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April 6th, 2022

The Stupid Matrix

Whenever I start hearing complaints about stupid people, or I start getting the itch myself, I always remember this little moment of dialogue from Plan 9 From Outer Space…

“You see!? You see!? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”

It’s where the effete alien, attempting to explain why humanity must be stopped from discovering the power to explode the particles that constitute sunlight (yes…I know…), goes on a prissy little rant about how stupid we all are, and gets slugged by the Real Man. Let it be said Ed Wood knew his audience.

The problem with bellyaching about human stupidity is there’s precious little you can do about it. To paraphrase Jesus of Nazareth, the morons will be with us always…adjust to it. I think he said that right before they killed him. But also, every one of us is stupid in our own way. We have our blind spots. We have our WTF moments. And if you’re like me and skeptical of IQ tests and charts (what is actually being tested here?), then the entire notion of assigning people spots on an intelligence scale seems a little…well…unintelligent. If nothing else, because we all move around on that scale…day by day…moment by moment.

But I was reading this essay on Facebook this morning, that riffs on work by Berkeley professor of economic history, Carlo M. Cipolla concerning stupidity. I found it surprisingly clarifying. And having witnessed the republican belly flop into the stupid pool since McCain chose Palin for a running mate, and MAGA, DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and the QAnon kooks, I’m a little more open to the notion lately, that stupid is, in fact, a label you can stick on a subset of the human family. 

What makes me want to consider his argument seriously is he agrees that the rest of us move around in his matrix. Even the smartest of us can move out of our corner, into one of the others. But the thing is We Move Around. Stupid on the other hand, he says, is grimly consistent. He calls it The Golden Law of stupidity. And it sets the stupid apart from the rest of us.

I found the essay clarifying on a number of points that have constantly befuddled me about people like Boebert and the sort that flock to Trump rallies, and Twitter trolls. Sure, some of them are, as this man categorizes them, “bandits”. They want in on the grift. But the bulk of them are just there to witlessly do damage to everything.  

——
“In 1976, a professor of economic history at the University of California, Berkeley published an essay outlining the fundamental laws of a force he perceived as humanity’s greatest existential threat: Stupidity.

Stupid people, Carlo M. Cipolla explained, share several identifying traits: they are abundant, they are irrational, and they cause problems for others without apparent benefit to themselves, thereby lowering society’s total well-being. There are no defenses against stupidity, argued the Italian-born professor, who died in 2000. The only way a society can avoid being crushed by the burden of its idiots is if the non-stupid work even harder to offset the losses of their stupid brethren.

Let’s take a look at Cipolla’s five basic laws of human stupidity:

Law 1: Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

No matter how many idiots you suspect yourself surrounded by, Cipolla wrote, you are invariably lowballing the total. This problem is compounded by biased assumptions that certain people are intelligent based on superficial factors like their job, education level, or other traits we believe to be exclusive of stupidity. They aren’t. Which takes us to:

Law 2: The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

Cipolla posits stupidity is a variable that remains constant across all populations. Every category one can imagine—gender, race, nationality, education level, income—possesses a fixed percentage of stupid people. There are stupid college professors. There are stupid people at Davos and at the UN General Assembly. There are stupid people in every nation on earth. How numerous are the stupid amongst us? It’s impossible to say. And any guess would almost certainly violate the first law, anyway.

Law 3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

Cipolla called this one the Golden Law of stupidity. A stupid person, according to the economist, is one who causes problems for others without any clear benefit to himself.

The uncle unable to stop himself from posting fake news articles to Facebook? Stupid. The customer service representative who keeps you on the phone for an hour, hangs up on you twice, and somehow still manages to screw up your account? Stupid.

This law also introduces three other phenotypes that Cipolla says co-exist alongside stupidity. First there is the intelligent person, whose actions benefit both himself and others. Then there is the bandit, who benefits himself at others’ expense. And lastly there is the helpless person, whose actions enrich others at his own expense. Cipolla imagined the four types along a graph, like this:

The non-stupid are a flawed and inconsistent bunch. Sometimes we act intelligently, sometimes we are selfish bandits, sometimes we act helplessly and are taken advantage of by others, and sometimes we’re a bit of both. The stupid, in comparison, are paragons of consistency, acting at all times with unyielding idiocy.

However, consistent stupidity is the only consistent thing about the stupid. This is what makes stupid people so dangerous. Cipolla explains:

Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behavior. An intelligent person may understand the logic of a bandit. The bandit’s actions follow a pattern of rationality: nasty rationality, if you like, but still rationality. The bandit wants a plus on his account. Since he is not intelligent enough to devise ways of obtaining the plus as well as providing you with a plus, he will produce his plus by causing a minus to appear on your account. All this is bad, but it is rational and if you are rational you can predict it. You can foresee a bandit’s actions, his nasty maneuvres and ugly aspirations and often can build up your defenses.

With a stupid person all this is absolutely impossible as explained by the Third Basic Law. A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme and at the most improbable times and places. You have no rational way of telling if and when and how and why the stupid creature attacks. When confronted with a stupid individual you are completely at his mercy.

All of which leads us to:

Law 4: Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.

