Okay, enough about your rights

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My disappointment over the tremendously self-serving reactions to Newtown and the rash of other shootings in the past few months has started to fade enough that I can think about it rationally. Almost. I’ve dropped Facebook friends, stopped Twitter feeds, and just generally shut off the nonsense that has surrounded this supposed debate about guns and mental health. Drafts one through six of this were incoherent ramblings. Let me just hit the points that are weighing on me these days:

  • Your rights are not absolute. Also, you’re not a constitutional scholar, and neither is that TV commentator you quote and retweet. With rights come responsibilities to society. All I hear about are rights — rights to guns, rights to the road, rights to not be taxed. I don’t hear anything about responsibilities to make society better.
  • We have obligations as members of society. One of those is to raise our children. Another is to keep them safe. In fact, we have an obligation to make society safe in general. That obligation outweighs your right to own military weapons. I can’t have dynamite or plastic explosives; I can’t have rocket launchers. Fuck, I can’t even buy Sudafed without showing identification, and I didn’t hear any outcry when that happened. So, no, you can’t have military weapons for your fantasy uprising league, or to defend against burglars. My father and the founding fathers got by one shot at a time, I’m sure you’ll survive.
  • Yes, something has to be done to improve mental health services. Asking for help is hard enough; actually getting it can take weeks, or months. For those who ask where the parents (well, the mothers) of our most recent batch of psychos were, the answer is they were on the phone, trying desperately to get help. Trying to find a provider who deals with actual problems (because honestly, most of the therapy out there is new-age touchy feely nonsense not aimed at the truly troubled), fighting with their insurance provider if they have one to get any coverage at all. When someone is suffering a mental crisis, the current answer is: hold on a few weeks, I’ll get you in with someone who may or may not be of any use to you, and if it doesn’t work we can get more help a month or two after that. Best healthcare system in the world! Any thoughts to the contrary are anti-American!
  • For those who think the new federal healthcare program is the end of the world as we know it, two things. One, your side had since the Clinton administration to come up with a better plan. You came up with nothing except excuses why we can’t afford to fix the system, while insurance became less and less affordable and more out of reach for individuals. Two, if you think the current system works well, you’re actually out of your mind. Have you paid the full cost of your insurance? It’s crippling. It costs more than housing and utilities every month. Does that make sense? Does it make sense that we have to make career choices based on insurance coverage? Is that freedom? Even with good insurance, the system is awful. You don’t want government bureaucrats making treatment decisions, but somehow having insurance bureaucrats make them is just fine. Well, it’s not.
  • Speaking of responsibilities to society — if you’re a father, you have a responsibility to your children. This crazy experiment of raising children without fathers isn’t working. Take a look at the family structure of nearly every one of these troubled psychotics, not to mention nearly every street criminal, and what you won’t find is a father. Let’s stop pretending this is the right way to go, and that the kids will be just fine. They’re not fine.

Faded art

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Troy Williams Street Alley faded signage DSC_0538.jpgOnce, every sign was a handpainted sign. For a while in the ’80s, I worked in an office next to one of the last of the old signpainters, a gentleman artist who could make a “Please turn off the lights” sign look lovely. Technology had already taken over by then, and with the advent of desktop publishing more and more signage became computer-based. I’m afraid that the grand old signs that used to grace the sides of city buildings, making life a little more colorful and interesting, are things of the past, slowly disappearing.

At least some of them are being documented, such as in my Flickr group Faded Signage. Take a look through if you love these old relics.

2012: Please leave. Now.

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Carl & Tarri

Carl & Tarri (Photo credit: carljohnson)

I recently had a phenomenally trivial family trivia question
enter my head: I suddenly had to work out where my great aunt’s pet parakeet
went in the summer, because I had no memory of it ever being at her summer
house. There was only one person left on the planet to ask, my mother, and then
it occurred to me that someday there won’t be anyone at all to ask. It’s not
the question that’s important, it’s having someone else who was there, and as I
get older, there are fewer and fewer people still alive who were there.

I never want to wish my life away, and any year I’m upright
is, ultimately, a good year, but I have to admit that 2012 is a year I won’t be
sorry to see the door hit on the way out. Too much upheaval, tension and
change. Within the family, there was cancer, beaten for now, and suicide, a horrifying shock. At home, there was a major timesuck of a project that,
while rewarding in a lot of ways, took me away from other things I love to do.  At work, there was a change in a comfortable
routine, a change of location, unfamiliar roles, and, now, massive uncertainty
about whether the entity has a future.

There was much that was good. My girls continue to amaze and
delight. I found myself up to some new tasks. My home repair and carpentry skills are
vastly improved, if my cycling skills are not. There has been art and paddling
and jaunts and a real vacation for the first time in years. We went places we
hadn’t been before, and enjoyed the company of old friends we don’t see nearly

There’s also this weight that I’ve felt around the holidays
for as long as I can remember. Not a bad thing, or at least it didn’t  used to be, but as I get older it feels
heavier  and heavier, this memory of all
those who used to be with us at holiday time, and who aren’t any more. All those boisterous people who gathered over lasagna and creampuffs every Christmas eve, talking about not much at all. Having a
recent death in the family, a heartbreaking loss, just presses down with that reminder that so many,
many people have passed on, and that nearly everyone I shared the earliest years of my life with is gone. Some of them have been gone a shockingly long time now, and yet
it seems like just yesterday that I was young and they were there.

Nothing to do but press on and greet 2013 with a fresh coat
of spackle.

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Not up for discussion

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Please, for the sake of my sanity, and perhaps for your very survival, PLEASE: I need not to hear about any of these things again this week. Or ever, if that’d be okay. Because, seriously, the endless repetition of these words is making me insane.

