A friend of mine once told me the story of a system administrator he once knew, who named all his machines after rock stars. He said he got a chuckle every now and then, from pinging the machine named Elvis, and seeing ping reply “Elvis is alive”.

Our new laptop is a cute little thing, and probably as far removed from the PC “luggables” I remember from the 1980s, as my cell phone is from the rotary phones of my mother’s day. It replaces one that had been named Angel. Michele, our very cool hardware support person, says the name is a reference to Charlie Daniels song. She is pondering giving the new laptop a more hellish name, but I think it unwise to name a computer after a demon. I suggest Seraph. Michele thinks this wee little laptop probably doesn’t rank that high. Gary, a co-worker sharing the office with Michele, suggests Kenny. Michele thinks naming a computer after a character who is always dying is unwise. Gary and Tom, our project lead, start suggesting names of lappable dogs. Dachshund is suggested, but Poodle is not favored. Tom says that since our team name is SIFT (Systems and InFrastructure Team), the laptop should be named Erastosthenes, the inventor of a prime number sift. Michele stares at him and says, “Why don’t we just name it Dork?” Then Gary suggests Lapburt.

We all agree. Lapburt it is.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

April 8, 2002

The art geek fights with the computer geek, and it’s not pretty…

I’m building a computer for my mom’s cousin BJ and her husband Fred. I promised her one made from my spare parts supply, which I assured her would allow them to learn about PCs, and do pretty much everything they might want with one…word processing, emailing and such like…without having to buy the very latest and greatest hardware. I wanted to get it to them by sometime in the middle of April, and April it is, so I had to get started on swapping parts and stuff, and putting everything together this weekend. Problem was, I also had my weekly cartoon to finish.

Most of my working life has been spent around deadlines, as opposed to hourly punch clock type work, though when I was a kid I did a fair amount of that too. Estimating work hours to finish a project is nearly second nature to me now, as is the self discipline needed to finish a task, and do it right, without a boss looking over your shoulder. But I can only focus hard on one thing for so long, without loosing my edge. So over the years, I’ve learned to multi-task. Lately, weekends at casa del Garrett have been, draw – household chores – draw – shopping – draw – more household chores or visit with friends, whichever is more necessary – draw – prowl the internet – draw – shower – draw – bedtime. Household chores in particular, that don’t require major amounts of brain focus, allow my head to take a rest between stints at the drafting table. Thing is, I have a hungry head, and if I’m not careful, it’ll drag me down a tangent that might last for hours before I realize how much time has passed. The danger I faced this weekend was that I had to buy a bunch of computer parts for BJs computer, and just let them sit until after I’d finished with my cartoons.

My original plan back in January, was to build a new test computer for myself, so I could do some testing on XP, and maybe Linux. I reckoned to take my current test box apart, and put BJ’s computer together from parts of that, and other things I had laying around. I’ve been thinking for a while now, about what kind of box to build for total computer novices, and one thing I’d decided was to put two spare hard disks into it, with software that allowed them to easily run system backups from one drive to the other from time to time, so that if they ever did something to muck up the system, they could easily get it back to where it was. The idea I had in mind was to create a couple of bootable floppies labeled Backup and Restore that they could just pop in the drive and let do the work, and maybe a second pair that just did backups of their data files. That way, they could play with the computer to their heart’s content, knowing that if they mucked anything up, it would be a simple matter to put everything back the way it was.

I kept putting building BJ’s machine off, while I speced out my new test machine. I want another Lian Li aluminum case. I wanted swappable hard drive carriers, so I could experiment with different operating systems and configurations without having to multi-boot. I needed to check up on the latest ASUS motherboards, and NVidia Video cards. Then suddenly April was here, I didn’t have a new test box in the works, and I’d made a promise. I had to take my current test box off line and start making BJ’s machine from it. But I need a test box not just for testing purposes, but also as a data file backup server, and a print server for my laser printer. So I had to buy a few things to tide me over until I had a new test machine built: a parallel port card for Bagheera (my workstation…all the computers on my home network are named after characters in Kipling’s The Jungle Book), so I could attach the laser printer to Bagheera. I wanted a physically separate drive for my safety backups, (I make CD ROMS of my critical data files periodically, and store them off site), so I decided on a gizmo that turns an internal hard disk drive into an external USB drive. I needed a new hard drive to plop into that gizmo, and because Bagheera’s USB ports were full up (my scanner and my palm), I needed a USB hub. Then there were the parts I needed to buy for BJ’s machine, that I didn’t have spare on hand: a sound card, and a basic mouse. So I made a list, bought it all last Saturday, and deposited it in the basement work area, promising myself not to touch any of it until after I’d finished my cartoons for Monday.

Ha!

First lunch break of the day, all the shrink wrap came off. After that, it was draw – read the docs – draw – read the docs some more – draw – examine the parts – draw – put a few things together – draw – put a few more things together – draw… And so forth…

In my defense, it wasn’t the drafting table time that suffered. I made my cartoon deadline, posting two cartoons here late Sunday evening (and I’ve only promised one cartoon a week here guys…). But none of the housecleaning I intended to do got done last weekend.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

April 6, 2002 7PM

Gotta finish work on this week’s cartoons…nothing more to say until Monday…

April 6, 2002 8am

Years ago, when I was fresh out of High School, and trying to make a living as a freelance photographer, I had a day job at a professional photography supply shop. The store manager was an older man named Ernie, who ran a cheerful, but busy workplace. You never slacked off the job while he was around, but you also never felt like you were anything less then a valued employee. Ernie knew the operation of the store backwards and forwards, knew where everything was, and how everything the store sold worked. He was the polar opposite of the store’s owners in temperment, they strongly resembling the perpetually constipated yankee Baptists in the churches I grew up in. Ernie was a warm hearted busy bee, and he treated his customers with gracious patients, even when they were being just plain rude to him. It was from Ernie that I learned a professionalism behind the counter, and how to keep a smiling face when the customer is questioning your two-legged ancestry.

One day a man came into the store with a single roll of 35mm film for processing. It being lunchtime, most of the other clerks were out of the shop eating, and Ernie was manning the photo processing counter. He took the man’s film and thanked him. A few minutes later the man came back into the store with a ticket from the parking garage, and asked Ernie to validated it. Certainly, says Ernie, but you need to buy something first.

What followed was a protracted argument between the customer and Ernie, over what constituted a purchase. The customer felt that by dropping his film off, he was making a purchase. Ernie politely, but firmly, told the man that he would be happy to validate the man’s parking ticket when he returned to pickup, and pay for, his processed film. Round and round they went, with the customer growing more and more angry, and I being amazed at Ernie’s ability to maintain a perfectly calm demeanor, while being shouted at by a guy almost twice his size. Then the man said, “Look, why are you being so Jewish about this.”

Well…Ernie was a Jew. Ernie exploded. I’d never seen him so angry, and never did afterward. He gave the man back his film, and threw him out of the store. When the store owners heard about it, to their credit, they backed him up. It wasn’t that Ernie was essential to the operation of the store, I really think that in their own bloodless, stiff necked way, they were offended by it too.

I doubted even then, that Ernie’s explosion was just about that one instance of his identity, being used as a slur. He’d probably heard the word ‘jewish’ used in that fashion over and over by then. It was a common put down at the time, and for all I know in some quarters here in the US, it still is. That one time, was in that one moment, one time too many for Ernie.

As a gay man, I can have a degree of empathy. The phrase, “that’s so gay” is one I’m told is common now among school kids, as an all purpose put-down. If some kid pulled that one on me in a similar context to Ernie’s moment with that ignorant customer, I’m not sure I’d handle it with any better grace. And just as with Jews and the antisemitic right, there is a thriving enterprise in outrageous demonization of homosexual people. Paul Cameron’s, The Medical Consequences of Homosexuality is still passed around as holy writ in the kook pews, never mind that his cites are no more reliable then Andrew Sullivan’s. The current sex scandal in the Catholic Church is being blamed on a gay cabal in the priesthood. Everywhere in the right wing media, gays are presented as enemies of god, a danger to society, and as rich and powerful manipulators of the media and politicans. Sound Familiar?

