No Hill to Die On

The Leica Look

Donald Barnat - 50lux.com I’m linking today to what’s called a long read. But this one isn’t just for photographers. Everyone should read this. America should read this. American businesses should read this. This is the way it’s done. This is the way we are supposed to do things here in America.

Gibson. Fender. Cadillac. Are you listening? I think some of you may be starting to.

I just bought a guitar amplifier from a boutique maker named Michael Swart. It’s the Swart Space Tone Tremelo model. I’ve heard, but don’t hold my words to be legally binding, that Michael Swart will fix any of his amplifiers that come back to him, no matter if they’ve been resold. Is this perfectly true in all cases? I don’t know. But the story is out there because this is what people who have experience with him are saying. He doesn’t give a fuck who owns the amp now! It’s got his name on it, it’s broke, it’s in front of him, he’s fixing it.

Booyah! (R.I.P. Stuart Scott) That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Leica. Leica is the mother of all boutique brands. That Leica would react to a situation like this — with the expense of the items involved — is breathtaking. Booyah on you, Leica! This is the kind of story that makes me proud to be a human being. Proud that we all evolved from the primordial soup together. It doesn’t happen all that often but here it is.

How I lost my Leica equipment and what happened next – Witold Riedel

The following story has some parts that might feel a bit strange to some, and yet will feel completely familiar to others. I guess that’s how stories go. When reading it, some will dislike me for some of the facts, while others will be able to relate and feel that what happened was not exactly easy. The story is true. And it has something to do with my cameras; with my M Leicas.

via Witold Riedel › Notes › How I lost my Leica equipment and what happened next..

Excessive Force


I took this picture in Beverly Hills, CA two weekends ago, while protests were breaking out around the United States over the issue of the disproportionate use of excessive force by police departments against African Americans. I don’t know what the quite apparently homeless woman had done but she was in obvious distress at this moment and loudly vocalizing her displeasure with the actions being taken against her.

I have nothing else to say, really, about this conveniently relevant photo that fell into my lap because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Well, other than the fact that my heart goes out to the woman, and also to the cop.

Back before there was such a thing as a blog, when Macromedia Dreamweaver was the coolest thing on the planet, I used it to make and publish a handful of websites. One of them was an anonymous rant against the police. I made it to publicize and characterize for the world-wide-web the never ending cycle of unjustified police shootings here in Southern California.

I had on it the story of the black girl sleeping in her car in the rain at night who police shot while she was unconscious and possibly even overcome by carbon monoxide by her car’s running engine. There was the story of the unstable 130 lb 16-year-old whose family called 911 because they were worried about his erratic behavior and who, when surrounded by police, was whirling in a circle keeping the cops at bay with a broom stick. He was shot 9 times. There was the infamous story of the homeless 90 lb woman in her 60s who was shot for pulling out a screwdriver when stopped by police for having a shopping cart back when the police were instructed to arrest homeless people for shopping cart theft.

Let me repeat. I made a website about a dozen years ago (or more) to publicize questionable killings of black and hispanic people in California. That’s ALL the website was about. The police shooting and killing blacks and hispanics.

Details are very very important. Details are why a progressive leftist person who started a website decrying police violence, along with millions of others, find themselves unable to get behind a protest movement based on an incident that doesn’t have the right set of circumstances and facts to build the kind of systemic change that is needed upon.

That is Ferguson, in my eyes.

The Staten Island tragedy, however, and the I Can’t Breath movement and protests that have been growing out of it, represent, in my opinion, a truly valid protest movement that was born by a clearly indefensible example of unreasonable force by the police resulting in the death of a citizen.

I am deeply disturbed by the death at the hands of the police of Eric Garner in New York.

More power to this movement and to these protests.

I’m putting what I’m about to say out there because I don’t see it on protest signs, I don’t hear it coming from the talking heads on television and I certainly don’t envision the police opening up on this point. So here it is.