We underestimate the stupid, and we do so at our own peril. This brings us to the fifth and final law:

Law 5: A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

And its corollary:

A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.

We can do nothing about the stupid. The difference between societies that collapse under the weight of their stupid citizens and those who transcend them are the makeup of the non-stupid. Those progressing in spite of their stupid possess a high proportion of people acting intelligently, those who counterbalance the stupid’s losses by bringing about gains for themselves and their fellows.

Declining societies have the same percentage of stupid people as successful ones. But they also have high percentages of helpless people and, Cipolla writes, “an alarming proliferation of the bandits with overtones of stupidity.”

“Such change in the composition of the non-stupid population inevitably strengthens the destructive power of the [stupid] fraction and makes decline a certainty,” Cipolla concludes. “And the country goes to Hell.”


Posted In: Life Politics
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Stupid Matrix
March 31st, 2022

The Monsters Are Due On LGBT Street

It’s a tale as old as time…

SNAPSHOT…  In 1977 Anita Bryant goes on a rampage against a newly enacted local ordinance that gave gay people protection from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accomodation. She calls her new movement Save Our Children…as though letting gay people have jobs and housing and access to public places endangers children.

During a news conference she stands with Jerry Falwell who tells the gathered reporters, “A homosexual will kill you as soon as look at you.”

 

SNAPSHOT… In November 2008, voters in California passed Proposition 8, effectively taking away the right of same sex couples to marry they had won in the state Supreme court the previous May. Funded and promoted in secrecy almost entirely by the Mormon church, the campaign against same sex marriage focused like a laser beam on fears of child molestation by homosexuals. Ads using images of children being helplessly subjected to homosexual indoctrination, or being raised by homosexuals, were used throughout the campaign.

 

SNAPSHOT…  in 2017, Ringling College of Art and Design students Esteban Bravo and Beth David released a short animated film for their senior thesis. The storyline involves a closeted gay boy named Sherwin who has a crush on another boy named Jonathan. The story takes place in the middle school they both attend. Sherwin’s heart begins beating rapidly at the sight of his crush and then (it’s a cartoon) leaps out of his chest and begins pursuing Johnathan, dragging Sherwin along with it as he desperately tries to stop it before it reaches Johnathan. Hilarity ensues. 

It’s the sort of sweet puppy love story that reliably gets awws and oh how cutes oh how sweets from audiences were it about a boy-girl couple, and it did in fact get a lot of those from most of its reviewers, gay and straight alike. But after a week or so there also came a torrent of complaints that the film was pushing sex onto children. Of course, there was no sex anywhere in the film.

 

Gay activist and film historian Vito Russo once said, “It is an old stereotype, that homosexuality has to do only with sex while heterosexuality is multifaceted and embraces love and romance.” But this is how bigots think. The hated other is stripped of all their essential humanity, and reduced to the status of animals at best. Homosexuals don’t love, they just have sex.

But notice how In A Heartbeat did get awwwws and how sweets from a largely heterosexual audience. It also won a multitude of awards. Through the telling of our stories, in our own words, our heterosexual neighbors have come, over time, to realize that we are just as human as they. This poses a problem for bigots. They have to work harder now at painting us as monsters to the rest of the world. They have to work harder to excuse tormenting us.  Defeat doesn’t make them go away, it makes them shiftier.

In Florida they passed a law regarding the teaching of gender and sexual orientation in the public schools, that people are calling the Don’t Say Gay law. Now, any casual review of the debate leading up to the votes on this law makes it abundantly clear the target is Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender school kids, and its purpose is to terrorize them and their adult supporters into silence. And if that strikes you as an extremist take on the matter, recall that the author of the bill submitted an amendment to it after the controversy broke out, striking a part of it that allowed school staff to withhold information about a student’s sexual orientation from parents if they could reasonably assume telling the kid’s parents would lead to violence against the kid and ejection from their home. He later withdrew it, but there it is, the bottomless pit of hatred that was the motivation for the law.

Silencing LGBT kids effectively denies them the mutual support of their peers and the support of their non-homophobic classmates and staff. A good homosexual, is a self hating homosexual. You’ve got to be carefully taught to hate yourself.

But look at the actual “don’t say gay” part of this law. It’s a clever little bit of tactical syntax:

3. Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.

This is the “don’t say gay” part of the law. But to hear the kook pews tell it, that first part, “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3″ is the entire law. And the routine online now is whenever anyone calls out this law for the bigoted attack on gay kids that it is, they get the rote boilerplate reply, which comes in three forms:

Oh you haven’t read the law have you. It only applies to K through grade 3.
Oh, you want to teach sex to kindergarteners.
Okay groomer.

As I said, it’s clever. Section 3 of “CS/CS/HB 1557: Parental Rights in Education” has two parts to it. The first part says specifically no teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in K through grade 3. The second part adds that no age or developmentally inappropriate instruction shall occur regardless of grade, according to state standards. Now…think about this…there is nothing in the first part of section three, that isn’t also covered in the second part. You could simply say just the second part and be done with it. Teach kindergarteners about gay sex? No…that’s not age and developmentally appropriate. Gender identity? Is the material age and developmentally appropriate? No? Then it’s out.

