please keep out

So I’m getting ready to shoot a photo and this guy comes up to me — he’s maybe in his mid-to-late 20s, wearing skinny-jeans, a zippered hoodie, and one of those floppy-eared Tibetan-looking knit hats — he comes up and he says, “What is that, a little Leica?”

I tell him it’s a Fuji X10.

He says, “Fuji. Is that, like, Japanese?”

I say yes, it’s a Japanese company.

He says, “The Germans, they make great cameras.”

I take the shot, then agree with him.

He says, “You shouldn’t be shooting into the sun like that.”

I tell him I think it’ll be okay.

He says, “It’ll be over-exposed. Or under-exposed. I forget which. Over-exposed.”

I tell him I’m using spot metering, and take another shot.

He says, “Oh” then tells me he’s been thinking seriously about buying a Leica. “But they cost so much.”

I agree that they’re expensive cameras.

He says, “Spot metering,” then asks if he can see the photo.

please keep out

It’s not a great photo, but I knew that when I was shooting it. I just liked the shadows. And sometimes you just want to see what a camera can do. Anyway, I show him the preview on the LCD.

He nods and repeats himself. “Well. Spot metering. And you shot that right into the glare of the…uh…thing there. And that’s a Fuji?”

I tell him I think they have spot metering on Leicas too.

He nods happily and says, “Cool.”

NOTE: Here’s a thing I’ve observed since I started using the little X10: most often people don’t even notice the camera. But when they DO notice it, they sometimes ask me about it. Nobody ever asked about the Nikon DSLR, which is also a very fine camera. I think that ‘retro’ look confuses and interests people.


happy anniversary, clarence earl gideon

Let’s say all police officers and all criminal prosecutors are sincere and honest. We know that’s not true, but bear with me a while. Let’s also say the police only arrest people they’re convinced are guilty, and that prosecutors only bring cases against defendants they truly believe committed the crime with which they’re charged. That’s probably closer to being true, but it’s still got a healthy bit of fantasy in it.

Let’s also acknowledge that even the most sincere and honest police and prosecutors occasionally make mistakes. For the sake of argument, let’s be generous and say the police and prosecutors are correct 98% of the time.

That necessarily means that even the most honest and sincere police and prosecutors are wrong 2% of the time. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it.

Greg Bright - wongly convicted of murder; served 27 years

Greg Bright – wrongfully convicted of murder; served 27 years

In 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 1,484,530 arrests for violent crimes. We’re talking murder, manslaughter, rape, armed robbery, aggravated and simple assault. If the police arrested the right person 98% of the time, it means they mistakenly arrested around 30,000 innocent people in 2010. That’s eighty people every single day on the calendar, arrested for violent crimes they didn’t commit.

And those are just the arrests for violent crimes. Add in property crimes, drug offenses, and social order crimes like prostitution, liquor violations, indecency and the like, and you end up with 13,122,110 arrests in 2010. Applying the same 98% rule, it means more than a quarter of a million innocent people were arrested in the U.S. in 2010.

The reality, of course, is uglier. Much uglier. Nobody believes the police arrest the right person 98% of the time. Nobody believes that every police officer and prosecutor is sincere and honest. Those are fantasies.

Michael Morton - wrongfully convicted; served 25 years

Michael Morton – wrongfully convicted of murder; served 25 years

Now think about those poor bastards who are arrested and prosecuted for crimes they didn’t commit. When a person is being prosecuted for a crime, it’s listed on court dockets in this way: The State of Wherever versus Defendant Whozis. That actually means what it says. For example, if you’re going to trial in Wyoming (the least populated state in the Union), all the resources of the State can be arrayed against you. All those uniformed Wyoming police, all those detectives, all those lawyers and those forensic experts and those evidence technicians and those lab geeks — every one of them could be used in an effort to convict you.

What do you, the defendant, have? A defense attorney. Maybe an investigator, if you’re lucky. If you’ve got money, you can hire a team of defense lawyers and investigators, but you’ll never have anything like the resources available to the prosecutor. Still, if you’ve got money you’re in significantly better shape than somebody who’s poor. If you’re poor and accused of a crime, brother you’re in serious trouble. And it’s getting worse.

