Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Infantile Rich

I once made a prediction that Bruce Rauner would be elected governor of Illinois, and that it would it suck.

Well, Bruce Rauner, billionaire vulture capitalist, North Shore dweeb, son of a successful patent attorney, never had a fucking hard day in his whole fucking pampered privileged life, has been having an on-air temper tantrum with political commercials for the past month. For those of you that don't care, Illinois is facing a budget crisis, because Rauner isn't getting his way.

Big surprise, considering, unlike Scott Walker, Rauner does not have a compliant, obsequious, groveling legislature to grease the rails for him.

Rauner accuses Illinois government of being corrupt. Yeah, duh. But what he doesn't seem to grasp is that the source of corruption comes from monied toads such as himself and his rich cronies. He would like to blame the unions, but considering union workers constitute less than 10% of the workplace economy, that doesn't seem to wash.

As for corruption, a sturdy moral compass would be a good start. Rauner claims to be on the side of right action, but seeing as actions speak louder than words, and seeing as Rauner cheated on his first wife, I don't see how he can make any claim to being honorable.

But you know, Rauner is just the symptom, and not the disease. The disease is the asshole niche.

When a person is pampered, coddled, catered to, spoiled rotten, bowed and scraped to by sycophants and butthole lickers, been allowed to privatize the gains and socialize the losses, they become delusional, they become infantile.

I'm not saying all rich people are infantile, but a damn large percentage is.

Case in point. There is a well-married woman at the college who puts pottery to be bisqued on the wetware shelf with these little signs that say "Fragile! Handle with care!" As if her precious shit is going to be maltreated by ham-handed oafs and inferiors. Being the egalitarian that I am, I treat her stuff the same as everyone else's, which is, carefully. And it pisses the living shit out of me whenever I see those signs. I have to resist the temptation to fuck them up.

Case in point. A fucker in a BMW races down the Jane Addams expressway, barely missing cars, and speeding at dangerous speeds, probably because "he can". The beautiful thing about this incident was he had to cut through lanes of traffic to get to the manual tollbooth, and at the last second a beat to shit POS junk truck cut him off and forced him to slam on the brakes so hard his vehicle shuddered and his tires smoked.

My thought on that incident was, "There is a God, and his name Fred Sanford"!

Case in point. This morning, dropping stuff off at the post office, I had the misfortune to get some rich bitch that pulled up in Mercedes sportscar behind me. She was in a oh-so-desperate hurry to get on with her important - more important than anyone else's - affairs, and tried to push her way through the line.

"Sorry!" she attempted.
"No, you're not." I observed, blocking her progress.

She made an exasperated sound and threw her mail at the clerk, leaving in a huff. Or a minute and huff.

"What are going to do with that mail?" I asked the clerk. "Oh, I'm going to do my job", the clerk replied, "even though I'd like to do something else with it."

I was raised to be polite, considerate, and courteous. I've even had one ex-girlfriend tell me I was too polite. What she really meant was she didn't think I was assertive enough. But the thing I noticed was she wanted to me assertive as in be a rude asshole so we would get faster service/not have to wait/be treated better than anybody else.

I'm not an asshole. If I am going to be an asshole, I'm going to be an anti-asshole asshole.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Off The Wall Installation

Two weeks in to this Off The Wall project and it is done for now. I ran out of materials before I ran out of enthusiasm. That's a good thing. Someone called the look 'steampunk'. I don't get that. I think trashpunk or junk punk is more apt. The slip-cast clay forms were from plaster molds taken from discarded plastic junk that I found. Here's a video and pictures.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Last Confederate Surrender

150 years ago today, June 23rd, 1865, the last Confederate general surrendered. Obviously, the last official surrender, and the conflict continues, and will no doubt persist for another thousands years.

I say this based upon the evidence, the universal fact, that every country and region contains some disgruntled group that nurses and nurtures the wounds and narratives of past conflicts.Why, there are people in the Middle East who are still bent out of shape about the Crusades.

Wars come in two flavors, conventional and unconventional. In conventional wars, you have set piece battles, supply lines, field of operations, orders of battle, all that crap. Conventional war seeks to control the apparatus of the state.

Unconventional warfare is guerrilla tactics, hit-and-run, sabotage, insurgency, terrorism. Unconventional war seeks to control the civil population. Without the civil population as logistic support, sustained combat is impossible.