But teaching kids things that are not age and developmentally appropriate is not the problem being addressed here. The problem is teaching kids respect for people their parents hate. The problem is teaching respect for other kinds of families that their pulpit thumpers hate. That is the problem. That is the only problem.

But how do you stifle classroom discussions about respecting others without looking like a hate monger? There’s where that first part of section 3 comes in. It may look like it’s simply emphasising what is not to be taught in K through grade 3, but what it’s actually there to do is to give the bigots an excuse to call every critic of the law a pedophile and then just keep babbling on and on and on and on about grooming children for sex, to shut everyone up…and maybe even provoke a little righteous violence against the hated Other.

Oh…you want to teach little children about gay sex do you…groomer…pedo…

The homosexuals are coming after your kids. You know what to do…

And if you think I’m exaggerating…

This is what Disney Corp is getting, after apologising to the LGBT community and their LGBT staff for not coming out strongly against the Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida, and for contributing money to the Florida politician who authored the bill, and to the bill’s supporters.

 

So now the bat signal has gone out and the noise machine is in full riot gear…

 

 

The homosexuals are coming after your children…The homosexuals are coming after your children…The homosexuals are coming after your children… And just you pay no attention to the fact that it’s the bigots who are coming for your children…to teach the heterosexual ones to hate and bully their LGBT peers, and to teach the LGBT kids to be afraid and to hate themselves for existing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Every gay man of my generation that I know had to grow up under this torrent of hate and abuse. And a lot of us still bear the scars of that adolescence, when what should have been the most magical and wonderful time of life, that first crush, the discovery of romantic love, that first date, the first kiss, was turned into a nightmare, so the righteous could make their stepping stones to heaven out of the pieces of our broken hearts.  Who are the real child molesters here?


Posted In: Life

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Monsters Are Due On LGBT Street
March 8th, 2022

And In Addition…

A certain someone once told me to stop living in the past. The present he said, is a gift, that’s why it’s called the “present”. Ha, ha…yes. I’ve often wondered where he heard that one. But I know what he was trying to tell me.

It’s just the geek in me has to consider these hory old bromides seriously. The past is the foundation of the present,. We are where we are, because of how we got here. For better or worse, our past is what we have to build all our tomorrows on.

But a house without a foundation at all can never be stable. It’ll get blown away at the slightest bit of wind.

I revisit my past often, to better understand the person I am. I’d advise A Certain Someone to do the same, but I suspect he had it pretty bad back there, whereas bad as mine sometimes was, in retrospect I had it golden compared to other gay kids of our generation.


Posted In: Gently Tapping My Pulpit
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on And In Addition…

I Suppose This Has Something To Do With My Having Retired

I had a dream about my high school early this morning. It was very painful. Not to start with though…

In this dream I am a young adult. I’m bicycling around the old neighborhoods. I find myself in front of the main entrance of my high school, Woodward, across the service road where the school buses park. There is some sort of event going on…lots of people of all ages going inside, tables and banners and colorful flags out in front of the doors and the auditorium.

I have an urge to go inside and look around, but I feel as though I’m not allowed inside and everyone would know that. But I want to look around, and maybe take a few reference photos for A Coming Out Story. So I walk my bike across the street to a nearby bike rack.

I realize I don’t have a bicycle lock on me. But then I notice there is one, in a holder in the bike frame. It’s an odd type I’ve never seen or experienced before but in the dream it all makes sense. It’s just a small chrome plated block of metal that rests in a holder in the frame. There is a key lock at one end and I pull a key for it out of my pocket, and remove it from its holder. It fits into a slot in the front wheel yoke when the wheel is turned all the way to the left, and blocks the front wheel from turning. The theory seems to be that a thief can’t ride off with the bike if the front wheel is stuck to the hard left. Of course one could always just throw the bike in the back of a car or truck, but in this dream I don’t think about that. I’m in a hurry to get inside.

My dreams often geek out like this.

I figure if I just act like I belong there nobody will notice me. It’s behavior that has served me well as a photographer. I walk inside and see that people are gathering in the cafeteria. There are also a lot of people walking around in the hallway leading to the cafeteria. Just like outside, there are tables inside, colorful flags and banners. It looks like the tables are selling or giving away souvenirs and keepsakes for whatever event is happening today. There is no text on any of the banners, just splashes of color everywhere. Everyone is happy. Everyone is having a good time. Smiles and happy conversation all around.

Inside the cafeteria it looks like a catering company is providing the food, as the kitchen area is empty. There are tables of food and various juice and soft drinks. It’s all high quality stuff. I’ve done wedding photography where it was like this at the reception. The dress code today seems to be everyday casual, so it’s not a very formal event whatever it is. People are sitting at the tables or standing or milling around. Everyone is chatting amicably with someone near them. This is a happy crowd.

The hallway outside, I notice, is much Much bigger than I remembered. Wider and taller. It’s become a grand hallway, but still keeping that 60s modernist flavor. I will always love that architecture. I step out into it, and walk toward the classrooms. I want to see the art rooms again. Every hallway, every staircase, has been greatly enlarged, made grand, but here there are no people and all is quiet. As I go up the stairs I can see sunlight from outside shining in and creating huge spaces of beautiful light and shadow. I reach for my cellphone to take some photos, and realize I left it back in my car.

