Friday, August 30, 2013

Can The Makers Save Detroit?

Does Detroit need to be saved?

I think it is a valid question, and one I need to examine because there is a taint of white paternalism infused within that sentiment. And not surprising because I am 1) white, and 2) an arrogant know-it-all, and 3) introspective enough to admit it. But, still...

I watched the documentary Detrotopia the other night, and it all looked pretty bleak, but, growing up in NW Indiana, working in the shadow of the mills of Gary, nothing that is unusual to me. I'll tell you what won't work in terms of community revival, is building casinos... Then again, as one gentleman in the movie so succinctly put it, turning Detroit into urban farms is quite simple "Boole-sheeit!"

But the one thing that is certain is that Detroit is the canary in the coal mine. The other thing I noticed was, what you think is a bug is actually a feature, and in that I'm talking about the residents of Detroit.
Remember New York City in the 1970 and 80s? How many dystopian movies were made about that city, ranging from Neil Simon's "The Out-of-Towners"to the penultimate "Escape From New York", which advocated just slagging it all off, and letting it slide down into muck and mire of the abyssal plain of the Eastern seacoast, where it belonged?

And, if you can stand listening to the current redneck wisdom about urban blight, it was all the fault of them damn liberals handing money out to good-for-nothing moochers and takers and rewarding sloth and punishing success with "confiscatory taxation" (but really, hush now, cain't say it too loud, but really blaming it all on the You Know Who's...knowing nod of the melon head...), and thank goodness it all ended with the rise of the conservative mayors and their get tough policies.

(Please ignore the fact that, currently, places such as the former shithole known as Brooklyn, now Artisanal Brooklyn, is still a shithole, and the reason the artisans, makers, and  "creatives" flock there is Cheap Rent).

Never mind that it wasn't just NYC, but every major city suffered a population decline, and thus a shortage of revenue, and thus a decline in services, public institutions, and quality of infrastructure, etc. And, come on now, do I really have to say what really caused it? It's fairly fucking obvious, and so I won't.

Now, the New Republic seems to see a way out for Detroit, and maybe other cities. I've read about innovation districts before. They certainly represent one way forward, but I really don't think we can rely on the technocrats to show us the way.  Nevertheless...

Item: The Foodie Movement of the past decade or so has spawned, in turn, the Artisan Food Movement. I see this is as a good thing, turning away from the razor-thin-profit-margin downward-spiral processed food trend of the past seventy years. Value-added and quality of life is once again recognized as an alternative profit maker, and all to the good. But we can't really on everyone making tasty food for everyone else, like some sad craft barter faire outside a Grateful Dead concert, because 1) too much of the feed stock comes from the processed food maw (maw? that's not the right word, that's a massive intake portal, I need a word for a massive extruder spigot, hmm, maybe "spaw"), and 2) there's a limited market for value-added food as most cannot afford it.

Item: Still, there's no reason for the value-added model not to work on a large scale. Look at Japan from the 1950s on. Have a look at what is happening to "content", e.g. Hollywood spaw, where the big giant dinosaur studios are frozen spitless and witless in the "zero-risk" behavior, and therefore churn out Mattel and Marvel brand franchise movies, hoping that, well, tentpoles is the way to go, and you can only make your nut on the international market (thanks, James Cameron), so let's keep the concepts dumb and familiar. Meanwhile, you got these fast little furry mammals cranking out independent film, with original content, that is fun, quirky, curious, risk taking, and playful (because, honey, "play" is taking risks within established boundaries, and, if you ain't being playful, you ain't being creative).

Item: If want to search for "content" (because in a food-powered make-work robot peasant future, "content" is the only valuable commodity), you don't do it through process, you do it through relationships and (surprise!) connections. (PLUG). I don't care how cool your 3D printer system is,  if you are cranking tchotkes or bland appliances with it, it ain't that cool. I really don't give a shit about how cool your motion capture and CGI rendering is, if you can't relate the underlying meanings and story elements of your special effects to your audience, it ain't that cool. If there is no creative fire behind the tech to power the vision, nothing will happen.

Item: At the risk of stereotyping, I think an obvious question to ask is: Who seems to be a major cultural contributor over the past several generations (example: Jazz, R&B, rap, hip hop), in the sense of sea-change cultural contributions? I'm going to argue for people of color. I will further argue people of color in urban settings. (Of course it has little or nothing to do with race. The reason blacks are more creative is completely socio-economic). Why? Dense connections and relationships populated with maximal interactions, with (no-not novel, but um) maximally permutative situations, usually in groups below the Dunbar number, and with . Oh, true, each of these has been co-opted and suborned for a wider (read white) audience. (I mean, can you think of a single rock and roll song you can't march to?), and that's well and good, as it just means a further generation of relationships and ideas through an open source schema.