During my college years, I thought that antisemitism was a dying prejudice. But hate is the devil’s curse on humanity, and all you need to do to find it is turn over a few stones. Never mind the propaganda that four thousand jewish employees at the world trade center called in sick on September 11…not even reading Mein Kampf, prepared me for the story common throughout the arab world, that jews bake their passover bread with the blood of arab children. Of course here in America, we have Christian Identity, a homegrown virulent antisemitism, that claims that the jews are literally the spawn of satan, brought into the world when Eve had sex with the devil in the garden of Eden. I have never understood how people can invest so much effort into hating other people.

But not every criticism of Israel, or Israeli policies in the occupied territories is a slur against the jewish people, let alone evidence of antisemitism. That fact keeps getting lost in arguments over the Palestinian/Israeli conflict…sometimes deliberately…and you have to wonder whether or not the right wing Americans now engaged in that kind of demagoguery, really give a good goddamn about the jews. I don’t think they do. What they have is their own agenda, and the fate of the jewish people is hardly more then a footnote to it.

Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, the A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society, wrote a compelling essay on the current wave of bloodletting between Israeli and Palestinian for MSNBC. Anyone who thinks that to be a jew is necessarily to be in lock step with Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, would do well to read it, and if you run across a copy on your local newsstand, to read Tikkun as well. I’ve picked up the odd copy over the years, and found it more thoughtful and thought provoking then much of what passes for deep thinking in the mainstream media.

Too thoughtful for some, it would seem. Andrew Sullivan has picked up on Lerner apparently, and decided that perhaps slandering jews isn’t such a bad idea after all. Currently on his website, Sullivan has, in his own inimitable fashion, selectively quoted from another essay by Lerner, making it seem as though the Rabbi from the Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco, thinks that the death of innocent Israeli citizens is no big deal. See how Sullivan works:

"Though we at THE TIKKUN COMMUNITY oppose the outrageous and disgusting acts of terror against Israelis, we know that the actual level of violence is small compared to the number of Israelis who die each year in automobile accidents."

-Andrew Sullivan, quoting Michael Lerner

Though we at THE TIKKUN COMMUNITY oppose the outrageous and disgusting acts of terror against Israelis, we know that the actual level of violence is small compared to the number of Israelis who die each year in automobile accidents. Israel is in no danger of going out of existence--it is the 4th largest military power in the world, and it faces a Palestinian people who have no tanks, no airplanes, no heavy artillery. And we know that those acts of terror were almost non-existent when the Oslo Accord was being implemented 1993-1995, and could be easily isolated and repressed if most Palestinians felt Israel was acting toward them in a generous and open-hearted and repentant way.

And though we are upset by random acts of violence and the rise of anti-Semitism in response to Israeli activities, we don't believe that there is any short-term danger of a serious assault on Jews in the world. Though this could become more real the longer Israel is perceived as immorally repressing the Palestinian people and world Jewry is perceived as unthinkingly identified with those repressive and unjust policies.

No, the greatest danger to the Jewish people is spiritual and ethical: that we will stand by quietly and passively as we watch the country that calls itself "the state of the Jewish people" act in ways that are cruel and oppressive toward an entire people whom it has occupied and denied self-determination for the past 35 years.

-Michael Lerner, "It's Time To Put Our Bodies On the Line to Stop the Killing in the Middle East"

Lerner is a rabbi after all, and the spiritual welfare of his people would be a prime concern for him. Sullivan and his kind of course, would have none of it. The grim irony here is that many of the staunchest supporters of Israel on the American right, couldn’t care less about jews at best, and at worst are outright antisemites. Jerry Falwell talks endlessly about support for the people of Israel out of one side of his mouth, and out of the other claims the antichrist is probably a jew. Pat Roberston has done likewise. Their interest in Israel, and that of their pals in the kook pews, is more about fulfilling biblical prophesy, then any consideration of the security and welfare of the jewish people. The interest of the secular right in this is hardly more noble. They’re still fighting the cold war, only now the enemy is their fellow Americans. By their reckoning, respect for other cultures amounts to treason to one’s own. The secular right doesn’t so much support Israel, as oppose the Arab world, for not being American (as though their affinity to core American values were any better then that of most Arab totalitarians. What basis pray, does an American right winger who views the United States as a Christian nation have, in criticizing the totalitarian theocracy in Saudi Arabia?).

The rest of us have good reason to be alarmed at the direction Israel has been taking since the war on Lebanon. People who carelessly compare Israel’s fight with the Palestinians to America’s war against the September 11th terrorists are missing one vital difference: America isn’t building settlements in Afghanistan. The Israelis need to decide, at long last, what kind of nation they want to be. The occupation is both a symptom of the inability to come to grips with their future, and an ominous warning of what could easily be. Given the struggle simply to exist for so long, I can appreciate that they’ve had to put the future off, until they could be reasonably certain there would be one at all. They can no longer. They’re a nuclear power, as capable as any other of dragging the entire world into a maelstrom. The questions have to be faced. What is Israel. What future do the Israelis want for themselves, and their children. Lately I’ve heard talk of simply denying franchise in Israel to anyone who isn’t jewish. There’s a lot of things you can call that, but democracy isn’t one of them. That’s a future that has despotic military state written all over it, and the desperate sadness of it is that they would hardly be the first culture of creative, intellectual, civilized people, to walk with eyes open into that gutter. Ask the Germans what the scenery is like on the highway to Lebensraum.

I fully understand that there are elements to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that I am just not now, and never will be in tune with. I have no first hand understanding of either the Israeli or Palestinian experience, no easy way of putting myself in the shoes of either. I cannot claim the rich cultural knowledge of either. I’m an American, and Jefferson said that governments derive their just powers, from the consent of the governed.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

April 4, 2002 1:15PM

Jeff Danziger’s site has a cartoon on it today, that references a well known cartoon from World War II. Danziger writes on it “After the master – LOW”. Well, thinks I, anyone Danziger regards as the master, is probably worth taking a good look at. It’s always interesting to see who your favorites look up to themselves.

I’d seen the cartoon Danziger was “quoting” before in some history textbooks, but hadn’t ever connected it to a cartoonist. Now I know the reason for that…he’s British, and none of the histories of political cartooning I’ve read, dealt with twentieth century British cartoonists. When they mentioned the British at all, it was mostly to cite, Gillray and others of his period, who were the forerunners of the modern form. None of them ever mentioned David Low. Yet when I did a casual web search for him, I found no shortage of sites describing his work in superlatives.

And it looks like they’re well deserved. The assortment of his World War II cartoons I’d managed to dig up from the web in a few minutes of searching, put him by my reckoning, well in the company of Daniel Fitzpatrick and Vaughn Shoemaker, both of whom did powerful anti-nazi cartoons for the American newspapers they worked for. I didn’t see any collections of his work for sale on Amazon, so I went looking on my used book site, Alibris, and bought a couple. I’ll dig into him when they arrive at my doorstep.

You gotta love the web…

by Bruce Garrett | Link

April 3, 2002 7:30PM

Progress Report, from the Liberal Jihad…

Sullivan now admits he only skimmed portions of Moore’s book, and predictably attributes the criticisms of his Times article to a Liberal Jihad. Heavens to Betsy. I guess that has a better ring to it then, Vast Liberal Consperacy.

As to my hedging with the word "barely," I know better than to state flat-out from one reading of a book that there is no mention of the war at all. Proving a negative is always hard. I might have missed something. Can you imagine if I had said there was no mention and he'd added something I missed. Romenesko would have linked within five seconds. I confess that in some of the chapters, I skimmed through some of Moore's rants. You try reading this sub-literate screed word by word. I wanted to make sure I wasn't factually wrong. I wasn't.

-Andrew Sullivan - www.andrewsullivan.com

Well…actually…he was. When you have a book in hand that you’ve actually read, relating to your readers what isn’t in there isn’t exactly stating a negative. If the material isn’t there, it isn’t there…it isn’t barely there. You can’t prove that UFOs don’t exist, because there are literally an infinate range of potential sightings that can’t all be verified. But there are a finate number of pages and words in a book. When critiquing one, it helps to read them.

And Still Moore Andrew…

On his web site today, Sullivan apologizes to his readers for not noting the actual publication date of Michael Moore’s book, and thereby the fact that it was a tad unreasonable to expect it to comment on the events of September 11. “The book apparently went to press on September 10,” writes Sullivan, “and therefore couldn’t be changed. I’m sorry I missed this fact.”