Policies and Procedures

Police policies and procedures are largely written by the police with a big assist from police unions. They are the instructions the police write for themselves as to how they are to go about every aspect of their jobs.

In all the years that these shooting have been happening in Southern California, through multiple federal investigations and consent decrees imposed on multiple law enforcement agencies… the one thing that has remained almost untouchable by civilian oversight or the government is police policies and procedures. They’ve changed very little. The police continue to get away with discharging their service weapons into human beings who did not need to be shot to death.

If you want to fight the police the way to do it is find a way to impose civilian oversight over the re-writing of THEIR OWN POLICIES AND PROCEDURES.

Policies and procedures. It’s all right there in those two words. The police write their own. As long as the police make the rules for their encounters with the public, of how and when to use force, they are are going to continue to escalate situations, in the tragic case of Eric Garner, INTRODUCE violence, in that case, DEADLY violence, over minor non-violent and even, I believe, non-criminal violations.

Who gets this? Southern Californian activists. This region of the country is Ground Zero for questionable police shootings of unarmed, mostly (but not always) minority, citizens.

So it would be fitting that right now, as I write this, at this very hour, the LA County Board of Supervisors, with protestors raging outside, is taking up the issue of a civilian oversight board for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

This was voted down last year but with two new members on the board supporting it there is hope that it may pass this time. It’s important that there is civilian oversight and that it not be simply the brand that rubber stamps whatever the police departments decide.

“We are encouraged that this new board is moving forward and has the political will to shift the course where the previous board fell short.” – Jaz Wade “Dignity & Power Now”

I’m not so encouraged, honestly, or nearly as optimistic as Ms. Wade but I am hopeful. If you’re in LA please keep an eye on the news as this story is being covered by all the local television channels.

Memorial Day

This is a repost of the very first real blog entry (after Hello World!) on this website back in 2012. I was in a very bad place at that time. My best friend was dying. I was not good with that. I was in one of those places where a person has no patience for the simpering superficial bullshit people tell each other mostly to make themselves feel better about themselves.

And although I feel strongly (always) about the message of this post, I didn’t repost it last Memorial Day. I was probably in a better mood. This year, with Memorial Day coming so closely on the heels of yet another gut wrenching domestic gun tragedy, happening this time here in my own back yard, and given everything else I see on the streets and read in the newspaper, I’m once again in a dark and unforgiving mood about my country. So fuck it.

Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’ exposed much of the truth about America. We might have looked at that work and been properly shamed and sought to make a course correction. But we didn’t do that. Anyway. Enjoy this holiday. Don’t thank our troops. Remember instead the dead ones, and their wives, and their children, and their mothers, and their fathers. And forgive me for encroaching into sanctimonious behavior with a self-righteous attitude. I have no room to talk. It’s taken me over half a century to finally wake up.

Memorial Day 2012

Cookouts! Barbecue. Hot dogs and hamburgers. Beer. Friends and family. Unofficial start of summer. Hell yeah! That’s what Memorial Day is all about. Oh and, of course, the Memorial Day sale at Macy’s. Right?

Then there’s those people who try to remind you of the more sober aspects of the holiday. Sanctimoniously thanking ‘our’ soldiers. Does that really stick with you or are they just as annoying as the people at Christmas telling us all to remember the spirit of Christmas and that Christ ‘our’ savior was born on Christmas Day?

So they had this event down at a new memorial in Irvine for service men and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I saw it on the 11 o’clock news. The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial looks really nice and is said to be the first of its kind in the country honoring those who have fallen in the wars on terrorism we’ve been fighting for the last eleven or so years.

But they’ve got this open mic thing going. And the wives and mothers of those who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan come up to the mic and, if you didn’t see it, I’m telling you these women are just fucking raw. All are emotional but more than a few can barely get their words out; they’re just dying up there.

Blubbering women. Most of them young enough to be my daughter, if I’d had one. Talking about what they feel on Memorial Day.