Both forms are, of course, parasitism. Practicioners of warfare tend to think of themselves as superior,  with noncombatants as subjects. They may seem to have the upper hand due to military might, but in reality, their existence, their sustenance and livelihood, is wholly dependent upon the civil populations as a host. They are fucking blood-sucking parasites whose existence no one would miss should they, tomorrow, vanish in a puff of smoke.

I think the one disservice Ken Burn's documentary, the Civil War, did, was to romanticize and ennoble the Southern cause. The idea that they were fighting a losing battle from the beginning, that they were underdogs, engenders a sympathy to their utterly vile cause - slavery - which is wrong. Just plain wrong.

Studies and statistics have shown that the institution of slavery has ennervated and enfeebled my fellow citizens below the Mason-Dixon line. Those of former Confederates states are, today not even remotely associated with all of the vile characteristics of this practice, are nevertheless malformed and retarded from this disgrace.

I wish that it were not so. Call me stupidly idealistic, but I would prefer that everyone live up to their full potential, and any obstacle to this ideal I have no choice but to view as evil.

So, do I think the Confederate battle flag is evil? It's a symbol, and the unfortunate tendency of we primitive superstitious Cargo Cult Americans is to think that by imbuing an object as a symbol, and ceremonially banishing it from our consciousness, that somehow the problem is fixed, everything is made right again. But it just ain't so.

Do I think that state endorsement of the flag should be ended? Hell, yes. But we've all of us got a long, long way to go to end the problems if ever.

Want to work against racism? Banishing a flag won't do it. Want to do something really constructive? Something that will be more than just symbolic, something that will have a real positive impact for everyone involved? Simple. End the War On Drugs. It's a hundred years old. It's time to stop it. It's a racist policy. It's an INCREDIBLY racist policy, and anyone who has examined it at length cannot come to any other conclusion.

If you can show me any more important current institution of racism than the War on Drugs, I'd be quite astonished. The fact of the matter is it is a racist policy of the state which we can actually end in a short amount of time, and with only a small amount of effort, but it requires a large amount of will.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Joker Effect

Michel Serres wrote The Parasite in 1982. He supposed that we individual people are all parasites feeding off the collective societal host. Rather than the usual idea of transactions operating under a societal contract of some type, with each transaction assigned an exchange value, one's dealing are instead assigned an abuse value. This peculiar notion has a lot going for it. Assuming that all us are pests, a more realistic model of society results.

I once had an argument where I proposed that predation was the penultimate and final form of parasitism. I was told this could not be the case because parasites do not kill their hosts. What? Of course they do! One only need think of disease organisms.

Parasite, being from para- "between", and -site "food", it generally means "to eat at another's table".

Serres makes a point of viewing predation as an externality, a thing that happens to a host outside of the host, whereas we all know parasites live within the host. But consider humans both within society and the world, and you start to the idea. I remember a fun quote (paraphrased) from Serres about predators and parasites early in the book:
"Men in clothing live within the animals they devour. We are parasites, thus we clothe ourselves. Thus we live in tents of skin like gods in their tabernacles".
If we, in turn, view the agencies of our dealing and doings as such, many things become clear. Consider, for example, mathematical games that try to explain altruism. There is the Prisoner's Dilemma, of which I have written. But also the Public Goods game. In the PG game, each agent can contribute to a certain amount to a pot Once everyone has made a decision, the pot is split up. Cooperators always contribute. Defectors never do. Thus defectors benefit without cost. The Nash equilibrium for a such a game, where all agents are rationally self-interested, is for everyone to contribute nothing to the pot. The good old psychopathic Nash equilibrium. Of course, this doesn't happen in real life. So the game generally fails. Well, so what, it is a mathematical toy anyway, providing only skeletal hints at human behaviors.

Well, let me also say that the Public Goods game is mathematically equivalent (more or less) to the Prisoner's Dilemma game (thus my use of the terms cooperators and defectors), but rather than participants contributing to a common good, they share a common punishment.

Well, there's a new twist to this, the joker effect: cooperation driven by destructive agents.

I read this paper so you didn't have to.

