Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Old Fashioned Way

This is a photo of my cherished Rollieflex 3.5F. It uses 2-1/4 roll film and produces a square image. It's equipped with a 75 mm Zeiss Planar lens, arguably the best lens ever manufactured; crisp, contrasty, perfect in every way. I bought the camera, used, from a small camera shop under the el tracks at Howard Street, in Chicago.

"Do you have any Rollieflex cameras?" I asked, having learned that the old guys in these small camera stores have all kinds of cameras stashed away. The old guy, a short gray and puffy man, with worn pants looked me over. He asked if I was a serious buyer and I assured him that if the camera was what I was looking for, I’d be very serious. He told me to come the next day. When I showed up, he gave me a conspiratorial nod and disappeared into the back room without a word. While he rummaged around, I scrutinized the rows of cameras, lenses and accessories in the glass case. Soon he appeared with a plain carton. He explained that he had to bring it from home; That there wasn’t enough room to keep his entire inventory at the store.

He removed packing materials and carefully un-wrapped the camera. He held the camera and began telling me of its virtues, although he was preaching to the choir. He pointed out that the plastic meter window was intact; not cracked. “Those are the first to get wacked, if you’re not careful.” I was getting anxious and wondered if he would ever let me touch it. After a few minutes he stopped. It was a significant pause. He looked at me solemnly and asked again, “Are you serious about this camera?” I assured him I was. “It’s five hundred bucks.” He leaned forward and looked me in the eye, “Are you still serious?”

To tell you the truth, I nearly choked at the price. It was $200 more than I was prepared to spend. I managed a weak acknowledgement and he handed me the camera. I knew I was sunk the moment I held it. It was built like a Swiss watch. The satin black finish felt like silk. I pretended to be mildly interested and asked a few critical questions before turning to my negotiation strategy.

My negotiation strategy was to appear interested in one or two other cameras. Less expensive cameras. I gave it a try. He answered my questions politely and handed the other cameras to me to examine. After a few minutes he began wrapping the Rollieflex. “Would you take $400 for it?” I ventured. He would not. And continued wrapping.

I came back two days later and looked at several other cameras before bringing up the Rollieflex. I tried haggling again and still could not get him to budge one dime on the price. I came back a third time with the five hundred dollars in my pocket. This time I didn’t bother haggling and simply laid out the greenbacks on the counter. He gave me the camera and a box of film. I was out of there in ten minutes flat.

I remember the first photo I took with that camera, although it was twenty years ago. And I remember, vividly, making the first print of that negative. I was amazed at it’s clarity and contrast. Next, I cranked the head of the enlarger higher and printed a blow-up. I was astonished to find detail that was not visible in the smaller print. I kept looking at that print for days.

The Rollieflex is in the old people's home now (my closet) and has been there, carefully packed away, ever since I got my first digital camera, five years ago. Today, I carry my Canon SD400 in my pocket without giving a second thought that it might get scratched or damaged. Technically, it’s light years ahead of the Rollieflex. Yet, there is something missing. That old camera demanded respect. It was special. I used to hold it carefully, with awe and reverence. Like a cook holds a souffle. Like a father holds his first child. Like a priest holds his chalice.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

3rd Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq

The third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is upon us. Over 2,300 U.S. soldiers (average age: 26) and at least 33,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed so far. It's particularly disturbing to know that civilians, people like us, are being killed at the rate of about 30 persons each day. Oh, and there are the killed insurgents too, estimated at between 45,000 and 50,000 (i.e. at least 40 of them killed each day).

Saturday night we joined in the anti-war march in Chicago along Michigan Avenue. It ended up at the Daley Center, but unfortunately, there was no speaker there to really whip us into a frenzy. We were glad to see the people that took the time and effort to march, but we were disappointed that only about 7,000 people marched (London turned out 15,000). It was also disappointing that there wasn't a single polititian to be found. Nevertheless, it felt good that we participated. It's unrealistic, I suppose, to imagine that the administration can pull out "now," but we need a plan. Bush and his friends appear to have no concept of planning or any ability to anticipate anything.

p.s. - In typical Chicago "the City That Works" fashion, there was an unbelievable number of police, buses to take people to jail (which proved not to be needed), and street sweepers following after the march.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

March 16, 2006 Chicago & Dempster, Evanston IL

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Just Like In The Movies

Although the bank robbery in the story below happened in January, 2006, I just learned of it recently . . . better late than never.

