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Archive for December, 2011

December 18th, 2011

From Eye To Brain To Finger To Metal…

Episode 13 of A Coming Out Story deals with my discovery of photography as an art form…

What really got it going, and I have understood this for decades, was getting my first 35mm SLR camera. Ever since that moment, that What You See Is What You Get functionality of the 35mm SLR has completely entranced me. And they’re fast. Back in the early 1970s, open aperture through the lens metering had become common on all but the very least expensive (like my Petri) SLRs. And even the stop down metering of the Petri was fast, compared to holding the camera in one hand and a meter in the other. You could compose, focus and meter all at once and get the shot without ever having to take your eye out of the eyepiece. And what you saw in the viewfinder, was guaranteed to be what you got on the negative, since you were seeing exactly the same thing the film was going to see when the shutter opened.

I’ve tried to get into other kinds of cameras, because in one way or another they interest me too. My Mamiya C 330, a twin lens reflex, for its 120 roll film format and lens interchangeability, unique to TLRs. Various rangefinder cameras I’ve tried because rangefinders and small, lightweight, quiet and easier to focus in low light situations. But none of them have really worked as well for me as the 35mm SLR. Even my Hasselblad, a 120 roll film SLR, doesn’t really quite work for me. Having no through the lens metering makes it worlds slower, more deliberate in its use, then every 35mm SLR I have ever owned.

For me, the 35mm SLR is my instrument. Back in my teen years, after I had dived head first into full fledged shutterbug land, I worked one summer at a fast food joint flipping burgers to be able to buy what I thought at the time was the best 35mm SLR made: the Canon F1.  In 1971 they had just come to the U.S. market, and I thought it just blew away the only real competition it had back then, the Nikon F.

I used that F1 all through my senior year, doing photos for the student newspaper and the yearbook. It was my constant companion in the halls and classrooms of my school. But there was another kid who was my rival back then. His name was Lindsey and he was always carrying his Nikon F.  His professional black no less Nikon F.

I respected, and feared truth to tell, Lindsey’s abilities as a photographer. He was Good. He was also bold and brash in a way I could never be, and played the part of the glamorous photo pro with that damn Nikon as if he’d been born to it. I was envious. Eventually I decided to go with invisibility instead. Since I just didn’t have it in me to be out there and fabulous and make my subjects feel and respond to the glamor of my camera’s gaze I would become invisible instead, and observe. After a fashion that style worked for me. People became used to seeing the camera that was always with me and they came to forget its presence and I got tons of good candids. I became the detached observer. That has been my style ever since.

Though Lindsey’s skill as a photographer intimidated me, I had no such feelings about his damn Professional Black Nikon F. It was his tool, but also his status symbol, and he used it to get attention as much as he did to get his shot. But before I bought my F1, I had done my research (the geek was strong in me, even back then) and my logical analytical brain came to loath the Nikon F for what I regarded then as its inferior design, and when I was a teenager I made no bones about it to anyone who cared to listen. You are never so opinionated, as when you’re that age.

Time passes, the universe expands. On a trip out to Boulder Colorado for a JWST conference, I stopped in Topeka Kansas to visit a friend. He asked if I wanted to stop by the camera store they have there and I followed along, thinking to myself that here in the middle practically of Kansas it wouldn’t be much of one.  I was wrong.  That store, Wolf’s Camera, was amazing.  Bigger and nicer even then Service Photo is here in Baltimore.  And there, in the used camera display, was an almost mint condition Nikon F2.

I asked to look at it. And when my hands got around it, and I worked its mechanism a little, something awakened inside me. Something very much like the sensation I had when I bought my that Petri 35mm SLR back home and held it in my hands for the first time.

So I bought it.

And…the good 28mm lens they also had in that case to go with it, since I mostly shoot in wide-angle. Later, when I got back home, I scanned the used Nikon f-mount lens listings at B&H and bought a better 24mm f2.8 lens for it, and a 50mm f1.4.

A month later I am reading this on a photographer’s web site, while researching information on the old Nikons…

When doing photography for art’s sake, a camera can mean everything for putting you in the right frame of mind. Like that weird inter-being nerve fiber concept in “Avatar”, a photographer connects to a camera.

This is what I have come to realize (against the better judgment of my logical analytical side) You connect creatively with your tools at a very low level, intuitive, almost nerve-ending space and it might make no sense at all to that logical part of your brain (It’s Just A Tool!) but if it works for you then eventually you just go with it.