Yes, somehow, and dreams do this to me all the time, the bicycle has become a car. My little green Geo Prism specifically this time. I’ve no idea why that car specifically, but it might have some dream connection with the fact that it was my first new bought car when I started making good money as a contract software developer, and I could live on my own for the first time in my life, and not in anyone’s basement. The Prism (I named it Aya) is a touchstone, a marker at point where my life took a turn for the massively better. The life I have now is nothing like the life I was expecting to have. I run out to the car, see the cell phone on the passenger seat, grab it, and run back inside.

But now all those grand spaces around the classrooms are full of people wandering about. The event, whatever it is that’s happening here, has grown in size.

I begin snapping some shots of the grand spaces inside. Like downstairs the hallways have tables and colorful banners and flags and people either selling or giving out keepsakes. I don’t look closely at what they are, I am focused on getting my shots.

I wander into the art rooms. Inside instead of all the art tables and stools, there is a big merchandise counter with friendly looking youngsters selling or giving out I can’t say which, more keepsakes and souvenirs. There are people of all ages looking the stuff over, and also milling about enjoying themselves.

I take a few shots and mutter to myself, “Well I guess that’s enough.”

An older man nearby gives me an odd look (I’m still a young adult in this dream). I suppose without context what I just said is strange, so I explain. “I just wanted to get some reference photos for a cartoon I’m working on…”

…and then I realize.

“…because this place doesn’t exist anymore. They tore it down.”

Now the man is looking at me like I’m crazy. But a younger man standing next to me speaks up.

“He’s right. They tore this place down. It’s not here anymore.”

And then it all fades away around me, and I’m standing in the middle of a field of wrecking ball art. Concrete blocks and bricks and twisted steel beams scattered all around me, none of it recognizable as having been anything in particular.

And I begin to cry. And cry. And cry. Like my heart is breaking.

And I wake up. It always surprises me when I wake up from dreams that do that to me, that my eyes are perfectly dry. I’m breathing pretty heavily though.

 


Posted In: Life Woodward
Tags: , ,

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I Suppose This Has Something To Do With My Having Retired
February 27th, 2022

Tell Us Without Telling Us What Your Voting Patterns Are Likely To Be

This came across my newsfeed just now…

If you won a life time supply of the last thing you drank, what are you stuck drinking?

I was sorely tempted to reply “The tears of data miners”, but even that would have probably told them something.

 


Posted In: Politics
Tags: ,

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Tell Us Without Telling Us What Your Voting Patterns Are Likely To Be

Notes On Life After Retirement…

Or at any rate, the immediate post retirement.

  • They finally got around to turning off my email access at the Institute yesterday morning. I got the usual notifications that my crons ran early in the morning, but later the iPhone complained it couldn’t get my Institute mail, so I went in to Settings and turned that account off. Supposedly they will send me email when they need to contact me about anything, to one of my other addresses I gave them.

    It’s okay. I don’t need to be hearing what’s going on there anymore because my head will get wrapped around all the work I don’t need to do anymore. I need to train my head to stop going down those rabbit holes now.

    There will be other rabbit holes for me to fall into I’m sure…

  • I figured I’d just take everything in the office back home and sort out what I want to keep and what I don’t later. But my office was, no kidding, a home away from home that I’d built over the years. First the microwave, then the mini fridge, then various other office do-dads and toys, then the coffee maker. Books books books. Dishes and utensils. Salt and pepper grinders. An assortment of coffee mugs. iPhone chargers and spare headphones and ear buds. A plush Grumpy Cat and a plush Opus the Penguin. Some artwork from my Southwest road trips. Disney posters, cartoons, and framed service awards. Now that it’s all in the house and my first day of retirement and I had some time to breath and take a look at everything.  What I’m seeing is it’s going to take me months to integrate the office office into the home office.

    But I’m not even wanting to call it my “office” anymore. It’s my den. It has books, a nice chair for reading with a couple reading lamps next to it. It has my camera cabinet, my computer desk, and eventually the shortwave radio for listening to the world at night. I’m retired. That room doesn’t need to serve business purposes anymore. It’s my quiet thinking space. First thing this morning was I took a look at everything on my dryboard and saw that it was all Institute stuff and erased everything on it. It was all stuff I’d either already done, or stuff I didn’t need to do anymore.

    I just took the mini fridge upstairs and found a good place for it in the office because the office has all my camera stuff and the plan is to use that fridge to store film. But that entire second floor is all on one 15 amp circuit, so I’m going to need to run a few tests to see if the fridge doesn’t trip the circuit breaker if I also have one or more of the space heaters on, plus the lights, plus the ceiling fans.

    The house is a mess! I was so embarrassed when I had company over to see my artwork. I’m probably going to spend most of next week sorting through all of it and trying to get things back under control here. Plus trying to get ready to go to California. But that depends on the weather.

  • As if to put a period on the day I transitioned to retirement, I finally got notice that my application for Medicare part the B is going forward. And the bill.