Bank thieves tunnel their way to millions

BUENOS AIRES – The hostage standoff was stretching into its seventh hour, with hundreds of police officers surrounding the bank. After negotiating a peculiar swap – four hostages for some pizzas and sodas – the captors inside seemed suspiciously quiet. So police stormed the building.

They found the 19 remaining hostages safe and sound, but the captors had vanished. A hole in the basement wall was covered with an iron lid that had been bolted shut from the other side. Later, police discovered that the hole led to a secret tunnel, which hooked into a municipal drainage system that emptied into the La Plata River. It was a clean getaway.

“Until now, in the history of Argentina there has never been a band of thieves that’s had the audacity, the logistics, the preparation and the luck that this group of criminals had,” a Buenos Aires provincial police investigator, Osvaldo Seisdedos, told reporters after the heist three weeks ago.

But those bandits have had some stiff competition. In the past six months, tunneling bank burglars in South America have broken world records of crime, snatching millions of dollars from banks and making their getaways through narrow passages beneath busy city streets.

The subterranean thieves in Argentina last month got away with cash and safe-deposit box contents worth an estimated $25 million to $70 million, according to police and lawyers representing bank customers. If those estimates are accurate, the theft would be among the biggest bank heists in history – a list currently topped by a $68 million job pulled off five months earlier in Fortaleza, Brazil.

There, thieves dug a 260-foot tunnel from a house to the bank, equipping the passage with electric lights and wood-paneled walls.

News reports of the Argentine caper suggest almost everything went as the thieves had planned: The hostages were allowed to talk to relatives on cell phones, and the bandits even sang “Happy Birthday” to one of them. What the thieves really wanted, it seemed, was time to get more than 140 safe-deposit boxes loaded into the tunnel.

“Everyone I know is talking about it and saying the same thing – that the people who did it are geniuses,” said Salvador Peluso, 37, who works at a water-sports store across the street from the bank.

“They robbed a bank without a single gunshot being fired and got away with everything. It’s like a good movie.”

Or a horror movie, to those who lost safe-deposit boxes. Many Argentines avoid bank accounts because of the financial sector’s tumultuous recent history. Before the nation’s economy collapsed in 2001, the value of the Argentine peso equaled the U.S. dollar’s.

Those who had deposited their dollars in savings accounts watched their fortunes largely disappear overnight – the banks converted the money to pesos at the time of the collapse, and the pesos immediately lost most of their value. Throughout the country, many people vowed never to put another cent in a bank account.

In last month’s crime, bank cash accounted for about $200,000 of the millions stolen, according to bank officials; the vast majority of the plunder came from the privately held boxes.

“Safe-deposit boxes seem to be an Argentine habit because people understand that banks are very insecure here,” said Nydia Zingman, an attorney representing dozens of the burglary victims. “But the bank is ultimately responsible.”

Similar thefts have allowed Zingman to carve out a legal niche for herself in Argentina; she has represented hundreds of clients who have lost safe-deposit boxes to tunneling burglars since 1988, she said.

In 1997, she helped some of the owners of 370 boxes stolen at a bank to obtain compensation for lost money and valuables. After that burglary, neighbors told police they had heard digging sounds underground for months, and police found a tunnel stretching from the bank to an office building across the street.

Perhaps the most audacious tunneling theft was the one last August in Fortaleza, Brazil. About 100 yards from Fortaleza’s Central Bank, a sign appeared in front of a house that described it as a landscaping store – a ploy, apparently, to defuse suspicions when the building’s tenants removed large quantities of dirt from the premises.

Argentine authorities would not discuss their ongoing investigation for this article, but they have told Argentine newspapers that they think some of the people responsible for the Fortaleza burglary were involved in the Buenos Aires heist.

They also suspect that some members of the gang might be connected to other tunneling bank burglaries in Uruguay and the Argentine city of Córdoba.

“However long it takes, the criminals will be arrested and will have a sweet anecdote to tell their prison cellmates,” Argentine investigator Seisdedos told reporters at a news conference days after the crime.

According to Brazilian press reports, one potential suspect sought by authorities is Moises Teixeira da Silva, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for organizing bank burglaries using tunnels.