My Left Brain frowns at the Right Brain a lot, but I have always known at an intuitive level how connected I am to a camera while I am in the zone.  Sometimes I hit the shutter release and I just know that was the one, and I feel an almost electrical pulse run from the camera through my hand and into me.  Call me crazy, but that is how it feels. Finally, when I picked up that Nikon F2 in Topeka, I had to stop denying what my creative side has been telling me all these years: the Nikons can work with me…and maybe sometimes they work better.

This isn’t anything to do with their mechanical design.  It’s this: tools have their personalities, especially complex mechanical ones, and some personalities work better with my creative moods then others.  A mechanism can feel right, can seem beautiful to that creative part of me, even if the logical part finds tons of fault with it.  Yes, it’s weird.

So it’s been with me and Nikon cameras. I could go on and on and on and on about what I don’t like about their design (ask some of my high school classmates).  But the Canons have their personality and the Nikon a different one and I am a bit astonished now, after all these years, to hold one in my hands while I’m working and just admit that the Nikon =feels= more right.

Sigh.  They say its a sign of maturity to be able to let go of old prejudices.  These are not nearly the wonderful ground breaking cameras their ardent fans make them out to be.  Yes, yes, they did break significant ground in some ways, most importantly in terms of bringing a true system approach to 35mm photography.  The Nikon F was like the Kerby vacuum of cameras…there was an attachment for anything you wanted to do with one just about.  But it was mostly a kludge.  The one thing that made the kludgery worthwhile was the camera body: weirdly, clunky designed as it is, it really is that nearly bullet proof hockey puck they all said it was.

That’s part of their emotional appeal to me now. I like solid things in my life, but especially in my hands while I’m trying to be creative.  But it’s more then that.  The Canons feel brick solid in my hands too (even more so their lenses…the Nikon lenses just feel cheap and clunky to me), and yet they have a distinctly different sense to them mechanically from the Nikon.  During the breaks while I was on jury duty I wandered downtown Baltimore with the F2 and it was a revelation. I was cursing and fumbling with its controls because every damn thing on a Nikon is backwards from the Canon…shutter speed setting, aperture setting…and yet I have never felt more at one with a camera when I was in that particular creative zone that I was in.

So…(here it comes…) I went ahead and found a good example of an F online…and bought it.  Oh…AND an all black finish one at that.  It arrived last week.

Lindsey…are you reading this?  Go ahead and laugh…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on From Eye To Brain To Finger To Metal…


Dear Abby…What Do You Call A Friend Who Resents It When Life Sends Good Fortune Your Way?

To Whom It May Concern…

Okay…fine…whatever.

It’s always grade school all over again with us isn’t it, when one week we would be the best friends ever and the next you’re cutting me out.  One week I’m one of the few people you know who can give you Intelligent Conversation.  The week after that I’m not fabulous enough or I’m too nerdy or it’s why is Glenn hanging around with that queer and then I’m not someone you want to be seen with or even admit knowing.

I was the kid who wasn’t supposed to amount to anything.  People in school thought so, people in my own goddamned family thought so.  But I did amount to something after all.  Somehow, I did.  Maybe it’s because there always was more to me then everyone who kept putting me down told me there was.  Maybe they didn’t want me to know I had some good stuff inside me. The scapegoat, the cheap punching bag is not allowed to think thoughts like that is he?

Some folks who used to know me back in the day are happy for me now.  And some seem to just get all resentful.  You for instance.  Whatever.  I wasn’t just handed the life I have now. Yes, I got lucky.  So amazingly lucky.  Yes, some people never get a break like the one I got.  But when I got that break, I did something with it.  So I guess I must have been able to so something with it.  So I guess that Something was always inside of me after all.  If I was the scrawny little looser some people kept telling me I was way back in the day, I’d have blown it.  I didn’t.  Maybe I should just stop letting people cut me up just for their own amusement.

I work at the Space Telescope Science Institute.  We operate and administer the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA.  Lately I’ve been assigned to the team that is developing a test and integration laboratory for systems to be used on the James Webb Space Telescope.  A couple months ago I was sent to Boulder Colorado for a JWST Partners Conference hosted by Ball.  My security clearance got me into ITAR restricted seminars to learn what the other partners are doing to get this thing launched and sending back science data from L2.  Oh…and I got a glowing performance review and a nice raise.  But that’s less important to me, less thrilling by far, then the fact that every day I get to work in a place that harvests light from near the dawn of time and gives it to the world to study.

I am a part of that.  Every fucking day at work I am told in word and in deed that I am not simply capable of intelligent, logical, and creative thinking, but that my talents and skills are Needed.  Needed.  Perhaps it’s time I started believing it deep down in my gut.

I’m too old for this.  We’re done.  I’m 58 years old now…why has believing in myself always been so goddamned hard.  Well…one reason is the family I grew up in. They hated dad, and I got static from nearly everyone on mom’s side for having his face and his name.  Then there was grade school.  From the moment I entered grade school, being as I was the son of a single divorced working mother, I was immediately tossed into the problem child bin and never mind that I was actually a very well behaved kid. That single divorced working mother set a good example for her son. I’m 58 years old and my police record is cleaner then your kitchen floor.  But in the stifling social prejudices of the late 1950s and early 60s, single divorced women were tainted, and that meant their children could be tossed into the gutter with a clear conscience. I know Exactly how it is that a teacher’s low expectations, placed upon a kid at that age, can work their way like rust into their heart.

But here’s another reason. Friends like you. A few beautiful popular kids who took me into their circle, I guess because they thought I’d make a good sidekick.  A little raggedy puppy that would wag its tail at the slightest sign of approval.  So I was allowed to tag along.

Some kids from those days who made friends with me really liked me. I guess they saw something inside of me even back then that I didn’t.  I remember how Bob used to keep telling me I should go into computer work because I had a good head for it.  I remember thinking how nice encouragement like that was, but I just couldn’t believe that someone like me could have that kind of a job. No, no…I was meant to be a stock boy or a burger flipper for the rest of my life.  I know who those friends are. They’re the ones who are happy that I’ve made good at this late stage of my life, and occasionally give me an exasperated See…we told you so!

But not you. I remember how every time I tried to show you something good in me, capable in me, creative in me, you’d always smack it down. I was a little shutter bug long before I met you, but I never thought I could go the step further and set up my own darkroom until you showed me the simple one you’d set up in your basement. You showed me step by step how to develop film and make prints. So I thought, hey…I can do that…  And I gathered the things together I needed and did my first roll of film and it was one of those moments in life that you look back on as a revelation, a turning point, where something deep inside of you awakens. I wanted to thank you for that. And for the next year or so I showed you the best of what I was doing. But it just made you resentful. So after a while I just stopped showing my photography to you.

After grade school you eventually dropped out of my life, and I was sorry to see you go. But it was like that. Especially after I started coming out of the closet. I never once heard a bigoted or even slightly prejudiced word from you about gays but there were times I wondered if that wasn’t part of it. You worked your way into the sound business and let me tag along for a while as a sometimes roadie. But we would cross paths less and less, especially after I started dinking around with the first micro computers that came to the market. Did you notice how adept I suddenly became with those things? Bob did. That’s probably why he kept nagging me to pursue it more seriously for its job potential. You started dinking around with them yourself but it was another photography thing where I shot ahead and you just lost interest and we saw each other even less after that.  You moved west and got yourself a nice position at a big Vegas hotel.  Then something happened…I don’t know what…and you vanished from sight for about a decade.

Then you popped back into my life, told me how fine it was to have me back again because I was such an intelligent conversationalist. You’d moved back to the east coast and invited me up to see you at the theater where you were working now. Somehow your situation had changed. You were living in a room over top of that theater. I guess you expected to see the same old Bruce who couldn’t afford much more then a room in someone’s basement himself.  Then you learned I had a house of my own and you were fine with that. Then you learned I was a part of the Hubble Space Telescope team and you were fine with that. Your dad after all, had been part of the Apollo Moon program team. Then I drove up in a nice Honda Accord and you were fine with that. We had a good first meeting after so long apart. The next time I came to visit I drove up in a new Mercedes-Benz and it went downhill with us pretty rapidly after that.

What did you think? That this kid who was raised by a single working mother, who wore hand-me-down clothes she would get from the church for most of his childhood, would judge Anyone by their economic circumstances, let alone a friend? What the fuck? Don’t you think my entire life has taught me better then that? All through grade school, until I got diverted to Woodward ironically enough, I was judged by the low budget single parent household I was raised in. By teachers, by the other kids. And inside my own family I was constantly being judged by the fact that I was my father’s son. A stinking rotten good for nothing Garrett just like my pap.That’s what I was always supposed to be.

Now look at me. What the fuck? You think I didn’t learn something from that life?

No. Just…no. This isn’t about that. You know damn well I am not like that. This is you. This is you being as resentful as always, whenever the sidekick showed signs of being his own person.

There have been others like you in my life from my grade school years.  Relationships I held onto for way too long, because deep down inside I thought I was lucky they even knew my name, because someone like me wasn’t really worthy of their company. So…Yes…I’m a moron. In some ways. I suppose we all in some ways. But we can learn from our mistakes too, and I’ve been making this one for far too long. I’m not the worthless good for nothing destined for abject failure all his life, if not a prison cell one day, that people kept telling me I was when I was a kid.