Darryl Burton - wrongfully convicted of murder; served 23 years

Darryl Burton – wrongfully convicted of murder; served 24 years

This is where our boy Clarence Earl Gideon comes into it. He was born in 1910, in Mark Twain’s old hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. Gideon was basically Huck Finn without the charm. He quit school in the 8th grade and ran away from home. He was a petty thief for much of his life. He did time in Missouri, Kansas, and Texas — mostly for minor larcenies. He moved to Florida in the late 1950s. In 1961 the owner of the Bay Harbor Pool Room noticed that five dollars in change and a couple of bottles of beer were missing from his fine billiards establishment. A witness said he saw Gideon leave the pool hall with a bottle of wine and bulging pockets.

Gideon, with his history of theft, was arrested and prosecuted. Since he had no money for a lawyer, he had to defend himself in court. He asked the judge if he could have a lawyer to help him. The judge said no. Gideon was convicted, of course, and sentenced to five years in prison. He was 50 years old at the time.

Clarence Earl Gideon

Clarence Earl Gideon

While in prison, Gideon began reading about the legal system. Among the things he read was the Bill of Rights — specifically the 6th Amendment, which includes this:

…the accused shall enjoy the right to…the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Gideon wrote the FBI, essentially saying “Dude, I didn’t get any of that assistance of counsel stuff.” The FBI wrote back saying, “Well, that’s a shame. Sorry.” Gideon wrote the Supreme Court of Florida. “Dude, that assistance of counsel business? I didn’t get any of that.” The Supreme Court of Florida wrote back. “No, really? It sucks to be you.” Finally Gideon wrote to the Supreme Court of the United States. “Seriously guys, no assistance of counsel. WTF?” The Supreme Court wrote back. “Yo, Clarence, tell us all about it.”

Think of how remarkable that is. An uneducated prison inmate sent a hand-written (in pencil, no less) request to the highest court in the land, asking for justice — and they listened. More importantly, they acted.

Alan Northrop - wrongfully convicted of rape; served 17 years

Alan Northrop – wrongfully convicted of rape; served 17 years

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright (Louie Wainwright was the director of the Florida Division of Corrections). That ruling changed the way criminal law was practiced in the United States. Gideon said you had the right to an attorney, Miranda said the police had to tell you about that right. Every time you watch a cop show on television and hear “You have the right to an attorney; if you can’t afford one, one will be appointed for you,” you can thank Clarence Earl Gideon.

In principle, the Gideon decision guaranteed that every person accused of a crime had the right to be represented by competent counsel. Justice Hugo Black wrote:

Reason and reflection require us to recognize that, in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided to him.

What Justice Black failed to consider is that ‘reason and reflection’ generally get kicked in the ditch by politics. In theory, the law may require poor folks be given a competent attorney. Of course, in theory the police and prosecutors always arrest and prosecute the guilty party. Theory, like ‘reason and reflection,’ tends to end up bloody and confused in the ditch.

George Allen, Jr. - wrongfully convicted of rape/murder; served 30 years

George Allen, Jr. – wrongfully convicted of rape/murder; served 30 years

A half century after Gideon, the entire indigent defense system is pretty much fucked up and getting worse. The system has never been adequately funded (paying lawyers to represent poor folks has never been a very high priority), but in this era of drastic cuts in state budgets, indigent defense funding it getting it in the neck.

Remember, some of these people are innocent. Greg Bright, the man in the first photograph, was convicted of murder based on the testimony of one eyewitness who claimed to have seen the crime from her apartment window. If the defense had had the resources to hire an investigator, they’d have found the witness had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, had a history of visual and auditory hallucinations, was a heroin addict, and lived in an apartment that didn’t overlook the crime scene. One day of competent investigating would have saved Greg Bright 27 years of prison.

Here’s the really scary part: Bright was convicted at a time when indigent defense had better funding than it has now. The reality is that if you’re poor and you get arrested and charged with a crime, you’re not very much better off today than Clarence Earl Gideon was fifty years ago.

brutal bastard

You get that one moment. That’s it. You either get the shot or you don’t. And let’s face it, most often, you don’t. And in some types of photography, there’s no second chance. I love that. I hate that.

Yesterday was a cold, bright, sunny day. A good day for a guy with a fine little street camera to take a walk through the city. As I was walking along I saw this dark gash of an alleyway running between a building and a parking garage. I have a thing for alleys, so I decided to wander down it. But it was on the other side of the street; I had to wait for traffic to clear before I could jaywalk to the alley.

As I stood there I saw an obscure shape moving in the alley. A guy. A guy with a red hat. And I knew there might be a photograph to be made.

This is what I love: sometimes you can anticipate that moment. You can see the shot developing. You can visualize all the elements potentially moving into place. Potentially, that’s the key. It’s all about the potential, because any number of things can happen to totally fuck up the situation. A cloud might obscure the light. A car might pass in front of you at the critical moment. A passerby could throw off the balance of the composition.

