6.30.2006

Making Other Arrangements: James Howard Kunstler at the Renewable Energy Fair

As the keynote speaker at last weekend's Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Fair, author and new urbanist thinker James Howard Kunstler sounded the alarm that things can't go on as they always have: supplies of oil and natural gas simply can't sustain the interstate highway system, the country's isolated suburban pods and chain stores, and an urban planning mindset that puts the car front and center, leaving walkability and shared community largely out of the picture. We must "make other arrangements," he says. As a companion to the interview Nick Vander Puy and I did with Kunstler that's now up at Worldchanging, here's an adapted version of his keynote at the fair.
…Biodiesel is cool and ethanol is cool and switchgrass is cool and all the alternative fuels are very cool. We have to talk about that a lot, and it’s going to have a great deal of meaning for the future of this civilization. But we cannot just talk about running the car. Because the truth of the matter is that no combination of alternative fuels that we know about or even have dreamed about will allow us to continue running the interstate highway system, Walt Disney World, and Wal-Mart. Or even a substantial fraction of that…

…Dick Cheney made that interesting remark, that the “American way of life is non-negotiable.” You can understand that a traumatized nation [after 9/11] would need some reassurance, so Dick Cheney said, “Our way of life is non-negotiable.” It’s a grandiose statement, obviously, but the trouble is that it does truly reflect the thinking of most of the American public. You know, the real trouble is that’s a statement that does not comport with reality, because when you don’t negotiate the circumstances the world sends to you, you automatically get assigned a new negotiating partner. And it is called reality. And it won’t negotiate for you: it will tell you what you have to do whether you like it or not.

One of the symptoms of the low grade of discussion we’re having in this culture—maybe there’s some virus going around that’s making everyone in New York and Washington really stupid—the common thread that’s been going around is that American life, i.e. suburbia, is OK because people like it. Now, what kind of thinking is that? The companion idea is that it’s OK because people choose it. That’s the reasoning that comes from David Brooks at The New York Times and Joel Kotkin, the urban consultant, and Peter Huber of Forbes magazine and now Bob Bruegmann from the University of Illinois, whose new book Sprawl says, essentially, “It’s great because people choose it.”

Dick Cheney said, “Our way of life is non-negotiable.” It’s a grandiose statement, obviously, but the trouble is that’s a statement that does not comport with reality, because when you don’t negotiate the circumstances the world sends to you, you automatically get assigned a new negotiating partner.

But here’s the deal: it’s coming off the menu. Inform the waiters. Somebody go back and tell the kitchen: “86 the suburbia.” Not because I’m a mean person but because we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore. In an energy-scarce society, we’re not going to be able to run all that easy motoring and the 12,000-mile merchandise supply lines to far, far away, and the warehouse on wheels and all the other furnishings and accessories of the driving utopia.

So we’re going to have to make other arrangements. And there are tremendous impediments to thinking about making other arrangements. And one of them is what I’ve been calling for the last year the “Jiminy Cricket Syndrome.” It’s the idea that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. And the American public has been conditioned for about 60 years to believe that. From being incessantly bombarded with television advertising and Spielberg movies and Disney movies that we believe, you know, just wish for it and you can have it. You can be number one; just dream the dream, wish the wish.

It’s important for young people, for children, to believe in things. And it’s important for adults to tell children, when you wish upon a start dreams come true, because children are making that difficult journey from enchantment to harsh reality. And they need a little lubrication of the brain, so we tell them things like that. The trouble is when all the adults in your society continue to believe that. That’s where we’re at. The companion to that idea actually comes from America’s newest big religion, which is not Pentecostal Christianity, by the way. It’s the worship of unearned riches. And the holy shrine to it is Las Vegas.

I don’t see any of the evangelicals complaining about Las Vegas. Do you hear Pat Robertson inveighing against Las Vegas? I don’t think so. Have you noticed the recent advertising about Las Vegas? It’s “What goes on here, stays here.” And that’s ok with everybody. What do you think goes on in Las Vegas? I’ll tell you what goes on in Las Vegas. People hire prostitutes and they piss away their children’s college tuition. And that’s OK with us, and it’s OK with the evangelicals. I’m not a professional crusader against gambling, but this is actually very bad behavior and it’s leading to very bad thinking, and we’ve got to stop it. Probably it’s going to stop itself. Las Vegas is one of those places that is not going to function very well in an energy-scarce society. In fact, I think you can state categorically that the excitement will be over. Unless you’re a tarantula. Then you’ll be able to roam all 30 floors of Steve Wynn’s last hotel.

There are tremendous impediments to thinking about making other arrangements. And one of them is what I call the “Jiminy Cricket Syndrome.” It’s the idea that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. The companion to that idea actually comes from America’s newest big religion, which is not Pentecostal Christianity, by the way. It’s the worship of unearned riches.

Getting back to the fact that these are very, very dangerous ideas, that when you wish upon a star your dreams come true and that it’s possible to get something from nothing. That’s what the worship of unearned riches is all about—the idea that it’s possible to get something for nothing. That’s what the whole lottery mania is about. We’ve got to become a different kind of country.