Here’s what he’s not sorry about:

"There is also barely a mention in Moore's book about the current war on terrorism. You can understand why. It raises questions the left simply doesn't want to answer."

-Andrew Sullivan, "What's Left", March 31, 2002, The Sunday Times of London

Actually, Moore doesn’t mention the current war on terrorism in the book at all. The book was already printed and sitting in the warehouse on September 11. Moore doesn’t talk about the war in the book, because it hadn’t even begun yet. Mention doesn’t get more barely then that.

Either Sullivan was lying to his readers when he represented himself as having read Moore’s book, or he was deliberately lying about the book’s contents when he wrote his piece for the Times. Either way, he lied to his readers. It’s as simple as that. And on his web site today he’s not fessing up and apologizing for that. He says he’s sorry he criticized Moore for not talking about the war in the book. But that wasn’t what he did. What he did was misrepresent Moore as having brushed the war off in his book.

I’ve read people as saying the Sullivan is a complex character. There’s nothing complex about him. He doesn’t tell the truth when it suits him. There’s nothing complex about that. Someone among his pals at the Independent Gay Forum, needs to ask this guy what crawlspace he buried the man who wrote Love Undetectable under.

Moore Andrew…

Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow notes Sullivan venting in the Times of London, at Michael Moore’s book, “Stupid White Men”, saying in part that in it, Moore never addresses the current war on terrorism, probably because that would mean addressing too many questions that liberals don’t want to answer. Well enough, except that Moore’s book had already been printed and was sitting in the warehouse on September 11. The fuss and delay by the publishers over the book’s subsequent release, was in the mainstream news, and all the hell over the web, for days. Sullivan, who has been making web “blogs” a personal crusade, had to know this when he wrote his Times article.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

April 2, 2002

I’ve yet to read the Ray Bradbury story, Fahrenheit 451, which is a lapse on my part because he’s an all time favorite writer of mine, but I still vividly remember the ending for Francois Truffaut’s film adaptation, with the characters all reciting the books they’d memorized, in order to preserve them for the ages. I often wondered when I was a kid, which book I would choose to become, were I suddenly transported to that world.

Books are precious things to me. I learned to read early, was pummeled into the act before I came of school age actually, by a hard yankee Baptist grandmother who wanted me reading out of the Bible before I began my formal education. You’d think afterward I’d have developed a bad attitude about books, but once I had the trick of reading down, I realized grandma had inadvertently given me an escape hatch, and I availed myself of it whenever I got the chance. Books took me places in my childhood, and adolescence, where I could experience adventure, satisfy my wonder, and witness the human spirit in all its aspects, fighting the good fight. My first introduction into the horrors of totalitarianism I still remember vividly: a scene in a school film, documenting the rise of Hitler to power, where nazis gathered around a bonfire made from burning books. When the scenes of holocaust dead stacked like cords of wood came later in the film, it seemed obvious to me that such was a horrific, but grimly logical outcome.

I won’t throw away a book, even when I completely detest it. I threw Frank Herbert’s Soul Catcher across the room when I’d finished it, and haven’t touched another book by him since…but after I walked my outrage off, I picked it up and donated it to the public library in my neighborhood, rather then consign it to the department of sanitation incinerator, where I was certain it really belonged. Part of my anger I am sure, came from a sense of betrayal of the intimacy of readership. In the act of reading, you let the author into your heart and soul for a little while, and when they abuse that trust, it can feel like a friendship gone bad.

I’m feeling that way about a couple of books I have in my collection now. The difference is that I actually liked them a lot when I’d finished reading them. It’s not what was said in the books, but how their author has behaved since, that leads me to feel that smarmy sense of betrayal of trust. Some of my gay and lesbian friends will probably laugh in my face when I name him, but what the heck…here goes: Andrew Sullivan. Back when I first started reading him, I felt some of the criticism he got was unfair. Now I’m wondering if I was just being naive.

One of my grandmother’s favorite warnings to me was, “You’re known by the company you keep.” Here’s the kind of company Sullivan admits to keeping on his web site: Luciane Goldburg…Matthew Drudge…Ann Colter…David Horowitz… The dregs of a political movement that views integrety and honesty as overhyped virtues…something only wimps worry about. Watching Sullivan hype these lie mongers was jarring at first. Now it’s my trust that Sullivan actually meant anything he said in his books, that seems jarring.

What was once a writer of thoughtful, provocative, and insightful essays on Love, Friendship, and being gay, who could do justice to the other side of an argument he was busy rebutting, has descended into cheap tabloid scandal whoring, and smearing anyone he regards as a threat to George Bush, who he once ridiculously, pathetically, compared on his web site first to the character Frodo, in Lord of the Rings, and then to Sam. The hypocrisy of lying through your teeth while accusing others of moral bankruptcy never seems to faze him. On one occasion, his web site contained both a rant about liberals on college campuses silencing conservative voices, and his own declaration that his intention was to utterly marginalize columnists who opposed the war in Afghanistan, out of the national dialogue. His on-line obsession with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman reminds you sometimes, of the behavior of stalkers, and for all I know, being stalked is exactly how Sullivan wants Krugman to feel. I came to his web site not long after he had it up, visited it regularly, and it’s been like wading through sewers of steaming shit, waiting for the man who wrote Virtually Normal and Love Undetectable to appear. He never has. What I keep getting in my face instead, is the likes of this:

Eric Alterman wrote a column for MSNBC.COM, about the “near-complete domination by pro-Israel partisans of the punditocracy” regarding the ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing…) Palestinian/Israeli bloodletting. To back up his claim, Alterman posted a list of columnists and publications which always took the Israeli side, and contrasted it with a much smaller list of those who always took the side of the Palestinians. Sullivan promptly claimed on his web site, that Alterman had published a blacklist of journalists, controlled by jews.

I have to figure Sullivan is gunning for the assassin slot vacated recently by David Brock. I’ve just started reading Brock’s book, Blinded by the Right and already it’s giving me that queasy feeling I got reading David Neiwert’s book about the Patriot movement in the Pacific Northwest, In God’s Country. Jacob Bronowski wrote of the totalitarian mindset in The Ascent of Man “When people believe they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.” But the people Sullivan now counts as friends aspire to no knowledge, aspire to nothing more then hating their enemies, even in ruin, even in death. But if this is what Sullivan is now, what was he when he wrote the books that found their way to my collection, and how can I ever read passages from them again, particularly from Love Undetectable, without knowing that the man I am reading, is a liar.

I have a spot in my collection for hate literature, which I read to try and understand what motivates the haters, to try and understand why people hate. The other day, after reading the Alterman column Sullivan was railing against, I moved the books of his I have, first editions both, to that spot. That’s where they’ll stay, until I figure out whether there is any shred of reason left for me to even keep them in the house.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

April 1, 2002

Was up late yesterday, trying to get Gimp to do my bidding. But for the life of me I can’t figure its Dynamic Text dialogue. That’s the only dialogue that lets you put multi-line text in an image, and it has a setting that allows you to specify a particular text placement on the image, or none. If you specify a location, the text cannot be dragged anywhere else. Since this dialogue isn’t documented, I’m having to guess how it works, but I assume setting “none” allows you to place the text anywhere. For a moment last week, I had it working that way. But no luck last night. And while I was fussing with that, I ran into another problem. I had a cartoon that needed the text tilted along an angle of perspective. There was an added element that the text had to show up against a background that was partly light and partly dark. I had decided to layer two text elements, one black, one white, over top of each other, to get the effect I was reaching for…stark, brutal, indifferent. Problem was, when you distort text in Gimp, it isn’t rendered clearly on the screen. It seems to export and print okay…but I needed a clear rendering on screen, to know where I was putting one text layer over another. Gimp documentation says that if fonts don’t render well, it’s probably because they aren’t scalable. But these were True Type fonts I was using. So I guess Gimp doesn’t do scalable fonts if they’re True Type. Another, We Don’t Do Microsoft thing I suspect.

So it was back to Adobe. I’m using a try before you buy version of Photoshop Elements, which gave me very few problems, even though quite a bit of its functions are different from Photo Deluxe. Its text functions are way better. My rickety hand lettering just is not very professional looking. I’m real satisfied with the cartoons I put up today, in large measure because my lettering isn’t making me cringe.