I’m 58 years old. I work for the Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University, have had a successful career as an IT professional, and that has brought me some economic freedoms I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever have one day. I have a nice little Baltimore rowhouse within walking distance of my place of work, and close to two nice grocery stores, drugstores, and lots of other good things. I drive a little Mercedes-Benz C class, and I have plans currently to trade it in for an E class diesel. I have a regular spot in Baltimore OUTLoud as a political cartoonist and sometimes photographer, my cartoons have also appeared in Family and Friends of Memphis, and Stonewall News Northwest. This has allowed me to get membership in the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. Professionally, I am also a member of The Association for Computing Machinery, and the Project Management Institute. I have my own web site and a running cartoon series, A Coming Out Story, that gets hits from all over the world.

They say living well is the best revenge. Sort of. It’s not about having things, it’s about doing things. It’s about letting the spirit that was always within you shine. As bright as it can. As bright as it must. That is living well. Then you don’t need revenge. Revenge is for chickenshits.

So is hanging onto toxic relationships.  Never love yourself less then you love someone else.

Goodbye, good luck…have a great life of your own.  I really mean that.  Whatever horrible thing it was that happened to you back in Las Vegas I hope you have found your path to rise above it and have a good life.  Now go away.

Defrend.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

December 6th, 2011

I Can Haz A Post-Agrarian Society?

Via Sullivan…

On the impracticality of a cheeseburger.

A few years ago, I decided that it would be interesting to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Not just regular “from scratch,” but really from scratch. Like, I’d make the buns, I’d make the mustard, I’d grow the tomatoes, I’d grow the lettuce, I’d grow the onion, I’d grind the beef, make the cheese, etc…

Therein follows many months of building a house, raising livestock, planting gardens, realizing he needs to mine his own salt, needs not one but three cows (one for milk for butter, one for the beef, one for rennet for the cheese)…and so on…

Further reflection revealed that it’s quite impractical—nearly impossible—to make a cheeseburger from scratch. Tomatoes are in season in the late summer. Lettuce is in season in spring and fall. Large mammals are slaughtered in early winter. The process of making such a burger would take nearly a year, and would inherently involve omitting some core cheeseburger ingredients. It would be wildly expensive—requiring a trio of cows—and demand many acres of land. There’s just no sense in it.

A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society…

Some would say that’s a good reason not to have a post-agrarian society. I strongly disagree. Never mind steel and integrated circuits. The Industrial Revolution gave us Cheeseburgers.

Ayn Rand placed the dollar sign as the iconic symbol of capitalism and the Industrial age…proof I submit, that the lady had no art in her soul. She should have made it the cheeseburger. Seriously. When her and Owen Kellogg left the abandoned train at the end of part two, instead of revealing himself as an agent of the strike by pulling out a cigarette with a dollar sign on it, he should have started snarfing down a cheeseburger from Hugh Akston’s diner. That newstand at the end of chapter three should have been a burger joint and the old man reminiscing about when they made burgers out of real meat and cheese, not collectivist tofu and soy.  He should have said to Dagny Taggart, “I like to think of burgers held in a man’s hand. Big fat juicy ones dripping with cheddar cheese and mustard.  Food, a dangerous force, served with a side of fries and maybe also a dollip of coleslaw…” At the end of the book John Galt could trace the outline of a cheeseburger in the sky.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I Can Haz A Post-Agrarian Society?

December 4th, 2011

Who Is John Doe?

I suppose by now you’ve seen a few of these…

Behold Atlas, holding the world upon his shoulders…beset upon by socialist moochers, second-handers and looters…

…not.  Let’s be real here…no welfare queen ever had a larger sense of entitlement then the tea partiers.

Its easy to point and laugh at signs like the one above…and this one…

But it isn’t just the crazies who’ve been taken in and lit up by the right wing noise machine.  To one degree or another, the nation as a whole has accepted a disastrously false economic construct: that the economy is driven by businesses, banks and wealthy investors.  Producers produce wealth, consumers consume it.  Producers build factories, establish businesses, engage in commerce and thereby create jobs…almost as a side effect of their economic vitality.  It’s their world, they built it, these Atlases of commerce.  The rest of us just live in it. Without the Atlases the rest of us would have nothing.

Hence the bellyaching about going Galt.  It’s like the constantly nagging and entitled parent or grandparent who keeps warning You’ll be sorry when I’m gone and after so many years of it you’ve begun planning a party to celebrate the event.  There’s a scene in Atlas Shrugged where the worthless playboy Francisco d’Anconia (secretly an agent of the Galt’s Gulch strikers) talks with industrialist Hank Rearden, owner of Rearden Steel and inventor of Rearden Metal.  They are at a party at Readen’s magnificent mansion.  They stand at a window as a storm rages in the night outside…

“It’s a terrible night for any animal caught unprotected on that plain,” said Francisco d’Anconia.  “This is when one should appreciate the meaning of being a man.”