Item: It's not a tech path, it's a tech face. Meaning there is more than one way for a new idea to propagate, and more than one group to do the propagating. Parallel evolution. We all here about STEM careers, but the market reality, we have found, despite all the hype, is really not not there. Which means, if private enterprise will not step up to the plate (and they haven't yet), bootstrapping has got to happen. (Although, if it were me, I'd be bombing urban centers with Raspberry-Pis, Arduinoes, Lego shit, but most importantly, pencils, paper, glue, balsa wood, lithium battery power tools, construction materials, and carting in mobile foundries and welding stations with gas generators on trailers, and get the kids exposed at an early age to cool art/industrial stuff like that, but that's my fantasyland).

Look, you had early 90s urban design and styles inspired African-American creatives, and if you believe in the magic number 18 (development cycle-wise, either in months, days, or years, which I do), then we are due for the next renaissance. As the New Republic article pointed out, all the elements are there in Detroit.

So, who is gonna save Detroit? Well, looks like Detroit is gonna have to save Detroit, but the New Republic article makes a good case for why and how it can. What about your city?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Back to Casting

I am back to casting glass. I got this out of the kiln this morning. A machinerette Kickstarter reward called M. jubilaeus. approx 5" x 6". You might recall this is a second attempt.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I knew it began with a V...

...but was it Vespucci, Valdini, Velconti, fuck me if I couldn't think of it, and my consternation in not being able to find it ruined the whole essay from yesterday, or most of it, I think.

So, it was the Vivaldi Divergence I was trying to think of! Goddamnit! And now I'm going to see if I'm the only that wrote anything about it, and apparently not, for there is a thread on the alternate history forum which at least documents the voyage of Vandino and Ugolino Vivaldi in 1291. They don't go where I thought it should go, chronicling a fictional voyage down the west coast of Africa, with a mutually beneficial trade to follow.
Cape Verde

I, on the other hand, knowing something of the winds and currents in that part of the Atlantic, know that if you wish to go anywhere south of Africa past Cape Verde, you must sail far to the west, and then the Guinea current and the NE trade winds will take you back onto the coast and so further south. To do otherwise is go no further than Dakar.

But, if you go too far west... which the brothers did not do, you are caught up in the Canaries current and fight the SE trade winds, and it takes you straight to the Caribbean, and thence up the eastern coast of North America.

And so, to quote myself (and is it me, or am I less lacking in poesy this past year or so, for it appears I was a more accomplished writer with:

"...had the brothers Vandino and Ugolino Vivaldi, in 1291, set sail from Genoa to find a route to India, stumbled upon North America. The brothers and their Majorcan crew, raving from starvation and thirst, barely recognizable as human, nursed back to health by Waccamaw natives. And then, of course, the Great Dying starts, as the natives succumb to smallpox, measles, influenza, bubonic and pneumonic plagues, mow down the peoples, spreading across the continent, and then southwards through South America, until finally, in mere decades 30 million people are dead. The New World depopulated, the Inadvertent Spanish Holocaust occurring 200 years earlier. And in Europe, as in our own world, the Vivaldis vanished, and forgotten, until Columbus arrives in 1491, to a renewed and resistant population of American Indians. Only this time, they do not succumb to disease. The Spaniards, the Portuguese, the English and French unable to gain a foothold in the New World. No Conquest. No colonies. Forced to trade on an equal basis, perhaps at a disadvantage, perhaps even enslaved, in their encounters with the American Indians, what a very interesting modern world that would be".

And there I left it. Pity. Because that is a very interesting scenario, of at least a dozen flavors.

So, back on track from yesterday, but a lot less melodramatic. Certainly the circumstances of a withered and powerless Europe would not be totally such as I had envisioned them. Certainly some parasitic, asshole-niche dominated form of corporate capitalism would be in place today as the System of the World.

Elizabethan England, with only a slightly modernized but still in many ways viciously medieval hierarchy, already had the first glimmerings of out current capitalist system. And by the time of James II, England already had significant holdings in both west Africa (along the Bight of Biafra) and eastern India (Bengal).  So, the Atlantic trade which boosted manufactures throughout the British Isles (and through the textile industries, the Industrial Revolution) is still in play. Coal is being mined for fuel all the way back in the 1100s, and so the Steam Age is inevitable.

But I've changed my mind on the impact a 'superior' technology will have with respect to interacting cultures. Humans are too readily adaptable to be cowed or impressed into submission for very long. The smug and smarmy revisionist historical accounts of the natives cowering in admiration of the "high achieving" European techno prowess just does not in any way jibe with the actual encounters.

We know that the New England Indians were only temporarily impressed with the gunpowder and "firesticks" of, from appearances, the pale, scrawny, flimsy, pockmarked, stunted little goblins from England. They appreciated the steel knives and iron pots and pans, but could as easily have done without (and on more than one occasion, made clear to the English they would prefer more goods than English). But the Indians were hardly impressed with the European peoples they encountered, (and, in fact, quite sophisticated and selective in the quality they were offered!) There was certainly no chance of any superstitious or supernatural feelings of inferiority towards the Europeans.

So, an Atlantic trade certainly, but more on the terms of the Indians than the Europeans. And highly, extremely doubtful there would be any of the allowed colonizing of the eastern seaboard of North America by European powers, given the actual histories of Jamestown and Roanoke.

Aside from that, I really have no idea how the rest of European or North and South American history plays out. Certainly completely alien as far the Western Hemisphere is concerned.

Still, I think a reasonable guess is, with Spain out of the picture, from lack of precious metals flowing in to fund Empire, you see France in an even more strong position than before. I think, because the internal societal trends were already there, Netherlands and Germany still head towards the Westphalian nation-state, and perhaps Germany, with a more formidable France to contend with, might actually unify sooner. But smart money says the establishment of absolutist monarchies (via the French/Swedish model) works it way pretty effectively throughout Europe.

Which probably means, given what we've seen with those model nation states's ownership of production over time, the state becomes moderated into some socialist or managed corporate system, because inevitably the peasants and peons get tired of all the crap.

Meaning what? I don't know, but we have to remember that charters for incorporation were controlled by either royal decree or through parliamentary fiat, so one can only assume that those in power would be incentivized to remain in power, and be unlikely to allow corporate capture of civil and state institutions.

Unless, of course, there was something in for them.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Glorious Revolution

There are very few definite and specific historical dates where social or economic trends, phase states if you will, undergo transition from one to the next. Usually, it takes years or decades for these so-called "tipping points" to play themselves fully out, and certainly with the chance of reversals or at least a bit of fuzziness to occur before something could concretely be considered settled.

Take the Industrial Revolution, which typically gets a start date at the beginning of the 19th century, but gets a "circa" as the steam engine and the mass-production model of manufacturing occurred long before then (specifically, for the steam engine, say, Savery's in 1698, and for specialization of labor and mass-production, probably stone handaxes around 160-180,000 BCE). Most people though, would say the Industrial Revolution was certainly noticeable at the beginning of the 19th century.

Capitalism? Kind of difficult because there have been many versions of it, but the free-enterprise market capital system probably goes back to the Dutch of the mid-1600s, and as far I'm concerned, gets its official start by the English (and thus passed down to us Americans) with the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

There were certainly markets and stock companies, and even state chartered corporations like the East India Company long before then, and one must credit these efforts, but the modern version that most people would recognize goes back to then, and was certainly argued over at the time.

Most people ignore the Glorious Revolution as mere regime change, a coup that took place when James  II was overthrown by William of Orange, late of the United Provinces of the Dutch Republic. But it was, in many respects, the first modern revolution, and certainly the first recognizably modern revolution. Two competing versions of state modernization were at war, the French centralized control absolute monarchy with emphasis on land ownership and control, and the Anglo-Dutch parliamentary system that favored manufacturing and value-added techniques. Taken in all, and for closest comparisons, I think of the post-Soviet coup as the best example, with James II playing the part of Gorbachev.

Consider, typically most political economic systems are categorized by:

  • Feudalism, or mercantilism, where an elite controls productive land, and thus the means of production (since, so long as people are cheaper and more spry and nimble than robots, food is the real energy, and the real gold)
  • State socialism in all its forms, whether modern Chinese blended autocracy, Soviet, etc. where the states controls and owns productive wealth
  • Free-enterprise capitalism, an informally structured system of small- and medium scaled competitive enterprises, and
  • Corporate capitalism, which can ranged from Fascism (state-controlled), to state-captured (the laissez-faire system of robber barons, corruption, and cronyism), and managed corporate capitlaism (balanced against either state managed regulation or labor unions)
We currently are living under a system of state captured corporate capitalism, and some of us remember when - during the Long Boom of 1945-1970 - we lived under the managed version.

But the corporate version of capitalism, I think, goes right back to the Glorious Revolution. And that period is an interesting time, the time of the fruition of science and open versions of knowledge sharing as well. The one thing we should recognized, is that the whole thing is an aberration, a great strangeness, a perverse deviation.

So, people will say, given the past forty years of stagnation, increased poverty, economic inequality, false prosperity, and deterioration here in the United States and elsewhere, that the system is broken.