I saw the guy with the red hat. A moment earlier I’d noticed a doorway with a red logo at about head level. I figured there was a good chance the guy was going to walk out of the dark alley and into the light. So I hurried to my right so I could include both the red hat and the red logo — and the moment I began moving I also began to kick myself in the ass. I was thinking “Idiot, you should have closed in on the alley and caught the guy stepping into the sunlight.” But it was too late to change my mind. I’d committed myself to a wide shot.

Sometimes the shot never comes together. You know that going in, of course. Sometimes all those elements you saw moving together simply move away from each other. The guy could turn around and go back down the alley. He could step out of the alley, but remove his red hat. Somebody could could open the door with red logo. So many things could go wrong.

But they didn’t. Things not only didn’t go wrong, they actually got better The guy stepped out of the alley and into the sunlight, just like I’d hoped he would. His red hat was almost perfectly in line with the red logo on the door, just as I’d hope it would. And then a little black and white dog followed him out.

So I took the shot.

a guy and his dogIt was the shot I wanted. It was almost exactly as I’d envisioned it. But it doesn’t really work. Not at this scale.

The guy gets lost, the red hat gets lost, the red logo gets lost, even the little dog gets lost. I think the photo might work if it was printed very, very large — but dammit, it doesn’t work at this scale. It just doesn’t.

Even when all the elements do come together — even when it all coheres perfectly and organically, as if it was predestined — even when you get the shot you want, it might not actually be the shot you want.

It gets worse. I got the shot I wanted. I knew it as soon as I released the shutter. I’d no idea it wouldn’t turn out, of course, but at that moment I knew I’d got the shot. I felt satisfied and full of myself. For maybe half a second. Even as I was lowering the camera, I saw the guy hold something out in his hand. The little dog leaped up to get it. And I missed it.

Photography is a brutal bastard. And I must be masochistic, because I’m okay with that.


fed up

This evening a small town in Maine will vote on an ordinance requiring “all households to have firearms and ammunitions to protect the citizens.”

We’re talking about Byron, Maine. Population about 140. You may be asking yourself why such a small town in rural Maine needs an ordinance requiring their citizens to own a firearm. Simple. According to Head Selectman Anne Simmons-Edmunds.

“We’re fed up.”

What are they fed up about? They’re fed up about the government telling them what to do. You may be asking yourself “Isn’t the Head Selectman a member of the government, and isn’t this ordinance an example of the government telling them what to do?”

Anne Simmons-Edwards (center) with other Byron Selectmen

Anne Simmons-Edwards (center) with other Byron Selectmen

Silly rabbit. It’s the Federal government they’re worried about. You know…Uncle Sugar. The Big Tuna in Washington, D.C. That government. The one with the negro who’s secretly planning to take all the guns away from the 140 good people living in Byron, Maine.

We’re trying to prevent someone from coming into our town and trying to restrict our rights. It’s time to tell the government, ‘Enough’s enough. Quit micromanaging us.’

No wonder they’re fed up. Micromanaging is a matter best left to the individual state. Everybody knows that.

Of course, in 2011 the Maine legislature passed a law barring municipalities from adopting firearm regulations. So legally, any ordinance requiring the 140 good people of Byron to own a gun wouldn’t have any legal standing.

So maybe micromanaging is a matter best left to local governments. Sure, that’s got to be it. The State or Federal government can’t just force people to do something they don’t want to do. That’s the job of the local government. Besides, who could possibly object to owning a gun?

Bruce Simmons & his ,40 caliber friend

Bruce Simmons & his ,40 caliber friend

To be fair to Ms. Simmons-Edmunds (who is not only Byron’s Head Selectman, but also serves as a police officer in semi-nearby Dixville and as an animal control officer for both Dixville and Mexico — the small town in Maine, not the independent nation found somewhere south of Texas) and the other Byron Selectmen, the local ordinance wasn’t entirely their idea. It was proposed by former Byron Selectman Bruce Simmons (why yes, he is Ms. Simmons-Edmunds’ father). His reasoning?

“The president, in January of last year, passed an executive order giving Homeland Security the right to go into your house, grab you without a warrant and take you away. And no one will ever see you again.”

There you go. Nobody wants to be taken away and never seen again. Sadly, Simmons couldn’t identify that executive order, but he’s pretty certain it exists. Therefore it’s critically important for the good people of Byron to be required to have firearms AND ammunition in their homes in order to defend themselves from being taken away and never seen again.