While these women are stepping up to the mic, one at a time, to tell you the names of their husbands and sons and what happened to them – as best as they can between the sniveling and gasping and choked-off words – all over this country, millions of Americans are getting drunk, washing down burgers with Bud Lite, laughing the day away talking easily about everything that careless partying Americans talk about on a summer holiday together. Most Americans are having a good time, a welcome day off from work, celebrating the start of summer and vacation time – which is and always has been the real point of Memorial Day in our culture.

A really young woman steps up to the mic in Irvine. Her two hands are in a wrestling match with each other as she speaks.

“My name is Brooke Singer and my husband was killed in January.”

Brooke looks to be about 22. She’s wearing a pretty black dress with nickle-sized white polka dots and spaghetti straps that cut into the soft skin of her shoulders. She seems to have more to say but after that one solitary sentence she puts the back of her right hand to her face and unsuccessfully tries to stifle a sob. That hand has a mind of its own and, almost to conceal the degree to which it is shaking, Brooke drops it momentarily but then quickly raises it back again to cover her mouth, which is contorted in a way she’d obviously rather the entire world doesn’t see.

A girl who looks like she could be Brooke’s younger sister stands helplessly to her left. A woman who must be her mother puts her arm on Brooke’s back and whispers something into her ear.

If you need to be told at this point that Memorial Day isn’t about cookouts and really good shopping then I don’t know what to say to you except that you’re not alone. Not in my America.

But if you still think it’s about thanking ‘our’ soldiers and telling them how much we love them and appreciate what they’re doing for us then you really need to either wake up or grow up or maybe just look up the word ‘memorial’ in a dictionary.

If this country can ever find its soul again it will be on some hopefully not-too-distant Memorial Day. One day when enough Americans are finally able to look squarely and, maybe more than anything else, responsibly, at young women who can barely breathe as they muster the courage to stand in front of a microphone in a public square and choke out the names of their dead husbands.


Film images made with a Leica M7 and 50mm 2.0 Leica Summicron lens.

Independence Day

I promised (or threatened) politics when I started this blog. You had to know the bloody day would eventually come. I want to apologize in advance. There Will Be Cursing.

I just want to wrap up in a neat little ball my feelings about some things I’m seeing of late.

I had a dream once that there was a revolution and I was watching it on TV. It happened in a flash in some place like South or Central America at the meeting of the Organization of American States. lol. Seriously. And the POTUS was there and so there was a big American media contingent. Bob Schieffer was covering it for CBS. The revolutionaries stormed the conference area, security never had a chance, and they cut the TV signal coming out of the country right as the mob was overtaking the conference room where the president was. Last part of the dream was Dan Rather calling out to Bob Schieffer and saying something like, I think we’ve lost Bob. lol.

Man. Did I wake up with the chills. I’m serious. This was like in the early 90s. Tried to write a short story of it but it was and would have been a silly tale without a political perspective.

The real fear of the dream was that something could overtake the world media. Shut down or steal the voice or the truth or whatever, etc.

Although I still have that concern, actually that it might have happened a long time ago, but the feeling, the chill, is long forgotten. Until now.

The coverage of this second phase of what I am thinking of as the ongoing Egyptian revolution by the American media is just flat out chilling. It’s obvious the Obama administration thought they had their boy in place in Egypt in Morsy. If that wasn’t obvious before these past few weeks it’s obvious now. Old school American politics in the middle east at its traditional best. We’ll exchange one dictator for another, for what we like to call stability, and this one was extry special (TV hick colloquialism) because he came to power in a democratic election. So the US government is apoplectic over events in Egypt and that’s been made very clear by their many statements, threats, and the decidedly negative take they’ve expressed so far.

But the American news media? Oh my God. It’s like they’ve all been to a party at Judith Miller’s house and drank something she had mixed up in a punch bowl. It’s like they’re all mouthpieces now for the American government. Noam Chomsky has to be just stroking out right about now.