    You pay for part B based on your income for the previous two years, and I’ve been making pretty good money. The letter I got tells me that I will pay the standard amount, 170.10, plus an income related monthly adjustment of 170.10. So, 340.20. That, plus my STScI employee health plan which I get to keep, at 115.11 a month, gives me a monthly health insurance bill for the next two years of 455.31. But that is health insurance that covers me completely in my retirement years, including drug costs, and yes, I know I’m lucky to have it, and the ability to keep paying for it.

    I’ve worked all this into my monthly budget spreadsheet and it’s okay. The part B premium actually was 20 bucks less than I’d anticipated, so it’s all good. And it will go down next year, or the year after.


Posted In: Life
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by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Notes On Life After Retirement…
February 25th, 2022

Thank You And Goodbye

Today was my last day at work. Office cleaned out, final timesheet filled out and signed, key cards turned in, RSA and DUO tokens given back. My co-workers gave me a nice sendoff last night at Pappi’s. Maybe I had one too many margaritas.

One last thing to do before I leave the paycheck life forever is say goodbye to the people who I worked alongside of at the best job ever…

Today is my last day here at Space Telescope. After 23 years and at age 68 I’m retiring, and moving on to a new stage in my life. But before I go I want to take some time to thank everyone here for making all these years some of the best in my life. I watched the TV raptly as the astronauts launched from Cape Canaveral, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and later the Space Shuttle, and even in my wildest dreams back in those days I’d never thought I’d find a place for myself in the space program. I was raised by a single divorced mother, we didn’t have a lot of money, and expectations placed on me were low.

I want to tell you before I leave about the path that brought me to the Institute, because there are many paths that brought us here and mine speaks I think to something worth remembering about the value people can bring to their jobs, and their communities, regardless of their backgrounds, regardless of their differences, and to what makes this place so special. Sorry if this seems a bit longish.

I think the biggest debt of thanks I owe to any one person in my life is to someone I never got a chance to meet. My maternal grandfather, Albert (who I’m middle named for) built, sold and serviced radios back in the early days of radio, when KDKA was the first commercial radio station.

He suffered a sudden stroke in his mid forties when mom was still a teenager. She loved her dad very much, and while I was growing up anything she saw in me that reminded her of her dad she encouraged. So while I began showing an early interest in art and photography (my first grade teacher wrote in my file that I took “excessive interest in personal art projects”) whenever I showed an interest in radios and electronics she encouraged it, and I got radio kits, Heathkits to build, and all sorts of electronics kits to fiddle with.

I took an interest in shortwave radio because it gave me news and programs from all over the world. I would retrieve discarded radios from behind a radio/TV repair shop near where we lived, and get them working again so I could listen to the BBC, Radio Netherlands, Deutsch World, Radio Johannesburg. Once I brought an old TV home and got it working again, just as mom walked into my room and saw it. I wasn’t allowed to have a TV in my room, mom thought it would be a distraction from my schoolwork. But I knew if I could say the magic words (“I fixed it”) she’d let me keep it.

I bought my first computer, a little Commodore C64, because I saw a kit for it that let you pick up radio teletype transmissions, and also to play video games which were just then becoming a thing. The Commodore’s user interface was its Basic interpreter (which was written by Microsoft for Commodore), and experimenting with that I began to learn programming.

When the first IBM PC came out I was fascinated by it, but the cost of one was way beyond my reach. But one day I was walking around a HAM Fest at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, looking for vacuum tubes for a radio I was working on, I saw a booth that was selling the parts to build a PC compatible. The HAMS were using them for radio teletype. I saw I could buy the parts one piece at a time as I could afford it, which I did, and eventually got my first PC running. I remember staring at it in my room after I booted it up, feeling suddenly a bit intimidated by it, and thinking to myself that it was way more power than I’d ever need.

I bought a modem and started exploring the early online world. Some of the early modem programs allowed you to write scripts for automating connecting and downloading content, which was useful back when your favorite bulletin boards were single line and often busy. I could start off a program and go do something else while the computer tried to connect and get me the latest messages and upload some of mine. I also began experimenting with a copy of Microsoft Quick Basic, and later a copy of their professional development kit which came with the first iteration of their Access database engine. I wrote my own contact manager and calendar application, and made it work with the serial port and modem so I could remote log into it.

Around that time I discovered G.L.I.B.,the Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau bulletin board, created by two gay men as a news and information resource for the community. I’d come out to myself back in high school, but in 1971/72 there were no resources for gay teens and the only place I knew of was a seedy bar down in Georgetown, so finding a safe place to meet and chat with other gay folk who were also techno nerds like me felt like a godsend and I quickly became an active volunteer in the board’s maintenance.

I wrote programs to maintain the user list and send out notices. I managed the calendar of events which we copied from the local gay paper, The Washington Blade. I paid particular attention to the board news section as it was the heart of our mission. One of our members worked for a wire service and he would send me a digest of gay related wire service news items. This was a time when most newspapers barely touched on anything related to our existence. When Anita Bryant went on a warpath in Dade County Florida against an anti discrimination ordinance, I had to find out it had been repealed by listening to a BBC shortwave broadcast because none of the TV news programs said anything about it. I wrote a program to download his news digest, split it out into the individual news items, format them correctly for the BBS software we used, then uploaded them along with a new menu with all the new news items in it.