There’s another major delusion, and I saw it illustrated in my trip to Google headquarters. Google is the highest level now of hi-tech computer-corporate enterprise. I went there last June; I was invited to give a talk. It’s in an office park in this suburban wasteland of illegible crap in Silicon Valley. Inside—it’s a normal, by today’s standards, office building—the whole place is tricked out like a kindergarten. They’ve got the foosball games and the knock hockey and the pool tables and the computer game consoles and the Lucite snackbox station every 11 feet (because you can never be more than 11 steps away from a sugary snack: the yogurt pretzels and the yogurt raisins and the gummi fish and the malted milk balls). The whole place is like the greatest daycare center in the world. And I’m thinking, wow, I didn’t know corporate America was this infantile.

So then the Google employees come in, and by “employees” I mean high-level brass, you know, upper echelon executives who are now all millionaires because they got on board 7, 8 years ago when it was a startup and they got stock options. They came in, the high-tech engineers and executives, and they’re dressed like skateboard rats. They’re wearing sideways hats, their asscracks showing, and it’s like they just got released from jail, because they’ve got no sneaker laces. And I’m thinking, this is corporate America? A bunch of guys with sideways hats?

So I gave my spiel about energy, and at the time I was trying to give an earnest talk about the global oil predicament and natural-gas predicament--and, by the way, I’m not doing that now because I assume many of you have heard it and don’t need to hear it again. So, after my spiel, we did questions. And the Googleites got up, and they didn’t have any questions, they just had comments, and it was all the same comment. Which was: “Like, dude, we’ve got technology,” with subtext “You’re an asshole.” It informed me about something that was interesting, which was that at the highest level of corporate enterprise in America, they don’t understand the difference between technology and energy. Because they’re not the same thing. You can’t just substitute one for the other. The airplane that I’ll be on later to Detroit, it’s not going to run on hard drives and ground up USB ports and other plastic-metal crap. You’re either going to put liquid hydrocarbon fuels in there or it’s not going to run.

This is what I think you’re seeing: you’ve got young people who’ve been extraordinarily personally successful at making money in technology by moving pixels around a screen with a mouse, so they’ve developed a kind of grandiose idea of what technology’s all about. And it’s not going to be about that. We’ve got a lot of questions we’re going to be facing with technology. The technology with this energy fair is very impressive and I’m sure we’re going to running an awful lot of it, but I’m sure many of you have considered how are we going to manufacture more of it after a certain point, when we’re starting to have trouble with energy and natural gas. Because what we’re seeing also is a kind of piggyback thinking: we’re piggybacking our assumptions and a lot of our hopes and expectations on what we know now.

In the last few months, a lot of people have been talking about Cuba. “Well, look at Cuba. Cuba lost its energy subsidy, and overnight they went through this transformation.” And it’s true that they did a heroic job of facing the problem and overcoming, and they’re continuing to do that. But we have to remember that Cuba accomplished that against that background of a world that’s still substantially peaceful and intact and full of abundant energy, still. That’s one of the things we have to bear in mind. It’s going to be quite a different story when we have to make our adjustments against a backdrop of a world that’s not necessarily peaceful, in which energy supplies will be disrupted, and in which there’s probably going to be a lot of turbulence and turmoil and a certain amount of hardship. It’ll be a different story.

Suburbia represents entropy made visible. From a purely economic, sustainability point of view, I call it the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

So, technology is not energy, and we’re going to have to make other arrangements. One of the things I’ve noticed in the public discussion, the ambient public discussion around America, is that absolutely nobody, except for a few freaks out there, are talking about restoring the American railroad system. It’s terribly important! We have a railroad system that the Bolivians would be ashamed of. It’s terribly important for the following reasons. First of all, no other project that we could do right away would have a greater impact on our fuel use and our oil consumption… It’s tremendously important because it would put a lot of people to work at meaningful jobs doing something we all understand, not an abstract project but a very real thing with real results. The infrastructure for it is lying out there rusting in the rain, and the technology necessary for doing it is completely understood. We know how to do it; we don’t have to reinvent anything. And the fact that we’re not doing it and we’re not talking about it or thinking about it shows how unserious our society really is, and especially our political and business leadership. It’s important for one other very big reason: because we desperately need a project that can boost our collective confidence in ourselves, that can demonstrate to ourselves that we can actually do something other than nothing, that we can actually begin the project of refitting our nation and reaccessorizing our nation for a reasonable, sane, sustainable way of living. So we’ve go to do that right away.

The other things we have to do are fairly self-evident, beginning with agriculture. The age of the 3,000-mile Caesar salad is going to be coming to an end. And we’re probably going to have to do a lot more local agriculture, and it’s liable to require a lot more human attention. And at every level, because it’s not just about people hoeing in the fields or picking the strawberries. It’ll have to be about rebuilding many, many layered sets of local agricultural economies in which we have higher orders of work and value-added activities: making things from the agricultural products we’re producing. These represent all kinds of vocational niches for people to occupy that currently are not occupied. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that by sheer necessity.

Everybody is nervous: “How are we going to do this?” In some ways, you sometimes see whole groups of mentality. One mentality group says, “The market will take care of everything.” Then there’s another group that says, “They’ll come up with the technology--a rescue remedy--and we can continue to run Walt Disney World and the interstate highway system on something else.” And another mentality says, “We’ll organize our way out of it.” The compulsive neatniks, I guess. I think what you’ll find is that these social systems are self-organizing and, in the strict sense of the word, emergent. They emerge from a combination of circumstances, just as suburbia did. There wasn’t some malignant mentality behind the construction of surburbia. This system self-organized in response to unbelievably abundant supplies of cheap gasoline and diesel fuel and natural gas. And we got what we got.