I’ve been seeing it for days now but what I just witnessed on CNN with Christiane Amanpour and Anderson Vanderbilt Cooper … it just recalls for me on a visceral level the feelings I had when I woke up from that dream. The Egyptian overthrow of Morsy seems to be some sort of nightmare from hell, if these people are to be believed.

Then they interviewed one of the guys behind the movement to ouster Morsy. God he was so real. He was PLEADING the truth. It was nothing I didn’t already know or suspect … ten thousand miles or more away. I knew that the ‘people’ of Egypt were always very uneasy about what kind of government Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood were going to give them. And their worst fears were realized over the course of the last year as he abolished and dissolved avenues of self-determination by the people of Egypt. Always underreported by the American media… but it was out there.

Even during the initial overthrow of Mubarak the Egyptian people made it very clear that if they didn’t get an actual government that gave them a voice over their own fates the first time out and if they found out, at worst, they’d just traded one dictator for another they would be right back out in Tahir Square. And Allah bless their fucking hearts, there they are.

All of this was baked into the cake and none of it is really news or a surprise. But the American-centric perspective is so dark you’d think the Russian tanks had just rolled through fucking Poland.

I don’t know if I can ever figure out how to digitally capture something from my TV onto a Mac. But I really implore everyone here to be on the lookout on YouTube for Anderson Cooper’s interview with one of the main inspirations for the revolution in Egypt and watch especially his treatment of the Egyptian and the condescending ’emotions are running high’ crack pipe he and Amanpour share at then end of the interview.

I said I wanted to wrap this all up at the top of this page. Here’s what I mean. And I know a lot of people are really anti-Edward Snowden and everything that he did. But forget about Snowden personally for a moment and his actions and really consider the media and their behavior of late.

The Snowden situation has become a catalyst for a lot of criticism of the American media, which, hello, I happen to agree with. And here is a really blistering example of that perspective which, hello again, I happen to agree with.

This is from Gawker. The link to the complete article is at the bottom. Everything from here on is not mine.

The Washington Post Is a Bitter, Jealous Little Newspaper

The Washington Post Has the Worst Opinion Section in America. The Washington Post, the pre-Politico newsletter of choice for The Political Establishment, has the worst opinion section in America. Today, they once again prove why: the paper, which helped to break the NSA Prism spying story, editorializes that the U.S. government must stop Edward Snowden from leaking any more of that awful news.

Presumably so that Washington Post reporters cannot cover it? The editorial board of the Washington Post—a newspaper with some of the best national security reporters in America, a newspaper whose reporter Barton Gellman was approached directly by Edward Snowden, and a newspaper that chose to publish only four of the 41 Powerpoint slides that Snowden gave to Gellman— is practically praying for Edward Snowden to be muzzled, so that no more of those news stories might be leaked to papers like, you know, the Washington Post. “How to Keep Edward Snowden From Leaking More NSA Secrets,” is the editorial’s headline. (“…To Us” is only implied.)

At least we know that the Washington Post’s terrible editorial board is fully independent from its shrinking newsroom!

In fact, the first U.S. priority should be to prevent Mr. Snowden from leaking information that harms efforts to fight terrorism and conduct legitimate intelligence operations. Documents published so far by news organizations have shed useful light on some NSA programs and raised questions that deserve debate, such as whether a government agency should build a database of Americans’ phone records. But Mr. Snowden is reported to have stolen many more documents, encrypted copies of which may have been given to allies such as the WikiLeaks organization… The best solution for both Mr. Snowden and the Obama administration would be his surrender to U.S. authorities, followed by a plea negotiation. 

Take note, potential leakers and whistleblowers inside the U.S. government: the official stance of the Washington Post’s editorial board is that you should shut up and go to jail. Would-be Washington Post sources may wish to take that information into consideration when choosing where to leak to.”