This Public Goods game introduces a new character, the joker. Cooperators contribute at a cost, defectors don't contribute, but still benefit from being apart of the public pool. Jokers perform destructive actions on all other players. Interestingly, the dynamics between cooperators, defectors and jokers manifest a paper/rock/scissors cycle of equilibria. Even more interestingly, the model's cooperators lose to defectors in the presence of jokers when the destructive value d of jokers is not greater than zero.

It doesn't mean jokers are evil, just that they must be destructive.

Now, consider two jokers. Both made visits to Egypt. The latter joker was named Napoleon. In 1798, a French armada of 400 ships, with 36,000 French troops aboard, arrived near Alexandria. They ousted the parasitic Mamluk ruling elite, trashed the country, fired artillery on residential areas, raped Muslim women, pissed and shit in mosques, and otherwise abused and defiled the country. Later that year, a British naval squadron under Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet, trapping Napoleon and his armies in Egypt. Napoleon and his advisers abandoned the army, slipped through the British patrols, and slunk back to France.

A power struggle ensued, with various factions eventually coming back under Ottoman control.

The second joker arrived earlier in Cairo, in 1324, and was far more benign, but just as destructive. The ninth king of Mali, Mansa Musa, somewhat converted to Islam, made holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Mansa Musa is recognized as the wealthiest man in the history of the world, with a fortune in today's dollars of around 400 billion. He arrived in style, with an advanced guard of 500 slaves, a huge entourage, and 100 camels carrying gold. One Cairo official summed up his visit thus:
"This man spread upon Cairo the flood of his generosity, there was no person... who did not receive a sum of gold from him. The people of Cairo earned incalculable sums, whether by buying or selling or gifts. So much gold was current in Cairo that it ruined the value of money".     
Indeed, ten years later, the gold markets had still not recovered.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I Done A Stupid Thing, And It Was Fun

Clouds stampede the sky
Rain comes down like horse's hooves
A rain horse running

Yesterday morning, we had a freight train of cloudbursts roll through the area. Torrential rain would be a mild descriptive. I drove the ring road around campus, and got to the low spot, which is next to the reservoir. Water covered the road, but I drove ahead. It was deeper than I thought. At one point, I could feel the tires start to lift as I hydroplaned, so I just gunned it and hoped for the best.

I got through, although the climb out of the low spot was like driving up a river. Once I got through it all, I laughed like an idiot. That was a very stupid thing to do.

At least the underside of my car is clean.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Off The Wall Project

We have a 'sculpture wall' in the wood shop, a wall dedicated as a gallery wall, mainly for hanging student wall pieces and paintings for documentation.

I clean and patch the wall up and paint it once a semester. Since there are no classes this summer (attendance numbers for art are WAY DOWN), I've a nice clean freshly painted 12 foot by 7 foot gallery wall to play with.

I started making wall pieces using slip cast clay forms housed in wood frames. I stopped with three pieces, but I like where they are going, and so have decided to decided to create an installation piece.

We'll see how long my enthusiasm lasts.

Off The Wall #4
Off The Wall #5

The idea is to fill up a 5 foot by 10 foot section of the wall with these wall pieces.

The start of the Off The Wall installation piece
Hopefully, they will end up in some coherent composition, but I'm letting them go up one by one and build up 'organically' (as artists are won't to say).

Open space remaining
I'm still working on wax figures for bronze, and probably this next set of figures will be the last of the "Towards a Modern Arcanum" series (see my website).

I'm also continuing with the cast glass critters. I'm trying to get a 3x3 collection of cast glass pieces in  a good looking composition that I can offer up for exhibition to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

We'll see how that goes.

Other things. I'm teaching my 8 week metal casting class. (My proposed mold making class feel through for lack of numbers). My class rosters are all returning students, so I said, well, sandbox time, what do you guys want to do? They want to learn how to make molds.

So, I am teaching them single and multipart plaster molds, and silicone rubber molds as well. Some are very excited, and I can already tell there will be a lot of waxes made from these molds come the fall class. That's fine.

That was the whole idea. Bump 'em all up to the next level of technique and vision. This kind of teaching - of transferring the shit in my brain to theirs, so that hopefully at least one of their brains is smarter than my brain - is the most fun of all.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Mad Max Fury Road: A Review

In Egypt, in one of the museums, is a stone palette carving of King Narmer, the first pharaoh to unite and rule the upper and lower Nile. In the picture, Narmer is seen inspecting the corpses of his fallen enemies, who are decapitated and emasculated.