This is something I’m pretty sure the professionals do. Jeff Danziger, one of my favorites, is, I am certain, using either a rapidograph lettering tool, or a computer font of some sort on his cartoons. Look at his W and S letters. At a guess, he’s doing what I’m doing, but with what font I couldn’t tell. Maybe he did a Howard Cruse, and had one made from is own lettering style. I’d briefly considered lettering my cartoons with a technical pen and some guides, I saw their use in the architectural shops I used to work in a while back, but I have a swing arm parallel on my drafting table, which is very versatile, and gets out of my way when I need it to, but which won’t work very well with lettering pen guides. At least not with the blade I have on it right now. But this is working out well enough, although if I ever exhibit my cartoons in the future, they’re gonna look a tad bare.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

March 31, 2002

Burt finally got himself an apartment. He’ll be living in Germantown now, which, once upon a time, if you lived in Gaithersburg as he once did, or Rockville as I once did, was the sticks. Beyond that was Sugerloaf Mountain, Frederick, and as far as we were concerned when we were kids, Louis and Clark territory. As I drove up I-270 to bring him the stuff he left at my house while he was staying here, I had to marvel once again at how far out the Washington suburbs have extended. Gaithersburg used to be the far fringe. I think that’s Frederick now. Burt and I used to go shooting along the railroad tracks in Germantown. We’d take our guns to a bridge and blast away at the beer and soda cans we managed to collect on our way there. All around us were deep woods, with a creek running though. You wouldn’t dare go shooting there now. The spot is packed solid with styrofoam wall, and vinyl siding houses.

After I dropped Burt’s stuff off, I decided, against my better judgement, to visit my old neighborhood. I drove back down I-270, got off at Montrose road, drove up to Jefferson street, and over to the Congressional Shopping center. Congressional was at the epicenter between the two apartment complexes I grew up in. It was a fifties strip shopping center, located on route 355, now called Rockville Pike; the main drag between Washington and Frederick before I-270 (originally I-70s) was built, paralleling it. There was a Giant Food at one end, a J.C. Penney in the middle, two five and ten cent stores, a G.C. Murphy, an S.S. Kresge, and a bowling ally in the lower level, where I learned duckpins.

When I was a kid, I had the location of all the toy isles mapped. The toy section in Penney was minimal, but always worth a look. Murphys had a good selection of model cars, and model making stuff. Kresge sold lots of inexpensive little things…tops, yo-yos, superballs when they came out, silly putty, slinkies. I knew my entreaties had a better chance in Kresge because you could buy nearly anything in there with pocket change. And Kresge sold small pets. There were fish, birds, lizards, gerbils, and a tank full of red-eared sliders, a freshwater turtle that was a pet craze in those days. Whenever I visited, I would reach into the tank and take one in my hand, letting it crawl up my arm until it nearly reached my shoulder before putting it back.

I was surprised to learn in the news that KMart, which filed for bankruptcy recently, was what Kresge had turned into. When the Kresge disappeared from Congressional Plaza, many years before I moved away from Rockville, I’d just assumed they went out of business then. But no…as it turned out, they’d only sold their soul. KMart eliminated all the dusty out of date elements from the five and ten cent store…employees who could answer questions about the merchandise, who knew where everything was, and if you came there often enough, probably knew you too, the warm personal atmosphere, the cheerful miscellany…but retained the cheapness. But hell…I guess that was the only way to compete.

I had an English teacher in college once, who complained that Rockville Pike was, in his opinion, a slum. I was shocked to hear it. I would have called it a cheerful chaos. I had a lot of nervous energy back then, even for a kid, and when I was old enough to be allowed to venture beyond my parent’s sight, I would walk it off on long treks up and down the pike, visiting this and that store. There was no master plan of development and it was great. Everyone had their shingle up. Near the plaza there was an ice cream shack, a gaudy Color Tile, a Children’s Supermarket (whose motto, “Toys R’ Us” would later become the company name), a Hot Shoppes, a Radio Shack, one of the original McDonalds drive-ins, complete with golden arches, tilt roof, and porcelain tile benches on either side to sit on, a Put-Putt miniature golf, and a Checker Car Company showroom, located, along with the Congressional Roller Skating Rink, in one of the few airplane hangers left from the old Congressional Air Park, that became Congressional Plaza. As I walked through the cheesy boutique shop hell the plaza has become, I wondered how many people there had a clue the place got its name from the air park that used to be there.

What was once a lovely fifties sandstone and panel glass architecture, was redone a few years ago, into a horrific architectural traffic accident; a head-on collision between a 1950s strip shopping center, and a 1990s upscale mall. Here and there, the old sandstone walls and columns were still visible, peeking out from behind cheesy decorator facades, and I walked up and touched one. They were built with the odd stone jutting out slightly every so often along the wall, which I’m sure the original architects thought a beautiful touch, and it was, but it also offered a kid a series of neat handholds for climbing up the walls. I was about halfway up one, one day, when I heard my mother shriek Bruce Albert Garrett! (in my family, “you’re in Big trouble young man” was pronounced “Albert”). The Penney’s is now a Fresh Fields, which I can accept because Fresh Fields is actually a good store, their bakery more wondrous then anything I experienced as a kid. What was the Giant Food, is now a Tower Records and a Container Store. The area the Kresge occupied is a Zany Brainy. Where the Murphy’s was sits, I kid you not, a Buy Buy Baby. The infill between them was the usual florid boutique shop trivia, more tacky in its own way then the racks of motion lamps and ceramic wall cats in the five and dime stores ever were. Of course there is a Starbucks. What was once the bowling ally, is now a real estate agency. I walked through the plaza, wondering if this was how it feels to be a ghost. No wonder so many of them act like they’re pissed off.

I expected to feel this way at some point in my life, just not in my forties. But not all change is for the worse. If you’d told me back then that someday I would own my own house, and be working for the space program, I’d have burst with joy at the news. I got in my car and drove back to Baltimore, to the life I have now, which is a good one, and to my little fifties rowhouse, bought not for any nostalgia value, but because it was affordable, just the right scale for a single guy, and made of bricks.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

March 29, 2002

The Urban Jungle.

Stepped out of my house to refresh the birdfeeders I have hanging from my pinoaks this afternoon, and almost stepped on a snake. It was a little guy, less then a foot long, but for a moment I had it misidentified as a copperhead. It saw me the moment I saw it, and immediately assumed the cocked and locked position. I skedaddled back inside and got the largest tupperware container I had in the kitchen, went back outside, and carefully plopped it overtop of the snake. Then I went downstairs to my drafting table, got a piece of Bristol board, went back upstairs, slid it under the container, and then flipped the container back right side up, and snapped the lid on. Then I called Baltimore City Animal Control.

This being Good Friday, they didn’t have a lot of folks available to man their trucks. So while I waited, I went back downstairs, gave the little dickens a closer look, and determined that it wasn’t a copperhead after all. It was the right general color scheme, and it had a faint, zig-zaggity pattern running down its back, that vaguely resembled the hourglass patterns of a copperhead, but a closer look revealed a thin, yellow stripe running down its back too. Copperheads don’t have that. Normally, the common Garter snake has stripes running along its sides too. I couldn’t see any, but a little web investigation brought me the fact that the side stripes might be nearly invisible in some Garter Snakes. Copperheads will vibrate their tails at a threat, which is interesting since they have no rattle. The snake I had was pissed, but not shaking its tail at me.

So I called Animal Control back and told them I didn’t think it was a Copperhead after all, and to cancel the call. I’ll take the little wiggler out to the country tonight, find a nice patch of thicket well away from any immediate human habitation, and let it go.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

March 28, 2002

Playing around with Gimp some more, led me to discover the text functionality that I need is in there after all. The Dynamic Text dialogue isn’t documented yet, as far as I can tell, so it was trial and error exploration, but I found a way to place multi-line text entries where I want them in the image. I also found my free rotation functionality, and perspective rendering. Shapes are drawn kind of oddly. You use the selection tool, either a rectangle or circle/oval tool, and then draw out your selection area and enter Edit-Stroke and which then paints the selection outline with the foreground color, and brush style. The HTML help files say you can do other shapes using the filters, but I haven’t tried that yet. Straight lines are drawn with Shift-Click between your last drawing point to the current cursor position.