That leads to a whole other big source of our mental problem: the problem of surburbia itself, which is the way more than half of the people in America live and no doubt many people under this tent live, for now. There are many ways of describing it; one way for the science people is you can say, it represents entropy made visible. From a purely economic, sustainability point of view, I call it the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

Why? Because it has no future. We’re not going to be able to run it. No matter how much we like it or no matter how many people chose it between 1947 and 2006, it doesn’t matter. We’re not going to be able to run it whether we like it or not. It has no future. We poured our national wealth into the design, construction and assembly of this infrastructure for daily life that had no future. And that has produced another unanticipated consequence which is largely mental: the psychology of previous investment, the fact that we put so much of our wealth into creating this system that we can’t imagine letting go of or reforming. That’s one of the reasons we’re stuck in this dialogue about running the cars by other means at all costs. I don’t know how we’re going to break out of it.

The Rocky Mountain Institute, which is one of the most esteemed environmental organizations in the land, has been doing exactly the same thing. They’ve been working on this thing called the hyper-car, which gets supernaturally wonderful gasoline mileage, for 15 years. What they don’t realize is that the main consequence of working on the hyper-car is that it promotes the idea that we can continue to be a car-dependent nation and society. What can be a more futile project? And I would remind you that the percentage of money the Rocky Mountain Institute has put into things like walkable communities was just tiny compared to the amount of money and effort they put into the hyper-car.

Life is tragic. That’s a very important idea that serious civilizations carry with them at all times, that there is no guaranteed happy ending to anything, and you really have to be very careful about what you’re doing, and we’ve forgotten that. We assume Bruce Willis is going to rescue us from the global energy problem.

Look, I’m not talking about the right-wing crazies out there; I’m talking bout some of your own homies. We’ve got to get some better thinking from the environmental community. And walkable communities is a big part of it. That’s why I associated myself with the new urbanist movement for many years. They did a very important service for America. They became, to some extent, hostages of the home-building industry, with all the neotraditional projects that were put up. I hasten to add they represented a tiny fraction of all the other development that occurred in America. And they remain a good model. But the real service the new urbanists did was they dove into the dumpster and they reclaimed a great deal of knowledge to inform us how we can design and assemble a human habitat that has a future. Namely, they retrieved the traditional knowledge for how to design and assemble towns, neighborhoods, villages in a way that were walkable, that had some meaningful connection to the agricultural hinterland.

I think what we’re going to see is the reversal of the trend of people moving from the rural spaces and small towns and cities to the great big metropolitan metroplexes. I think that’s going to reverse. That of course has a lot of implications, because it might be a tumultuous process. One of the assumptions I hear all around the country is people sounding like they expect to have a smooth transition from where we’re at and where we’re heading. I don’t think we can afford to be that complacent. We have to assume that there’s going to be quite a bit of disorder along the way as things shake out.

My guess is that the places that are going to be successful are places that have access to agricultural land that is good, productive land. And that includes small towns and small cities that are out there waiting to be reinhabited. I’ve been to some of the small towns of the Midwest; in fact, I was in Stevens Point (Wisconsin) about a year ago and that’s a town that has been completely decanted into a highway strip, and it will have to be put back into its center. The biggest cities are probably going to contract but will also densify at their centers at the same time that they contract overall, and densify at their waterfronts. Because we’re going to have to use them again. One of the interesting things about the last 20 years or so is that the waterfront is now considered only a place for recreation or condominium sites. We never think about, oh, we might need to use boats again. Duh. Well, we may. And we’d better start thinking about that, and a lot of young people may be working in that sector in the future, of moving things around by water. This is certainly a part of the world where you can do a lot of that. It won’t be too cool in Phoenix. Whoops: maybe you shouldn’t have moved there.

A big part of the deal is that life is tragic. We lost that idea. That’s a very important idea that serious civilizations carry with them at all times, that life is tragic, there is no guaranteed happy ending to anything, and you really have to be very careful about what you’re doing, and we’ve forgotten that. We assume Bruce Willis is going to rescue us from the global energy problem.

My concluding thought: I often get asked in these university lectures that I do, at the end the kids say, “Can’t you give us any hope?” It’s an interesting comment. One of the things it indicates is that they expect to be given hope, like a certain amount of Cheez Doodles. “You’ve had your Cheez Doodles snack, now here’s your hope portion.” The lesson is that, young people, you have to learn that you are going to have to generate hope within yourself. And the way that this is generally done throughout human history is by demonstrating to yourself that you’re a competent person who can get thing done, who can meet the exigencies that reality sends to you and deal with them in a competent way. That builds your confidence and gives you the ability to hope and to dwell in a hopeful place in your life. That’s one of the reasons why I suggest we start with rebuilding the American railroads, so we can start setting a model for a way to society to generate hope. One of the problems is we’re coming from a situation in which we’re so socially atomized, we have very little experience anymore with doing things together… We’re going to have to do a lot more of that in the future. We’re going to have to put our shoulders to the wheel, we’re going to have to do meaningful work with our neighbors, and we’re probably going to have to live together in ways we haven’t done for many generations.

6.29.2006

Smell ya later...

New Scientist:
IMAGINE being able to record a smell and play it back later, just as you can with sounds or images.

Engineers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan are building an odour recorder capable of doing just that. Simply point the gadget at a freshly baked cookie, for example, and it will analyse its odour and reproduce it for you using a host of non-toxic chemicals.
"Point the gadget at a freshly baked cookie and it will reproduce the odour"

The device could be used to improve online shopping by allowing you to sniff foods or fragrances before you buy, to add an extra dimension to virtual reality environments and even to assist military doctors treating soldiers remotely by recreating bile, blood or urine odours that might help a diagnosis...