  1. Powerball.
  2. Fiscal cliff.
  3. _____ Kardashian.
  4. Elf on a Shelf.
  5. ______ Wars.

The Nutcracker, 13th edition

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MiceI have it on good authority (or at least a blog entry from seven years ago) that this will be our 13th year of Nutcracker performances. It’s hard to understand how a simple little ballet that previously meant just about nothing to me has come to take over our lives (or at least our weekends) for year after year, as the girls graduated from reindeer to mini-mice to clowns to soldiers and mice. This year Rebekah gets to be Ninth Mouse, a stage dream somewhere along the lines of playing Hamlet, I’m given to understand. Or at least better than being any of the other eight mice. Ninth mouse is part of our company’s choreography, not a universal role. In fact, hardly any of the roles are universal; there seem to be as many ways to stage, cast and choreograph The Nutcracker as you can possibly imagine. Next year, our 14th, is likely to be the last, and I can’t imagine that that will be anything but a sad thing. I won’t miss the time it takes up, I won’t miss the sometimes dangerous drives to venues in the winter, and I often don’t even watch an entire performance (listen, how many times can a person possibly watch the same thing? It’s not “The Blues Brothers”) — and yet, it’s become part of our autumn rhythm, and it will be very strange when it’s gone.

By the way, the Albany Berkshire Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker” will be at The Egg on Sunday, December 16,
2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. tickets available at The Egg box office.

All-nighters used to smell of hot wax and hypo

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copyfitting calculator 001There’s stuff going on that has necessitated that, once again, I work the night shift. I’ll admit I had thought (hoped) that I was past the point in my life where I would watch the streetlights turning off as I left work . . . for the most part that seemed to be way in the past. It wasn’t. And while there have been various reasons for all-nighters through the years, including legislative all-nighters, this whole up-all-night thing started long ago with a technology that is long gone: offset print composition.

In the days before WYSIWYG computer-generated pre-press (do they even call it WYSIWYG anymore? Does that make any sense when it’s been a generation since there was any other way? Discuss), everything you saw printed on a page had to be created first on what was variously called a layout, composiition or paste-up. The type was all created on phototypesetters, which early on offered little or no editing capability. When doing the layout, which was the preliminary guide for how the publication should look, you basically had to guess at how much copy you would have. Sometimes that guess was good, sometimes it was bad. Sometimes it was incredibly bad. It was based on word counts from the typewritten manuscript, which were sketchy to begin with. You had to know your planned column width, then you used an average character-per-pica count from the font you were using, also pretty questionable, and tried to guess if the manuscript would be 13 inches or 30. It often ended badly, and in the newspaper business, the person responsible for getting the newspaper “to bed” would have to make decisions about what to cut. And those cuts were literal — there wasn’t time to reset the type. You just had to cut out the parts that weren’t going to fit, and if they weren’t at the end, it could make for some awkward-looking edits.

The type was on photographic paper. You’d have to trim the galleys (carefully), and then run them through a hot wax machine. Once the back of the type was waxed, you could put it down on the paste-up sheet, then line it up with a T-square to ensure it was straight. It wouldn’t stay straight for long, so you’d do that a lot. Line images would be created on Velox photo paper via photostat camera, and then pasted right in place. For the most part, halftones (anything with a gray scale) were handled separately, shot as negatives and inserted in the negative stage. Their place on the paste-up page was taken with a piece of red paper called a “window.”

Once the paste-up was done, it had to be shot as a negative, on film. The halftones were then stripped into the windows, essentially taped in place where the red paper had created a blank spot in the negative. Then you had to go over the negative with a fine brush and a clay-based paint, a process called “opaquing,” in order to get rid of imperfections that would print. Finally, the negative would be aligned on a piece of yellow paper called goldenrod, put into the position it would finally need to be on the press. Then the negative was exposed onto a light-sensitive emulsion on a metal plate, the plate was developed, and you had a plate that would be attached to the drum of the offset press.

In the newspaper world, this was an overnight process. It had a certain rhythm — waiting for the type, sorting out the layout sheets, pasting up what you could and waiting for the rest. Finding out that images weren’t the right size and having to re-shoot them (no clicking and dragging in those days). Finding out there was too much copy, or sometimes too little, and figuring out how to deal with it (and re-setting in another size was rarely an option, especially when it meant retyping the entire article and breaking style). There was the smell of the waxers, and the smell of the hypo that fixed the photo paper and stats. There was the loud vacuum noise from the photostat cameras, which used suction to hold the film on the platen. The low gear-turning motor sound from the developers, the quick high-speed whir of the waxers and the click of their switches. The satisfying snap of the T-square and the quick sound of the Olfa or X-acto slicing through the galleys.

This mode of composition lasted for a surprisingly short period of time. It was preceded by centuries of hot lead type composition that was done letter by letter, and a few brief decades of machines that could spill out lines of type at once (hence the Linotype), a massive technological improvement. Phototypesetting and that form of pasteup grew in the early 1960s. When I started paste-up in the mid-’70s, some work was still being done in lead because it was impractical to work it out in offset (such as numbering things like tickets, which relied on a clicking device that rolled over the numbers). In the few years that I worked in the field, we went from being unable to edit what we were typesetting, to being able to hold a buffer of two lines before committing it to type, to being able to store and edit entire jobs. We still couldn’t really see what we were doing in advance until about 1985, when the first machines offering some form of preview became common. They didn’t show you your type in its proper font, that wasn’t possible, but they were highly accurate otherwise. Then came the machines that started to let you do layout/pasteup in the machine. Then came Aldus Pagemaker, which meant that the whole thing could be done on a computer, and you could see what you were going to commit to print: WYSIWYG. In just a couple of years, pasteup was dead.

Even before that, I thought I was done with all-nighters. Apparently that wasn’t so.