Rearden did not answer for a moment; then he said, as if in answer to himself, a tone of wonder in his voice, “Funny…”

“What?”

“You told me what I was thinking just a while ago…”

“You were?”

“…only I didn’t have the words for it.”

“Shall I tell you the rest of the words?”

“Go ahead.”

“You stood here and watched the storm with the greatest pride one can ever feel – because you are able to have summer flowers and half-naked women in your house on a night like this, in demonstration of your victory over that storm.  And if it weren’t for you, most of those who are here would be left helpless at the mercy of that wind in the middle of some such plain.”

…and just never you mind the people who designed and engineered that house, who mined its marble floors and brass and gold for its fixtures, who felled and milled the trees and laid the bricks and stones.  See…they don’t even exist in the right winger frame of mind, let alone the world of Ayn Rand, except as looters, moochers and second-handers, leaching off the vitality of the world’s Atlases like vampires.  But without all those looters, those second-handers, those moochers paying rents for their own modest apartments, or buying their own modest homes, purchasing their own little economy cars and appliances, patronizing various merchants, making the building of all those things economically viable, Hank Rearden’s foundries would have nothing to do and his magnificent mansion would have never been built and he’d be shit out of luck on that open plain too.

Whose, really, is the motor of the world?  Nick Hanauer, himself a venture capitalist, sees where it really is:

It is unquestionably true that without entrepreneurs and investors, you can’t have a dynamic and growing capitalist economy. But it’s equally true that without consumers, you can’t have entrepreneurs and investors. And the more we have happy customers with lots of disposable income, the better our businesses will do.

That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

And that’s what has been happening in the U.S. for the last 30 years.

Since 1980, the share of the nation’s income for fat cats like me in the top 0.1 percent has increased a shocking 400 percent, while the share for the bottom 50 percent of Americans has declined 33 percent. At the same time, effective tax rates on the superwealthy fell to 16.6 percent in 2007, from 42 percent at the peak of U.S. productivity in the early 1960s, and about 30 percent during the expansion of the 1990s. In my case, that means that this year, I paid an 11 percent rate on an eight-figure income.

One reason this policy is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the average American, but we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff…

I can’t buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans can’t buy any new clothes or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing consumption of the tens of millions of middle-class families that are barely squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or declining wages…

We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Middle-class consumers do, and when they thrive, U.S. businesses grow and profit…

So let’s give a break to the true job creators. Let’s tax the rich like we once did and use that money to spur growth by putting purchasing power back in the hands of the middle class. And let’s remember that capitalists without customers are out of business…

The meme, the Randian dogma, the right wing spin the nation has bought into since Reagan sold us on it, that it is the rich industrialists who create jobs.  No. Customers create jobs. The flow of money from employer to employee to employer again creates jobs.  Building factories and office space where there is no demand for goods, simply because you suddenly have tons of money to do something with, is what happens in this thing they call a Bubble. Hey…let’s build a factory because we can! No demand, no sales. No sales: bankruptcy. The factory closes, the employees loose their paychecks, the money stops flowing, the motors…were…stopping…

We’ve seen how that works, time and time again in the past thirty years, yet the right wingers keep insisting if we just give more free money to the rich they’ll build factories, or offices space or something and then the rest of us will have jobs.  But nobody sane builds a factory if it isn’t bloody likely to sell anything that it makes.

No. The super rich won’t build factories.  Not if there is no money to be made doing that.  And if they can plainly see there is an easier way to make money, they’ll do that instead.  And for them these days, there is.  It’s called Wall Street. So if the middle class is dying, how are the rich making money these days…?

A newly-released study from the Congressional Research Service bolsters claims that the nation’s largest banks profited off the Federal Reserve’s financial crisis-era programs by borrowing cash for next to nothing, then lending it back to the federal government at substantially higher rates.

The report reinforces long-held beliefs that the banking system in essence engaged in taxpayer-financed arbitrage: They got money for free, then lent it back to Uncle Sam while collecting juicy returns.

They make paper profits by moving money back and forth among each other, and then when that blows up in their faces, they take it from the taxpayers…the middle class and the poor.  Obviously they’re fine with that system and don’t want it touched.  But it is not sustainable and they are not just putting the economy at risk, but our very democracy.

You see, trickle down economics really does work…but only from the middle down.  I grew up in the world Hanauer speaks of.  I remember it well.  I was raised by a single working mother back in a day when women made maybe 60 cents on the dollar a man made for doing the same work.  I wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes mom got from the church, but I never went out the door in dirty clothes.  We ate a simple, very bland English diet, but I never went to bed hungry.  I got a decent education because back in the late 50s and early 60s we were in a cold war with the Soviet Union and public education was something the nation was keen to spend money on so we didn’t loose the technological race.  There were good jobs (at least if you were white).  And all those high paying union jobs went to families who spent that money on goods and services, not at the Wall Street casino.  And that made it possible for poorer, service sector workers, even single mothers, to still earn a living wage and raise kids.  I know this.  I am one of those kids.

Yes, when government sucks money out of the economy in the form of oppressive taxes, that will stifle economic growth and kill the middle class too.  But taxation isn’t the only worry and big government isn’t the only threat to the economy. You can kill the middle class by sucking their wages out in the form of taxes, but you can also kill it, as we are clearly seeing now, by slashing wages in order to maintain astronomical profits that do nothing more then grease the roulette wheels of Wall Street.  Big business can be every bit the threat to the economy and to democracy that big government can be.

There need to be brakes put on both.  For the sake of our cherished freedoms, and our children’s and their children’s.  Libertarianism, with its dogma of unregulated unfettered capitalism utterly removes the brakes on big business.  Anyone with eyes to see and a mind not completely corrupted by ideology can see in the decades after Reagan sold us that shining city on a hill what comes of that.  If the totalitarian police state is one side of a coin, Libertarianism is the other.  Heads, power collects in the hands of the few, the people become their slaves, the economy grinds to a halt and the country tailspins into economic collapse.  Tails: see heads.

Democracy gave the common man and woman, gave humanity as a whole, a level of prosperity that would have astonished the peasants who labored under the kings of old.  To live, it needs a robust and energetic economy.  And to have that, you need a stable and prosperous middle class.  Because those people take their money and they spend it on Things…on goods and services that other people earn money making…and that keeps the money circulating and the economy humming along.

John Galt isn’t the motor of the world.  John and Jane Doe are.

1943, Female Welder at Work in a Steel Mill by Margaret Bourke-White

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

December 3rd, 2011

Jury Duty – Rounding Up The Herd

If like me you are a child of the suburbs, then probably the first thing you notice about big city government buildings is how old they are.  Also, everyone back in the old days seemed to think fake Roman columns add some sort of necessary gravitas.

The courthouse in Rockville I entered during my first two terms of jury duty was a very modern structure, all flat exterior walls, sharp corners, stainless steel and tempered glass.  The Baltimore City courthouse I walk into my first morning is marble and concrete and its steps are worn.  Its doors are huge dark wooden slabs.  Placed in front of them is a statue of a man I assume is some colonial Maryland personage.  I glance at the plaque and learn it’s the second Baron of Baltimore, Cecil Calvert, founder of the colony of Maryland

George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore, applied to Charles I for a royal charter for what was to become the Province of Maryland. After Calvert died in April 1632, the charter for “Maryland Colony” (in Latin Terra Mariae) was granted to his son, Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, on June 20, 1632. Some historians viewed this as compensation for his father’s having been stripped of his title of Secretary of State in 1625 after announcing his Roman Catholicism.

The colony was named in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I.[5] The specific name given in the charter was phrased Terra Mariae, anglice, Maryland. The English name was preferred due to undesired associations of Mariae with the Spanish Jesuit Juan de Mariana, linked to the Inquisition.

As I go inside I glance back at Cecil.  From behind he looks vaguely like the character dressed up as Guy Fawkes in V For Vendetta.

There is a line going through the security checkpoint, and a sign pointing to a separate pathway to it for the jurors.  At eight o:clock in the morning that line is already long. I get behind an elderly woman and she and I begin to chat casually with each other and folks in the line nearby.  She tells us she’s just a few months away from her seventieth birthday and so this will be her last tour of jury duty.  It’ll be a relief she says, because she gets a summons about once every year. The others nod and tell similar stories. I tell them I’ve been living in the city for ten years and this is my first summons and they all look at me in bewilderment.

How’d you manage that…?

Forms are passed out for each of us to fill in.  It is the usual information…name, address, occupation, and a series of checkboxes: Have you ever been convicted of a crime where the penalty was more then six months in prison?  Are any of your close family members employed in law enforcement?  Are you currently a resident of the city of Baltimore?  And so on…

Eventually it’s my turn at the security checkpoint.  It’s a sad statement of the times we live in, but going to Disney World so often in the past several years has taught me the drill by heart.  I hand my backpack over, opening all its pockets.  Then I empty my own pockets of change and keys, place glasses, watch and cell phone in the tray.  Then I walk slowly through the metal detector.  Disney at least does not have metal detectors…for now.  Or if they do the imagineers have blended them invisibly into the scenery.  I fetch back my things and follow the signs down a hall to the jury room.

I take a seat in the front, where I can stretch my legs out, and start getting comfortable.  I am expecting a long, long wait.  I see several big flat screen TVs on the wall in front of us and cringe inwardly.  If I have to just sit and twiddle my thumbs all day long I can do that, but I will go stark raving mad if I have to watch one or two hours of daytime television. Hopefully I can just plug my iPhone headset in, tune the TVs out with some music, and read.  I pull out my iPad and use it as a table top while filling out the form I was handed in line.  Then I check the weather.  I want to explore the city with my camera for a bit during the lunch break.

I am sitting next to the elderly lady I spoke with earlier in the security checkpoint line and we chat some more.  She is a single divorced mother of three children that she’s put through school entirely by herself.  I tell her about my own mother who did the same for me. We warm to each other.

The jury commissioner comes into the room and gives us a short talk about what to expect and what rules we need to know throughout our wait.  If you need to leave the room to go outside for a breath of air (or a smoke) tell the desk clerk your number and where you are going. If your number is called and you aren’t here we won’t go searching for you. If you don’t show up where you’re supposed to you will be marked as absent and a “show cause” order will be sent to you.  She asks for a show of hands of everyone who is here for the first time, and is please to see so many of us.  She says the commissioner’s office is working on getting juror lists updated so as to spread jury duty out among the population more equitably.  I’m guessing from the stories I’ve been hearing so far that the rolls might not have been updated for at least a decade for some reason.

She leaves the room and a voice on the loudspeakers gives us instructions to line up according to our juror numbers (which were printed on the summons we each got in the mail), to sign in, turn in our forms, and get our fifteen dollars juror pay.  We are called up in groups of one-hundred.  Jurors 1 through 99…then jurors 100 through 199…and so on.  The line snakes around the room and passes directly in front of me.  We area a highly diverse group of people.  Young, old, middle and working class, black, white.  A beautiful young man wearing nicely fitting low rise jeans, pink chucks, a light shirt and denim jacket passes in front of me, long blond hair wrapped into a bun held in place with a clip.  I try to catch his eye and smile, he walks on by without acknowledgement, and the loneliness that never strays very far from my side lightly taps me on the shoulder.

The flatscreen TVs come to life and a video about what to expect if you are seated on a jury is played.  Even though I do not expect to actually sit in a jury box, I pay careful attention to it.  There is a difference between what you see on TV and in the movies, and what actually is.  Most of what this video tells me I pretty much already know, but I am impressed by the emphasis placed on individual conscience when evaluating testimony and evidence.  You should discuss your case with your fellow jurors the voiceover tells me, but never allow the judgment of others to supersede your own.  This is said several times in calm, measured assurance that it is not simply the right thing to do, but that it is your duty.  It actually lifts my spirits to hear this said in such a matter-of-fact, almost boilerplate kind of way.

Jurors 500 through 599 are called.  I am juror 508.  I walk up to the register’s desk, check in and hand over my form.  Then I am directed to a pay clerk desk where I am again asked my juror number, told to sign by my name on a printout sheet, and then handed three five dollar bills and a stick on JUROR badge with my number written in the upper right hand corner.  So many people in line with me, and sitting in the chairs around me, wearing the same utterly bored expressions.  But this is the daily routine of the court clerks.  I wonder if they even see our faces.

I sit back down and almost at once a voice over the PA announces that a judge has called for a jury.  Jurors number 1 though 299 are asked to assemble in the lobby, there to be led as a group to a courtroom across the street.  About two minutes later another announcement calls for jurors 300 through 699.

Well…at least this time I’m actually going to get into a courtroom…

I gather my things and say goodbye to the elderly lady next to me.  She gives me a warm “God bless”.  Then I walk back to the lobby and a large group of us are led out of the courthouse to another one just across the street.  We go past the security checkpoint and are led upstairs into a courtroom.

We pass from the outer halls with various knots of people talking among themselves and into a place of hushed stillness, and for  a moment it feels as if I have been led into a church. There are rows of dark wooden pews facing toward a judge’s bench and attorney’s tables.  All that’s needed I think to myself, are the slots for the hymnals, communion glasses and those little cards you can drop into the collection plate if you’re a visitor.  The room looks as though recently remodeled, with new wooden paneling on the walls and an updated bench and jury box.  Yet somehow the room itself feels very old.  I make a bee line for some empty seats in the front row and sit down where I can see everything going on around the bench.