Cacophonous consumption.

Commercial messages have become so ubiquitous we often tend to relegate them to the background or zone them out completely. To illustrate this, architect and urban researcher Pasi Kolhonen takes city scenes and blanks out the non-advertising content, revealing just the logo-plastered splendor of our everyday surroundings.

6.28.2006

Recruiter in F9/11 dies in Iraq.

Editor & Publisher:
One of the most memorable scene in Michael Moore's controversial documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," featured two Marine recruiters desperately trying to enlist recruits outside a shopping mall. Now one of them has died in Iraq.

Marine Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar, 30, died Monday of wounds suffered while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, the Pentagon has announced.

The Oakland Press in the Marine's native Michigan reports that Plouhar "joined the Marine Corps in 1995 and was the recipient of several awards of distinction, including the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the Marine Corps Recruiting Ribbon."

Plouhar's father said Tuesday that his son only had 38 days left in Iraq. "I'm devastated, sad and proud," he told the Press. "This just makes me devoted even more to his belief that people need help in Iraq, and he felt that he was helping."
More...

Happy birthday, US highways.

Alternative fuels are great, said James Howard Kunstler at the renewable energy fair last weekend, but unless we change our car-centric culture, which probably means dismantling the suburbs (described by Kunstler as "entropy made visible" and "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world"), we're doomed. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the US interstate highway system, he says:
Biodiesel is cool and ethanol is cool and switchgrass is cool and all the alternative fuels are very cool. We have to talk about that a lot, and it’s going to have a great deal of meaning for the future of this civilization. But we cannot just talk about running the car. Because the truth of the matter is that no combination of alternative fuels that we know about or even have dreamed about will allow us to continue running the interstate highway system, Walt Disney World, and Wal-Mart.
Still, a few signs of hope:

• Algae-derived biodiesel: Said to be the most efficient source of biodiesel fuel, algae is "capable of producing 30 times more oil per acre than the current crops now utilized for the production of biofuels," writes Treehugger. "Algae biofuel contains no sulfur, is non-toxic and highly biodegradable. Some species of algae are ideally suited to biodiesel production due to their high oil content, in excess of 50%, and extremely rapid growth rates." As my brother asks, will the technology involved allow us to clean up Minnesota's mucky lakes and ease our oil dependency?

• And then there were three: Duluth, Minnesota, has become the third US Eco-Municipality. The city signed on to a Swedish sustainibility principles that involve the use of fewer natural resources and fewer man-made or synthetic chemicals. They're switching transit buses to biodiesel and making a rooftop garden at City Hall to cut air conditioning use.

Infantilizing death.

"Our urns are so soft and cuddly that it makes you want to hug them. It's nice to know that your loved one's final resting place is in one of these Huggable UrnsTM and always around you ready to hug when ever you feel the need." [via]

6.27.2006

Insatiable America

Found somewhere on the net (if you're the photographer, let me know and I'll put up a link).

6.26.2006

Renewable Energy Fair

Pardon the brief hiatus: I've been out of town visiting my parents and attending the Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Fair in Custer, Wisconsin. Put on by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association the past 17 years, the fair included an excellent keynote speech by author and new urbanist James Howard Kunstler. I recorded the talk and did a brief interview with Kunstler. I'm hoping to get the interview and talk transcript (and maybe podcast, if I can figure out hosting and posting) online somewhere. If I do, I'll throw up a link. In the meantime, check out Kunstler's most recent book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.

6.23.2006

Natalie Jeremijenko goes to the Ooz.

Robot geese, toilets for birds, luxury housing for bats: in her new series of experiments, artist and activist Natalie Jeremijenko explores the human/animal interface. These and other projects will fall under the aegis of Ooz ("zoo" spelled backward), a corporation Jeremijenko will form. A defining difference between this and other corporations: this one will have Hudson River fish on its board. The logic behind this hinges on an 1886 Supreme Court decision, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which granted corporations the same rights and legal protections as people--i.e."corporate personhood." With fish as corporate shareholders, they can have a stake in their increasingly polluted habitat. An excellent Salon profile describes some of her work:
She cracks open her laptop and displays an image of 100 polycarbonate tubes or "buoys" that she's engineered to glow when fish swim through them in the Hudson River. Yes, she really has government approval to position the buoys in the river. Given her day job as a professor, she convinced state environmental officials her project was all about science. But never mind that. Did you know the fish were on Zoloft? All the antidepressants that New Yorkers take are flushed through their urine into sewage treatment plants, which overflow into the river. You doubt her? Go to the Whitney Museum and see one of her drawings hanging on a wall by a bathroom. It features a woman's bottom, her pants below her knees, on a toilet seat. It asks, "Why are the Hudson River fish and frogs on antidepressants?" Printed on it in tiny letters are actual studies that attest to the chemical drug compounds in the waterway consumed by the unsuspecting bass, sturgeon and crabs.


Anyway, when the buoys light up, you can feed the fish food treated with chelating agents to help cleanse the PCBs from their blood, planted there from decades of General Electric dumping waste into the river. The fish food, in fact, will not be much different from the energy bars we're always eating on hiking trails. "The idea that we eat the same stuff is a visceral demonstration that we live in the same system," Jeremijenko says. "Eating together is the most intimate form of kinship. By scripting a work where we share the same kind of food with fish, I'm scripting our interrelationship with them."

For more on Jeremijenko, visit the Bureau of Inverse Technology, her art collective, or my Adbusters piece "Anarchy in the RNC."

6.22.2006

Sacred Heart of Shangdong.

Seven-year-old Chen Jiakun of Shangdong province in China was born with a rare disorder: he was born with his heart, like the one in the Sacred Heart of Jesus renderings, exposed in his chest. Called the "pentalogy of Cantrell," the rare abnormality is described like this:
In front of Chen's chest is a large mass containing his heart and intestines.. People can see and feel how his heart is beating under the skin. The mass swells and throbs if he moves quickly. And coughing will cause it to grow to 15 centimeters long--almost three times its usual size.
Over five hours, surgeons in Shanghai will cut a layer of sternums from each side of the heart and slide them to the center and connect them; a similar procedure will be done with his abdominal muscles.

Maverick.

Sen. Russ Feingold again makes us Wisconsinites proud, this time in a GQ interview aptly titled, "The Real Maverick":
Would you like to see him impeached?

I have to think about whether that’s good for the country. He’s probably committed an impeachable offense. But the Constitution does not require, just because somebody has committed an impeachable offense, that you actually impeach him. That’s why censure is a good way to have accountability but not actually remove the president from office. You know, I was the only Democratic senator to vote to hear the evidence they wanted to dismiss against Clinton. I thought it was our role to do it. I wrote an opinion—all of us had to write an opinion—and in the last couple of paragraphs, I said, “Look, I majored in history, and I knew that the only impeachment had been Andrew Johnson.” And I said, “I’ve only been conscious of this stuff for twenty-five to thirty years—and I’ve already seen two: Nixon and Clinton. I really worry that people are gonna start seeing impeachment as a regular way to do business.” Problem is, George Bush has committed a more clearly impeachable offense than Clinton or even Nixon ever did.

6.21.2006

Quote: Jean Arp on Dada

The important thing about Dada, it seems to me, is that the Dadaists despised what is commonly regarded as art, but put the whole universe on the lofty throne of art. We declared that everything that comes into being or is made by man is art. Art can be evil, boring, wild, sweet, dangerous, euphonious, ugly, or a feast to the eyes. The whole earth is art. To draw well is art . . . . The nightingale is a great artist. Michelangelo's Moses: Bravo! But at the sight of an inspired snow man, the Dadaist also cried bravo.

Photo of the Day

Details here.

Lured: A fishing-inspired street-art proposal

I suppose I should concede this is good advertising because seeing this billboard on Interstate 394 west of Minneapolis, I wondered what the hell I was seeing--and actually stopped my car to take a friggin' picture. Like the "traveling gnome" prank featured in the movie Amelie, I'd hoped this was a guerilla intervention--some absurdist street artist commenting on the utter banality of adverting by sneaking a pile of plastic yard cats (some of which look like tiny dogs, Shiba Inus or something) onto a billboard. Or at least, maybe the billboard company forgot to take down the cheesy plastic animals from the veterinary clinic ad that was there before.

But it's not. It's a plain-old ad campaign for lures so good, apparently, fish-loving cats trust their effectiveness. Damn.

Still, we've got to take our inspiration where we find it. If anyone out there knows of (or wants to create) this kind of plasticky, absurdist commentary, send me your photos.

Street Art: Tehran

From Wooster Collective.

Pegagogy.

In Jaffa, Israel, designer Yaacov Kaufman has curated a show featuring some 300 examples of clothespins, tracing the humble history of this ubiquitous tool. On display are clothespegs that illustrate design variations (including those that attempt “to ‘uplift’ the product and it’s design”), functional innovations, artful interpretations, and cultural differences (”such as the Chinese bamboo peg, bearing the family name on it, to distinguish it in a communal space, or the huge Japanese carpet peg”).

Power to the Portly

FATASS is a moniker this horde of plus-size cheerleaders welcome. The Fat Action Troupe Allstar Spirit Squad cheers about body acceptance and, among other topics, the tyranny of the fashion industry:
One third wear over size sixteen
Yet all fashions assume your lean

50 billion on products spent
The industry loves every cent

1-2-3-4 This is a body war
1-2-3-4 Tell me girls what's the score?
See a segment on FATASS produced by German television. Via Fatgrrl.

6.20.2006

Circumhorizontal arc.

This rare rainbow, a circumhorizontal arc seen in Idaho June 3 (above), "isn't a rainbow in the traditional sense—it is caused by light passing through wispy, high-altitude cirrus clouds. The sight occurs only when the sun is very high in the sky (more than 58° above the horizon). What's more, the hexagonal ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds must be shaped like thick plates with their faces parallel to the ground." Other shots of the phenomenon at Flickr.


6.19.2006

Shadowed.

SWAPATORIUM's gallery of antique photos with a silhouetted cameraman are either creepy or poignant, depending on your point of view. Some look like wraiths waiting to snatch unsuspecting children, while others look like departed loved ones lingering outside the frame. And still others just remind us of the dad who faithfully chronicled his family's life, without appearing in front of the camera all that often.





Via 30gms.

Reseeding after the Apocalypse

The Norwegian government has broken ground--or maybe ice--for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an underground vault in the remote arctic Svalbard Island where up to three million seeds will be preserved in case of global catastrophe. Dubbed "Noah's Ark on Svalbard" by Norway's ag minister, the vault will protect seeds from nuclear annihilation, global warming, and man-made threats to species diversity, to name a few.
The seeds, packaged in foil, would be stored at such cold temperatures that they could last hundreds, even thousands, of years, according to the independent Global Crop Diversity Trust. The trust, founded in 2004, has also worked on the project and will help run the vault, which is scheduled to open and start accepting seeds from around the world in September 2007.

Oil-rich Norway first proposed the idea a year ago, drawing wide international interest, Riis-Johansen said.

The Svalbard Archipelago, 300 miles north of the mainland, was selected because it is located far from many threats and has a consistently cold climate.

Those factors will help protect the seeds and safeguard their genetic makeup, Norway's Foreign Ministry said. The vault will have thick concrete walls, and even if all cooling systems fail, the temperature in the frozen mountain will never rise above freezing due to permafrost, it said.
There are more than 1400 seed banks around the world. For more information visit The Global Crop Diversity Trust.

6.18.2006

Sand art.

Rakes and a kite-mounted camera are all Lenny and Meriel used to make these beach artworks.


Dog cells play Quake.

Interesting:
A University of Texas scientist has grown a living "brain" that can control the video game Quake 3: Arena made by id Software, allowing scientists to study how brain cells compute and deal with sensory input.

The "brain," a group of 50,000 nerve cells taken from a dog and raised in a Petri dish, lets scientists observe brain functions at the cellular level in real time. Scientists hope to better understand how the brain deals with sensory input which may lead to treatments for certain types of blindness and brain trauma...
Update: Or maybe not. You can't believe everything you read on the internets.

"Mountains of Remembrance."

The December 2004 southeast Asian tsunami killed 280,000 people, including 5,395 people in Thailand. To memorialize the dead, the Thai government held an international design contest to build a memorial and visitor's center in Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park in the country's hardest hit province. Madrid's DISC-O Architecture and Thailand's NagaConcepts won the contest with their astounding project "Mountains of Remebrance," a series of five stupa-shaped mountains that loom over the once devastated shores. Following the dictum of the contest rules, the design focuses on both contemplation and affirmation. The first tower is 30 meters tall: “The Memorial Tower is the most important of the five, giving visitors a place to contemplate the tragedy,” says Charupan Wiriyawiwat, director of NagaConcepts. “But we will stop the sorrow at this tower before visitors move on to the next four towers which will be something cheerful and serve the hopeful future."

The contest jury wrote that it was impressed by "the openness, generosity and ecumenical quality of this scheme which combines references from many different cultures and religions in providing an iconic landmark and place of reflection for the families of victims and survivors of the Tsunami Disaster as well as for the general public."

If all goes as planned, the project--which will include a meditation center, a museum, an amphitheatre, restaurants and shops--will open in two years.

Via Inhabitat.

6.15.2006

Robot Rickshaw

The Sun Online:
The battery- powered robot pulls a rickshaw ridden by Wu Yulu, 45, who spent a year making it from scrap in Beijing.
Via A Welsh View.

6.14.2006

Final PUSH post?

PUSH concluded yesterday with some truly remarkable presentations, which I'd like to draw your attention to:

• Ze Frank's hilarious and insightful talk on the social networking revolution: everything from Atheist videogames to "The Long Tail." Favorite quote: "People have favorite fonts. That's totally freakin' weird! That people know Verdana should scare the shit out of you.”

• A performance by Ethel violinist Todd Reynolds accompanied by the sound-reactive graphical projection by Luke DuBois. Favorite coined phrase (by DuBois, speaking about his project Play, which shows every Playboy Playmate over 50 years in 50 seconds–”with their eyes centered”): “time-lapse pornography.”

• I didn't blog on Cameron Sinclair's talk (yet), but y'all know about him already, no?

Back to normal blogging soon...

6.13.2006

NIMBY design.

BLDGBLOG's post on electrical transformer stations disguised as houses reminds me of how telecom companies are building cell phone towers disguised as trees (the notion even has a Wikipedia page). "Not in my back backyard" as design principle:



6.12.2006

The great Pop vs. Soda debate

Two maps that parse out, by county in one case, regional differences in how generic bubbly sugar water is referred to.
County map

National map

It's all about me.

This gets the ol' ego going. Thanks to University of Texas rhetoric professor Liz Jones, my autograph project will apparently be a part of a unit on "Visual Means of Self-Presentation & Arguments about the Self." Y'sure this isn't a Psychology class?

Ze Frank in Minneapolis

Ze Frank, who's speaking (performing?) at PUSH tomorrow, vlogs his thoughts on the fair city of Minneapolis. It's hilarious, categorized by Ze with these tags:
minneapolis, target, symbols, word search, puzzles, ducks making poop, gonzales t-shirts, earth sandwich, holy crap, mom's shoes
Via MNSpeak.

PUSHnotes

Instead of cross-posting all my writing for today's PUSH conference, I'll link to 'em at the Walker blog. Please take a look:

The Kids Philosophy Slam addresses: "Which is stronger, hope or fear?"

Howard Rheingold on cooperative technologies and K. Anthony Appiah on cosmopolitanism.

Feng Mengbo on art and videogames and Julian Dibbell on MMORPG's and the capitalism of online gaming.

PUSH concludes tomorrow with theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss and nanotech authority Jack Uldrich on "The Re-creation of Man," and the "Domestic Bliss" speakers violinist Todd Reynolds and Ze Frank followed by game designer Katie Salen and Cameron Sinclair. Follow the Conference Notes thread at Off Center to read updates.