That pretty much touches all the bases I need in a graphic editor tool. Gimp has the scanning ability, the retouch tools, and the text adding tools I need. I haven’t touched most of the other tools in it, such as the gradiant tool, the masking tools, the Bezier tool and such like. There’s a lot here, which is good because I don’t want to get used to a new tool that I will outgrow as soon as I’ve learned how to use it. I’ll try it on my cartoons for the next few weeks, and see how well it does in production.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

March 27, 2002

I’ve been playing with Gimp for a while, and unfortunately, while its a very powerful image editor, it’s weaknesses are right where I want to use the program. Basically, for my cartoons I need scanning, the ability to add text, and touch up areas. Maybe someday I’ll be into adding color, but I’m a black and white kinda guy everywhere but with my oils. What I’m mostly looking for, are ways to add all my cartoon text in the computer, since my hand lettering abilities are not wonderful. I’ve thought that maybe at some point, I might create my own letting font (like cartoonist Howard Cruse did with his Loose Cruse font…). Reckon I’ll call it…Sloppy Garrett…

Anyway…Gimp’s text facilitates are very weak, and I was fighting with them all the while I was experimenting with the program. The Windows version of Gimp I downloaded, has a text entry dialogue, and something called dynamic text. The other day I was trying to get text to position and wrap as I wanted it to, and it wasn’t pretty. Text entered from the Dynamic text dialogue goes into a Dynamic Text layer, which wouldn’t allow me to position text where I wanted. The other text entry dialogue, which did, only lets you enter a single line of text without linefeeds. I could not select a text area in Gimp, and free rotate it, because Gimp does not have a free rotate function. It makes you rotate selections in discrete 90 degree points on the clock.

I looked again at Paint Shop Pro, and its text functions are much better then Gimp, and it allows you to free rotate selections of an image. The free rotate function is a tad awkward though. Much worse, whenever I tried to free rotate text in its own transparent layer, Paint Shop Pro didn’t merely rotate the text, it duplicated it. So when I was done I had a rotated text field, super imposed over the original one. The only way I could figure around that, was to drop the rotated text into a new layer, and then delete the old text layer. Such elegance of function…

I need tools that don’t fight me. So I guess the search for an alternative to Adobe goes on…

by Bruce Garrett | Link

March 26, 2002

I really didn’t want to go with Photoshop. It has to do, not just with Adobe’s roll in the appalling arrest of programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, but with that whole category of software companies, who think that they own not only their own software, but also your data files. That’s a hot button issue with me. I have no problem with people or companies protecting their intellectual property. I certainly intend to enforce copyright on my own cartoons and stories that I post here if I have too. But if I were to write a program that produced data files, my users would, at minimum, have the documented file format, along with any other documentation they needed, and the right to write their own software to read from, and write to, their files…to preserve their right to access their own damn data…

Just…don’t get me started here…

So anyway…it was with great reluctance that I gave Photoshop a look, while researching graphic manipulation applications for use with my cartoons. Sure, there are other programs out there, but Photoshop is the undisputed, industrial strength image application. As I did my research, I began to think I would have no choice, but to deal with the devil. Then a co-worker suggested I look at a program called Gimp.

Gimp is largely a Unix/Linux phenomena. With no Photoshop for any of those operating systems, the community produced its own. Like Linux, it is open source. Having come to my present career from the DOS/PC world way back when, the idea of open source, doesn’t necessarily ring any alarm bells. Most of the old DOS BBS software was written to be freely shared with others. One In particular, RBBS, was written in BASIC, and it was examining its code, that I learned a lot about how to write BASIC code. Now I earn my living as a Microsoft Basic programmer. As I recall, its author only asked of those who used his program, that they themselves contribute something to the whole of the software community. That’s kinda, as I understand it, how the Open Source movement wants things to be.

So, if I had any low expectations when I approached Gimp, it was only in regard to its Windows support. Operating systems are like religions with some people, and a lot of Linux users regard Microsoft as evil incarnate (I tend to think of Scott Adam’s “Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light”). But as it turns out, there is an active Gimp for Windows community, and they have produced a port that installed on my Windows 2000 machine flawlessly. It even works seamlessly with the TWAIN drivers on that machine, exactly like the Photo Deluxe program I’ve been running all this time does.

My first impressions of Gimp are that it is an amazingly powerful image manipulation program, that can easily compete with any industrial strength commercial application. Gimp does not do vector graphics…its all raster scan bit manipulation…but it seems to do just about everything else. You have a very impressive array of brushes, pens, and suchlike and can apply a wide range of image manipulations and work with layers. Its user interface is taken right from the Linux/Gnome model, which takes some getting used to, since you get your menus mostly by right clicking. But my first experiments with it were very positive, and I think I have finally found the tool to replace Photo Deluxe with.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

March 25, 2002

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I am trying. Honest.

It’s been several months now since I made the decision to start cartooning seriously again. My cartoon web pages are getting a pretty decent number of hits every week, which is very heartening considering that I’m not really advertising them a whole lot yet. Several friends have been insisting lately that I should start promoting my cartoons a lot more seriously, and I keep telling them that I need to do some serious work on improving my drafting skills first. Nonsense, say they, you’re good! I’m flattered, and frankly the encouragement is very much welcome. But with only a couple of good exceptions, every cartoon I’ve produced thus far has had at least one mistake in it that has made me cringe. A weakly drawn hand here a little slip of correct anatomy there. I’ve pulled a couple of cartoons off the sight that I later decided weren’t up to a reasonable standard of draftsmanship. I’ve had numerous spelling mistakes pointed out to me. This week’s mistake isn’t about any of those things. But it’s a doozy.

I keep telling myself that if I stop, I’ll never get any better…

Actually, I’ve got one or two really strong cartoons up here, cartoons I am really proud of…which, given Sturgeon’s Law, is a pretty good batting average. So I can’t say I’m not capable of producing good work. Problem is, also I know for a fact I’m also capable of producing…well…let’s just say that I sometimes can’t tell my right hand from my left…

by Bruce Garrett | Link

March 25, 2002

Yes…I’ve neglected this spot for a while. It’s been a busy month and between work schedule pressures, and getting out a weekly gay political cartoon, and trying to work past a severe case of writer’s block on my Skywatcher stories, I’m a tad tuckered out. Not getting enough sleep due to the barking dogs in my neighborhood alley isn’t helping any either. I think I made a mistake when I setup the rear bedroom in my little rowhouse as my bedroom, and used the front as the computer room/office. There is a canyon effect of having rows of flat brick walls facing each other across an alleyway, that I hadn’t foreseen. I’m working on a plan to acoustically insulate my house from my neighbor’s along our adjoining walls, but I doubt there’s anything I can do about the noise potential in the alley.

Ironically, the ambient noise in the front bedroom is a lot worse, but it’s actually a restful (to me) kinda noise. I can hear I-83 just down the hill from my street, as a steady droning hum. In the distance, I can hear trains calling from the city’s many rail lines, a sound that I grew up with in Rockville, and one which I find very peaceful. But switching the bedrooms now would take a lot of work that I don’t have time for. And before I even think about doing it, I have to acoustically insulate the firewalls on either side of it. That should be a pretty straightforward task. The hard work will be thinking a way to insulate the wall along the stairs, without eating too much into the width of the stairs. They’re already pretty narrow.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

February 18, 2002

I’m a forgetful type. Back when I was doing various freelance work, first as a photographer, then an architectural modelmaker, I used a small, generic, three hole notebook to keep track of things. It was a free form kinda record keeping, which suited me. But as my life grew more complicated, and particularly when I started working full time as a software developer, I eventually had to work out something better.

That something, was a program I wrote, that I named ‘Beetle’. Beetle was my DOS based PIM, back in the days before PIM was an acronym. Beetle did a couple of things my paper record keeping couldn’t do. It automatically scheduled recurring dates and tasks, automatically reminded me of upcoming Things To Do, and it nagged me about things that needed doing Today. Eventually, my time became so consumed by work, that I let development of Beetle slide, and bought a shrink wrap product, DayTimer (which is a program that was once named Instant Recall…). DayTimer software is quirky (a polite term for Buggy, But Not So Buggy That You Want To Take It Out Behind The Barn And Shoot It), but it’s very flexible and it alone, of all the others on the market, does the kind of automatic reminders that I need a lot of.

