Island of Misfit Toys

It dawned on me yesterday that I’ve become an Island of Misfit Toys, at least as far as cameras are concerned. I now have custody of a bunch of expensive cameras that need repairs costing more than the cameras are worth, but because the camera was originally an expensive item, I can’t bring myself to throw them out.

It first started with the Canon S70 point and shoot. I started underwater photography with a series of Canon Powershot S60s that were either flooded or stolen; when the last one was stolen in Bonaire, I decided to buy an S70 off eBay, as it used the same housing as the S60. It was satisfactory for a couple of years, and then developed focus problems, so I set it aside, and replaced it with a Canon G12 underwater. The housing and camera are sitting in a drawer somewhere. It just doesn’t feel right to just toss an expensive camera like that.

My first digital SLR was a Nikon D80. I got it because I’d become accustomed to digital photography but was bumping up against the limits of the point-and-shoot S60. I used that camera with considerable happiness for about 10 years, until it stopped working in Leicester Square during my first trip to London. I tried a variety of things to reset it, but it eventually became clear that it needed about $200 worth of repairs. This didn’t make sense to me on a 10 year old body, so I got a new Nikon D7500. The D80 is still sitting in a corner somewhere. It just doesn’t feel right to toss a camera that could be repaired, and would be a cheap way for someone to get into Nikon DSLRs

Yesterday, I’d taken my inline skates out of the closet to install a new brake pad, and realized I should clean it up before putting the skates back. I found an old portable typewriter, which mostly worked, but needed a new ribbon, and had some sticky keys. I also found my original pair of rollerblades, plus my motorcycle tank bag, the mounting straps for which were still on the Katana when I sold it. Those went into the trash.

I also found Dad’s old folding Zeiss Ikon folding rangefinder camera. It’s a medium format camera that folds up flat. Dad was really proud of it. I noticed when I tried using it that the shutter was stuck open. It just doesn’t seem right to toss a camera like this, that a camera collector might want.

Hanging from hooks along the sides of the closet are a pair of Polaroid cameras. One was for the type of film pack that you peel apart, one is a first generation SX-70 that I think my Uncle John gave to my father. Dad loved both cameras, and I remember being fascinated by the SX-70, a folding SLR camera whose pictures developed right before your eyes. I don’t know if these cameras still work; I don’t have any film for them. It doesn’t seem right to just toss them, though.

And finally, I found my old camera bag on the bottom of the closet. I had a complete Pentax K-mount system before I started using digital. My first was a Pentax K-1000 which I got as a college graduation present. All manual, but with a built in light meter, it was a big step up over Dad’s rangefinder 35mm camera – interchangeable lenses, and the ability to measure the exposure, rather than guess at it. The camera came with 50mm and a 135mm telephoto which was great for portraits, and a flash, so I was no longer dependent on having to shoot existing light, and I later expanded my system to include 28-85mm and 70-210mm zoom lenses. Once I had the lenses, I shifted to an LX body which had auto exposure, depth of field preview and a lot of other niceties.

When I looked at them yesterday, I found that the mirror on the K-1000 was locked up. I was surprised. It’s an all mechanical camera, and built like a tank. It was also a stripped down model, so it was a great camera to learn the nuts and bolts of photography with. I was reading that last night that jarring the camera might free the lens, but if that doesn’t work, I don’t know what to do. It’s obsolete, but such a great learning camera, I’d rather not toss it.

The 28-85 zoom lens still seems to be working, but I noticed a while back that the Sigma 70-210 zoom seems to have leaked lubricant all over the barrel.

At least the LX seems to be working at least to an extent. The batteries are dead at the moment, but I suspect that they could be replaced. The shutter is manual though, and it does work through its upper range. But will I ever use film when I’ve grown so accustomed to digital? And I’ve had to repair it once because the focus had shifted — does it need repairs again? It seems a sin just to toss it though.

The trouble is that none of these are junky cameras. They all are, or were, high quality prosumer quality cameras, that all happen to be out of order. With the exception of the Powershot S70, they could probably all be repaired, or serve as a source of parts, or be of interest to a collector, but getting rid of them is a fair amount of work, either to sell them, or have them repaired. Tossing them seems wrong somehow, and so they sit, my personal island of misfit cameras.

This is Why You Teach History

Back when we could get together, one of the things we would do as a family is play a game called “Salad Bowl”. It’s a group game; each person writes the names of 10 people, real or fictional, living or dead, onto slips of paper, folds them up, and drops them into a salad bowl. Then you divide into teams. Each round, one person from each team draws slips from the bowl, and try to provide clues to their teammates so they can guess each name. The team that’s able to guess the most names wins. If you know who the person is, it’s a lot easier to give clues than if you don’t. Part of the strategy of the game is picking names that your teammates will know, but will stump your opponents.

We were playing a few years back, and I decided to throw “George III” into the bowl. I frankly figured it would be a gimme – who doesn’t know the British king the American colonies rebelled against during the American Revolution?

My nephew, that’s who. At that point, he was a high school senior, and had no idea who George III, and wound up using my brother’s middle name as a clue. Apparently they teach social studies at his school, not history.

History does repeat itself. It repeats itself because we’re human, and human nature doesn’t change. And this is why I was leery of Donald Trump even in 2016. in “How Did We Get Here“, I wrote, “Trump really worries me. I do see the parallels to the rise of Nazism in Germany in his campaign.” The demonization of an outside group, in this case, Muslims and immigrants, the creation of a cult of personality, the appeal to nationalism; these are all parts of the Nazi playbook.

Right after the 2016 election, I was hopeful that Trump would tone things down, and recognize the rule of law. He didn’t. He doubled down on the incendiary rhetoric.

And finally, came the 2020 election. I don’t think everyone who voted against him disagreed with his more mainstream positions. I think there were a fair number of conservative people, like John McCain’s widow, who held their noses and voted against Trump, because they perceived that he was a threat to our democracy. If you had learned about the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany, it was pretty easy to see the parallels.

And so it proved to be. He continued to spout lies about the election, and I think a fair part of the populace, disarmed by a lack of historical knowledge, bought them. If you didn’t have the historical grounding to see through it, if your only grounding in civics is social media, it was easy to be duped. And this is how the assault on the Capitol happened.

I don’t know how this will play out. The night of the riot, there was clearly a sense of norms having been breached. Twitter has cut Trump off, as have other social media outlets. There were a lot of everyday people in postwar Germany who had to live with the fact that they had been casual Nazis, and were horrified once they saw what they ultimate conclusion of that was. I hope that’s what happens here – that the scales fall from the eyes of the Trump supporters, and they see what a petty, narcissistic, possibly even delusional man he is. But I’m not confident. We had a really close shave this time. Will our institutions withstand the next assault on them?

It’s up to us.