Photo: Howard Rheingold with Howard Rheingold at PUSH today.

6.08.2006

Jerome Liebling and "the politics of everyday life."

"When was the last time you went to a museum and you went in fear?" asks Jerome Liebling. "That this exhibit... was going to change your life, was going to challenge you, was going to make you figure out what the hell is going on, was going to make you a better or worse person." A former professor at the University of Minnesota and current professor emeritus at Hampshire College, Liebling has a solo show of his photography at MCP, the Minnesota Center for Photography. His work spans nearly five decades and covers "serious stuff," what he terms "the politics of everyday life"--the faces that populate America's small towns, urban centers, factory lines, reservations, and housing projects. In a new short film, Looking at Liebling by Mike "Media Mike" Hazard, Liebling shares a bit of his philosophy:
Either there is always going to be pain, and if there is, it'd better be fairly distributed. There are no superiors. I think we're all about the same. But there certainly are advantages in life. And money. And who writes the history, and who says who's got it. And the rich control the history. I suppose I'm saying: these are valuable people.
Jerome Liebling: Selected Photographs at MCP closes Sunday, June 11.

Good to know...

[via]

Shepard Fairey in LA

Wooster Collective has more.

6.07.2006

Gaming McDonalds: RTMark & Abrupt Social Change

On Monday at the International Serious Games Event in England, "McDonald's Interactive" director Andrew Shimery-Wolf announced that "We can no longer stand by while McDonald's corporate policies help lead the planet to ruin." The group, he added, was breaking away from its parent company to directly address the fast-food giant's unsustainable ways. Inspired by the training videogame America's Army, MI devised a game that can simulate various environmental and business conditions and how manipulating different aspects can affect both the bottom line and ecological problems like deforestation. By running sims, they realized that Abrubt Social Change (ASC), not mere "ethical consumerism," is the answer. Shimery-Wolf told attendees at the games conference:
The concept of Abrupt Social Change, or ASC, is an old and respectable one, a shortcut from rationality to the nerve centers of power that has often accomplished what more systemic approaches cannot. The British Occupation of India, the Vietnam War, even feudalism in Europe were only ended through ASC movements.

And just as governments and NGOs have sometimes assisted ASC movements abroad, so we can be a force for Abrupt Social Change here at home. We in the Interactive Division are using all of our autonomy within McDonald's to do so.

1. For one thing, we are appealing to McDonald's franchisees to allow their restaurants to serve part-time as meeting areas where plans for mobilization can be developed, hatched, and acted upon. We have commitments so far from seven owners in Decatur, Illinois, Tucson, Arizona, and Troy, New York.

2. We will offer direct financial assistance from our divisional budget to groups actively involved in effecting ASC, within or outside of franchisee restaurants.

3. We will help develop technologies useful to mass mobilization, such as the cell-phone text broadcasters so useful in the Ukraine in the recent Orange Revolution. As for McMarketplace, it will serve as a tool to explore methods for change, and to learn just how governments might be forced to adequately control corporations.

Again, we strongly feel that legislation is indeed our only hope, and what we must fight for via Abrupt Social Change.

"Ethical consumerism" or other market-based approaches will not help. A recent poll showed that 83% of UK consumers intend to purchase ethically on a regular basis; 5% actually do. And boycotts and other forms of consumer pressure are valiant but ineffectual, capable of producing only momentary, localized changes in corporate policy. As for "ethical investment," its potential is sadly quite small.

No, economic forces won't save us; there's a reason we have governments, voting, and laws that must be obeyed. But since governments won't create the right laws without popular pressure, helping to generate that pressure is the only responsible choice, the only true CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility].
If it sounds too good to be true, that's cuz it is. The presentation, which followed the release of the free McMarketplace video game, is reportedly the work of Yes Men-like art/activist consortium RTMark. As far as I can tell, the actual McDonald's has not yet responded publicly to the presentation.

Download the Powerpoint presentation here.

6.06.2006

Update: Ruscha Monument

An update on the Twitchell Ed Ruscha mural at Off Center...

Sound cast in salt.


For a new solo show in London, Banks Violette cast in salt all of the equipment art-metal band SUNN0)) uses in concert and presented it in a gallery just upstairs from the stage where they played. As they roared on below, viewers in the exhibition could still hear them: "the upstairs will be a ghostly, elegiac reconstruction of the downstairs performed work - the only 'evidence' or documentation of what the audience was blocked from seeing downstairs."

More images at ideologic, blog of SUNN0))'s Stephen O'Malley (click on WORDS). Via Joe at Off Center.

6.05.2006

Gay marriage and civil rights

As White House press secretary Tony Snow flubs a line about how a ban on gay marriages is a "civil rights" issue, a series of billboards quoting an actual civil rights leader is launched in Bill Frist's hometown of Nashville.

King's full quote:
"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protections, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

Focus.

One of the many talents of Chomsky, the uberhund.

6.04.2006

How to make a 1000-watt wind turbine.

DIY.

Painting over Ruscha.

No one seems to know why the iconic mural of artist Ed Ruscha on the side of a Department of Labor–owned building in Los Angeles was painted over on Friday. Muralist Kent Twitchell, who painted the piece from 1978 to 1987, says he wasn't notified about the destruction of the work. "To not be notified, to have it be a fait accompli…. It will take a while for the shock to wear off. It was sort of my 'Mona Lisa'; I worked on it for nine years."
And that is a apparently a violation of federal Visual Artists Rights Act, which legally protects public art; creators are ensured 90 days to respond to proposals to remove such art.

Via Art for a Change and Art.blogging.LA.

6.02.2006

Censorship in Colorado Springs

Several artworks by high school students were banned from the Young People's Art Exhibition in Colorado Springs for having "inappropriate" content. The offending works:

A painting of a football player, called Dismantled Stereotype, was excluded because of the Gay Pride sticker on the pickup truck's bumper. "We can't have that--it's a reference to a gay issue," said one member of the selection committee.

A portrait of a homeless man--based on the student artist's experience with the actual man pictured--was banned because it shows the man smoking. "No tobacco," was the ruling, as if homelessness somehow glamorized smoking.

And a portrait of an African girl was disallowed because its source material was a photo of a girl in Darfur, Sudan. (Whether it's the suggested political content or some issue about the appropration of a news photo isn't clear.)

Lest you deem this fascism by the overseers of the School District 11 show, rest assured that a work showing an image of a crab nebula was approved for the show. One judge thought it looked like breasts and wanted it removed, but was over-ruled.

Via The Raw Story.

Living and Dying.

Adbusters has posted two pieces of mine from the "Game of Life" issue awhile back on the art of living and dying. I thought the mandate to have a first-person portion was a little hokey (the first paragraph), but the content is, I think worthwhile. Check 'em out if you're so inclined.

6.01.2006

Bush Admin: "No monuments" in NYC

Here in Minneapolis, we've got some delightful smaller-scale icons: the Grain Belt Beer sign, Spoonbridge and Cherry, Minnehaha Falls (where Longfellow was inspired to write the Song of Hiawatha), some nifty flour mills along the Mississippi, and--oh yeah--the Mall of America. But they're not Statue of Liberty-sized monuments, so one could argue that's why the Bush Administration cut our Homeland Security funding by nearly two-thirds.

But New York City?

ABC reports that New York's anti-terrorism funding was slashed from $207.5 million in 2005 to $124.4 million in 2006. The reason? New York has no "monuments or icons," according to a DHS form. Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building... none of them monuments?

Too bad the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by terrorists, because they surely would've qualified. Right?

Update: Nor is Washington DC considered a terrorist target by the Bush Administration. Huh?

Where does the money go? Next week the Republicans will again push their legislation to permanently repeal the Estate Tax. If they're successful, they'll be taking a trillion dollars out of government coffers (you know, the ones we might use to, say, protect New York) over the next ten years. Preserve the estate tax: take action here.

CAVE bookshelf

The CAVE bookcase, by Sakurah Adachi, "provides a private reading space within its form. As a seat height is just above the floor, CAVE gives a feeling of hiding from others standing around it."

Fearless leader

Possibly a coincidence, but doesn't this Reuters shot of Bush behind a podium reminds you of the skiing oven-robot of Wallace & Grommit fame...

Japanese Jesus.

The Independent:
For two millennia the farming village of Shingo claims to have protected a tradition that Jesus spent most of his life in Japan. The village is the home of Sajiro Sawaguchi, a man in his eighties who claims to be a direct descendant of Jesus and whose family has always owned the land in which it is said that Christ is buried.

Mr Sawaguchi emerged as Jesus’s heir only in 1935, when a priest in Ibaraki discovered a document in ancient Japanese purporting to be Christ’s will. This document supposedly identifies Shingo as the location of the tombs of Jesus and Isukiri. The claim is widely believed. About 40,000 Japanese visit the site every year. Two years ago it was presented with a plaque by Jerusalem, and next Sunday it will host the annual Christ festival of traditional Japanese dance.

According to the account in the Christ Museum next to the tombs, Christ arrived in Japan at the age of 21 and learnt Japanese before returning to Judaea 12 years later to engage in his mission and preach about the “holy land of Japan”. The official Shingo history is that Jesus’s place on the Cross was “casually” taken by his brother, leaving Christ free to return to Japan. On his return he fell in love with Miyuko, a local girl, and lived happily with his family among the rice fields until dying aged 106...

Brian Ulrich's Thrift

Pile2Chicago-based photographer Brian Ulrich has been documenting consumer culture for several years, going from big-box stores to grungy second-hand shops. His new series documents thrift stores across America. Often shooting medium- and large-format candid photographs, his work seems to capture both the hope and shabby despair that sometimes make up the shopping experience. In a new interview with Joerg Colberg, he discusses his work. An excerpt:
[Thrift stores are] where all the goods, once so sparkly and desirable end up, kind of what gets thrown over the castle walls. To me I see a class issue. The stores exist because there is a huge social class in this country that needs items cheap. What the intentions are of the store owners is always going to somewhat be based on commodity. The stuff here is used, it's been touched and that makes the biggest difference... It's a bizarre challenge to think of the endless piles of goods as still lifes, in the same way Walker Evans photographed depression era farmers and their homes. I also think of a quote from Andy Warhol, that if one was to simply lock up a department store as is, that in 20 years (perhaps less now), you could open it as a museum.
PalmBeach,FL2006

Audiovisual mapping.

In comments, Nick points out a few more musical family trees: a map of jazz styles, a timeline of classical composers, and a flash guide to electronic music. Plus, two more graphical maps: a wonderfully intricate timeline of technological, economic, social, and historical trends from 1750 to 2100 (detail above), and SEED magazine's graphic look at the state of the planet.