I was still trying to make a living at my arts then, on the assumption that as long as I had no college degree I would never be hired as a programmer, even though I was getting pretty good at it. I had a few photography gigs for local newspapers but the pay was miniscule. I was earning a small living as an architectural model maker, but the savings and loan scandal in the mid 80s bankrupted the architects I did work for. So I was back to doing Manpower jobs and mowing lawns to make ends meet. I asked the BBS users for help. One of the men who ran the system also had a business teaching classes on the dedicated work processors of the time, and he hired me part time to help him with other work.

I wrote him a membership management system for a gay political group, using Basic, Word Perfect and dBase 4 (working with dBase for I learned how documentation will occasionally lie through its teeth). The system could query the database for new members and generate welcome letters, run monthly queries for members who needed to renew and generate renewal letters, and had a simple menu user interface. The system would take the comma delimited data file dBase generated and reformatted it to Word Perfect’s mail merge format, and send the letters right to the printer

This gave me enough of a resume that when a friend who worked for a contract agency told me Baltimore Gas and Electric was looking for someone who knew Microsoft Basic to work on their Work Measurement System, that I was able to go through the interview process and get the job. I worked for BG&E for three years, delivering an assortment of programs that queried their databases to generate reports for management. That eventually became my stock in trade, along with writing installation kits.

After BG&E I wrote business software for AT&T, Becton-Dickenson, Litton Amecom, Zenica Pharmaceuticals, and several small insurance companies. I still did not have my degree, but my resume was getting pretty big. And with each new contract I gained a level of experience working in different software and hardware environments.

While working for one of the insurance companies, a recruiter at the agency I was working for asked me if I was interested in a part time side job. Not really interested since my plate was pretty full at the time, I asked where. “The Space Telescope Science Institute at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.” he says, “They operate the Hubble Space Telescope.” Well he didn’t need to ask me twice.

I started work here, as a full time contractor, Thanksgiving week 1998, on the new Grant Management System, code named GATOR. Another business application, which was right up my alley. After a year as a contractor I was given the opportunity to come on board as AURA staff. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

At that time we distributed a Java application to our community, any one of which might be using Microsoft, Apple, SunOS, or Linux. So eventually I was tasked with building a test center we could use to debug problem reports from the community, regardless of what they were running our application on. That first test center was made from a lot of spare parts, again, something I had experience with since by then I’d built several generations of my own household computers from parts. That led to my joining the Integration and Test branch, which eventually led to my working on JWST, the ACTLab, the I&T Lab, and eventually the MOC itself.

And so the kid with low expectations, who watched the first astronauts going into space, found himself one day participating in JWST end to end tests, doing test conductor work, and speaking over the NASA voice loop to outposts on the deep space network. And still writing business software, because science needs business software too. The last major one I turned in was a build report for the Roman Space Telescope project.

I had the job offer letter I got in December 1999 framed and it’s on my den wall at home, along with our group pictures with the astronauts and my awards. There is also a little DayTimer page there, with a note on it to call Lee Hurt about work at Space Telescope.

The Institute opened doors for me, gave me a chance to grow professionally and discover potential within myself that I never knew I had, until I was given the chance. I have never felt safer, or more valued as a coworker anywhere else.

To the other LGBT folk who are new here, let me just say my lived experience here is this place takes diversity seriously. You are safe here, and you are valued.

And to all of you who are new here: you will love working here, and you will be proud of the work you do.

To the rest of you…thank you so much for making these the most wonderful years of my life. I am looking forward to all the great science to come from JWST and Roman. Take care. Love.

-Bruce Albert Garrett

So for 50+ years of my 68, I’ve been tied in one way or another to working for a paycheck. And now suddenly I am not tied to one.

I’ve been told to watch out for depression now that I’m disconnected from the work world. But the identity I’ve built for myself around the work I do has always been flexible out of necessity. There are two parts to me: the techno nerd and the art kid. For decades I’ve made a good living as a software and computer systems engineer. But there’s that other side, I paint, I draw, I do photography, I write stories.

That was the life I was looking toward when I was young. It is how I’ve always seen myself. I have this techno nerd side of me, but basically I am an artist.

But it was don’t quit your day job with me, because I’m so terrible at self promotion, and I never had that single minded focus on one thing, which is what you need to make a living at it. There’s the drafting table, the painter’s easel, the cameras and the darkroom. Stephen Fry said that we are not nouns, we are verbs. I don’t know about everyone, but that is definitely me, and as starving artist wasn’t all that appealing I did what I could for a paycheck, and tried to save time for my artwork. In retrospect maybe I should have gone all in on it, but what eventually Did happen was I got the best job in the world and stuck with it for 23 years.

Now I’m retired. Now I can have that other life without worry about the next paycheck, the one that was always been there in the background, the one I looked toward when I was young.

It got off to a pretty good start already. A couple co-workers came for a visit and I showed them around the house and the art room and one of them asked for a print of something I’d done. That lifted me up as much as watching James Webb launch last Christmas. I don’t know that I’ll ever make any money at it, or gain any recognition beyond this website and some family and friends. But the reason I can call myself an artist without any feelings of pretense after all this time is I know that I’m not doing it for the recognition. Recognition would be nice, it would be wonderful, but I do it because I have to get it out of me. And if you think that’s pretentious you don’t know and I don’t care. Everyone who does this, recognized or not, knows exactly how that is.