When I started working as a contract software developer, I found I needed a paper record keeper to carry with me all the same. Going from one client site to the next meant that I could not keep my DayTimer software loaded on a machine at any given time. What was more, the DayTimer data files had very sensitive information on them, that I did not want to leave at a client site. So I began keeping a paper DayTimer too. The paper daytimer eventually took on the primary task of being my daily work log. But because it was also with me in meetings and other Away-From-My-Desk events, it also began to absorb task lists, schedules, and miscellaneous notes. Keeping the paper DayTimer in sync with the electronic one became an on going struggle. I am a forgetful type.

For years, I consigned the little pocket PCs to the category of, ‘cool little things that are a complete waste of money, but are very cool nonetheless.’ I love gadgets, love to browse the technology shows, love to flip through the gizmo magazines. Gadget making is a form of human intellectual exuberance. Gadgets are about the joy of living, and exploring possibilities. No Luddite I then. But I need to see the usefulness of any particular gadget, before I invite it into my life. I was raised among Yankee Baptist, work hard, ‘waste not want not’ stock. Much as I enjoy dinking around with cool techno toys, I am not comfortable having any under my roof that I don’t really need. I had a paper Daytimer that worked just well thank you, and an electronic one that did everything the pocket PCs did and more. Except that I couldn’t take the electronic one with me everywhere, and the paper one couldn’t nag me when I needed nagging. And while I could print new pages for my paper DayTimer from the electronic one, the paper one couldn’t update the electronic one. That was a manual task, and one I kept forgetting.

Recently, after I missed a couple of important appointments, and my project manager had to tactfully remind me of work I’d promised to get done soon, I took stock of how out of sync my paper DayTimer was with the electronic one, and decided a pocket PC might have a place in my life after all. I have in my shirt pocket now, a little Sony CLIE’, that handles everything: all my ToDo lists, all my appointments, all my little reminders. I can carry it with me everywhere, without much penalty in weight and pocket space, and it will yell at me when I need to pay it attention. And it syncs in a snap with the electronic DayTimer on my home computer. So the paper DayTimer is retired with honors. I used to carry it around in a backpack. Now all I need to take with me to work are a couple of ZIP disks (the day’s work backups) and the CLIE’. Since I walk back and forth to work, I could have bought one that played MP3s, but the ones that do that are too pricey to justify the extra extravagance right now (Did I mention my Baptist upbringing?). The all around information, communication, entertainment, pocket widget is coming to my life someday, but not just yet.

Do other boomers reading this remember how the future once looked? I was in high school in the early 70s, still reading science-fiction where the characters in the stories used slide rules. I remember when a friend’s father bought him a HP 45 calculator. I remember how cool that thing looked, and how amazing it was that it did calculus at the touch of a button. The CLIE’ has only a few function buttons, a keypad and a keyboard that appear almost literally out of nowhere when you need them, can be programmed to do boatloads more things then the HP could, and it doesn’t look or work anything at all like the future I remember.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

February 15, 2002

It hadn’t dawned on me that, as the executor of mom’s estate, I’d have to file her final tax returns. But as I went to my tax consultant to prepare my own stuff for the year, that was what I was told. I should have seen that one coming, but for obvious reasons I had blocked it out of my thoughts completely. It’s not that it’s complex or anything. Mom’s affairs were actually very simple to take care of. She had no creditors, no land or stock holdings, the total combined credit card debt she had when she passed away was about eighty dollars. I’ve paid off everything, including her last medical bills, which were several thousand dollars after insurance, and the funeral bills which came to close to ten grand. Her final tax filings are actually very simple. What’s still painful about all this is that word “final”. Every time I have to do something like this, I feel as if I am throwing more handfulls of dirt in the grave, and it gets hard to do sometimes.

There isn’t anyone else to do this stuff. I was her only child, dad passed away many years ago, and her last surviving sibling passed away just last year. When mom’s cousin BJ and I were at the funeral home, the director asked her who mom’s survivors were. BJ gestured towards me and said, “There he is.”

When I was going through the settling of her estate, I had to dig up information that I eventually found in one of the family bibles I inherited. There, in the pages of one of them were recorded the births, marriages and deaths of most of my mom’s side of my family tree. I guess I’m the keeper of that history now, along with various old family photo albums that were hers, and her father’s. Since I’ll have no children of my own, I have to do something soon about specifying in my will that those things should go to someone on that side of the family when I die. Well…anyway…I copied the information I needed out of the bible, took another look at the list of deaths in the family, and then took my pen and added the entry for mom to it. Then I put the bible back in the storage chest where I’m keeping that stuff.

In a little while, I’ll sign mom’s final tax returns, and send them off to their various bureaucracies, with the same white knuckle detachment I managed, when I put her name in the bible, and the date she died.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

February 12, 2002

When Burt first came over to my new house back in June, the first words out of his mouth when he looked around my basement were, “This could be me.” I’ve been trying to make it clear ever since, that while it could be him, it won’t be. It’s been tough going, but I think last Saturday I got through to a degree. It was like bargaining for rare antiques at a flea market. Could he stay just a few days during the week while I was at work? Could he stay just overnight? Could he stay for an afternoon? Could he at least come over so his friend in Pennsylvania doesn’t have to drive all the way downtown to get him? I finally had to agree to at least that much, because once again it seemed like if I didn’t I was being picayune. He does it well.

One of my friends told me that it wasn’t like I’d made him a “for better or worse” vow, and that cleared some things up in my own mind about this situation. Burt is an old friend, but he’s not my lover. (And a good thing too, or we’d probably have stopped speaking to each other years ago, considering how things have played out between him and his various girlfriends.) I’ve done a bunch for him, but he has to finally, at long last, come to grips with his own life. There’s a passage in Mary Renault’s The Charioteer, where Laurie reflects on his relationship with Ralph, and realizes that he needs him to be strong, but also to allow him to be strong too. I need Burt to get his life back together, but I need him to do it himself. That’s not trying to wash my hands of his problems, that’s wanting friendship to be mutually nurturing, not mutually devouring. Even lovers can’t take each other’s falls.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

February 3, 2002 – 4:30PM

Scary negotiators:

Burt is trying to find a new apartment for himself. He has two cats. In this part of the world, it’s hard to find an apartment that will take one pet, let alone two. Burt talks to one leasing agent, who tells him that they will take pets under twenty-five pounds. Burt asks if that’s twenty-five pounds for one pet, or twenty-five pounds total.

February 3, 2002 – 8:30am

Burt has tendinitis. I know what that’s like, because I had it too, in my right forearm last summer. It hurt like hell, and even now, long after the last of the stabbing pain has gone, that tendon still doesn’t feel quite right. At the time I was diagnosed, I was actually relieved that it wasn’t carpal tunnel syndrome, since I spend most of my day at a computer keyboard. But tendinitis is no joke.

So I’m trying to cut Burt some slack here…but every now and then he’ll let loose a howl, and I know he’s aggravated the tendon that’s giving him grief somehow, and I know just how painful that can be. But the howl he makes whenever that happens reminds me of when I lived right above a gay couple that liked their sex noisy. Burt’s a nice guy, but I don’t want people mistaking him for my boyfriend.

Here’s one for the comedy writers. A gay guy letting a straight guy room with him for a while, and it’s the gay guy who’s worried that the neighbors might get the wrong idea, and the straight guy who couldn’t care less what people think.

February 3, 2002 – 6:30am

Notes on roommates:
You may think that food in your refrigerator is yours, since you bought it, but roommate hunger turns all food into community property. Roommates have an interesting effect on alcohol. With a roommate on the premises, beverages made with it evaporate, even if the bottle is never opened.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

January 30, 2002 – 5PM

We had an all hands meeting at the Institute this afternoon, and awards for exceptional performance were handed out. Most companies do this kind of thing as a motivator. What is so very, very cool about working for the Space Telescope Science Institute, is that the awards handed out today were for things like…oh…discovering that the rate the universe is expanding isn’t slowing down…it’s speeding up.