A moment ago I was part of a gathering of about a thousand people, give or take some who didn’t show up that morning.  Now I am one of about four hundred, again give or take some.  I look around.  We fill this courtroom to the brim.  I know what’s coming next and I wonder if this is the usual starting out size, or if the judge expects a lot of us to be excused or challenged before seating the jury even begins.  My number places me about in the middle of this group and I figure they’ll get their twelve long before they ever get to me.

Since this is To Be Continued, you already have a good idea how that went…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Jury Duty – Rounding Up The Herd

December 1st, 2011

Jury Duty

It begins with a little slip of paper, delivered to you by the neighborhood post person…

Greetings, from the President of the United States…

Er…  Okay, I never actually got that little slip of paper.  It was this one…

You are hereby summoned to appear in room 240 courthouse west. St. Paul and Lexington Sts. on Thurs, November 17, 2011 at 8:00 AM to serve as petit juror.

I’d only been summoned to jury duty twice before in my life, both times back when I lived in Rockville.  The first time I was part of a large jury pool that had simply been dismissed after lunch, when it was announced that all the jurors needed for that day has already been selected.  The second time I actually made it inside a court room for the selection process, but they got their twelve before my number was called, and the rest of us were excused.

If you’ve never been to jury duty, at least here in Maryland there is a method to the process.  It is one day or one trial and the night before, you either call a number printed on your summons or you go to a web site and you look to see if your juror number, also printed on the summons, was called.  My number was 508.  I figured I had a 50-50 chance of not even having to go downtown.  But the evening before my scheduled date when I checked, I found that jurors number 1 through 999 had been called up.

They want a thousand of us tomorrow…

Ten years I have lived in Casa del Garrett, my little rowhouse here in the city of Baltimore, and I had not once been summoned to jury duty.  Now here it was.  I am not one of those who bellyache about jury duty.  Apart from voting, jury duty is one of the purest acts of democracy there is.  The state cannot deprive a citizen of their liberty without due process, and not until it can convince twelve common citizens that one of their own is guilty of a crime.  That is as revolutionary as it gets.  You can say it’s a democratic responsibility, you can say it’s a civic duty, I say it is something we should be grateful for.  If the blood of so terribly many Americans was shed defending anything, it is this.  And the ballot.  Jury duty is the cost of that liberty and justice for all thing.

So…my number is called.  Fine.  The next morning I get up super early (for me) and pack a couple sandwiches, a bottle of ice tea, some books and some magazines.  I check to see if computers all allowed and they are, so I also pack my iPad. The iPhone also comes along.  I figure actually using the cell phone functionality won’t be allowed, but listening to music and checking Facebook, Twitter and Google News would be okay.  Also I pack a 35mm camera, the Nikon F2 I bought recently, its 24mm lens and some extra rolls of Tri-X.  I knew cameras wouldn’t be allowed in the courthouse, but I have lived in this city ten years now and still haven’t explored the downtown area very much, so I figure at the lunch break I would wander around for a bit with the Nikon.

I double-check the location of the city courthouse on Google Maps, and plot a course.  At 7AM I hit the road to get downtown before traffic on I-83 gets bad.  At that time of morning traffic flows easily into the city, and I find a good parking spot on the first floor of the Mercy Hospital public parking garage, just around the corner from the city courthouse.

I pull the camera and film out of my backpack and leave them in the trunk.  Then I swing the backpack on and walk outside.  It is chilly but sunny as I walk toward the courthouse.  The sidewalks are full of other pedestrians; it seems the city had already woken up some hours before.  I am in the middle of downtown Baltimore, the tall buildings driving home something I keep forgetting, living as I do in my quiet rowhouse neighborhood close to the university:  I live in the big city.  I gawk like a tourist at the skyscrapers surrounding me…old and ornate brick and concrete next to gleaming new steel and glass.  It is early morning and their top floors glare down at me in bright morning sunlight that hasn’t as yet found the streets.  Down here it is all shadow and early morning coldness and traffic noise that echoes off the concrete walls.  Everyone is busy going somewhere.  I walk along with them, watching as they navigate the crosswalks, figuring they’d know the traffic flow here better then I could guess it.  I make mental notes of the stores and eateries I see along the way.

I enter the courthouse.  I know the drill…walk in, show my summons, go through security, find the jury pool room, take a seat and wait for instructions.  Probably I’ll have some forms to fill out.  I am pretty sure it will end up being the same experience I’d had before back in Rockville: a lot of sitting down and waiting…maybe get led into a courtroom…and then ultimately being sent home.

It wasn’t.

[To be continued…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Jury Duty

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