Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today was...

Went to SFMOMA today. It was closed.

Went to three Verizon shops today before I could find someone help me buy a new phone. And it was cheaper to get a new phone number then to keep the old one. Good thing I don't get any calls.

But I finally figured out why I was seeing so many people on their phones. When you're paying upwards a a grand a year to have a nice phone with a contract, you have to be on it all the time to rationalize the expense.

Also BART was experiencing delays because someone was on the tracks.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


By Jeff Vandermeer.

Once again I wander off the plantation with a weird fantasy novel described on the cover as "fungal noir" and "Steampunk delerium". Its another crime story. This time in a city covered in fungus. The bad guys are mushrooms. But that's not what put me off at first. It was the writing. Which featured altogether too many sentence fragments. As in.

Finch sat up. Couldn't see it. Just heard its breathing. Which was worse.

Drove me nuts. Until eventually the story picked up some steam. Began using less. Of that sort of thing. Or I stopped. Noticing it so much.

The city BTW is called Ambergris and appears in several of Vandermeer's books. the word sounded familiar so I did Wiki search:

Ambergris (Ambra grisea, Ambre gris, ambergrease, or grey amber) is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated by sperm whales.

Freshly produced ambergris has a marine, fecal odor. However, as it ages, it acquires a sweet, earthy scent commonly likened to the fragrance of rubbing alcohol without the vaporous chemical astringency. The principal historical use of ambergris was as a fixative in perfumery, though it has now been largely displaced by synthetics.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wide Sargasso Sea

I read this as part of a reading group that C initiated. Its highly regarded but I found it a bit vague for my taste... or maybe it was just not what I'm looking for at the moment. I found myself slogging through it.

Oh well, I'm not sorry i read it, now that's its finished and there are more books out there to be read.

Art and Exploitation_02

Can art be damaging?

I dunno.

If we accept my definition of art as Objects made for the purposes of contemplation then art functions as a locus of thought, ideas, discussion and debate.

In American culture, the notion of Freedom of Speech trusts that in the debate over ideas, "good" ideas will eventually triumph over "bad" ones. If we have this faith, then we must allow art must provide a net benefit as a stimulator of ideas. We tolerate ideas we find reprehensible in the believe that better ideas will predominate.

But a corollary to my definition is that while an object may have a value as art, it may be a repository of other values; economic, utilitarian, decorative... And it may, and often does, function as advertising and propaganda, which we believe to be effective in persuasion for good or ill, or we wouldn't see so much of it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Art and Exploitation_01

I had a conversation with a friend of mine last night that was very fruitful and got me to thinking. So today I sent this response to her.

Hi ___,

Just to pick up on a topic we exploited last evening to our mutual pleasure (at least I enjoyed it);
art and exploitation.

I have a definition of art that I find works very well for me...

Art is the making of objects for the purposes of contemplation.

I restrict this to man-made objects and exclude god so that we don't have to mess with issues of nature as art. But these objects can be temporal objects, a performance. Part of the beauty of this definition is that it evades questions of high art/low art; does art have a social purpose or obligation? must art be beautiful or uplift us?

Take for instance a Sam Maloof settee which can be seen on display at the Oakland Art Museum. (Maloof was a craftsman furnituremaker who died recently. He was particularly famous for his rocking chairs.) Does a chair belong in an art museum next to a Mel Ramos painting of Superman? A chair can be assigned a utilitarian value, an economic value, a decorative value.... but is it art? Well, by my definition, if we can even contemplate this question, then it has a value as art. Does it have a high value, or a low value? That depends on the viewer and what the viewer brings to the equation and that's the other part of my definition. Art is not so much dependent on the creator as it is on the viewer and the degree to which an object is art depends on the degree of contemplation it evokes.

So does using woman as the subject of art objects exploit them? In most contexts we would say that it does not; few would argue that Bernini's St Theresa in Ecstasy exploits women, although in incorporates elements of violence towards a sexually attractive young woman. But the word does pop up often in contexts involving sexuality and violence.... both together and separately. In the context of modern feminist usage it comes as a preloaded word, referenced below as the second verb meaning.


1 –noun
1. a striking or notable deed; feat; spirited or heroic act: the exploits of Alexander the Great.

2 –verb (used with object)
1. to utilize, esp. for profit; turn to practical account: to exploit a business opportunity
2. to use selfishly for one's own ends: employers who exploit their workers.
3. to advance or further through exploitation; promote: He exploited his new movie through a series of guest appearances.

Interestingly to me, in none of these definitions is the object being exploited explicitly defined as being damaged by the process. This particular one to use selfishly for one's own ends suggests the possibility of damage just as the others suggest the possibility of the exultation of the object of exploitation.

Nevertheless, in a feminist critique of art the use of the word exploited is clearly understood to carry the implication of damage to the subject of the art piece, by virtue of its transformation into object. The parallel debate is over whether depictions of violence promotes or defuses the desire to commit violence. Or to go to the issue that is most difficult to disentangle from the emotional revulsion we feel at it, child pornography. If a child is photographed in a sexually provocative scenario, we all feel that a child has been damaged. If Vladimir Nabokov writes about a middle-aged man in a sexual relationship with a 12 year old girl, no real person has been abused.

I think the real point I'm coming to about this is that when we bring certain words to our discussions of events, art, opinion, we can often bring them preloaded in ways that restrict analysis, as when he use the word greatest in reference to an athlete. How are we defining greatest? Or in the use of the word exploited in this context.

So a topic for further exploitation, just how are certain kinds of art damaging to real people? How are women exploited? For that to be a valid description, we should be able to clearly draw the mechanism by which it happens. We should not let it pass as an unexamined assumption. We should take care that we are not allowing words to mask reality.


Whew! this was fun. I think I'll post this to my blog (delete your name) and add some links.

Have a productive day, meditate and enjoy the sun!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Inanna's Tears

The cover to my next in line to be published graphic novel.

The City & The City

By China Mieville (pronounced me-AH-vil).

Mieville tends to write about cities... weird cities and their even stranger inhabitants. By his standards, Beszel and Ul Qoma are pretty normal cities located somewhere on the south-eastern edges of Europe. What is unique is that these two independent city/nations largely occupy the same bit of turf and in many places overlap and yet remain invisible to each other.

Through an act of psychological will, the citizens of each city "unsee" the other city and its citizens and each remains strictly within its own boundaries. It is possible to go to the other city, if you have a passport and use the proper gate, but of course, once there, you must unsee your own city.

The story is a police procedural told from the perspective of Inspector Tyador Borlu of Beszel's Extreme Crime Squad. He's investigating the murder of a young woman and must, no surprise here, cross over to Ul Qoma to solve it.

In Mieville's skillful hands, this central conceit of unseeing your neighbor allows the book to function as a kind of meditation on how we all embrace the illusions of our preferred social realities.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Grave Doug Freshley

Its the last of four graphic novels I drew a few years ago, and its slated to come out hard on the heels of Inanna's Tears which was drawn almost a year earlier. I am so excited to have these books coming out at last and hope they do well and draw us some attention. DOUG in particular has the prospect of legs, I believe.

And its coming at a time when I seem to be leaving comics behind (again)in favor of other creative activities. I have no idea if my forays into architecture will pay off, its hard to stay motivated in the face of a slow market and trudging forward alone. My attempts to write a novel are kind of a long shot (gee, ya think?) but I can chalk it up to doing something I've long wanted to try, so it will have life value.

If DOUG is successful, there could well be reason to do more... but even if its successful, will it make money? Too hard to know right now.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Summer update 01


Not bad, I'm making some progress on Revit and even made a basic model of my Bijou House for Two, but not exactly tearing it up and did nothing the last three days, so back to it today.

Likewise I've made some notes toward my novel, but spent more time writing on another project that has less potential, so I need to get re-focused.

Got some yard work done and picked my son's stuff from school although he won't be home for a spell yet. If my promotion comes through at work it may mean I'll need to change my plans for school in the fall. Hmmm...

So its been a fair start and if I keep it up, it can be a productive summer.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cradle to Cradle part 06

Rather then end this on a down note, I shall give a re-cap of the final points McDonough and Braungart make on the road to a cradle to cradle society. They do seem to recognize the complexity of the journey, and acknowledge that it can be taken in steps.

Five steps to Eco-Effectiveness (in brief):

1_ Get "free of" known culprits. That is, stop using stuff we know is poison, and much of what we suspect as well. This is no solution in itself, but a necessary first step.

2_ Follow informed personal preferences. There is a lot out there, and as designers we can't know about it all. But educate yourself as best you can and take your best shot at getting it right.

3_Create a passive positive list. Find the things that are healthful and prefer to use them. Its not enough to get rid of the known bad because other bad things can still be in the mix. Prefer to use only the good things as much as possible.

4_Activate the positive list. Didn't I just go over that?

5_Reinvent. Its not enough to simply go about things the old way, but using new ingredients. Think of new ways of doing things and new technologies.

The authors are very positive about the prospects of new technologies solving old problems and in this they are not alone. But it is not enough to imagine that it will simply happen on its own, as some have proposed. It has to happen within the confines of a better way of imagimng the outcome, and a recognition that the Law of Unintended Consequences still holds.

It seems unlikely to me that there will ever be perfect solutions to any given circumstances, but there can be better ones and this book offers a vision for finding one.

Cradle to Cradle part 05

The other part of upcycling involves technological waste and this seems to me to be much more challenging. The key term used here is that of a "product of service." Thus you don't buy a car or shoes or computer, you lease them through their useful lives, and when you are finished the manufacturer reclaims them and disassembles them for re-use as a high end product.

The challenges to accomplish this are mind-boggling. Here the authors blithely assume that it will be cheaper to re-use materials rather then using virgin materials. In the current world, this is very often not the case. Plastics can be re-cycled, but it is generally not economic to do so. Re-cycling glass is much cheaper. The authors speak of the challenges of smelting steel and keeping other metals and materials out so that it does not have to be re-used for a "lesser" purpose, having lost some of its integrity.

So designing products and product distribution in such a way that makes them inexpensively reclaimable, reusable... forever, is their goal. Given the seemingly infinite complexity of the natural world and our shallow grasp of it, designing an economic/manufacturing/distribution system to match it would appear hopeless.

When I look at the recycling bins and what people through into them with all the best intentions, but little willingness to simply read and grasp the instrcutions written on the bins, I despair.

Not that we shouldn't try.

Cradle to Cradle part 04

UPcycling, returning products to a useful life over and over again, is a concept that McDonough and Braungart see as key in their conception. REcycling is not enough. Recycling is down-cycling and ultimately leads to the dump... the process is simply delayed. It still conforms to the paradigm of cradle to grave that the authors seek to change.

One half of the cradle to cradle conception is bio-metabolism. This one is easy enough to understand, and seems most immediately do-able. It would seem that nature can filter and re-use biological waste if it is properly returned and devoid of excessive poisons. Even here, the use of wetlands and plant life to filter sewage and manufacturing bio-waste is proposed and examples given.

I had to chuckle though. Contaminated biological waste is known to cause genetic damage to wildlife. Might it not do the same to plant life if used as wetlands and swales to cleanse water? Perhaps plants are not as important as animals... although I occasional rail in a kidding way that when a cow is milked, the cow remains unharmed, but when soy milk is used... well, millions of soy beans gave their lives for that.

But we are animals and consume other life to sustain ourselves. We don't photosynthesize.

Cradle to Cradle part 03

So I finished the book last night, and overall I find it to represent an inspiring, if unfinished, concept. And inspirational is what the book aims for... it certainly doesn't offer many specifics as guide posts for achieving its aims. But these aims are ambitious and involve a lot of deep thinking and restructuring of the manufacturing process to be achievable.

One of their fundamental concepts is expressed as "waste equals food." The idea is that in nature, everything gets fully recycled/consumed as the nutrients/food for the next cycle of growth.

Hmmm, borrowing from Nietzsche's Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic, Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae, speaks of Man's fear of Nature's amoral consumption/destruction and effervescent growth/birth. In her description, Western culture equates women with Nature, and men created civilization, art, government, technology, as a way to wall off Nature. I have taken the concept as a basis for my understanding of Horror as a literary genre, as expresses in an earlier essay here.

Of course, Paglia was speaking of art, and McDonough and Braungart are focused much more on technology... although, joy, fun, expressions of beauty are added as important values in their conception. Paglia also describes ancient Egypt as having attained the most perfect synthesis of the Apollonian/Dionysian poles, seeing them as unified, rather then as opposites to bounce back and forth between as Western civilization has done.

And something like that is what McDonough and Braungart seem to be seeking.