Sure, you scoff. But it’s a real danger. The good people of Byron are at risk of being taken away and never seen again because they own guns, and the negro in the White House wants to take away their guns. So of course, they need to mandate owning a gun in order to keep the government from taking away their…no, wait. Okay, they need to have guns because if they didn’t have guns, then Homeland Security would…no, wait. If they didn’t have guns, then Homeland Security wouldn’t…no, that can’t be right either.

I don’t know. Shut up. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the 140 good people of Byron, Maine are fed up. And what do you need more than anything else when you’re fed up? Guns and ammunition.

Who can argue with that?

hellish world

Yesterday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the proposed ban of some assault-style weapons, Senator Lindsey Graham conjured up the NRA’s most popular nightmare scenario. He asked Attorney General Eric Holder to imagine:

[A] lawless environment where you have a natural disaster or some catastrophic event and those things, unfortunately, do happen. And law and order breaks down because the police can’t travel, there’s no communication. And there are armed gangs roaming around neighborhoods. Can you envision a situation where if your home happens to be in the cross-hairs of this group that a better self-defense weapon may be a semiautomatic AR-15 versus a double-barrel shotgun?

Holder politely pointed out that his example posed a purely a hypothetical situation. To which Graham replied:

Well, I’m afraid that world does exist. I think it existed in New Orleans, to some exist in Long Island, it could exist tomorrow if there’s a cyber attack against the country and the power grid goes down and the dams are released and chemical plants are discharges…

Graham may think it existed, but he’s wrong. No, it didn’t happen on Long Island after Hurricane Sandy. And no, it didn’t happen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. There was looting of commercial areas during each of those natural disasters, to be sure. Grocery stores and convenience stores were hard hit, as were shops selling electronic goods. Gun shops were also looted, as were stores selling high-end sneakers.

But armed gangs roaming around neighborhoods targeting individual homes? Nope, just didn’t happen.  

Senator Lindsey Graham crushing an imaginary zombie's skull

Senator Lindsey Graham crushing an imaginary zombie’s skull

Could it happen? Sure, anything is possible. IF the power grid goes down and IF the dams burst and IF all the chemical and nuclear plants all go haywire and IF society totally collapses, then after every downtown shop and store has been looted, and after every strip mall has been looted, and after every suburban corner convenience store has been looted, then I suppose armed mobs might start roaming neighborhoods and invading individual homes. But that’s a scenario from a zombie apocalypse, not a logical basis for implementing public policy.

Nevertheless, that’s the argument the NRA keeps making and so it’s the argument offered by Lindsey Graham and other Republicans. Compare Graham’s comments to those of Wayne LaPierre:

After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia. Looters ran wild in south Brooklyn. There was no food, water or electricity. And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not get home at all.

It doesn’t matter that this “hellish world” didn’t exist. The NRA wants you to believe it did in the hope that 1) you’ll buy more guns and 2) you’ll buy still more guns.

What Lindsey Graham wants you to believe could happen in your neighborhood

What Lindsey Graham wants you to believe could happen in your neighborhood

It’s all about fear, isn’t it. Fear that somebody somewhere wants what you have, and is willing — even eager — to take it by violence. Fear that a segment of the population is just waiting and hoping for some sort of disaster to strike so they can take your stuff. Research has shown that fear of social disorder is related to fear of dark-skinned people, so basically the fear Graham and the NRA want you to experience is the fear that minorities will come to a white neighborhood and fuck things up.

A more likely scenario

What’s more likely to happen in your neighborhood

Here’s a true thing: civil disorder following a sporting event takes place more often than civil disorder after a natural disaster. The photograph above was taken in 2011, in Vancouver, British Columbia after the Canucks lost the seventh game of the Stanley Cup to the Bruins. This was in Canada, people. This happened in the most civil and polite nation on the entire fucking planet. Almost a hundred and twenty people were arrested during and after the riot — nearly three times the number of people arrested following Hurricane Sandy.

There are, in my opinion, some valid arguments to be made against the assault-style weapons ban. But self-defense and home protection in the event of civil disorder isn’t one of them.