Oh, no, my dears, the system is working perfectly well! The system is functioning exactly as intended!

If you happen to be on the shitty of the stick it just looks broken, but the system, created as such for the intended benefactors, is working fucking great!

You just remember the anomalous times, when prosperity was more evenly distributed. That's NOT the way corporate capitalism generally works, and it took highly unusual circumstances, for that aberration, that freak of nature, the Long Boom, to occur. It took a world shaking economic disaster, and then  a world war for it to happen. (Consider, WWII pumped up the economy with a stimulus at least six times the size of the Obama stimulus, and them's was 1941 dollars)!

For that matter, it took a freakish set of circumstances for the Glorious Revolution to get a foothold. Like what? Well, like the Atlantic trade, the conquest of the New World. 

(Well, okay, you got to throw the Black Death in there as well, because without that, the value of labor is never appreciated).

But consider, short of the entire Western Hemisphere never existing (an odds-astronomically unlikely scenario), the next best thing is the indigenous inhabitants get half a chance.

Ever read the book Guns, Germs, And Steel by Jared Diamond? I did, and found it compelling in the early 90s when it came out, but now, in retrospect, I consider it a shoddy piece of  scholarship. It more rightly should have been called Germs, Germs, and Germs to explain what happened in the New World.

I once thought about an alternate history divergence... which I cannot fucking find in a search of my essays. It involved two traders who disappeared into the Atlantic some 150 years before Columbus. And the divergence idea was, that their ship made ground in North America, and disgusting disease ridden European people's of the time being what they are, caused the unleashing of all the plagues and maladies upon the continent that occurred some one hundred and fifty years later with Columbus. Damn me, but I cannot think of the name of the traders, but the idea would be the enormous genocide that occurred under the Spaniards in the 15-16th century has happened already. So that by the time the Spaniards do arrive, the native American populations have bounced back in numbers, and they are relatively immune to smallpox and influenza, and all the other nasties that an uncouth and unwashed Europe would visit upon them.

Bottom line, Europe may trade with the natives, but there is no way they get a toehold on the continents of North or South America. So, what happens?

No Empire of Spain. No massive population growth in Europe because no potatoes to grow in the poor soil of Northern Europe. No upsurge in the power of Northern Europe. No Dutch  Republic. No manufactories in England, because no Dutch expertise exported there. No modern revolution. Medieval Europe remains medieval. The Muslim version of capitalism, which relied more upon reputation and less on rapine, possibly takes hold.

No American colonies. No United States. No slave trade. No sugar economy. And on and on.

Point being, the version of capitalism that we have today relies entirely upon the discovery of the New World, and the fortunate circumstance, chance , contingency, and luck will never, ever be recognized by all those smug little assholes on Wall St.

(I kind of lost the thread of where I was going with this, but that's not unusual lately).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Back In Action

Not entirely, not quite. I got the Foley catheter out today and stopped in at the college - primarily to eat lunch. It's still easier to eat cafeteria food than go shopping and cook for myself, and the food is better.

I am taking it easy, as the nurse who removed my catheter this morning requested. I'm counting the number of times I pee, and what the sensations are, and whether there's any blood.

I couldn't go back home, so I'm just taking it easy at the college. I was literally going out of my skull with boredom over the weekend. I watched "The Hobbit" about three times, and I don't think I can stand another fucking dwarf.

I also churned through a stack of books that was to last me for the week in about three days. I read about the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and a sci-fi book by Charlie Stross called "Saturn's Children", and a book about black holes by Kip Thorne, and a book about our cryosphere and global warming called "The White Planet" or some such, and a book by the late Iain M Banks called "Matter". Okay, "Matter" I'm not quite done with, and I've some thoughts on the Glorious Revolution I need to ponder over. Oh, right, and a fluff book about time travel by Cliff Pickover that took me about 30 minutes to go through.

Honestly, if I were to believe in reincarnation, I'd have to wonder what series of mediocre past sins I had committed in prior lives that would result in my getting a tube up my dick not once, but now three times! Seriously, what kind past life sins would result in this dick purgatory I'm going through?  I don't know. I don't want to know.

In any case, I'm back, and after a easy day, I'll back working despite what the doctors tell me to do.

Because, I can't not be doing something. It ain't natural.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Elysium: A Review

So, first off, do you say Ee-leez-ee-um or do you say Ee-lis-ee-um? My brother used the latter, which I assumed was an affectation, him being what he is.

Regardless, Elysium, from the Elysian Fields, the blissful realm of the blessed dead, was appropriately named for the Beverly Hills crowd and hedge-fund types that occupy the big giant space torus in orbit.

Unlike the rest of humanity's space experiences to date, which involve pooping into a baggie, being thoroughly sleeted through and through with cosmic rays, and (on one occasion) running out of air, along with similar indignities, the Beverly Hills crowd gets off easily. That goes for the movie as well. The worst that happens to the 1% is that they now have new neighbors from the wrong side of the tracks as fellow citizens.

Oh dear, the great unwashed, and such awful people, enjoying the fruits of their labors. Teddible, teddible!

Did I spoil the movie for you? Oh come on, you know it was about universal health care, right?  In any case, the themes were secondary, window dressing for the fun. And this movie is about fun, explosion filled, gun-toting, occasionally grisly and gory fun. I know some guy at the Daily Kos complained that this could have been a great movie, a message movie, but I've noticed lately that if something is great or good, but not perfect, possessing even a single blemish, it is therefore shit.

When this Seinfeldian selection disease of unreasonable standards got started, I'm not sure, but I would opine that "perfect is the enemy of good", so Shut the Fuck Up Brittle Daily Kos Critic.

Set in the year 2154, and the rich fortunate do what they always do, which is to live in style in gated communities  away from the hoi-polloi. (Remember dearies, the word "paradise" is from the ancient Persian pairidaeza, a compound of pairi- "around", and diz "to make a wall", as in to make a wall around, with a sign that says "Not for you!"). How predictable. (And it could turn out the fortunate are much more predictable than we realized).

The Earth is a shit-hole, overcrowded, polluted, and, well, not so nice a place to live. The rich fortunate 1% have moved on up, skee-daddled to a pimped out two-kilometer-wide space station in orbit, with lots of lawn parties (and thus lawns) and mansions, and oh, yes, very important, these magical medical cabinets that can cure everything.

Jody Foster is standing on the walls, the defense secretary who gets annoyed when a guerilla underground organization occasionally gets a shuttle-load of passengers up and in, so that the crippled and terminally ill can be cured by the magical medical cabinets. She employs a barbarian named Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley to keep the riff-raff out, blasting them out of the sky with some nifty little missiles that Al Qaeda would give both nuts to possess. When Foster's methods are questioned, she opts for a coup, and has a desperate billionaire (whose defense company is struggling) write a new operating system for the space station that will reboot her into power.

Meanwhile, Matt Damon,  ex-con and factory worker in the employ of desperate billionaire, gets radiation poisoning in an industrial accident. Given five days to live, he needs to get to the space station for the cure. He goes to his former criminal bosses, who will get him up there provided he pull a job involving stealing the brain secrets of the desperate billionaire.

Damon is fitted with what looks like Russian military exo-suit technology that makes him super strong, and sent with a team to kidnap the desperate billionaire's brain secrets. The heist goes pear-shaped when Kruger shows up and starts blasting the shit out of everything that moves, and then-

Okay, you know what? You want a synopsis? Read this. I'd rather geek out and tell you what I liked and didn't like. Actually there are few things I didn't like.

I had a problem with Copley's South African accent. I could barely understand every other fucking word he said. I had the same problem with District 9, which is why I waited for it to come out on DVD so I could use the subtitle option. But Copley and his team did a great job playing barbarians, and it was nice to see some historical accuracy in the trend that, if you are gonna employ badass-motherfuckers, you better be even more of a badass-motherfucker than they are, or be swept from power.

(I've voiced this idea before, and I will again. Forget fucking 3D glasses. Give me some subtitle glasses! And if you come up with that app on your Google glass, be sure to give me credit, and maybe a cut of the proceeds!)

It's true that some of the dialog was cringe-worthy, but it's an action movie, so what do you want? I heard some critics complaining that Jody Foster's performance was rigid and stilted.  Uh... She's playing Maggie Thatcher/Angela Merkel, (and the character's last name is Delacourt, which means English is a second language to her) so of course her performance is brittle. She's playing a chilly brittle bitch you chowderheads! I did think Foster quit too easily and readily. Brittle bitches rarely die well or cleanly, so there must have been a backstory around her submissive death we were not party to.

Science-wise there were problems. I don't know what the technology the medical cabinets were using, but it must have been teleportation. I mean, you are cured of even the most debilitating conditions in seconds. (There is a scene where Kruger's face gets reconstructed which made me, yes, even me, go "Ew!") And the rocket motors on all the shuttles and missiles are running on what? I don't know. Something beyond fusion or matter/antimatter because there are no visible fuel tanks and a thing the size of a stretch limo has no problem going from ground to orbit with no refueling. Okay, yeah, so what? It's 150 years in the future, and if I don't have a problem with Star Trek pulling this shit (and in my more literally minded, partially in the autism spectrum days I used to, but not now) , why not give the movie some slack?