I don't know where the heads and genitals are.
image courtesy electrummagazine.com

So, Narmer is a great man. He has, through arms and force of will, created an empire where none existed before. The same could be said for Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, who conquered the five warring states. Or Alexander the Great. Or Napoleon.

Assholes all. Parasitic assholes every one. Why? There are any number of cases where great things have been done and built by people who are not assholes.

So, clearly, being an asshole is not a requirement for great things to occur. So, why does the parasite asshole niche exist, and why the continued mythology of the Asshole Cult that worships the likes of Steve Jobs, etc? My thought is that the myth is propagated by assholes who wish to rationalize their own feculent behavior. Funny thing is, a lot of these assholes think they are doing right by society.

Another interesting fact: you can kill off as many parasitic assholes as you care to, but, like a game of Whac-A-Mole, they just keep coming back. You've got to eliminate the niche, which is nigh on impossible.

But why the niche exists (excluding the supernatural cause that the Almighty must dearly love parasites), I suppose we must look to game theory. In the game of the iterative Prisoner's Dilemma, there are cooperators, there are parasitic rat fink cheaters (otherwise known as Ayn Rand fans), and then there are what Michel Serres calls jokers. Jokers are unpredictable random connectors that break up the status quo between cooperators and parasites. One thing is for sure, game changers are rarely produced by the parasitic assholes who give us disruptive innovation. Game changing belongs to jokers.

What does all this shit have to do with Mad Max Fury Road?

I submit that Mad Max is a joker. More on that in a minute.

Short version of my review: Go see this movie!

Slightly less short version: To Mr. Miller? That'll do pig! That'll do!

Slightly lesser short version: Go see this movie while you can see it on the big screen! This movie will not be diminished by viewing on home video, but you really, really need to see it on a big screen to appreciate it.

Least short version: When I first saw the trailers for this movie, I went out of my skull with joy. I knew that I would be disappointed, and, if anything, my expectations were splendidly surpassed.

This is a fucking fierce, relentless gem of a movie, destined to become a classic. If Mr. Miller creates the promised second two movies of the trilogy of this franchise, and maintains the same level of quality, these will be legendary.

Mr. George Miller is no slouch when it comes to movie-making, and given the variety of films he has made, is multi-talented. Put Babe and the original Mad Max trilogy under any other director's belt, and you have an accomplished film maker.

But, apparently, when you have thirty years of the right kind of simmering stew-making going on, back stories and notes, you could potentially end up with a carbonized mess of a movie sticking to the bottom of your pot (clue: never make a movie you developed and wanted to make in adolescence. examples: The Abyss, Interstellar), or, in this case, you make an action movie that basically goes out and crocks and curbs almost every other action director's movies.

(The likes of Michael Bay's, Joss Whedon's,  JJ Abrams', James Cameron's, etc. movies have got to feel like they are hobbling around with a swollen, bruised nutsack and a mouthful of missing teeth).

Honestly, there so many themes to explore here, I wish I had more time. I'll pick the themes I've thought most about.

Well, first of all, I was asked to list the four Mad Max movies in descending order. I find that this activity really doesn't identify the quality or merit of the films, but rather provides insight into the psychological makeup of the list maker. But, here goes, and prepare to disagree.

1) The Road Warrior
2) Fury Road
3) Mad Max
4) Thunderdome

Now some people will say, what? Fury Road not at the top of the list? Thunderdome at the bottom? What's wrong with you?

True, Thunderdome has lots of charm, humor, good scenes and characters in it, but it's just too weighted down with its own mythology. Mad Max has a lot less action, but the action is far more raw, visceral, earnest, and sincere - something that comes from doing something for the very first time with no rules or restrictions - or rather with Road Runner and Coyote Rules the only inviolable restrictions.

And I put Fury Road behind The Road Warrior because in many ways RW was the template, the heart and soul, for the franchise. (Although pound for pound in intensity, FR is head and shoulders above the rest).

Miller is smart (I'm not the first to point this out) to make sure that all of these movies within the franchise are stand alone and not necessarily consistent with each other. Why get weighted down in chronology and canon when you can fun doing different stuff? Why worry about minor inconsistencies when you can play with a little reimagining each time? Does anyone complain about the Adventures of Sinbad? Or the fact that contradictions abound in the Norse Myths?