Some background. Early in the twentieth century, Einstein was busy working on the equations for his general relativity theory, when he noticed that his figures were postulating a universe that was either expanding or contracting, but not the steady, stable universe he was expecting. So, according to the story, he decides his figures are wrong and he adds a constant, that amounted to a kind of postulated “anti-gravity” that made everything steady and stable again.

Along comes Edwin Hubble (the guy the Space Telescope is named after), who conducts an experiment on the red shift of distant galaxies, only to find to his, and everyone’s surprise, that the universe was expanding. News of this reaches Einstein, who takes a fresh look at his calculations, and later says that adding the constant to make everything steady and stable was the biggest mistake he ever made.

Well…maybe not. Everyone has assumed that the rate of expansion was slowing down since the Big Bang, due to the collective gravity of the objects in it. The argument as been about how slow it was getting, and whether the expansion will ever stop. One of the scientists at the Institute, Adam Riess, did an experiment on distant supernovas, to determine the rate of expansion when the universe was young. See…the further away an object is, the further back in time you’re seeing it. Riess’ experiment used the Space Telescope, and ancient supernovas to determine the rate of expansion when the universe was young, and found to his surprise, that it wasn’t faster, as everyone had expected, it was slower!

The difference in what was expected, verses what was observed, could come from Einstein’s previously discredited “cosmological constant”.

Riess’ discovery is still being digested in scientific circles, but at the award ceremony this afternoon, it was said that it might well rank as one of the biggest astronomical finds ever…right up there with Edwin Hubble’s own discoveries.

…and I’m sitting with all the other people working here at the Institute, listening to this guy get an award and a certificate and watching the others who helped contribute to the running of Hubble get their’s for various things like improvements to the on board instrumentation, and such like, and thinking all the while… I Love My Job!

by Bruce Garrett | Link

January 30, 2002 – 9:30am

There’s a story about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright that I have a chuckle over whenever I think of it. Wright not only designed the structure, but also its furniture (some of which you can still buy reproductions of today…it’s beautiful stuff…), meticulously assigning each piece a place in the building plans. The story goes that one owner of a Frank Lloyd Wright house had placed some dinning room chairs against one wall, to get them out of her way, and one afternoon when Wright was visiting them, he walked into the dinning room, saw the chairs against the wall, and promptly repositioned them around the table exactly as his plans had called for.

I’m thinking about this as I’m putting all my patio furniture back where it was. My friend Burt, who re-arranged my patio to suit himself, has left the house to spend a few days at his friend John’s place in Pennsylvania. I am decompressing. Part of that process, involves putting my damn furniture back where it was.

Also putting my kitchen back as it was.

Also picking up his things from where he’d scattered them all over the house. There were spent matchbooks damn near everywhere I looked. He did clean his ashtrays though. He didn’t put them back, but he cleaned them.

So I’m busy putting stuff back where it was, and wondering if I’m really that much of a fussbudget, or is it something like human male territorial imperative roaring up, and demanding that I remove the other guy’s marks from my turf. I dunno… He’s a friend, one of the first I came out to in my teen years, and who was cool with it back then, when a few others weren’t. But he never seemed to stay in one home for very long, and I always knew, and always told him, that being roommates would not be good for us. Straight verses gay is not the issue here. He’s loud where I’m quiet. He grew up in a single family detached house, and I in apartments, where you always had neighbors living right up against you, that you had to be considerate of. And we’re both flea market packrats, though my urge has been tempered all my life, from living in small apartments, and from not having the temperament necessary for serious dickering. Burt grew up in a house, is perfectly comfortable living in clutter that would give a fire marshal a seizure, is so good at dickering it’s scary, and he just lets his packrat gene run wild. Point of fact, he ekes out a living buying and selling and swapping things; a natural activity for packrats. As a friend, he’s a lot of fun, but as a roommate, I was certain it would be a disaster. Now I know it for a fact.

I am soooooo glad that John is splitting the task of giving Burt a place to stay with me. Otherwise I think I would have exploded days ago. John apparently did explode last week. After he dropped Burt off at my place on Friday, he told me that they had a big argument, and I was deathly afraid that John wouldn’t take Burt back this week. But he did, and I told him I owed him. He said we’d get through it. Burt is getting an apartment of his own next month. I think I can hold out, as long as I don’t have to have him here more then a few days running.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

January 29, 2002 – 4:35PM

Survival Skills of the Professional Roommate:
You can avoid doing major housekeeping chores, by fucking up any that come your way, and asserting that there was miscommunication afterward. Do a lot of little trivial, meaningless small tasks, like dusting the TV screen, wiping off the patio table top, and dumping out your ash trays, to prove you are not a complete slacker. Let no effort, however small, go unbragged about.

January 29, 2002 – 4:30PM

Notes on roommates:
You are allowed to get annoyed at your pack rat roommate, when he puts the toilet tank lids and toilet seats he scarfed from a junkyard out in your front lawn, where the entire neighborhood can see them, while waiting for a friend of his to pick them up.

January 29, 2002 – 1PM

Notes on roommates:
You are permitted to get pissed off at your roommate when they monopolize your only land line for two hours, while you’re trying to connect to the Internet to do some work, and he’s busy bellyaching to AT&T, because his cell phone timer rounds each call to the next minute, and AT&T’s customer service center won’t tell him exactly how many prime minutes he has already used this month.

January 29, 2002 – 10:45am

Notes on roommates:
You may confine your chain-smoking roommate’s three-pack-a-day habit to the front porch. Especially when the temperature goes below freezing. Hide all your glass coasters, or they will be turned into ashtrays.

January 29, 2002 – 9am

Notes on roommates:
You are allowed to be annoyed when your pack rat roommate brings toilet tank lids, and toilet seats back home, and places them in your backyard for safe keeping, where the entire neighborhood can see them.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

January 29, 2002 – 7am

An old friend is staying with me, because he needed a place to stay after he got himself tossed out of his old place. He’s been splitting the time between my place, and a friend’s in PA, since the weekend before last, and I am starting to go nuts.

I guess I’m just a solitary. Not a misanthrope…I thoroughly enjoy human company. But my home is a different matter. Company in my home I seem to be able to tolerate, only in very small doses at a stretch. I need my own private space. When I have to go without for a period of time, I start getting cranky.

It doesn’t help that my friend is occupying my club room for the time being. I was using that as an art space, and really enjoying having a dedicated art space for the first time in my life. It also doesn’t help that my friend’s way of dealing with emotional stress, is to talk a blue streak. I think I weird some of my friends out by the way I can sit in a quiet space for hours at a stretch…reading or drawing or just sitting and thinking, without a radio or a TV chattering in the background. But I like to focus on things sometimes, and when I’m doing that, I get really annoyed at distractions.

I’ll probably never be husband material. A straight friend of mine dated his girlfriend for years, each one living in their own separate apartments, until one day they figured that their closets each had about half the space taken up by each others clothes, and that was when they decided to move in together. It took years. It’ll probably take years with me too, and even then, we’d have to have separate sides of the house.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

January 20, 2002

Reasons why rowhouses are good for the first-time single homeowner:
Very little sidewalk, that you are obliged to keep free of ice and snow.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

January 19, 2002

My first official snow storm here at my new house. Looks like we ended up with about four inches, out of the four to eight they were calling for. Not enough to worry about snow loading on my flat roof (actually the rowhouse roofs are flat, but tilted slightly towards the back, to make sure water doesn’t pool I suppose…). The skylight in the bathroom didn’t get covered over, but it’s a heat leak, so I would expect it to take a lot of snow to do that to it. So far, knock wood, no water stains on the ceilings anywhere. My roof is five years old, and the flat ones are supposed to last ten. I have a warranty on it, but I’d rather not have to test it. The stairs leading to my front door haven’t iced yet, and the shell cast off from the bird feeders overhead, are actually keeping the footing on them good. Maybe instead of putting out salt, I’ll hang some more feeders.