(Apparently they don't worry about if those are nuclear rockets, but then, considering we exploded half a gigaton of nuclear weapons over the course of fifty years in real life, so what? I mean, had those fifty years of nuclear test been compressed into a day, you'd have called that WWIII).

Some of the action scenes were shot in a way that was distracting, bordering on Michael Bey behavior, but for the most part the editing and cinematography was done well. The visual effects were spot on, and rich with detail. I think nowadays, with sophistication of CGI, that's more a matter of dearth of imagination than technique. Hollywood being a magnet for the visually gifted, one would not expect otherwise.

The robots. Hmm. Clearly humans are still cheaper than robots. The robots were not intelligent. That could have been design or movie pragmatism. But you got to figure, with 150 years of trial and error, at the very least just aping brain structure, you would have artificial intelligence. But people are still running things, and building things. So, it could be, as it stands now, that people make the best robots. Hard to improve on nature when it comes to compact, energy-efficient, self-sustaining and general purpose automatons like us animals. It's possible the best solution is to just tack on mechanical override on the brain, and use people as robots. In any case, doesn't really matter. They were there for what they needed to be there for.

I have speculated in the previous essay that perhaps it would be the working poor who live-to-work in space, and the fortunate who occupy an Earth, relieved of humanity, healed of her own accord. As I've said before, Space is a shitty place to live. (And talk about natural selection, those who don't work up there, don't live).

But rethinking that as a movie producer, I start seeing the budget go through the roof, as if was not big enough already, showing all of these space-modified and mutilated lumpen-proles. Plus the stunning visual of a luxury space station, I'd probably have come around to the movie's scenario. And besides, it was all about how shitty things are right now anyway, so there's no need to make it exotic and even more costly by basing most of it in space).

All in all, I was happy with seeing the movie. I will watch again when out on DVD.

Whoops! And! Pictures! This is the last glass casting for awhile. I got two that are rewards I'm trying to get ready, but there's no certainty I'll get them in the kiln before my procedure Wednesday. So, here's the glass. I'm pleased with this one. I think it actually looks better framed in aluminum and not backlit for once.

Friday, August 9, 2013

To Be Destroyed

I got a machinerette glass mold out of the kiln this morning, and I'm disappointed. I don't like the color scheme, and I don't like the sloppy bleed-over across the lines of the figures into the background.

Here's the original wax, and the glass.

So, it gets recycled. What lessons did I learn? I once came up with a maxim that went along the lines of "No series of subsequent steps will fix a fundamental fuck up".

You'd think I'd have that down by now, but no. When I steamed out the mold, I noticed that some of the investment had flaked off, resulting in a less than perfect mold. So, did I trash it and start over? No, I figured I could compensate for the flaw, and, like every time I compromise, I was wrong. So I now I trash it and start over.

Also, the color scheme is wrong. I don't know why I chose that wimpy soft blue. Clearly, these critters require a more Halloween look to them, or a sickly lime green/dayglo palette. This color scheme is much more satisfying, so perhaps I'll go more orangey-yellow, more like the first:

(I think this one gets chalked up to dumb luck)

So, lesson learned, break it up, and redo the thing. I do like the figures, so I will recreate them, and that doesn't take too much time.

Oh, and I'm going to see Eysium. Partly because it looks like a big, dumb, loud action movie, but mostly because brittle-minded conservative types hate it and want it to fail. I guess because it promotes the idea of universal health care, and as we all know healthcare is a privilege reserved for those that can afford it, not a right!

Wait! What? Then shouldn't right-wing jellyheads, a people who can barely keep from swallowing their tongues, be happy with the first part of the film, where rich people live in luxury, in space, get the best of everything, including a health care system that can cure death, and get to look down on the suffering good for nothing peasant moochers on a ruined welfare planet? It's not enough to dwell in Heaven, one must see the suffering in Hell! So, yeah! Great. Just walk out before the revolution, and it's a perfect movie.

The claim from conservatives is that the film maker's have a political agenda, borrowing heavily from the Occupy movement. Oh, I don't think so. Any decent fiction writer can use themes and tropes to spin a good yarn without believing a single bit of it.

I mean, as an artist, I can't afford to completely dismiss any alternative worldview.

Example: Thinking that a flat Earth is silly doesn't mean you can't set a story there. It gets kind of restrictive, straight-jacketed, if one is limited to one's own set of principles and firmly cherished beliefs. One's mind soon becomes so brittle, that Reality itself becomes deeply offensive and intolerable! You got to exercise the mind, right wing bitches, or watch it decay into stuporous teabaggery.

Alright, time to geek out. One objection I have (that I will overlook) is that the rich will live in space. Oh come on! Space is a shitty place to live. Let's repeat that everyone:

Space is a shitty place to live.

Let's do a little comparison shopping.You got Earth, with air, water, radiation shielding, renewable supplies and resources, aesthetically wonderful (because adapted for it) good experiences, good times.

And then you got anywhere else in the Solar System. Anywhere. Take your pick. I'll wait. I'll even let you build something, say, a two kilometer wide Stanford Torus space station. Best guess is, it will only cost you around 5 trillion to build.

Sound a bit too low end, to unrealistic, that 5 trillion? Yeah, you're right. If you are sending all components from Earth to orbit, at space shuttle rates, assuming everything works perfectly, 10 million tons at $5,000-$10,000 a pound gets you into the quadrillions. Better you use raw materials not at the bottom of a gravity well, like the asteroids and the Moon.

So, who is going to do all that? Seems to be, if I'm rich, I'd rather use the poor to slave in the Lunar iron pits, or robots. But the one thing I don't think I'm doing is living in space in a pinwheel that can be put out commission with meteor or solar storm.

So, woud that have been a better movie? Having the rich calling the Earth their exclusive preserve, and the poor out their slaving in vacuum and radiation, perhaps surgically and/or genetically mutilated to live in vacuum?   I don't know.

Postscript to the Failure: I decided to add a 3/16" edge to the bottom of the new figures. Normally, I just make a half relief and mount it on the background thus:

The added edge, when mounted on the background, this will give me in essence a hopper to put the glass for the figures in separate from the background glass, and thus hopefully give me a crisper edge on the figures. Don't know if you can see the edge added to the bottom. On the figure to the right, you can see I haven't filled in the edge completely on the tail.
The figure now has a 3/16" edge all along the bottom. I don't know if you can see it in the picture. When I mount it on the hexagonal array background, it may make more sense.

Work in progress:

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Unavoidable Consequences

I had to do studio cleanup work at the college today, for which students will not thank me.

They will not thank me because they will never know about it (as some tasks involved environmental remediation that will add years to their little sprout-like lives).

Still and all, I managed to get a lot of my stuff done as well, and the clock is ticking, since my deadline for work stoppage - temporary work stoppage - is now a week and a day away.

So, today, I got a glass mold filled with color and put into the kiln. Timetable says it will be done late night of 8/10, so I (and you) will see it next Monday.

I got another mechanicule wax completed, but not rigged up. Sorry, no picture of it today.

I got two glass molds out of the kiln. Another (a machinerette cast glass mold) in the kiln at the high end soak and out this Friday (so you might get a pic of it then). And I got DD's reward in a coffee can mold in the kiln for a Friday bronze pour. Hoping to sand cast more aluminum frames tomorrow.

I was supposed to go to an opening in downtown Chicago for a piece of mine that is in a show at Cliffdwellers, but I got no time to make it down there. Sigh. Let's see if I can find a URL of the show...

Okay, here's a picture from last year's Six to the Third show, and if you look in the lower left-hand corner, there is a 3D-printed Candy Skull made by a guy I contributed monies to on Kickstarter!

So, my piece is in this year's Six to the Third Show (6" x 6" x 6", get it?), and it looks like this:

It is called Mechanicus viginticigarinii. It was catalogued by eldest brother in honor of Frank Zappa (Twenty Small Cigars):

So, there's that, and then I also have pictures!

Mushroomtron mechanicule:

Deep Jelly Mechanicule:

Now I gotta go do laundry so I don't smell tomorrow.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What Shall We Do With All These People?

I was at the library over the weekend, and within the returned DVD shelf, I found Star Trek Into Darkness. A quick check of the catalog showed that there were 142 holds on this movie, and library rules being what they are, had I snagged it out of the returned shelf, I could have taken it home.

I chose not to.

Why? You ask. I'd read the plot synopsis, and didn't see any reason to waste my time on it, because the plot sounded so fucking stupid. I won't watch it especially now, that I have so little time. (In fact, there's probably a worthwhile essay about how attention has become the new scare resource as opposed to time, but I'm sure it's already been written by someone).

Interestingly, this ties into an article I read in New Scientist, which said that 1978 was the best year ever, and it has been downhill ever since. (I maintain the world went to shit in 1973, and the hysteresis effect of our built world postponed it to public notice some six years later).

So, what does this have to do with Star Trek Into Darkness? Simple, content provision.

As the GPI per person (Genuine Progress Indicator, which is GDP plus some 26 other factors, not unlike the quality of life average index) slowed and then stopped in the year 1978. Well, now, wait, this disheartening statistic is only for the developed world. The article does point out that:
"world poverty rates have fallen from 42% in the mid-1990s to a projected 15% by 2015, representing half a billion people lifted out of poverty. Life expectancy has risen an average of 12 years for women and 11 years of men worldwide in the past 40 years".
On the other hand, in the US, real wages have remained stagnant as productivity has increased, income inequality has reached unprecedented levels, and the level of real employment is around 44%. Forget outsourcing, some 20% middle class jobs and have been replaced by computers and automation. There is very little chance for the hollowed out middle class to bounce back, despite rhetoric from DC, as  robotics is poised to eliminate the remaining jobs before the century is out.

What to do? What to do with all of these people? Do we have the resources for Juvenal's "panem et circenses"? (Food and entertainment provided by the state)? If so, would that be a ...po-lice... state? As, at present, I can't see any other option for the near future (aside from a big cull, which is always Plan R).

But Star Trek didn't have any of that, right? That had all been solved. That being, not just war, poverty, hunger, strife, disease, all gone, but also boredom and loneliness, a meaningless existence of mindless toil, and apparently under some socialistic paternal libertarianism that preserved fundamental liberties. Cake and eat it too!

And how did this happen? Why, thanks to good old 19th century romanticism. I mean, come on, that's Roddenberry's vision, right? The original series was, in every respect, a utopia straight out of the 1860s. It was steampunk before steampunk existed. Updating quaint 19th century notions about what the future would look like, with steel-plated ships powered by some type of giant Corliss engines, but powered by anti-matter instead of steam.

(Although credit Matt Jeffries for the nice design fictions of the Enterprise exterior and interiors).

But it's all a 19th century vision of the future, and what is a socialist paradise without a little socialism?

The point being what? Well, does everybody have a job in the Star Trek universe? Even the ne'er-do-wells? Everyone has a hobby that provides? Everyone is a creative content-producer? No working class workers? Well, maybe that was all taken care of by WWIII, and Lesson Well Learned.

Or, it could be (and this is the contradiction that no one wants to admit), it would take more than just the excision of the Calvinist idea of sin (idle hands and all that) but the excision of large parts of the Neolithic cultural package, which included such   time-tested heuristics such as:

  • MINE!
  • Property is property regardless of how it was obtained.
  • If its easier to kill and steal, kill and steal!
  • Why work when you can domesticate and enslave?
  • Women's work is property too!   
Et cetera. True this is kind of a cynical morality, but nevertheless, if you look closely at nations that have successfully followed this heuristic, well, events speak for themselves. Which gets us to the US of A the most successful practitioner of the Neolithic package. Why abandon it? Especially as, so it seems, the US of A managed to get through Roddenberry's WWIII relatively unscathed. Well, maybe we just learned "not to kill today", or some similar horseshit.

Alright, what has this to do with Star Trek Into Darkness? Having read the plot synopsis, I said this sounds like a bunch of shit, as in JJ Abrams shit.

Which is to say, let's put together a completely mindless, brainless action movie, and let the popular audience veg out to it. And they did, with success. And I am NOT averse to vegging out and watching big, dumb, loud action movies. (Read my review of Pacific Rim). No, what really gets me is, here Abrams and team go to all the trouble to re-imagine the (geeked out) Star Trek universe as the (vegged out) Star Wars Universe, but with Star Trek characters, and then they are too fucking lazy to come up with a new story for their new alternate universe, and instead make a bad remake of Wrath of Khan, but, you know, different. The Star Wars version, with no thought required.

Ah. That's fine. You know what? Fuck you Abrams. Go make your goddamn Star Wars movie for Disney. It'll be fantastic and make a ton of money. But, please, please stay out of the geek-out fiction aisle. Don't make any more Star Treks. Stick with mindless Star Wars style entertainment, and future generations will thank you for it, as they sit in their modular cubicle homes, munching Soylent Green flakes and taking up as little space and energy as possible. 

(Whoops, and! And! Pictures!)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fairly Productive Day

I got a lot done today. I rigged a piece for bronze casting:

I loaded two glass molds with color and glass and put them in the kiln. They will be out sometime next week. I invested a wax for glass casting, and then steamed it out:

Here is the wax it came from:

I made a new wax piece, tentatively titled M. papilio, because it reminded me of a butterfly. And I also kept on thinking of a story I read about an astronaut on an lush and beautiful alien world, with flowering plants and butterflies. He takes his helmet off to enjoy the smells, and the butterflies swarm on him and eat his head. I don't know if I read that or dreamt that. Anyway... here it is:

Tomorrow, I get two glass molds out of the kiln, decant and clean them, and will take snaps of them, so you got that to look forwards to.