You want to deter people from breaking into your home? You want to keep your family safe from intruders? Buy a dog with a loud bark. Better yet, go to the local animal shelter and adopt one. A dog will offer more protection and be more reliable than an firearm. And it will love you without reservation. Ain’t no gun will do that.

the questions we ask

Last week, while strolling down a relatively nice alley, I came across something peculiar written on a board covering a broken window. It said

Save the date

If you’re anything like me (and really, what are the odds of that?) you see something like that and you immediately start asking a whole series of completely unanswerable questions. What’s happening on that date? Why should I save it? Why would anybody put that request (if it is a request) on a board covering a broken window in an alley? Sure, it’s a relatively nice alley, but c’mon. For whom is this invitation (if it is an invitation) intended? Am I supposed to save the entire day? Just the evening? Is the event (assuming there is an event associated with that date) taking place in the alley? And finally, what the fuck, really?

There’s not much point in having questions if you don’t actually ask them, right? So I decided to ask them.

okay but whyI packed some chalk in a pocket of my jacket, stuck my little Fujifilm X10 in the other pocket, took myself right back to the alleyway, and…and I stood there, realizing I couldn’t ask all those questions. For one thing, I didn’t have enough chalk. Nor enough space. So I had to satisfy myself with asking just one question. It’s a wee bit hard to see in the small version, but I left a little note asking:


Leo Babauta says the questions we ask determines the type of people we become. If so, it seems I’ve become the type of person who stands in alleys and asks ‘What the fuck?’

I’ll check back periodically (it’s a relatively nice alley, after all) to see if I get an answer. If an answer arrives, I’ll be sure to let y’all know.

jeffersonian bullshit on a baseball cap

Just a quick (at least I hope it’s quick) note. You can’t do any research into the gun rights movement without coming across this quotation attributed to Thomas Jefferson:

No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

It’s repeated often — on placards, on right wing political cartoons, on posters, on t-shirts, on baseball caps, on coffee mugs and mouse pads. And like so many of the things claimed by gun rights advocates, it’s inaccurate and misleading.

jefferson quote3

That first line is sometimes given the following scholarly attribution:

Thomas Jefferson Papers, pg 334 (C.J.Boyd, Ed., 1950)

It looks good, doesn’t it. But it just ain’t so. A scholar named Julian P. Boyd (not C.J. Boyd) did, in fact, edit the collected Jefferson papers — but the alleged quotation is a fraud. It doesn’t exist in Boyd’s Thomas Jefferson Papers.

In fact, it doesn’t exist anywhere except in the minds of gun rights advocates. There’s absolutely nothing to indicate Jefferson ever said or wrote that line. It’s not in any of his personal correspondence, not in any of his diaries, not in any of his speeches, not in any of his notes. Nor has that line ever been cited in any law journal by any Constitutional scholar.

Thomas Jefferson just flat out didn’t say it, no matter how many baseball caps claim he did.

Jefferson quote2However, Jefferson did write that second line. In fact, he wrote it three times. It was included in his various drafts of the proposed Constitution of Virginia.

“No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” (From the first draft)
“No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements]” (From the second draft)
“No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements].” (From the third draft)

Let me first point out that while the line was included in each of Jefferson’s three drafts, it wasn’t included in the final draft. The line was dropped in the version adopted by the Virginia Constitutional convention.

But also note the term freeman. It’s usually written as free man when presented by gun rights advocates, but the two terms aren’t synonymous. At the time Jefferson wrote those words, freeman had a specific meaning in law. A freeman was, first and foremost, literally a man. Women couldn’t be freemen. A freeman wasn’t just any man, but a man who was “free of all debt, owing nothing to anyone except God Himself.”

It’s necessary to understand that a lot of people arrived in the American colonies as indentured servants. It’s estimated that in the 18th and 19th centuries, about 80% of immigrants to the colonies were redemptioners. Indenture wasn’t considered a social stigma; it was simply a way for people to pay their way to the new world, also learn a skill or trade, and maybe earn a meager wage while they were at it. After their period of indenture was finished, redemptioners were free to go where they wanted and to use their training to fend for themselves.

But being free didn’t make them freemen. After a sort of probationary period–generally a year or two–a man could be considered a freeman only if he owned real property (such as land or a building) or if he had sufficient wealth for taxation. Only freeman were permitted to vote. In many communities, only freemen could become members of a church (common folk could attend, but not be members).

When Jefferson talked about freemen, he wasn’t talking about common folks. He was talking about the Colonial version of landed gentry. That’s why he considered including the provision that freemen could use arms within his own lands or tenements. (it’s also worth noting that ‘tenement’ also has a specific legal meaning — basically it refers to real property a person holds or controls for somebody else).

jefferson quoteWhat Jefferson was basically saying was that men who owned property shouldn’t be prohibited from using firearms on their own property or on the property they control for another person.

But that doesn’t look quite as catchy on a baseball cap.