A couple of weeks ago the real-life inspiration for Rain Man came to Madison to speak to a middle school class. Like the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the movie, this unusual person is a speed reader who can remember the most obscure facts. However, the poor fellow's brain lacks a corpus callosum, the tissue that connects the two halves of the brain, thereby rendering him unable to reason.
That would explain my liberal friends. Their corpus callosum is either missing or underdeveloped. They're just not making the connection!
Folks, read Blaska's Blog every day to keep your corpus callosum as fit as a fiddle! Builds strong minds seven or eight different ways. (I lose count.)
I want to walk you through the most incredible example of seeing the exact same thing but coming to completely different conclusions. It illustrates what happens when you let this important hunk of brain tissue wither away.
Five years ago, a local wedding photographer by the name of Glenn Austin compiled a remarkable photo record of the street people on State Street, based at the ill-named Peace Park at the mid-point of the street.
His "State Street Family" Album
The photo compilation is, truly, a work of art and an important sociological record. But the commentary Mr. Austin wrote to describe his own photos reads like that Richard Pryor joke: The husband who is caught en flagrante delicto tells his wife, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?"
At no time does the photographer betray even the slightest disapproval of the anti-social conduct occurring right before his eyes. To the contrary, every transgression is either excused away as somehow noble in a Rousseauian kind of way or is hurled back at a supposedly complacent, uncaring society like monkey dung at the zoo.
Like most enablers, he is missing the connection between cause and result. Mr. Austin writes in his prologue:
These are the discards of our society: the poor, the veterans, the homeless, the drug addicted, the alcoholic, the runaways, the abused, the unemployable, the people that nobody wants. Stop and talk to these folks ... You will discover that they are just people.
Just people, who, as Mr. Austin's shutter reveals, are semi-conscious, stoned and inebriated in mid-day, pissing in public, cursing, grabbing their crotches, fighting, resisting arrest, panhandling and intimidating passers-by. And killing each other, as the case of a 23-year-old drifter a year ago this month on the 600 block of State Street, proved. (The man who pulled the trigger in self defense was acquitted.) Those behaviors are more cause than result.
Mr. Austin, your photographs are totally awesome, as the kids would say. The State Historical Society should have these pictures -- that is how important this photographic record is. But I'm wondering if you still stand by your commentary that accompanies those photographs?
I request permission to use the pictures referenced in my blog in order to invite other commentaries from people who pass by Peace Park to see if their impressions are the same as yours. I hope you would agree to this exercise even if we might disagree politically.
Yes, I still believe in the comments that I put on the pictures on my website. Are we politically different? Duh. Thank heavens, we are.
No, you do not have permission to use individual pictures from my web site. You can of course put in a link to the site.
Take the test
So we are going to have to be creative. I will focus on just four of the photographs in the collection, but they are representative. What follows is the colloquy between your BlaskaBlogger and Austin, conducted via e-mail.
Picture #12 shows two uniformed Madison police officers talking to a man seated on one of the benches at the park.
There is something about the body language of these two policemen that is very threatening. I have never been arrested or had any problem with the law, yet I could feel the sense of nasty confrontation being generated here. Bad vibes. Poor people, especially poor black people, always get a lot of attention from the police. I don't know why they were hassling this man. I asked him later what they wanted and he said they were probably upset because he was sitting with a white woman. I'm sure that Madison's police don't consider themselves to be biased. I think that Madison's black people don't agree.
Blaska: Do you think there could be another reason the police were talking to this man? Is it possible that this man was threatening someone else? Is it possible that someone other than the police created the "bad vibes?" Also, do you consider Madison police to be racist? Your caption suggests as much.
Austin: Are there any "bad vibes" between the police and African Americans? Duh.
Picture #20 captures a buck-naked man with full growth of black beard wildly gesticulating on a Madison thoroughfare.
I was standing there, talking to some folks, when this shrieking apparition appeared. It was dark and I didn't have a flash so I was lucky to get the shot. If the police had seen him he almost certainly would have been arrested and gone to jail. Of course that's why he was streaking in the first place. He wanted to challenge the establishment. Think about what it means to send someone to jail for streaking. Is our society uptight or what?
Blaska: Do you still believe that?
Austin: Is our society uptight for jailing streakers? Duh.
Blaska's follow-up question: Suppose it was your daughter, perhaps from out of town, say, Wisconsin Rapids, sent to get a higher education at the great university in Madison, and she encounters this fellow walking home from the library at dusk. What would your reaction be then?
Austin's follow-up response: Wisconsin Rapids? Sent? Lucky she didn't go for higher education to the great college Vassar in Poughkeepsie where streaking is a tradition. Lordy, lordy, all those naked people. She would be completely ruined.
Picture #27 depicts a fellow boosting himself onto a second-story fire escape landing.
No, I didn't capture this man in the commission of a crime. He was, however, demonstrating how easy it would be to break into the building.
Blaska: Why would this individual be demonstrating how easy it is to break into a building? Was he part of Madison police outreach?
Austin: No, the man hanging from the fire escape wasn't part of any police outreach. Duh.
Blaska's follow-up question: If he wasn't part of police outreach, then why was he demonstrating his technique and where did he learn it?
Austin did not respond.
Picture #51 shows what looks to be the buck naked guy, now dressed in shorts and a filthy polo shirt, screaming at a well dressed young lady walking on the sidewalk. She is looking straight ahead.
When tempers flare the people on the street become very quiet. Everybody gets kind of apprehensive. Lots of the people there have experienced abuse and they don't consider this kind of confrontation as a form of entertainment. People on State Street don't gather around when some kind of violent confrontation is happening, rather they tend to go somewhere else. There never was any serious potential for violence, but their friends came between them to make sure that none could occur.
Blaska: Doesn't it appear that this young woman is trying to mind her own business and walk past him on the sidewalk? Doesn't it appear that the man is shouting at the woman and that the woman is trying to be assertive within her limits -- she is raising a finger as if to say, "now, stop that, please," until she can get past this shrieking apparition?
Austin did not respond.
("Their friends came between them"? Was the man ever in any danger of being attacked by that young woman?)
Austin is trying to reason but nuttin's happenin'
In the middle of his slide show, Mr. Austin writes:
The city's efforts concerning The Family are all calculated to make them less visible. They aren't going to go away unless the city throws a little bit of money at the situation. I think a million dollars would make a lot of difference.
Blaska: Say the taxpayers of the City of Madison authorized the expenditure of an extra one million dollars. What would that one million dollars be spent on?
Austin: Could a million dollars well spent make any difference to the homeless population of Madison? Duh.
He declined to be more specific. Still, Glenn Austin's photographic essay is not to be missed.
Fortunately, there is no audio file for, as Austin himself notes:
The language on the street is quite profane.
Not as profane, this BlaskaBlogger would wager, as the great college Vassar in Poughkeepsie where profanity is probably a tradition. Duh!
Previously in this series: