How Care Manifests the World

An essay I wrote on Kinji Akagawa for a publication in honor of his designation as 2007 McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist.
I have two images of Kinji Akagawa in my mind as I sit down to write this.

The first is a memory from my job as editor of the Walker Art Center magazine. I’d interviewed Kinji, and to illustrate our conversation invited him in for a photo shoot. Our photographer had tracked down the scale model of Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking, the bench he was commissioned to create for the 1988 opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. In the photo, he appears gigantic, a smiling giant gently cradling the delicate bench in thick woodworker’s hands.

The other is from a few weeks ago. In the MCAD 3D Studio, he was showing me his half of a project that will be on view at the Northern Clay Center in fall 2007: an enormous sushi bar, with seating for two, that will eventually be set with ceramic sushi plates, sake cups, and a vase, all made by potter Randy Johnston. As we talked side-by-side on an oak-plank seat, I felt tiny: our feet dangled, unable to reach the ground, as if we were kids granted a spot at the grownup table.

I don’t want to make too much of these mental images, except to say: with Kinji, everything shifts. The master artist becomes a humble servant; the monument is dwarfed by that which it celebrates; and the biggest truths can be found sometimes in small worlds beneath your feet.

When I encounter Kinji’s art, scale is what I notice first. His works are massive, heavy, eminently concrete in the claim they make on reality (rough-cut stone, wood slabs veined with grain along hand-waxed edges). But, unlike some of modern art’s fabled builders of enormous structures, the magnitude of these monuments is not scaled to Kinji’s ego. One who often points out the etymological roots shared by humus (soil) and humility, Kinji admits he’d be happy to see a family so involved with his work — having a picnic on it, say — that they completely ignore it. In his vision, the art and the artist are but two of many elements in what he calls the “ecology of human experience.”

Of course, his materials could be seen as a monument of another sort — to nature. As he told me about the bench in the Walker’s sculpture garden, the materials are familiar, the stuff we Midwesterners feel comfortable around. Made from St. Croix basalt, Minnesota’s acclaimed granite, and locally sourced cedar, it offers both seating and a lectern for reading. “The bench provides psychological rest, intellectual rest, and physical rest,” he said. But this belief suggests something else: that we are comfortable with the materials because we realize we, too, are nature.
This understanding of interconnectedness permeates much of Kinji’s work. He says ecology can no longer be ignored by artists — or anyone else. “For the first time in Western culture, our survival is at stake,” he says. “It’s no longer philosophical. We have interdependent lives, interdependent nature of meanings: It’s all codependent; we are co-creating.”

Recently, Kinji was showing me slides of his work. Among photos of his installations at various parks and universities were images from his class presentations at MCAD, including examples of good and bad designs for public space. What does a playground constructed beside an interstate highway sound barrier say about how we value children? Do state park trash cans made from 55-gallon oil drums reveal our aesthetic approach to green spaces?

It was a simple image that most affected me. It’s telling that before entering one of Japan’s most beautiful sites, the Buddhist temple in Nara, Kinji stopped to shoot photos of the parking lot. Given his beliefs about art, it makes sense: the surface was made from small pieces of stone, interlaced so moss could grow within the grid. Parking there, Kinji quipped, you’ll be sure to make sure your car isn’t leaking oil. Then a comment slipped out of Kinji’s mouth so easily, I almost missed it. “This is care,” he said, “manifesting the world.”

This handful of words did more to help me understand Kinji and his work than all the hours we’d spent discussing Buddhism and Beuys, Tiravanija and Heidegger. Art or design or writing or business, in whatever endeavor we choose, we can create new, albeit sometimes small, worlds. We can manifest new ones.
Photo: Mark Luinenburg

R2-D2 Pumpkin

Happy Halloween, all!


Now in cutting-edge brown

The Walker Art Center, already purveyor of six fine blogs (including the inimitable Off Center), launches another: The Walker Design Studio is welcoming its designers and past fellows to share their thoughts on visual culture.

Utne redesigns!

And it's good.


Your favorite Minneapolis artblogs?

Tyler Green's Modern Art Notes, dubbed "the most influential of all the visual-arts blogs" by the Wall Street Journal, is building its Minneapolis blogroll. Eyeteeth makes the list (thanks!), but are there other local art blogs you think the world should know about? Here's your time for civic pride: Leave a list in comments or at MAN.

The Daily Mole Goes Live. Kinda.

The doors have been flung open -- or the topsoil turned, to stick with the metaphor -- at The Daily Mole, Steve Perry's new online venture. While technically in beta mode for a few more days -- which means design and functions are continuing to get tweaks -- the site is now accessible to all. Try it out and let me know what you think.


Terracotta Warriors hijacked... again

Why don't they just leave the poor terracotta warriors alone already? Last year in Xi'an, China, a German art student donned a gown and hat, identical to those once worn by Emperor Qinshihuang's warriors and posed as one of the city's famed 2200-year-old terracotta statues. (Authorities caught him, confiscated his costume, and sent him back to Guangzhou, where he was studying.)

Now a climate activist has messed with some of the warriors that are on view at London's British Museum. Martin Wyness, 49, jumped the barricades and slipped facemasks bearing the words "CO2 emission polluter" on two of the figures to highlight China's poor pollution record. He's been banned from the museum for life.

A story of great NEED

Happy anniversary! In the year since we last talked with NEED, the Minneapolis-based humanitarian magazine has chalked up some mightily deserved successes. The 25,000-issue quarterly has secured distribution at Barnes & Nobles and co-ops like the Wedge and Mississippi Market. It won a gold Ozzie for "Best Use of Photography" at the Folio Awards, and rumor has it, a copy of the latest issue wound up in the hands of an impressed Bill Clinton at a recent conference. NEED also was named one of 15 finalists in Min magazine's one of the 15 "Hottest Launches" of 2007, a year when some 700 to 900 new magazines debuted; the winner will be announced Nov.13. And this Thursday, the magazine co-founders Kelly and Stephanie Kinnunen will learn if they won an Excellence Award from the Minnesota Magazine & Publications Association. It'd be a particularly sweet prize for this powerful magazine: The awards banquet coincides with NEED's first anniversary.

Progress in a year of NEED: Of course, all the accolades in the world mean less to the Kinnunens than on-the-ground success. And they've had plenty of that. Stephanie Kinnunen told me that Mercy Ships, free, floating hospitals featured in the first issue, had trouble convincing some people to come aboard because patients only went there as a last resort -- that is, they came and, because of the severity of their late-stage ailments, died there. Not great PR for the effort. But "when volunteers started bringing copies of the magazine with them to reach out to the people, they show them the story and -- voila -- people come to the ship happily," she said. "No need to read the story, just seeing the before and after was enough." Read more on NEED's successes.

Your vote needed: Help NEED choose its next cover.

Progress in a year of NEED

I caught up with NEED magazine's Stephanie Kinnunen via email tonight in advance of the Minneapolis-based humanitarian magazine's one-year anniversary on Nov. 1. On top of industry accolades, I asked where on-the-ground successes were found these past 12 months. She offered these amazing anecdotes:
Remember the Mercy Ships story in Issue 1? Well, Scott Harrison (the photographer from the story) told us that volunteers that were going into the villages in Africa always had a hard time convincing people to come and see the doctors on the hospital ship. Now, this seems weird to me, because they are told that it is free – and they have no other access to health care. But then you understand that people in the village only go to the hospital when they are on their last leg, meaning they are dying, so they never come back. So it has been embedded in these people that you only go to the hospital to die.

Here comes the cool part – the volunteers started bringing copies of the magazine with them to reach out to the people, they show them the story and voila – people come to the ship happily. No need to read the story, just seeing the before and after was enough.
Another cool story. A teacher at a juvenile detention facility told me that every time she pulled the magazines out in class the boys fought over them. I said, “I'll give you a copy of each issue, for each boy.” She was amazed; then she asked if I would come and speak at the facility. Well, if you know me, I will never turn down a speaking opportunity. I arrived with hundreds of magazines for the kids. All of these kids are convicted felons, and most of them have been there before. The teachers and the administration gently warned me that the kids would probably not pay attention.

When they all walked in, I could see that they were all pretty hard-core kids. I started talking, and the majority of them did pay attention – which shocked me. I am a middle-aged woman; we had nothing in common. Then, I passed out the magazines and you could visibly see the boys transform into empathetic, thoughtful human beings. They asked meaningful questions like, “Why are these girl’s faces blurred?” I explained that they were still in danger and that we needed to protect them. That they were once held as sex slaves, that they have now been rescued but that the people that enslaved them want them back. Some of their comments were “You mean people buy little girls for sex? That is SICK!” and “Why on earth would anyone enslave a child?!” and so on. Then the tumor photos, we ended up discussing poverty around the world, and they could not believe that people live on less than one dollar a day. It was amazing. You could see their wheels spinning, their worlds opening up. That was special.
Please support NEED through your subscription.

Child labor: Mind The Gap when holiday shopping this year

Child laborers, some as young as 10, have been found working "in conditions close to slavery" at an Indian factory that makes goods destined for holiday shoppers at American Gap Kids stores. Children at a facility in the Shahpur Jat area of Delhi told the Observer they worked long hours without pay in filthy conditions and faced threats and beatings. The Gap -- darling of do-gooders like Bono and Lenny Kravitz -- said it was unaware it was being supplied by a subcontractor that subjected kids to such abuse.

In India it's not that rare: "According to one estimate, more than 20 per cent of India's economy is dependent on children, the equivalent of 55 million youngsters under 14," writes the Guardian.

But The Gap has been stung by accusations of child labor among its suppliers. In 2004, it canceled contracts with 136 overseas suppliers after it admitted that "forced labour, child labour, wages below the minimum wage, physical punishment and coercion" occurred at those plants.

As for the garments the children were working on, unpaid, in New Delhi: The beaded, hand-stitched blouses were headed for store shelves in America and Europe to be sold to Christmas shoppers within the next seven days. The selling price: around $40 each.

Stick that under your Christmas tree.


Give Blackwater a Makeover

As Blackwater USA is working to clean up its image, Wired has enlisted its readers to help. They've been submitting new logos for the corporate mercenaries. The original:

A kinder, gentler alternative:

Atomic Canvas

The first two entries in Over the Net and On the Table's collection of murals intended for nuclear plant cooling towers.

Crumbling Paradise

Howard Finster, the late prolific folk artist and minister, left behind a masterpiece when he died in 2001. Paradise Gardens, his biblical themepark and outsider-art environment, attracted many, from art lovers to pilgrims to big names like Keith Haring, the Talking Heads and REM. Now, the site is deteriorating due to neglect and familial squabbling. The Los Angeles Times tells the story.

Head check

The Times has an interesting slideshow on the NFL's new helmets, engineered to cut down on concussions. With my lifetime seven concussions -- only one football-related and the last one 16 years ago -- I'm surprised I have the mental faculties to say: This is good.


Minnpost Remixed

Not fond of Minnpost's just-released design? Make your own!

That's what Co-op Media's Justin Heideman did. A new media designer at the Walker Art Center by day (and creator of Eric Black Ink and the Center for Independent Media website), Heideman came up with "a better Minnpost" and, in the spirit of constructive criticism, shared his work with the site's web editor Corey Anderson.

His tweaks included: dropping dot-com from the masthead, breaking out of the standard (and "stale") three-column format, moving columns to highlight feature stories, and giving the Minnpost In Print section -- for downloadable pdfs of the day's content -- less prominence (it'll "probably see limited use and those that do will know where to find it").

But the top priority? "Changing the title to a more contemporary font and working within shades of the ugly MN color scheme could also do a lot visually."


Burma in Bangkok

Street art spotted in Bangkok:

The Red Trevi

Wooster Collective reports on a Futurist-inspired act of vandalism on October 19, in which a man threw red paint into Rome's famed Trevi Fountain:
The man, reportedly wearing a beret and a light-colored jacket, struck at around 4.30 pm and then disappeared into the crowd of tourists, leaving behind a pile of leaflets. The fountain, which re-uses the same water in a continuous cycle, soon started spurting red water into the air from its jets, providing an unprecedented spectacle which tourists immediately began photographing. Police arrived and technicians briefly shut off the water before restoring a clear flow. [...] The leaflets found beside the fountain claimed that the coloring of the monument had been carried out by ‘FTM Futurist Action 2007,’ a group which has not been heard of before.

The leaflets state that the group aims to battle against “everything and everyone with a spirit of healthy violence” and to turn this “grey bourgeois society into a triumph of color.” As well, the leaflets proclaim that the red paint was a protest for expenses incurred in organizing the Rome Film Festival and symbolically referred to the event’s red carpet."
Graziano Cecchini, 54, described by Italian media as a "rightwing extremist," was caught on security cameras throwing paint. He maintains his innocence.

Terrorist Busters Logo

Apparently, the CIA's Counterterrorist Center has created a logo meant to drive fear into terrorists. But with its happy, gun-hoisting bad guy and Ghostbustersesque inspiration, isn't it just dumb? I don't get it.

Bob Shillin'

In one of several TV commercials Bob Dylan shot for Cadillac's Escalade, he drives down a dusty road and stops at a crossroads. But the implication isn't -- as I inferred -- that he's selling his soul to the devil, Robert Johnson-style. It's that he's driving freakin' nowhere, just smoking down the highway sucking up a gallon of gas every 14 miles just to hear the Escalade's XM Radio. In times when, as a Guardian blogger writes, "the climes they are a-changing," maybe this is tantamount to Dylan selling his soul.

Zhang Huan's Berlin Buddha

Launching its Berlin space, Haunch of Venison has a new project up by Zhang Huan, a four-meter tall Buddha made from compacted ash from joss sticks. Facing it is the gigantic aluminum molds that were used to create it. A little like fellow Chinese-born artist Huang Yong Ping's sand castle, this piece is meant to deteriorate and crumble as time passes."To me, ashes carry unseen sedimentary residue, and tremendous human data about the collective and individual subconscious," Zhang says. "As time goes by, the environment will affect the work, as the floor will tremble with movement, ash Buddha will also change and fall into piece. The work questions what is Buddha. And since all is void, will ash lie still?"

WMMNA has much more.


Duluth meteorologist calls Gore a "left-wing nut"

As a scientist, you might think Karl Spring would have an informed opinion on Al Gore's work on climate change. He's got opinions, but they don't come from watching the Nobel Peace Prize winner's film "An Inconvenient Truth." In a discussion about global warming on Wisconsin Public Radio's KUWS on October 16, the meteorologist for Duluth's KBJR-TV said, "I wouldn't pay a dime to see it for many reasons," he said. "Politically. He's a left-wing nut. And he does things for other agendas."

Audio to appear here soon.

Update: The Duluth News Tribune mentions my Minnesota Monitor report in its coverage.

Homeland Security swipes Death Cab guitarist's hard-drive

Death Cab for Cutie guitarist/producer Chris Walla recently had his computer hard-drive confiscated by Homeland Security officials at the Canadian border, and the government hasn't really said why. His entire new solo album, which contains some "very political" content, was on the drive.

He tells MTV:
"It's a true story. Barsuk [Records, which is putting out the record] had hired a courier — who does international stuff all the time and who they had used before — to bring [the album] back from Canada, where I was working on it. And he got to the border and he had all his paperwork and it was all cool, only they turned him away, and they confiscated the drive and gave it to the computer-forensics division of our Homeland Security-type people," sighed Walla, who has produced nearly all Death Cab's output, as well as records by the Decemberists, Hot Hot Heat, Nada Surf, Tegan and Sara and others. "And now I couldn't even venture a guess as to where it is, or what it's doing there. I mean, I can't just call their customer-service center and ask about my drive. There's nothing I can do. I don't know if we can hire an attorney ... is there a black-hole attorney? You can't take a black hole to court."
The album, which Walla has backed up on tape, is called Field Manual, after World War II field guides. He and the cover-art designer were thumbing through such a guide at instructions on how to "build what we now call an [improvised explosive device] in Iraq or Afghanistan. Like how to hide a bomb in a bed or in a tube of toothpaste. Just terrible stuff, and I started having this feeling of, like, 'Well, we need a new field manual.'"

Priests Arrested for Protesting Torture

Louis Vitale, 75, a Franciscan priest, and Steve Kelly, 58, a Jesuit priest, were each sentenced today to five months in federal prison for attempting to deliver a letter opposing the teaching of torture at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Both priests were taken directly into jail from the courtroom after sentencing.

1017 10Fort Huachuca is the headquarters of military intelligence in the U.S. and the place where military and civilian interrogators are taught how to extract information from prisoners. The priests attempted to deliver their letter to Major General Barbara Fast, commander of Fort Huachuca. Fast was previously the head of all military intelligence in Iraq during the atrocities of Abu Ghraib.

The priests were arrested while kneeling in prayer halfway up the driveway to Fort Huachuca in November 2006. Both priests were charged with trespass on a military base and resisting orders of an officer to stop.

In a pre-trial heating, the priests attempted to introduce evidence of torture, murder, and gross violations of human rights in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and at Guantanamo. The priests offered investigative reports from the FBI, the US Army, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Social Responsibility documenting hundreds of incidents of human rights violations...
Read more.

Not funny: Bush jokes about staying in office

Wired relays this conversation between George W. Bush and a reporter yesterday.

Reporter: Mr. President, following up on Vladimir Putin for a moment, he said recently that next year, when he has to step down according to the constitution, as the president, he may become prime minister; in effect keeping power and dashing any hopes for a genuine democratic transition there ...

Bush: I've been planning that myself.


He Seed, She Seed.

In his public-art intervention Dispersed Arguments, Matt Pych appears to have stenciled words on Brooklyn sidewalks using birdseed. The words spell out phrases in a couple's feud that then, thanks to avian accomplices, get dissipated. A plea for healing? Neatorama offers another interpretation: "[A]rguments are for the birds!"

Relational Architecture: Rirkrit's Thai House

Some of the ideas that guided Rirkrit Tiravanija's constructed "space-stage" in the 2006 Walker Art Center exhibition OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement) are behind his new home, an experimental modernist house in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Designed by the young Thai architect (and Tiravanija's former student) Aroon Puritat, the project, like Rirkrit's stage, provided a basic framework on which the architect and the artist's other collaborators could create. This art was dubbed "relational aesthetics" by theorist Nicholas Bourriaud, because it prizes relationships over aesthetics. This architecture, however, seems to cherish both values equally.

"[T]he house was born from a plan without a plan," writes Sant Suwatcharapinun in the Thai magazine art|4|d. "The only requests were to retain, as much as possible, all the trees on the property, to install a bedroom, bathroom, a sitting and relaxation area, living room, kitchen, a work room for his artistic pursuits and a photography studio for his wife Annette Aurell, a photographer from New York."

Beyond that there were no budgetary or conceptual restrictions -- other than not obscuring views for Tiravanija's family or his neighbors. The resulting home -- a U-shaped construction of glass and concrete, with wood and polished concrete floors, plus tile and lighting designed by area artists -- reminds the author of Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion, out of context in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

But the collaboration between artist and architect reminds him of Tiravanija's art, which Puritat encountered both as a grad student at Silpakorn University and at "the land," the rice farm/sustainability project Tiravanija and artist Kamin Laitcherprasert founded outside nearby Sanpatong. Aside from open-endedness, a key aspect of Tiravanija's work, and apparently the architecture, is the Buddhist notion of "doing less" -- that is, as Suwatcharapinun writes, "not trying to embellish or make something more than what it is":
From another perspective, it is a new work by Rirkrit who worked in a different medium; from cooking and using musical instruments to that of an architectural structure. Further, those who come across this new structure and those who were involved in the development have changed. It is with certainty that this time, the efforts were subjected to more restrictions and limitations. However, it is more of a reiteration of the ‘Doing Less’ concept. Moreover, if I were to interpret it differently, presuming that it was ‘loosely controlled’, then Aroon and his friends have become a part of the architectural results. However, looking at it from yet another viewpoint, it is a house that was very thoroughly planned and designed. This is something architects dream of - collaborating with a group of people with a sufficient degree of understanding, working closely with the owner of the house and receiving feedback with efficiency.

How to get your FBI file

Nice. Thanks Giselle.


The Rebirth of Environmentalism: An Interview with Michael Shellenberger

Environmentalism as we know it should die.

With that bold call, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger riled many in the environmental movement in 2004 with when they presented their essay, "The Death of Environmentalism" [pdf] at a conference of green funders. In it they argued that the tactics of traditional environmental groups are obsolete, especially in addressing a problem as grave as global warming, and that the very word "environment" sets us up to view nature as a thing to be defended from human incursion instead of an an element in a complex ecology of which we're part -- and which our lifestyles inevitably affect.

Further, they wrote, "today environmentalism is just another special interest," left to compete for legislative attention against activists lobbying around issues like labor, gender, race, and economic justice -- or, as they discovered first-hand, against each other. The founders of the Apollo Alliance, Nordhaus and Shellenberger called for a new Apollo Project: an investment of $300 billion over 10 years to create three million clean-energy jobs and break America's dependence on oil. But when they set out to make their plea to Congress, they were approached by some of the big environmental groups.

"We were actually asked to withdraw the new Apollo project legislation by our environmental colleagues who were worried that it would get in the way of their efforts to kill the Bush energy bill," said Shellenberger in a phone interview last week. "Well, the Bush energy bill passed anyway; meanwhile we never made a big push for clean-energy investment."

On Tuesday night, Nordhaus and Shellenberger visit Minneapolis for a Policy & a Pint discussion on their controversial new book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility.

It's a challenging read, unflinching in its criticism of liberal lobbying groups ("little more than an aggregation of the aggrieved"), beloved environmental icons like Al Gore and Edward Kennedy, Jr., and the environmental justice movement ("a category within a category, narrowly focusing on specific environmental issues issues and addressing neither the primary public health issues confronted by communities of color nor the central issues of economic opportunity, education, and social mobility that lie at the heart of poverty in America").

In last week's interview, Shellenberger discussed the book and how traditional environmentalism's narratives about regulation, sacrifice, and -- above all -- fear should be replaced by the "politics of possibility" -- and a massive investment in green technology that'll overhaul the entire global economy.

Paul Schmelzer: In the book, you state that America's environmental awakening in the late '60s is directly tied to affluence, and that only after our basic needs are met can we focus on “postmaterial” needs like natural habitats and air quality. Say more.

Michael Shellenberger: What you find universally is that, as people become more prosperous and they get their more basic material needs met, then they become more concerned about what social scientists sometimes call “quality of life concerns.” That explains a lot about when environmentalism was born in the United States.

We open the book by describing how everyone thinks the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969 for the first time and that everyone saw how polluted it was and then took action. The truth is, the Cuyahoga River had been catching on fire since the 1860s. In fact, most of the earlier fires were far worse. They killed people; there was massive amounts of damage. The river was actually in the process of being cleaned up by the late '60s. But the widespread attention to the 1969, as compared to earlier fires, is better explained by America’s newfound affluence. People were just much more concerned about those quality-of-life issues.

PS: In the book you argue that a focus on jobs in the favelas of Rio de Janiero just might save the Amazon or that economic development might improve air quality in poor parts of America's cities. I fear we don’t have time to wait around for that.

MS: What we argue in the book is that until poor Chinese peasants or Brazilians living in poverty or even Americans living in Harlem can deal with more basic issues they confront -- such as joblessness or more basic challenges to their health -- they’re not going to be very concerned about issues like global warming or rainforest destruction. That’s not to say you shouldn’t worry about global warming and rainforest destruction, and it’s certainly not to suggest that we should wait to deal with those issues. That’s not an argument we make in the book. We argue instead that we need economic development both here in the United States and also in places like China and Brazil that is the kind of economic development that also helps us overcome ecological crises.

In the case of China, that means having a global strategy to bring down the price of clean energy as quickly as possible. That’s going to be a win-win if we do it right. The United States will obviously create a lot of jobs developing these new high technology clean energies. There’s one factory in China that creates one-quarter of the world’s solar panels. China is going to benefit enormously when we start really ramping up production of solar and wind.

PS: The metaphor of the Apollo Alliance, of course, is clear: the space race. To get free of petroleum, like getting a man on the moon, requires massive government investment.

MS: Every time America has faced big challenges like this, we’ve always overcome them by reinventing the economy. After the Civil War, the federal government created the railroads. During the New Deal, the government invested huge amounts of money in economic projects. World War II was essentially a huge manufacturing effort in the United States. After World War II, we built the interstate highway system, and we pay particular attention to the fact that in the late '50s and early '60s, the defense department guaranteed the market for microchips. It made very large contracts for microchips, and it literally brought down the price for microchips from $1,000 a chip to $20 a chip. And we also point out that the defense department invented the Internet, which later got commercialized. All of those efforts began with government investment, and when you look at the big sectors of the economy -- whether agriculture or transportation or aerospace -- they all rely on big government investments, so the idea that somehow that’s unusual requires a great bit of historical amnesia.

The point is that private-sector investors are not making the kind of investments and the size of investments that need to be made in order to bring down the price of solar panels so solar energy is as cheap as coal. That’s got to be the central goal for what we’re trying to do: make clean energy cheap. That’s the only way to quickly deal with global warming.

PS: The way you frame it in the book is interesting -- using an economic-prosperity model rather than a save-the-world framework. You'll get more buy-in when framing it through the "politics of possibility" than if you make environmentalism sound like taking vitamins.

MS: When I worked with big environmental groups, I had an epiphany on a phone call with an environmental attorney in Washington. I asked him, “Is it true what conservatives say, that if we try to do something about global warming it’ll wreck the economy?” He said, “Oh no, it’s just the opposite. What’s really going to happen is you’re going to get these big investments in new-energy technology, and that’s going to have a multiplier impact on the whole economy.” I kind of paused for a minute, and I said, well, why don't we talk about that?

The interesting thing about when you cast this as a challenge of technology innovation, you don’t really have to believe in global warming in order to support it. You might support it because you want to get off foreign, imported oil, or you might support it because you recognize this as good for economic development, clean-energy markets being the fastest growing markets in the world. For us, technology innovation is what we need at a policy level, but it’s also something that has much wider appeal politically than more pollution regulations and more talk of global-warming disaster.

PS: What has the response been from conservatives?

MS: The book just came out, so we haven’t had much of a reaction from anybody yet. Conservatives understand the power of the market, and they understand the power of technology innovation, but most conservatives don’t understand the role of public investment, and they tend to see any government investment in the economy as causing more harm than good.

That’s just dogmatism. It’s a dogmatism that the younger generation of Republicans and the younger generation of conservatives really need to let go of. And I think there’s a lot of possibility here for that younger generation, which is disillusioned with president Bush, and the younger generation of progressives to find some common ground around a vision of major public investment in technology innovation.

PS: Some people, like James Howard Kunstler, pooh-pooh the idea of relying on technology too much to solve our problems, as if it’s a silver bullet.

MS: It’s always funny to hear people that from people who live in the United States, whose very prosperous, comfortable lives are almost entirely dependent on the technology that was created by our grandparents and our great grandparents. There’s a kind of ingratitude among folks who are constantly talking about how terrible the world is and how horrible our lives are and how awful technology is.

Look, we’re living longer than any humans have ever lived. We have incredible medicines, we eat well, we’ve got better shelter than we’ve ever had... These are a bounty of wealth. We think Americans are going to feel much more capable of overcoming a big challenge like global warming when we start from acknowledging this incredible wealth.

We need a whole set of new technologies in order to make the world a more livable place and to roll back the tide of global warming. The idea that we’re somehow going to reduce our emissions in the United States by reducing our consumption by 80% is just fantasy. And frankly it’s a pretty scary fantasy at that.

PS: In the book you criticize Al Gore for speaking "almost entirely of nightmares" in his film An Inconvenient Truth, instead of offering "an inspiring vision of the future." This idea of recasting the narrative of environmentalism seems the emotional crux of your book.

MS: A lot of the stories that you hear about ecological crisis are really tragic narrative, so they often start by suggesting that humans at one point lived in harmony with nature and that humankind violated nature either through pollution or through science or through the Industrial Revolution, and that we’re now being punished for that by nature with ecological collapse. That’s a very old narrative: it’s the story of humankind’s fall from Eden in Genesis, and it probably goes back farther than that. In the book we point out that, really, humans have always been in a much more complicated relationship with their surroundings. Obviously we ourselves are part of nature. We evolved from the earth, and we never fell from it.

We believe there’s a more powerful story that should be told. It’s a story of a constant overcoming of adversity. If you look back, humans today are living longer, healthier lives. We have better medicine. We’ve overcome an enormous number of challenges: mass starvation and all sorts of ancient diseases. The history of humankind is not a story of our falling; if anything, it’s the story of our having risen. That’s a very powerful story to tell because it allows us to feel powerful and strong when thinking about new challenges such as global warming.

PS: And rethinking these narratives means--?

MS: Rethinking older conceptual frameworks. We talk about how we tend to think of global warming like an older pollution problem, or like a really big pollution problem. Dealing with acid rain meant attaching some scrubbers to smokestacks -- a very inexpensive fix. Dealing with smog in LA involved affixing catalytic converters to tailpipes. Well, dealing with global warming, there is no technical fix like that. You’ve got to literally go and replace coal and oil, and that is a massive undertaking. It’s really unprecedented.

We have in the past moved from whale oil to petroleum, and from wood and coal. But a strategy that’s really aimed at globally replacing these energy sources in a rapid period of time is really quite unprecedented, and it’s going to require something very different from the environmentalism we all grew up with.

For more on Break Through, read last week's discussions at Salon, Grist, and Talking Points Memo's book club.


Geek Bling

For those of you with low cash flows but rising internet currency, here's a new way to show bling: An LED ring that displays the current number of Google hits a search on your name generates. Just slip it into a docking station at your computer, do a search, take the ring, and go, confident of your (ahem) net worth. Here's a video on the VanityRing.


Some conservatives are irked that Google tweaked its logo last week -- making the second G out of an illustration of Sputnik -- to commemorate a historic aeronautical achievement by America's Cold War nemesis 50 years ago. One blogger called the decision "a kick in the belly," while another -- assuming political and not scientific motives -- suggested Google is unpatriotic: "When they ignore Veterans Day and Memorial Day, I think they're telling us something about the way they view America." (Full disclosure: I swiped the dot.commie gag from Stephan Colbert, who used it in his fantastic "takedown" of Media Matters.)


Convene Scene: Designers look at political logos

The new logo for the Republican National Convention, unveiled this week, prompts some immediate questions:

Why is the GOP elephant Democratic blue? Are those prison stripes on its back? And -- given the convention's proximity to Sen. Larry Craig's infamous bathroom stall -- why the wide stance?

Both parties unveiled convention-related logos this week. The Republican's "triumphant elephant" faces off against Democratic Committee's seemingly Winter Olympics-themed mark, which depicts the Rocky Mountain setting for the Denver conclave while highlighting "the importance of the West to the future of the Democratic Party." (This is the committee logo; no official DNC logo has been released yet.) Relying on experts to determine if the parties succeeded in their aesthetic or communications goals with the designs, I asked Twin Cities design luminaries to weigh in. As their responses roll in, I'll post them.