Now I can have that life. It starts today.

 


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February 23rd, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

Cleaning out your office is a bit of a chore when you’ve occupied a little out of the way corner of your building for a decade that you’ve basically made a home away from home. Apple computer, Windows computer, stand up/sit down desk, coffee maker, microwave, refrigerator, bookshelves, spare parts drawer, file cabinets, coat hanger…

…and window.

 

I’m taking the window with me.

 

 

(That’s already a partially cleaned out office you’re seeing there. I had a ton of stuff on my walls…awards, anniversary Hubble photos, some of my cartoons and photography, that I’ve already taken home.)


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February 22nd, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

I reckon that yesterday afternoon, late, I had my first moment of wow I’m really saying goodbye to everything sads. Management wants me to be in the office tomorrow through Friday. So after I shut down the office laptop for the night, just now I packed it up into the backpack I use to shuttle it back and forth to the office. And while doing that I realized that this was the last trip for that laptop. It is not coming back to the house again. Ever.

It kinda hit me hard. I guess because I really loved my job, and I’m really proud of the work I did there. But…it’s time.

I’ll have to repurpose that backpack.


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February 21st, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

Today is Monday. After today I won’t have to care about Mondays anymore. I still really have no idea what that will be like.


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February 19th, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…(continued)

And now I am in the first day of my last weekend on the clock. Next weekend it won’t matter that the Monday following Sunday is a back to work day. That is going to feel very strange for a while.

Will weekends still matter anymore? Weekdays? Yes…because I will still have to keep commuter traffic in mind whenever I want to drive anywhere.

Taking the car to the mechanic’s for routine service will be a lot nicer when I can do it any day of the week and not have to think about taking time off from work. Going to the Bank…going to the doctor…the hair stylist…the movies…buying groceries hours when there aren’t a lot of people at the store…just taking drives in the country for the hell of it…road trips whenever I feel like it…


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February 16th, 2022

Notes On Transitioning To Another Life…

I’m filling out my timesheet, and then I suddenly realize that it’s the last timesheet I will ever have to fill out…


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Stepping From One Life Into Another

Step by step…

Got my first Social Security payment today, and it’s a tad better than expected because of the cost of living adjustment they made in January.

I applied back in September, two years after my official full retirement year, so the payment is bigger. The plan was to wait it out until 70 when you have to take it. My work isn’t physically strenuous and I love my job so I figured that would be a piece of cake. The heart attack two years ago (a month after I’d reached my full Social Security age) convinced me otherwise, and I adjusted the plan to retiring after James Webb launch. I’m getting Social Security at the same time I’m still drawing a paycheck because they kept moving the launch date back.

I was afraid some bureaucratic screw up would happen and I’d not see a payment today and have to wade through the bureaucracy to get it fixed. I’m still struggling to get Medicare plan B going. But I checked just now and there it is.

They say Social Security should not be more than a small part of your retirement income, but I did not have the wherewithal to save for retirement until late in life. That factoid you may have heard about gay men having so much discretionary income…? It’s total bullshit! A lifestyle magazine did a survey and got that result which they then pitched to advertisers. But all it meant is having lots of money in the 1990s made it easier for some gay guys to be out of the closet. Most of us had to struggle and it was even worse for lesbians. I had first hand experience with that doing volunteer work for a local gay BBS run by a non-profit, those times of year when we sent out letters asking for donations. I have a string of jobs in my past I got fired or laid off of the instant they figured out what a lavender boy I am…usually because I refused to make up stories about girlfriends I didn’t have.

Something I’ve said often enough is that a militant homosexual is a homosexual who doesn’t think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual, and a militant homosexual activist is a homosexual who acts like there isn’t anything wrong with being a homosexual. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. You don’t have to march in Pride Day parades, you don’t have to do Gay Days every year at Walt Disney World, you don’t have to festoon your car with Pride decals. All it takes is you are fine with being gay, and unwilling to hide that fact whenever those unplanned, unexpected out of the closet moments suddenly tap you on the shoulder. Eventually life teaches you that being truthful is better in the long run, even if it stings at the moment. You get one chance in this life to keep your good name, and the trust of your neighbors. But for us gay folk, maintaining that is a constant struggle against the pressure from every direction to duck the question, to hide. to lie, to put on a mask for the comfort of others, and never mind that it will slowly strangle the person you could have been. 

They tell us to just not “flaunt it” and we’ll be fine, but that’s a lie. You had to bury yourself deep and fake it and lie and lie and lie and lie about every part of your life and just let it corrode your soul and and drive you deeper into self hatred. I refused. I’d fallen in love when I was 17 and it made me stubborn. I saw what the closet did, And Still Does, to so many, and apart from knowing that I had to be careful (I read stories about gay bashings nearly every week, even these days) I wasn’t going there, I was not going to act like I thought there was anything wrong with me when I damn well knew there wasn’t. All I had to do was remember how seeing him smile made me feel back when we were teenagers, and the world was new.

But I was never of the fabulous peacock tribe. I was, and to some degree still am, a kind of scrawny geeky kind of guy, without very much of a fashion sense, and thus I made it past a lot of job interviews, only to later be shown the door for being insufficiently low on the Kinsey scale. I never had a boyfriend, was always single, and thus had no love life to brag about like everyone else in the office. Lots of people mistook that for my being discrete but if challenged on it I would dig in my heels and tell the truth. Yes I am…what of it? And that’s what usually got me fired. I never really saw myself as being brave or having courage, just stubborn. 

So I didn’t have much to save for retirement, until I got the job I have now, with an employer that actually took pains to make me feel safe and valued there, and matched ten percent of my salary and put it right into a 403b (they’re for non-profits). Twenty-two years of that, plus my own contributions now that I had a good income for it, gave me enough of a nest egg that I can retire comfortably, if not fabulously. But Social Security is going to have to be a big part of that, which is why I waited to apply. That, and buying my little Baltimore rowhouse when I did, makes it possible. Oh…and the car is paid for. In ten years so is the house.

I’ll do okay. But for the life of me I just don’t get why so many old people vote republican. They’ve been trying to kill Social Security since FDR created it.


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February 14th, 2022

The Day After Valentine’s Day Should Be Ours

Those of us who are single. Those of us who have never found that intimate other. Those of us who crashed and burned on the alter of Love. It’s the day after that is ours. The day when the flowers start to wilt and the candy goes stale. There you will find us. The books holding stories of love that never was, waiting forever on the remainders shelves as a last desperate hope for a buyer. The closest thing I ever had to a boyfriend told me we were but merely friends with benefits. Swell if that sort of thing suits you. Too bad I was in love. Strike Three!

Today is the most miserable of days for those of us who have been single our entire adult lives. This year I have my pending retirement to distract me from it, so there’s that. That, and the fact that I’ve reached an age now where the need is beginning to wane. Let’s hear it for getting old. I tell myself I survived the heart attack because my heart has a lot of experience living with damage.  

But…since I’m seeing so many others sharing their favorite Valentine’s Day poems on Facebook today, let me share a couple of mine. Not really Valentine’s Day poems you say? Oh my goodness…yes…yes they are!

Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you, and I promised
To throw the thought away.
To put the world between us
We parted, stiff and dry;
‘Good-bye,’ said you, `forget me.’
‘I will, no fear’, said I.
If here, where clover whitens
The dead man’s knoll, you pass,
And no tall flower to meet you
Starts in the trefoiled grass,
Halt by the headstone naming
The heart no longer stirred,
And say the lad that loved you
Was one that kept his word.
-A. E. Housman

I’ll just quote a couple lines from The Man On The Bed by Debora Greger…

If the heart is a house, he thought,
it is rented to strangers
who leave it empty.

That’s a hard one to find to read since it’s not been published widely, but it’s there in the November 24, 1974 issue of The New Yorker. If you have a subscription you can read it online. I bought a copy from a place that sells back issues just so I could have the entire thing. I think it’s a perfect Day After Valentine’s Day poem, but that’s probably not what the poet had in mind.

Many years ago I did a series of charcoal and ink drawings on a theme of first love, which I’m still really proud of…


The Old Gate

I was still so sure that I’d find my other half eventually. But that was then, and this is now. Crush #1 and I are not speaking to each other anymore, and crush #3 is living happily with the guy he dumped me for, except you can’t really say you were dumped when all you ever were was a friend who provided benefits when called upon. Age brings wisdom. And…heart attacks. Of the physical sort no less. If I’m still alive next year I might restart this blog’s annual Valentine’s Day Poster Contest.

 

But by then I might be fully across the threshold of old enough not to care anymore. Think of it as being nature’s way of saving the quest for love for younger folks who can take a beating. Or culling the herd of the ones that can’t. Some nights I have no idea why I’m still alive.


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February 13th, 2022

That Magic Feeling

Yesterday I entered the two week period prior to retirement, where everything is happening according to a set number of steps. You can no longer take any time off, because payroll wants a clean slate to do the final payouts on. There are steps for turning in equipment, and various key cards. Also I have to make sure the people who will be taking on my rolls (I had many) are fully trained and my system accounts are migrated over to them.

It actually began a few days ago, when I had to enter this in the IT support system…

I had finished up a pre-departure interview with HR and was instructed to start this process in the system. There are still things to tidy up, mostly equipment related things and documents to sign and pass around. But…here goes. As of now I am on the two week glide path.

When I leave the building as a retiree, I know what I’ll be thinking…

Monday morning, turning back
Yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go
But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go
Oh, that magic feeling
Nowhere to go, nowhere to go…

Those lines from the Beatles You Never Give Me Your Money always played in my mind whenever I was laid off, fired (hair too long, incorrect sexual orientation) or quit (I hate this job I can do better somewhere else). It’s that initially disorienting sensation of suddenly not being on the clock anymore…which you are even on your time off because then the back to work clock is ticking. The clock is always ticking. And then suddenly it isn’t, and you feel a bit weightless. It’s a thrilling, scary, mysterious feeling. This will be the first time I experience it and I’m leaving on a high note.

I loved this job, absolutely loved it. But I can feel my time on this earth winding down now, and it’s time to move on.


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