Took a walk in my first snow storm, to check out how the neighborhood deals. I saw more kids having fun in the snow then I was used to seeing in the apartments I used to live in. Lots of sledding, snowman building, and snow ball fighting. I had to duck a few…but it was all in fun. It was the first real snowfall of the season, and even the people digging out their cars seemed in a cheerful spirit. Everywhere, neighbors were outside talking to one another.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

January 19, 2002

Bower Birds, which live in Australia and New Guinea, are noted for building incredibly intricate structures whose only purpose, according to the naturalists, is to attract mates. They’ll arrange leafs of like color and texture into piles, put small pebbles of certain colors and sizes into other piles, place berries of a particular kind in yet others, or into distinctive patterns around a circle. They’ll build mats of leafs and twigs, arranged in complex patterns. One species even paints its twig arrangements with a pigment, made from chewed plants, charcoal and bird spit (the fundamental bird building material…I suppose if human spit behaved like glue we’d never have invented nails…). I remember when I saw my first Bower Bird on one of the fantastic David Attenborough nature series, busily arranging this and that in middle of its handiwork, looking like a human suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. What, I wondered, was going on in that little bird noggin? Was it something like “Yeah man…that’ll bring on the babes.” or was it “No…that’s not it… Oh…wait a minute…if I move that pebble over there to the left a little more…and bring the one next to it closer to the middle…yeah…yeah! …that says it… The sight of that fussy little bird sitting perched on a branch, intensely eyeballing its work in progress, while all around it lived this wild, chaotic, exuberant rainforest, struck me as a great subject for a painting. But then I thought, it’s considered bad practice to make someone else’s art the subject of your own…

The Bower Bird came back into my thoughts after an all too brief conversation between a dear friend of mine, after he came for a visit. In the basement, which is where I’ve located my art workspace, we talked briefly about creating spaces for work, and he suddenly mentioned that he’d heard the art establishment now had a name for the work of non professionals, non establishment artists, such as myself.

Oh joy, I thought, another label to wear, another category to fit into, another frame that I may or may like hanging around my work. Swell. But it was heartening to see the establishment struggling with the fact that art happens wherever it damn well pleases.

I can appreciate that people have difficulty pinning art down. It’s one of those I know it when I see it kinda things, and it’ll probably always remain thus. For decades lawmakers and the courts have been trying to draw a hard fast line between “art” and “pornography” and the only consistency they’ve managed so far, have been their miserable failures, and the threat to free expression. The art Establishment tosses out more terms then the pentagon invents acronyms, and they can’t define art any better then the pentagon can define what a war is. Art lovers and collectors can’t define art, but they know it when they see it. That’s all okay; we who do it, don’t understand it either.

Formal training is a good thing, when it doesn’t stifle creativity (and it doesn’t have to). But not every artist now exalted by the Establishment had formal training, and not everyone with formal training has the need, let alone the desire to create expressively. Formal training does not give birth to the need to create, and obviously, judging from art history, it does not validate it. Ideally, it helps the creator understand themselves, their work, and most importantly their tools. Ideally, it gives the creator more control over their work, but only to the extent that it teaches what others have already learned for themselves. For the viewer and collector, it can broaden and deepen their understanding. But in no case is formal training decisive. Not every artist now exalted by the Establishment had formal training, and not everyone with formal training has the need, let alone the desire to create expressively.

Sometimes I wonder whether an extra-terrestrial species of intelligent life, seeing human art, would figure it something like what Bower Birds do. Hmmm…yes…see how the humans create these marvelously intricate and complex objects to attract mates… Now…let’s be honest here…flashing your artwork in front of someone to entrance, and then get into their pants, is standard procedure. I’ve never met the artist who didn’t do that. But isn’t that the same thing a car buff is doing, when they flash their car at date material? In many US cities and towns there is a street, or street corner, where people, mostly guys, promenade their cars for people, especially the attractive sex, to see and admire. But is that what they’re thinking about when they spend hours on end fussing with their cars? When I was in my photography phase in the 70s, I knew a lot of guys who used their cameras as hooks to catch babes, and in particular, to get them to take their clothes off (ahem…not that I ever did that…). But there was a solid line between the ones that never touched a camera when there wasn’t date material nearby, and the ones that obsessed over their images alone in the darkroom, for days at a stretch. It wasn’t the thought of babes that was making them do that. Maybe we make the same mistake when we look at the exuberance of wildlife, and assume that its only possible function is mate bait.

Art happens. We who do it, do it because we have a need to. That need can come in brief, sudden flashes of lighting, striking here and there in a life. It can be like a fever that constantly comes and goes. It can be like a priestly calling, summoning a soul away from the normal life, to live in its monastery, in its cathedral. In fact, in its every manifestation, there is a powerful element of spirituality present, moving both the creator and the collector. What is art? What is religion? Jacob Bronowski said there are two acts of creation to every work of art; that of the artist, and that of the viewer, who must (and must be allowed to) recreate the work for themselves, within themselves. This appeals deeply to my Baptist roots, which still insist to me that nothing and no one should be allowed to stand between the sublime, and anyone who wishes to experience it for themselves.

In the end, you create, simply because you must, and you accept that whatever you become, was what you had to become. Maybe you fall into one of the neat little categories they make for artists, and maybe you don’t. The collector’s path is nearly identical. So it is for everyone, who feels life deeply, and has the need to live it to the fullest. You take the path with heart, and you end up wherever it took you. Picasso said, “When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you enter the military you can become a great general. If you enter the church, you can become the pope.’ Instead, I went into painting and I became Picasso.” Yes. Just so.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

January 15, 2002

My bird feeders are a part of my morning routine now. In the morning I get up and walk into my computer room across the hall from my bedroom, and while Bagheera is booting up, I look out the window to my front lawn, and check the finch and chickadee feeders in my pin oaks. The feeders look like a couple of clear plastic duckpin balls hanging from the trees. They have holes cut out in the bottom hemisphere where the birds can hang and grab sunflower seeds from inside. I chose them to discourage visits from sparrows, which just dog pile on feeders in huge flocks and keep the other birds away. But sparrows don’t like to hang, they’re ground feeders.

In the backyard I put out more general feeders for the other neighborhood birds. I get a lot of sparrows there, but also a few cardinals and nuthatches, which are more welcome. Those feeders need fresh seed daily now that it’s winter. So every morning I do a refill run in the backyard, as a way of starting my day. A few weeks ago as I walked out my back door to do a refill run, I saw evidence of avecide under the feeders.

From what was left I gathered the victim was a rock pigeon. There was a spot of blood on the ground, where the pigeons would flock occasionally to grab whatever the other birds tossed out of the feeders above. Birds will generally only toss away what they don’t want, to get at what they do, so I’ve been experimenting with different feed mixes to keep the spillage to a minimum, to keep the pigeons to a minimum. Not that I hate pigeons, but in the city you really don’t need to attract them either. There were pidgeon feathers all over my lawn, but no corpse. I figured the perpetrator was a neighbor’s cat. It was a Saturday, and I noticed all day long that the birds were staying the hell away from my back yard. It wasn’t until late the following Sunday, that I began to hear the birds chirping in my back yard again.

This weekend I got a shock. I was cleaning house in anticipation of a friend’s visit this Wednesday, and busy working in the upstairs bedroom, when I glanced out a window, and saw a Falcon perched on the fence next to my bird feeders, taking an angry inventory of my empty back yard. Of course there was no seed eater to be seen anywhere in the vicinity. The alleyway was deathly quiet.

My 35mm cameras are in a cabinet next to my bedroom window. I scrambled madly for one of my loaded F-1s, and hurried to put my 200mm FD lens on it. Before I could take a picture, a couple of neighborhood kids came walking down the alley, and the Falcon flew off with arrogant grace. I don’t think the kids even saw that it was there.

Rats. But if it was the perp of last month’s murder, then there’s a reasonable chance that it’ll be back. I went back to my Peterson’s Field guide and tried to match what I saw, with what it might have been, and the only thing that even comes close is the Peregrine. It had the sideburns, dark wings and light belly, and sitting perched next to the bird feeder I was able to get a good fix on it’s size, which was right for the Peregrine. The only thing was that Peterson’s says its range clings to the coastline up here…but it’s not too unreasonable that one may have come up the bay and up the harbor and into Baltimore.

My camera is ready…Kodachrome, 200mm lens and body set to a generic, afternoon daylight exposure, focus and depth of field set to the area around my feeders. If I see that sucker again I’ll grab and shoot, and then try to get a more precise exposure on any subsequent shots the bird allows. Maybe I’ll start feeding the pigeons after all.

by Bruce Garrett | Link

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