"Wait, wait, wait, is this even a logo?" So asks Aesthetic Apparatus' Dan Ibarra of the DNCC logo. "There's so much crammed in here, it's got no focus and is filled with such astoundingly awkward space and line-intersections. My favorite part is the very top arc of the last 'C' ALMOST touching that white bar... but not. It is wholly appropriate that COMMITTEE be highlighted on the bottom as this logo was definitely designed by one."

He adds: "I thought Enron's first logo was much better."

Andrew Blauvelt, design director/curator at the Walker Art Center thinks the mountain range is appropriate for the Democrats' Denver locale and "Western state ambitions," but wonders "if the number of stars alludes to the current crop of candidates," he adds. "Is Hillary brightest and Kucinich in a galaxy far, far away?"

For the Republicans' logo, Blauvelt notes the prominent "TM" to the upper right of the mark:  "Why trademark something that will never be stolen?"

"While the Democrats have a constellation of stars, the Republicans offer us only one: a twinkle in the eye of the GOP's elephant. For the party always enforcing being on-message and towing the line, however, this pachyderm seems angry to me, up on hind legs as if he's taken too much abuse from his trainer."

Ibarra laments, "as bad as this logo is, it's better than the DNCC's."

"At least this one has got some focus to it. Nice under-thought type choice though, boy," he says. "But Andrew is right: What the hell is the elephant doing rearing up? Maybe elephant's rear in nature all the time -- I don't know -- but in my experience they rear either in anger (I love the violent, pro-war undertone I get with that) or because they're some trained circus elephant about to balance on a nice bright red ball (I love the 'we'll happily be manipulated to suit your needs!' undertone on that interpretation.) The latter is probably the correct intent as the thing is wearing a nice little stripy blanket."

Ibarra's last comment focuses on the lone star on the pachyderm's face.

"I don't know elephant physiology but is that star really where an elephant's eye is? It kind of looks like its cheek."


An Open Letter for Burma


A most vital aspect of contemporary art is that it often attempts to fulfill its aesthetic imperative while embodying a deep awareness of the world that gives it context. So as news continues to spread about the violent crackdown by Burma's junta against Buddhist monks, nuns, and civilians who peacefully demonstrated for democracy, it's heartening to see a response from artists and curators.

Today, a group of 30 individuals with Asian roots wrote an open letter on Burma to express dismay, call for change, and put forth hope for a freer society where the kind of diversity of ideas vital to contemporary art can be available to all in Burma.

Will it help? Who knows. But I for one am grateful to these people -- including Walker curator Doryun Chong, former Walker and REDCAT curators Eungie Joo and Clara Kim, Brave New Worlds artist Haegue Yang, Walker global advisory committee member and independent curator Hou Hanru, and many others -- for having taken this step to be clear which side many of us, the artists and audiences of contemporary art, are on.
October 3, 2007
From people of Asian background in the arts:

We write to express our extreme dismay at the brutality of the military regime of Burma (Myanmar) against protesters who have been peacefully asking for change in that Asian nation. Led by Buddhist monks and nuns, tens of thousands of people have marched in Burma's cities and towns in recent week. This has been an inspiring example of nonviolent resistance which has caught the attention of the entire world.

Unfortunately, the military dictatorship has chosen to meet this challenge not with negotiation, but with gunfire from automatic weapons. Monks and nuns have been viciously beaten and arrested, students and journalists shot in the street, and whole cities are now under a military reign of terror.

As citizens of the world, as artists valuing free expression, as people of Asian heritage, we write in support of the courageous Buddhist monks and nuns, and other people from all religions and walks of life in Burma, as they continue to seek peaceful change and national reconciliation.

We demand an immediate end to the violence against the protesters, and a release of all political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, dissident comedian Zarganar, and poet Bamaw
Nyo New.

We support the ongoing struggle of the people of Burma for basic human rights, and we admire their expressions of compassion for all humanity. As fellow humans, we stand with them.


1. Maxine Hong Kingston
2. Linda Kim
3. Htein Lin
4. Amitav Ghosh
5. Khin Aye Than
6. Ruby Walters
7. Doryun Chong
8. Charmaine Craig
9. Huma Dar
10. Maya Lin
11. Tamara Chin
12. Bharat Venkat
13. Jerry Zee
14. Taro Shinoda
15. Mira Kamdar
16. Eungie Joo
17. Byron Kim
18. Pascal Khoo Thwe
19. Maryam Kashani
20. Kim Beom
21. Audrey Chan
22. Wei Hua Peng
23. Hou Hanru
24. Clara Kim
25. Kris Kuramitsu
26. Michael Ondaatje
27. Haegue Yang
28. Paisley Rekdal
29. Yiyun Li
30. Le Ly Hayslip
31. Gitanjali J. Hursh
32. Vasanthi Victor

Photo by Chaiwat Subprasom/REUETERS. A protester outside the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, holding a flyer showing the face of imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on September 27, 2007.

Burma unplugs the internet

The New York Times:
It was about as simple and uncomplicated as shooting demonstrators in the streets. Embarrassed by smuggled video and photographs that showed their people rising up against them, the generals who run Myanmar simply switched off the Internet....
Read it all.

Dear World,

If you fear insubstantial gasbags and Machiavellian twerps rule the world -- well they do, in large part, but if you believe there's no hope for an ascendancy of folks who live by a different creed, please watch Jon Stewart absolutely eviscerate "Hardball" blowhard Chris Matthews on Comedy Central last night. Matthews came on his show to pimp his new book, Life's a Campaign, in which Matthews suggests that success in life and success on the campaign trail involve the pursuit of the same virtues. The thesis, says Stewart, doesn't sound like a path to a better life but a "recipe for sadness."

Please watch it, won't you?


Yer pal,

Deerhoof, 10.02.07

I'm a latecomer to this whole Deerhoof thing. But after seeing the Bay Area trio at the Walker Art Center last night, I'm a convert. Any description you read of the band mentions the impossibility of categorizing their music, yet still pondering the performance, words are all I've got, so... They're an art-house geek-rock, free jazz, Zebulon Pike-meets-Bad Plus, J-Poppy, semi-Dada power-rock trio with serious case of pranksterism.

OK, maybe that's trying too hard. Nonetheless, the show was fantastic. Bassist/singer Satomi Matsuzaki was enigmatic and funny, singing behind a guitar that seemed twice her size. Guitarist John Dieterich, who went to college here, had some scorching guitar work, but with a slightly dorky stance I found endearing (no Townsend windmill power strums here). But drummer Greg Saunier was the most amazing. He must've splintered five drumsticks in the course of his playing, which while always precise seemed at times the result of demon possession or of a tad too much whiskey (my money's on the former).

Definitely one of the best shows ever.

North Minneapolis Mural: Juxtaposition Arts & Asian Media Access

I don't want to get down on my 'hood, but things in North Minneapolis have been scary lately. In the past few weeks, we've seen a 12-year-old girl shot in the head by a stray bullet, a DHL driver shot, a school bus driver grazed, a 17-year-old boy shot, to name but a few. But too often our neighborhood gets defined by these events instead of the good work the other 99 percent of us are doing.

So a huge shout out to Asian Media Access, their ambitious media programming, and the new building they're renovating on Plymouth Avenue near Sheridan. To match the revitalization going on inside the former church, they invited Juxtaposition Arts' advanced mural class to create a mural along the east side of the building. (I'm planning on talking to AMA's executive director Ange Huang and Juxtaposition's Roger Cummings, so check back for more.)

Apparently it's just a first step toward a comprehensive Multi-Arts Complex that'll include space for performance and film screening, offices, a noodle shop, and a training center. (Donate here.)

The project and the mural are a welcome dose of color -- and optimism -- for the northside.

Can Thailand pressure Burma?

I keep hearing about how China could (but won't, let's face it) pressure Burma about its violent crackdown of recent weeks, but what about its immediate neighbor, Thailand? Bangkok Pundit points out that in a recent statement about the role of Russia, India, and China in forcing change in Burma, Thailand's defense minister left out his own country.

A sizable omission: According to the CIA, 22 percent of Burma's imports come from Thailand, but a whopping 49 percent of its exports go to Thailand -- more than India, China, and Japan combined.


Here's an artful and arresting anti-war commercial from Canada's Le Comité de Solidarité Trois-Rivieres calling for the nation's troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan. But I wonder if it's effective. I mean, we know war means blood and death, but do we know if this war is worth fighting? How is it "bleeding the world"? And are there better arguments peace activists can make?

Via 30gms.

Burma Notes

Call it Burma: Thanks, James Fallows, for putting into words what I've felt all along.
Myanmar is the name invented 18 years ago by the benighted junta, known as SLORC* back then and the State Peace and Development Council now, when it seized power through force. When Westerners say "Myanmar," they're not being culturally respectful to the people of a beautiful but oppressed nation. (We don't call China Zhongguo or Germany Deutschland just because the locals do.) They're bowing to the whims of the generals who still imprison Aung San Suu Kyi.
Blacklisted Buddhists: According to Burma-based Mizzima News, junta police are out in full force in Rangoon carrying photos that identify participants in last week's peaceful protests. They're arresting on sight any demonstrators they find.

Whitewashing Atrocity: William Drenttel at Design Observer shares photos he took in 1989, a few months after the bloody military coup that put the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in power. One shot in particular captures the spirit of the junta: "After the uprising, the military regime decided to cleanse the country, and many temples were whitewashed in December 1988-January 1989." The image at top shows paint overspray after a temple had been sprayed white. Which leads to this obvious question:

BINO (Buddhists in Name Only): Myat Thu Pan writes, "I was asked by an American friend, 'Burma is a Buddhist country. Why are the soldiers shooting innocent monks and people? Aren't Buddhists supposed to be non-violent?' My answer was, 'They are soldiers first and Buddhists last.'"

The Good Buddhist: Hundreds of monks are trying to flea Rangoon after hundreds more have been imprisoned. The junta says ten people were killed in the police response to the peaceful demonstrations, but the BBC says the figure is "many times higher." Meanwhile, an officer in the junta has defected to Thailand. He said, "I knew the plan to beat and shoot the monks and if I stayed on, I would have to follow these orders. Because I'm a Buddhist, I did not want to kill the monks."

Symbols of Solidarity: October 4 is International Bloggers Day for Burma