So, in Mad Max, civilization is just decaying, and resources are running out. Miller doubles down in Road Warrior with an explicit mention of war, but not nuclear war. It is only in Thunderdome that we are told there was a nuclear exchange (between whom we can guess, it was 1985, but the scenario is more likely a limited nuclear exchange, rather than full-on WWIII).

Miller continues with this premise in Fury Road, that some type of post-nuclear-holocaust scenario has occurred. But I believe he also asks the question, so, what if the barbarian biker gang managed to take over an oil distillery, but with a leader smarter and more far-sighted than the Humungus? Thus, the Citadel of Fury Road, and the leading trio of elderly ex-military types in the form of god-king Immortan Joe, and his warlord allies the Bullet Farmer* and the People Eater.

The problem with the future dystopia story is that it has already been told. It is a story about the past. The squalid, brutal, shit-covered past. What the future dystopia provides is anachronism, as in the long slide back down in historical chutes and ladders, an attempt is made to preserves some aspects.

There are warlords, and god-kings, and zealots and fanatics, and downtrodden peasants, and victims, but with cars, flame throwers, radiation and automatic weapons. Dieselpunk stuff. Dieselpunk elaboration and displays rivaling or surpassing anything found in nature. This is not simply ostentatious display and waste. If you can scare your foe with display, rather than the next step up of actual combat, so much the better. So you want to have amplified music and drums. Flamer-throwers and rockets.

Or steam boilers, wires and gears, and telegraphs if you fall back too far. Steampunk stuff.

The anachronistic technology preserved is a matter of carrying capacity. How many hands and brains can support the technology you want? Mathematically, the post-apocalyptic society problem is exactly the same as the space colony problem, or the robot farm problem. If you don't have universally programmable robots to hand, then your limiting factor is the number people that can possess and perform the skills and tasks required for the level of technology you wish to persist. Or if your bot network is not sufficiently broad and deep, your robot farm can produce only the most basic commodities from the ground.

But there better be pageant, and there better be transformation, or at least the promise of progress - even if it is at the misdirection of rancid assholes, which, of course, is what Immortan Joe and his crew are.

But you'll notice things are improving. He has a sufficiently advanced society that they can identify blood type. Joe realizes that the real cash crop is people. Not oil, but people. So he needs food and water.  That was always kind of a puzzle for me. Excluding cannibalism, where do they get their food? Have scavenged enough canned goods to get by with the limited population?

Which leads us to the Wasteland. The principle actor, the ground of the painting for which all else depends. Things are getting worse. The fertile soils are disappearing. The gardens of the Vulvalini have been rendered infertile. One can assume that some spots are still good. (We are told by the Feral Kid in RW that the Great Northern Tribes of the Mad Max future are thriving, so not everything is laid waste, or at least some areas have made a comeback. But without the hard times, there is no struggle, and without struggle, there is no drama and entertaining action.

I would note, in a rather haunting and lyrical nighttime scene, that one of the elder Vulvalini notices a satellite passing overhead. I never seen a satellite blink the way that one did, which suggests it is Chekhov's gun. Either some remnant of advanced civilization survives (New Zealand maybe?), or Miller foreshadows a future return to advanced civilization. If so, it may the final of the trilogy. But I can't see him ending the series like this.

Air power. That you will see in future movies. There's just much action-packed goodness with strafing and bombing, dogfights and aerial attacks on baddies not to bring that back.

Matriarchy. Much has been made about the feminism of this movie. I rather think too much. For one, the historical records provide numerous examples of matriarchies that are just as crude, brutal, stupid and vicious as any patriarchy. Although... I think a movie should be made about Furiosa. Perhaps there will. Warboys do need a mom.

The character of Nux has been called the most compelling one. He provides the redemptive trope we ask for. One character that changes, rather than an archetype. But Nux is just a rehash of Pigkiller from Thunderdome, and The Gyro Captain from Road Warrior: a soft-hearted human character that allows us to empathize with. Not that he isn't compelling, but he is not a new character, rather a fleshed-out archetype of the redeemed.

And Max? Many have called his character the archetype of the Man With No Name. Wrong. Max is the Warrior Monk. He's Kwai Chang Cane from Kung Fu, but ten times the badass. He's the joker that changes the whole game. And I look forward to more folktales about him from Mr. Miller.