He escaped from a Sao Paulo prison in 2001 – through a tunnel.
By Monte Reel
The Washington Post

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

New camera

My Canon SD100 developed a problem last week. The menu button stop working. After only 2-1/2 years! As you can imagine, I wasn't very happy about it.

I called Canon to find out how to get it serviced. An inter-active voice system answered the the call. Not a good start. I listened to and repeated the menu items I wanted. Camera. Service.

The peppy voice told me "Hold on, while I transfer you to the next available service technician." I groaned. After two rings, another voice answered, "This is Canon Service, my name is Keith. How can I help you?" I was stunned. A real human being in less than 60 seconds. Is this legal?

I told Keith about my sick camera. He gave me two choices. For $99 Canon would fix my camera. Or, for another $40 they would send me, within two business days, a refurbished, almost like brand new SD400. It arrived Monday. It's light years ahead of the SD100. Smaller than a deck of cards, 5 megapixels, big LCD, a new battery, accessories, everything. And a six month warranty.

Kudos to Canon. They have customer service down to science.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bad news!

I urge you to register an objection to this unbelievable step backwards by visiting the South Dakota State Government Feed back site (here) and selecting the governor's office. While you're at it, send a donation to Planned Parenthood. Link is here.

Monday, March 06, 2006

This Is A Test

Sunday, March 05, 2006

In Case You Missed It . . .

What To Do When The Emperor Has No Clothes
Garrison Keillor

March 1, 2006

These are troubling times for all of us who love this country, as surely we all do, even the satirists. You may poke fun at your mother, but if she is belittled by others it burns your bacon. A blowhard French journalist writes a book about America that is full of arrogant stupidity, and you want to let the air out of him and mail him home flat. And then you read the paper and realize the country is led by a man who isn't paying attention, and you hope that somebody will poke him. Or put a sign on his desk that says, "Try much harder."

Do we need to impeach him to bring some focus to this man's life? The Feb. 27 issue of The New Yorker carries an article by Jane Mayer about a loyal conservative Republican and U.S. Navy lawyer, Albert Mora, and his resistance to the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. From within the Pentagon bureaucracy, he did battle against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo, who then was at the Justice Department, and shadowy figures taking orders from Vice President Dick "Gunner" Cheney, arguing America had ratified the Geneva Convention that forbids cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, and so it has the force of law. They seemed to be arguing that President Bush has the right to order prisoners to be tortured.

One such prisoner, Mohamed al-Qahtani, was held naked in isolation under bright lights for months, threatened by dogs, subjected to unbearable noise volumes and otherwise abused, so that he begged to be allowed to kill himself. When the Senate approved the Torture Convention in 1994, it defined torture as an act "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering."

Is the law a law or is it a piece of toast?

Wiretap surveillance of Americans without a warrant? Great. Go for it. How about turning over American ports to a country more closely tied to Sept. 11, 2001, than Saddam Hussein was? Fine by me. No problem. And what about the war in Iraq? Hey, you're doing a heck of a job. No need to tweak a thing. And your blue button-down shirt--it's you.

But torture is something else. Most people agree with this, and in a democracy that puts the torturers in a delicate position. They must make sure to destroy their e-mails and have subordinates who will take the fall. Because it is impossible to keep torture secret. It goes against the American grain and it eats at the conscience of even the most disciplined, and in the end the truth will come out. It is coming out now.

Our adventure in Iraq, at a cost of billions, has brought that country to the verge of civil war while earning us more enemies than ever before. And tax money earmarked for security is being dumped into pork-barrel projects anywhere somebody wants their own SWAT team. Detonation of a nuclear bomb within our borders--pick any big city--is a real possibility, as much so now as five years ago. Meanwhile, many Democrats have conceded the very subject of security and positioned themselves as Guardians of Our Forests and Benefactors of Waifs and Owls, neglecting the most basic job of government, which is to defend this country. The peaceful lagoon that is the White House is designed for the comfort of a vulnerable man. Perfectly understandable, but not what is needed now. The U.S. Constitution provides a simple, ultimate way to hold him to account for war crimes and the failure to attend to the country's defense. Impeach him and let the Senate hear the evidence.

Garrison Keillor is an author and the radio host of "A Prairie Home Companion."

Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune