Saturday, July 31, 2010

Senator Al Franken Speaks to Bauer Family and Friends

The forecast this morning was for rain. The newspaper said, "Bring an umbrella when you go sea the Tall Ships." The Tall Ships have been a huge revenue generator for Duluth this week, filling hotels and restaurants and bringing crowds from all over the upper Midwest to the Canal Park/Bayfront area.

But at another spot along the waterfront another small crowd had also gathered today with a more important task, to bring awareness to the anniversary of the unjust detention of three American hikers who were taken on July 31 a year ago. And the weather could not have been more perfect.

Mayor Don Ness was on hand to introduce Senator Al Franken who arrived just in time to lead the march from the War Memorial near Fitgers up to The Play Ground inside the Technology Village where a silent auction was held to benefit the families of the imprisoned young people.

Senator Franken's heartfelt remarks resonated with all us who have older children.

This is a sad anniversary. I gotta tell you, I can’t wait to meet Shane, Sarah and Josh… The families have been so dedicated, courageous, determined and smart. Nobody trains you, there is no manual on how to be a parent of a child that has been taken by a foreign government. There is not roadmap. I have worked closely with Cindy Hickey and all the parents… This has been torture for them because you have to be careful when dealing with a government like Iran. I am sure there are things she would like to say but cannot ….

Shane and Sarah are now engaged, it’s a beautiful story.

They were hiking in a beautiful place in Kirghistan, which is part of Iraq… and either they went over the border into Iran or they didn’t, we don’t know. They have been held over a year, in a very intense situation… We call on the Iranian government to do the right thing.

Cindy, I just can’t tell you how much I admire your courage. I have a 25 year old and 29 year old and I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Your courage is inspiring. I’m glad you’re my friend.

The "beautiful story" which he referenced is how Shane and Sarah became engaged. The situation in the prison is such that Sarah has her own cell and the young men share another cell. The three have been permitted to meet twice a day for a half an hour, but on one occasion in January Josh stayed in their cell and Shane went alone out to be with Sarah whereupon he proposed, and she consented.

Also present today along with many friends, supporters and well-wishers was Shane's sister Nicole Lindstrom (she is now married, living in Duluth), and his father Al Bauer of Shakopee.

A Moment Silence for Sarah, Shane and Josh

Today is the one year anniversary of their capture and imprisonment. Desmond Tutu a second time called for their release. And yesterday President Obama spoke spoke out for their release. It would seem at this point there must be consideration being given to the situation.

In another positive note, the hikers have been charged only with "improperly crossing the border" and not with espionage.

Yesterday's protest in New York City accomplished at least one of its purposes. It let the world know that the families and friends of these children will not forget them and will do all they can to remind us that all is not well until they return safely home.

Let's remember them today.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Den of Lions

Terry Anderson was a journalist taken hostage in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war in the 1980's. After his release he wrote an insightful and powerful book called Den of Lions: A Startling Memoir of Survival and Triumph. It is an engrossing account of one's man's personal first hand experience in hell, with incredible self-disclosure.

Earlier this week, as the anniversary of the three American hikers imprisoned in Iran approached, my mind went to Terry Anderson. I reflected on the parallels and differences in the two experiences. The differences form a basis for hope regarding our desired outcomes for these young people and their families.

Anderson was kidnapped, the purpose unclear. The hikers, too, have been in a sense kidnapped. And likewise, the purpose is not clear, other than they are Americans. Anderson, and the others who held hostage with him, were maintained in undisclosed locations. In the case of the hikers, we know where they are and who is holding them. Their mothers were even able to visit them briefly in May.

Like Shane Bauer, Anderson was journalist. Anderson was covering the Beirut beat for the Associated Press when taken. Bauer has been working in various locations in the Middle East this past several years.

After his release, Anderson eventually found a position at the Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University (my Alma Mater.) The experiences he went through did not destroy the man inside. He continue to be an influential voice in the world of journalism. I believe these three young people will likewise return to us, and these unjust experiences will result in making them stronger.

At various places in Den of Lions, Anderson's poems have been interspersed. This one made an especially meaningful connection with me when I read it a few years back.


Stigmata X
by Terry Anderson

No man can ever start anew completely;
he's everything he's done
or said or failed to do.
Each bit is added on,
Altering the whole,
But covering, not replacing
what has gone before.
A piece of unfired clay,
he bears the marks
and scars of all his years.
Not just clay, though
sculptor, too;
he helps to mold himself:
Object, artist, audience.
Sometimes, though, larger hands --
destiny, fate, karma, God --
take firmly hold and,
wielding fierce events,
risk fracture to hack
and carve away some
awkward, ugly bits.
The final work cannot be seen
until it's fired, and all fires cold.

Paul knew: suffering and pain
are the truest ways,
the only ways for some of us,
to draw out that within
which answers to
the purpose of it all.


Let's not forget the hikers, or their families and friends.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Free The Hikers: Five Minutes with Shane’s Mom

“When your child is in prison you do what has to be done.” ~ Cindy Hickey

Yesterday I wrote briefly about this week’s scheduled events to Free The Hikers. I felt it was an important way to paint the background for my interview Tuesday with Cindy Hickey, whose son Shane Bauer is still imprisoned in Tehran without due process. Of the three, who became friends while at Berkeley, Shane is a photojournalist who specializes in the Middle East. His work brings him to many places off the beaten path including Yemen, Darfur and Damascus as you can see at Shanebauer.net.

Their outing to the Iraqi outback a year ago was not, however, a work related excursion. They were young people getting away from work, vacationing and hiking like many outdoorsy types do.

As the anniversary of their arrest approaches, numerous protest rallies have been scheduled in various communities in an effort to bring awareness to the situation. Wednesday the mothers were all flying to New York to protest in front of the Iranian Embassy. For Cindy Hickey, Shane’s mom, it will be a whirlwind trip as she flies back to Minnesota in order to attend a rally here in Duluth.

Cindy Hickey agreed to speak with me Tuesday as she prepared for this busy, important week.

E: What kind of work do you do?
CH: I've been a retired nurse who works with canine and equine athletes. I have a school where I train others to do what I do... primarily body work on animals, especially athletes or dogs with jobs. But since three months ago, this [working to free Shane and his friends] has become my full time job.

E: When your son was taken, how did you first hear of it?
CH: I was seeing a client when I got the call. My office is attached to my home. I almost hung up because I thought it was a sales call. Then I heard the word Baghdad. “We believe your son is being detained by Iranian officials.” It was indeed a call from Baghdad. I got a call from Washington 20 minutes later.

Adrenaline peaks, heart rate drops, and you do whatever you can.

E: Tell us about the trip to New York.
CH: I’m leaving tomorrow morning... Mothers are leading a protest in front of the Iranian embassy. We have not heard anything since May 21 when we were in Tehran to see our children. Iran has been asked daily. We have no access

E: When you saw them, how did they look?
CH: The doors opened. They didn’t know they were seeing us. He (Shane) was stunned....
As soon as he started talking I knew my son was still there.

He was pale, rings under his eyes, teeth discolored. They were nervous.

His biggest concern is his family and fiance and what everyone is going through back home.
A seasoned traveller, he’s not a careless person. He’s very worried about his younger sisters.... Nicole is living in Duluth.

They seemed more hopeful when they heard how people were back home thinking of them. I can’t imagine what they’ve been going through.

We requested meetings with Iranian officials but haven’t gotten them.

As the mothers boarded to go to Iran, we were told we had a week, but then it changed to 2 days with no explanation. Today I know no more than we did a year ago. I know what you know... an illegal crossing of the border. Two eyewitnesses, according to an article in The Nation, say they did not cross the border.

They seem to be pawns in the bigger game.

NOTE: Saturday's Duluth rally has been moved up from 2:30 to 1:00 p.m. I was notified that they will be gathering at the Veteran's Memorial on the Lakewalk near Fitgers instead of the Canal Park location originally announced. This is an unconfirmed notification.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Free The Hikers

"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you... in prison and visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" ~Matthew 25:37-40

A year ago it was in the news. And from time to time in the course of this past year there were reminders that the situation was unresolved, but for the most part, there is so much going on in the world that it is easy to forget. I am referring to the three hikers who accidentally wandered across the Iranian border, and were shuttled off to prison.

"What were they doing there?" many Americans probably asked themselves, and then went on with their lives. The families of these three young people, however, have been permanently altered.

Aside: My own daughter, though only 21, has been to Europe three times. We live in an era where travel to exotic places is easy and affordable. But as parents, even when things seem safe we still have a measure of anxiety. I tend to be that way anyways and do not think myself totally alone in that. When my daughter went to Scotland and Italy a few years back I got myself a passport as well, "just in case." In short, I understand in a small measure the helplessness a parent must feel in this kind of situation, which is why I am writing about this story today and tomorrow.

As regards real events, the information was sketchy at that time. According to the State Department and the families of the hikers, the three young people -- Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal and Sarah Shourd -- were vacationing in a mountainous resort area in Northern Iraq, accidentally straying across some unmarked frontier only to be snatched in the disputed territory on July 31.

But according to an article in The Nation, the Iranians came across the border, nabbed them and trundled them away to prison. The silence of Iranian officials has led many to believe they are simply pawns in a much larger political stand-off.

In a Philadelphia Inquirer story this week Michael Matza reminds us that it has now been a year since the hikers were whisked away, and a harrowing year it has been for the parents who have had limited to no information about what will happen next or when. Two months ago the mothers were able to visit their children in Evin Prison in Tehran, but attempts to move the Iranian into negotiations for their release came up empty.

This weekend there will be organized protests in a number of locations around the country to mark the one year anniversary of their seizure. The mothers will fly to New York for a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy. Here in Duluth, where Shane Bauer's younger sister is in school, there will be the two events outlined below.

DULUTH 'WAITS' FOR SHANE, SARAH AND JOSH: BENEFIT CONCERT
WEEKEND OF ACTION PART 1
Thursday at Pizza Luce

Featuring:

Bill and Kate Isles
Tony Bennett
Dave Mehling
Coyote
James Moors
Charity Huot
The Tico Three
Rachael Kilgour
Tha Marc Anderson Trio
Jim Hall

performing their favorite songs by Tom Waits and other musicians, a raffle with items donated by local artists, musicians, writers.

Ticket Price: $10

*Please RSVP & invite friends to DULUTH WEEKEND OF ACTION PART 2
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=109030052482542
....
THEN ON SATURDAY...
-------------------------------------------------
Location Lakewalk, Lake Superior
-------------------------------------------------

DULUTH, MN: ONE YEAR UNJUSTLY DETAINED WEEKEND OF ACTION PART 2

*This event will begin with a walk on the Lakewalk along Lake Superior. The crowd will be joined by Duluth mayor, Don Ness, and MN Senator, Al Franken.

*Benefit will officially start at 2:30 at The Duluth Playground.

*We will be showing Shane's documentary on Darfur.

*We will have TONS of sweet gear for auction/raffle items: Granite Gear, Big Agnes, Osprey Packs, Cascade Designs, among others are donating silent auction items.


Here is some additional information from Freethehikers.org:

Iranian forces detained Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal on July 31, 2009 while they were enjoying a recreational hike in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. There are conflicting news reports about whether they strayed across the poorly marked border by mistake or Iranian forces entered Iraq to arrest them.

The three young Americans, all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley, are being held in Evin Prison in Tehran. Sarah is in solitary confinement and is able to meet for only two 30-minute periods each day with Shane (her fiancé) and Josh, who share a cell. On May 20, their mothers traveled to Iran to visit them but were allowed to stay for only two days. They have been able to telephone their families only once, on March 9, and have been denied access to their lawyer. No charge against them has been presented in a court of law.

Shane, Sarah and Josh care greatly about our world and have a documented record as advocates for social and environmental justice. They admire and respect different cultures and religions and share a love of travel that has taken them to many countries. That is why they went to Kurdistan, not because they wanted to enter Iran.

Their protracted detention without due process is illegal according to international and Iranian law and must end immediately. It is widely acknowledged that they are being held for political purposes that have nothing to do with the facts of their case. Their detention is arbitrary and inhumane and we call on the Iranian authorities to release them without further delay.

TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Markings

"We cannot afford to forget any experience, not even the most painful." ~ Dag Hammarskjold

Dag Hammarskjold was a Swedish diplomat who became the first Secretary-General of the United Nations. His book Markings is a collection of notes, poems, philosophical musings, insights on life and the challenges of being human in the modern world.

I discovered Hammarskjold's book in June 1993. Of his book I wrote in my own journal, "an honest, deep 'picking at the scabs' trying to understand the mysteries of injury and healing, pain and meaning. And good writing, too." And later I referred to it as a "treasure chest filled with gold pieces."

There are a number of themes he explores in the book, from his inner spiritual quest to the challenges of balancing public and private life. One would never know from reading the excerpts from his journals that he had been a man with such public influence and responsibility. The candor of his personal wrestlings is what gives the book its power.

Here are a few "gold pieces" for consideration from Hammarskjold.

1) I am reading about some persons, long dead. Surreptitiously, other names insert themselves into the text, and, presently, I am reading about us, as we shall be when we are the past. Most has utterly vanished. Problems which were once so vital spread themselves over the pages as cold abstractions--simple ones, but we failed to understand them. We appear as rather stupid, foolish, self-seeking puppets, moved by obvious strings which, now and then, get tangled up.

It is no caricature that I encounter in the distorting mirror of historial research. Simply the proof that it has all been vanity.

2) Is life so wretched? Isn't it rather your hands are too small, your vision which is muddled? You are the one who must grow up.

3) We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it--according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrified--according to the measure of the purity of his heart.

4) God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.

5) Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step: only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road.

6) Never measure the height of a mountain, until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.

7) The light died in the low clouds. Falling snow drank in the dusk. Shrouded in silence, the branches wrapped me in their peace. When the boundaries were erased, once again the wonder: that I exist.
The book, when released in 1964, quickly became a #1 New York Times Bestseller. It remained 31 weeks at the #1 position on the NYT Bestseller list, more than half a year... and worthy.

Thank you Mr. Hammarskjold for your service to humanity and for having shared this book of deeply personal and profound insights.

Monday, July 26, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird

"I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected." ~Harper Lee

This weekend I started reading To Kill A Mockingbird again, the Harper Lee classic which in 1991 was #4 on a list of Most Influential Books in a survey conducted by the Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club. 2010 is the fiftieth anniversary of Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

The audio version features Sissy Spacek as the narrator Scout from whose point of view the story is told. As I have often noted, the reader in an audio book production makes a huge difference in the reading experience, and Spacek is stellar. Spacek is Scout, through and through. She does not put herself forward, but rather allows the character to breathe through her.

On my desk here at home is the DVD for the film as well, starring Gregory Peck who embodied the character of Atticus Finch with such power and won an Oscar for the role. Sometime this week I will see how the film holds up after 48 years. The screenplay was adapted for the screen by Horton Foote, playwright/author of two other of my favorite films, Tender Mercies and Trip To Bountiful.

Interestingly enough, as a result of the film Harper Lee became friends with Gregory Peck and remained a friend of the family to this day.

To Kill A Mockingbird never reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, but has been a perpetual best seller for the five decades of its life. Curiously enough Harper Lee never produced a follow up work. Like J.D. Salinger she has chosen instead to be a recluse. Being in the spotlight has appeal for some, but not for all.

Supposedly much of the story is autobiographical, with the character Dill being her childhood friend Truman Capote. I would be curious what Ms. Lee thought about the portrayal of herself in the two Capote films that were produced a couple years ago. The real Truman is gone now, but Ms. Lee is still with us, somewhere...

Thank you, Harper Lee, for this remarkable book.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ribbon Cutting

Yesterday's ribbon cutting ceremony in Carlton went off without a hitch. For pictures, and excerpts from Congressman Oberstar's remarks about biking, visit the Carlton Bike Rental blog.


In the meantime... have a great day.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Scheduled Oberstar Visit Adds to Big Day in Carlton

One of my first peach freelance writing assignments was in 1988, two years after moving to Duluth here in the Northland. I received a call from the Twin Cities asking if I'd be interested in interviewing the two candidates vying for Congress from the 8th District. The 5,000 word piece would appear in a magazine called People & Politics that aimed at serving as a voter's guide.

That was my first meeting with Congressman Jim Oberstar, son of an iron ore miner raised in Chisholm, a few miles from the largest strip mine in the world. At the time, "Jim" had been representing the district for seven terms. I concluded my article by stating that he would remain in Congress for as long as he wanted to, and now that he is in his eighteenth term it would appear that my prescience was well founded.

This weekend is Carlton Daze and Congressman Oberstar has scheduled a visit to this year's festival. One stop this morning will be Carlton Bike Rental & Repair, a new business in town situated at the hub of three major biking trails. In addition to the bike rental business, founder Joelene Steffens has a bit of a passion for the arts, operating a framing business called Art Dimensions. Many of my own paintings have been framed by Joelene, with wonderful results. Some of them can be seen on the walls of Carlton Bike Rental, along with photography and works by other local artists.

Joelene is also a nostalgia buff, and seeing as Carlton is located along the railroad tracks and has a history for being home to hobo camps during the Great Depression, she has called her composite businesses Hobo Junction, now replete with gazebo and an invitation to the public to make themselves at home here.

In 1988 Congressman Oberstar said to me, "My father told me when I graduated from high school, 'You have two choices. You can work in the mines, or go to college to create for yourself a better life... And it better be one that helps other people.'" With this advice tucked away in his heart young Jim did indeed choose college, attending St. Thomas in the Twin Cities. But his life aim at the time was not a career in politics. He said he first wanted to be a missionary, and if remember correctly he went to Haiti for a short time after graduation. But his ultimate life direction was altered, he said, quoting Robert Louis Stevenson who said, "The greatest adventures in life are those we do not go forth to seek."

Being a pro-life Democrat has made him something of an anomaly within his political party, but as a child of the Iron Range his pro-labor values make him a candidate hard to unseat up here with its working class roots. His years of service in Congress have resulted in the quiet accumulation of influence, especially as chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, a role that enables him to keep a close watch on legislation that affects Great Lakes shipping and the steel industry.

But he also serves on a number of other committees, and one of them is the Bike Caucus, which is undoubtedly the reason he is joining us here today in Carlton. He personally likes biking, too.

He also likes reading and in 1988 when I asked who his favorite authors were, he said C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen. If I get a chance I'll try to ask him again today who his favorite authors are.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Ten Minutes with Artist Alison Jardine

When I interviewed Julia Forsyth and Alison Jardine this past week, I had no idea that both would be selected yesterday at StumbleUpon in Skinny Artist's list of 21 Twitter Artists to Watch in 2010. But once again, it demonstrates the point I was making yesterday that the new Social Media has created a tremendous new cross pollination of ideas and given opportunity to emerging artists to widen their audience/customer base.

I discovered Julia through Twitter and Alison via my interview with Julia when I asked about some of her influences. Jardine, a British-born Texan, consented to sharing a bit of herself with us here. At the end of this interview you will find links to more of her remarkable work. I strongly encourage you to visit, and bookmark her site for many happy returns.

Ennyman: According to Google you are a British artist in Texas. Where were you from originally in Britain and how did you end up in Texas?

Alison Jardine: I grew up in South Yorkshire, which is a north-eastern county in England. I left as a teenager and lived in Europe, then moved around various parts of London for several years. After I met my husband, we lived in the historic university town of Cambridge and the Roman town of Chichester, on the south coast of England. In 2003, my husband was offered a job in Texas, and we decided to leave everything we knew and emigrate, together with our twin girls.

I’ve moved a lot! In fact, these seven years in Texas are the longest I’ve lived on one place since I was 17.

E: When did you first sense that you wanted to make art for a living and what were the first steps you took in that direction?

AJ: In terms of art for a living as opposed to art in my life, it was the day I moved to Texas, back in 2003. As part of this move, I had to give up my previous career as a writer and editor, since visa restrictions meant I wasn’t allowed to work.

As I unpacked in Texas, I unpacked my father’s old brushes, which are pretty much all I have that belonged to him (he died in 1999). It felt so obvious to me, what I had to do. I still feel that I speak to him, when I am in that ‘creative place’.

E: You state that much of your work is inspired by the joy you experienced in nature as a child. Can you elaborate on that?

AJ: There’s a lot of beautiful countryside in and around Yorkshire, such as the moors, the Pennines and the Peak District. We (I have two older sisters, and an older brother) would spend a lot of time visiting these areas when I was young. I also spent a lot of time walking alone in the woods near my house. It was an ancient wood with a medieval cart track through the middle, and the bluebells in spring would carpet the ground. It was an embracing and inspiring refuge for me, and it counterbalanced the grieving, chaotic atmosphere I grew up in, after my mother died when I was two years old. Our world is so precious and miraculous and I want people to notice it, not overlook it or take it for granted. For me it is a living presence, and my response to nature is very emotional and passionate. I try to portray this in my paintings.

E: You have some wonderful work on display at Ugallery. Have you been successful selling your work online? How did you find this particular venue?

AJ: I saw their elegant, professional gallery while I was looking at art online. As a curated gallery on the web, they have an in-depth online application and they carefully select art and artists that they believe in, and who appeal to their style. I met Alex and Stephen (the founders) in May of this year when they featured my work at the Affordable Art Fair in New York. They are real art lovers, and I think this shows in the success their gallery has had. I personally have been very happy with the fact my works have sold from the east to west coast of the US, and also internationally. The great thing about a truly well-developed online presence for a gallery is that it can reach beyond just local collectors.

E: Do you have any favorite magazines or other sources for staying current with what is happening in the art scene?

AJ: I subscribe to the print versions of the Royal Academy magazine, Art Lies and Modern Painters and to be honest, after reading I cut out photos of works I like and stick them in my journal. Next to them, I write what struck me about them, or what I wanted to remind myself of, whether a technique, or a mood, or a color set and so forth. Sometimes, I am so transfixed by the artwork I just have to keep them, for no good reason other than sheer love!

I also read on the web a lot. There is so much that I read online it would take a book to name all the sites and blogs. Two that I do want to mention because I find them individually memorable are Escape Into Life (www.escapeintolife.com), which features intriguing and unusual – but always beautiful – works of art, and also some great poetry and essays. I really appreciate great writing, and I find it every day there.

The other is Artdaily.com, which has international coverage of the new and notable. But as I say, there are many comprehensive sites out there on the Web, and many artists with inspiring and interesting personal blogs. I talk regularly on Twitter to many of these (@alisonjardine).

E: I also subscribe to the ArtDaily and would recommend it to anyone serious about making a career in the fine arts. Any favorite artists who have inspired you?

AJ: Yes! Other artists inspire me each and every day! Sometimes I don’t remember names, just the works themselves. However, here’s just a few I’ve returned to over the years: Mondrian (this is a big one for me), Phillip Sutton, Mary Fedden, L.S. Lowry, Cornelia Parker, Olafur Eliasson, Anthony Gormley, Dan Flavin, Matisse, Gwen Johns, Takeshi Murakami, Seurat, Rachel Whiteread. Where to stop?

E: Finally, a question I ask a lot... any advice for younger artists or emerging artists as they begin to spread their wings?

AJ: Yes! Work hard, and know that the work itself is the reason for doing this, not for praise or fame, even though our media seems to be full of such stories. To make a living doing anything at all takes hard work, and art is no exception. The overlooked fact today is that hard, committed work is deeply satisfying and worthwhile, and knowing this will keep you going through tough times.

FOR MORE
Allison Jardine's currently available works can be purchased at Ugallery, a curated art gallery on the Web that offers a seven-day "no questions" returns policy, so you can try the art in your own home. She also accepts some commission work. And there's plenty to appreciate at her website as well, http://alisonjardine.com/

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Colorful World of Artist Julia Forsyth

It used to be that there were two ways to discover contemporary artists. Either you read about them in one of the contemporary art magazines, or you travelled enough to see a range of galleries and museums beyond your own locale. With the advent of the Internet this has definitely all changed, especially with the development of the new social media. Artists not only have websites, they have work in online galleries, and on their blogs. They form communities on Facebook and Ning that inspire and encourage others, and share their work on Flickr and Twitter, which is how I came across Julia Forysth. Her bright spirit shown through her colorful pieces and I asked if she would share some of herself here.

Ennyman: When did you first realize you were more creative than some people and decide to pursue art?

Julia Forsyth: It was bluntly pointed out to me!

I was taking my first drafting class for interior design freshman year at Baylor University. I was also taking my first drawing class at the same time. I enjoyed both classes but liked my drawing class even more. My drafting instructor wrote what I thought was a very strange yet telling comment on one of my completed drafting assignments. I vividly depicted a wood pattern on some furniture I chose for this particular assignment. My teacher wrote, 'Too creative!!' as that assignment's only critique, and she circled the wood grain I drew. That seemed funny to me that being too creative in a class where you draw and use imagination could ever seem like a problem. At that moment I realized that my apparently overabundant creativity would be valued the most studying painting, so that's what I did. I graduated with a BFA in painting from Baylor four years later.

Even deciding to study painting was a leap of faith since my only painting experience before my first college class consisted of one painting in oils and working in gouache and watercolors on various projects in high school. I liked drawing but was head over heels in love with all of the paintings we were studying in art history. I knew there was a good chance I would really like learning to paint since I loved learning about and looking at other artists' paintings so much. After taking my first acrylic class, I knew it was something I would want to do for a long time.

E: It's obvious you love color. Have you always worked this way, creating large colorful surfaces?

JF: One of my earliest color memories was from when I was 5 years old. I recall remembering how compatible I thought red and pink were. Color excites and fascinates me. It's amazing how each color can be seen one way individually, another way when it's next to a contrasting color, still another way when outlined in black, and yet another way when multiple colors are viewed together in a pattern. Several paints I use from the tube (my core color palette that recurs in each painting), and other lighter colors I mix fresh for each painting.

I enjoy exploring different colors, patterns, and experimenting with how different color and pattern combos work when they're next to each other in every painting. When I was learning how to work with oil paints as a medium in my painting classes, I worked in very muted colors (mainly whites and navies) and blended them into each other throughout the paintings. (BTW, these early muted oil paintings were all abstract, as well.) Then I painted some transitional abstract oil paintings in the blended method but I amped up my colors to full saturation. From that point on, I transitioned further by dropping the blended element of my earlier works but maintaining the fully saturated colors within semi-abstract figure-based paintings. The black outline further emphasized both the shapes painted and the colors within the shapes.

While on vacation in Santa Fe, NM, earlier this year, I made two changes in one experimental work. The size was smaller than usual, measuring 5" x 7", and the subject was a desert landscape instead of having one or more people as the subject. So far this one painting is my only small painting. My largest painting measures 36" x 72", and my two favorite-sized canvases to paint are 24" x 36" and 36" x 48".

E: Who were your early inspirations?

JF: By far, the amazing paintings and drawings of Georgia O'Keefe still inspire me as much today as they did when she was the first artist I studied in depth. Other influences include (deep breath) Ancient Egyptian art, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo, my 2nd favorite Fauvist Maurice de Vlaminck, Paolo Uccello, El Greco, Edvard Munch, Marc Chagall, Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece, Antoni Gaudi, William H. Johnston's paintings from 1940-1944, bold Islamic geometric patterns, detailed classic Hawaiian quilt designs, Joseph Cornell's boxes, and Howard Finster's crazy paintings.

E: Who are your favorite artists today and why?

JF: David Bates has been one of my favorite artists for a while - and my very favorite living artist. Something about David's prominent use of the color black and exaggerated forms in his paintings captivates me. He's just as talented in sculpture as he is in painting, and his Seated Man sculpture series is incredible. Joan Mitchell, 1926-1992, painted colorful abstract paintings that catch my attention and make me look for a long time.

I've become active on Twitter for less than a year, but Twitter really surprised me with such an active visual arts community full of talented artists. It's so encouraging and energizing to know that prolific, talented artists like Alison Jardine (@alisonjardine), Laura Guese (@lauraguese), Annick McKenzie (@annickmckenzie) and so many others are there sharing their work and day to day happenings as artists. David Pringle, a photographer on Twitter, organized an Art Swap (#artswap2010) for visual artists on Twitter to physically send artwork and receive artwork internationally from 62 different countries. I participated in that and loved seeing the other artists' artwork.

E: I see you've been in some juried shows. Where else can people see your work?

JF: Well, if you had a time machine, you could set it for 1998-2002 and hop in for my first chapter of creative output. 1998 was the year that my work made the jump from local membership shows to several juried shows. Three of my paintings were selected by the Kimbell Art Museum Director Ted Pillsbury at 500X Gallery in Dallas, TX, for the Expo 98 Juried Exhibit. I was included in several juried shows from 1998 onward and won multiple awards and cash prizes during that time.

Two solo painting exhibits culminated this beginning chapter of creativity. My first solo painting exhibition was shown in 2002 at the Union Gallery at The University of North Texas. My second solo painting exhibition, also in 2002, was at The Studio Gallery in Dallas, Texas.

I went back to school for two years, then my husband and I started our family in 2004. Since then, I've painted a commission painting and continued finding the balance between raising a family and painting. Now that our children are 6 years old and 4 years old, it's much easier than it was when they were infants. This year alone I've completed four new paintings.

So I'm continuing to paint and prepare for my next painting exhibit, but at the moment, my paintings are seen by appointment in my home studio.

E: What are you currently working on that excites you and why?

JF: I grew very attached to my latest commission painting, so I decided to paint a somewhat similar painting for myself when I completed my client’s commission. Now I'm working on my own mixed media piece with cut aluminum foil attached to sections of the painting. It's fun to see where this is leading me.

E: Any advice for young people interested in pursuing an art career?

JF: I've learned how important it is to stay active in sketching things that interest you daily if possible, attending as many museum and gallery exhibits as you can manage, researching artists who interest you, and surrounding yourself with other artists will nourish you creatively.

Even from the mid-90's to now, changes benefiting the artist have taken place. Previously, the main path to exhibiting your artwork was based on getting representation and resulting shows from an art gallery. Now artists can sell their own work through their artist website or online through Ebay, Etsy, Red Bubble, etc. There are still lots of benefits with being represented in a gallery, but now there are other options too. Also, the Internet has leveled the playing field and a prolific, talented, even self-taught artist can do very well.

To get experience exhibiting your art, look into the local art museum members' shows and alternative galleries like a show at a restaurant. I showed at three restaurants locally right after I graduated from Baylor. My most successful restaurant art show sold seven paintings and lead to two commission paintings and a write up in the Dallas Observer newspaper. Beware, however, that a restaurant's main concern isn't your artwork. One of my paintings was stolen right off the wall at a restaurant show, and another was damaged.

E: A lot of us have shown our work in public spaces, so thanks for the warning! And thanks for your time...

To see more of Julia's original work, visit http://www.juliaforsyth.com/

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another Side of Abe Lincoln

I am currently on disc 32 of 36 discs of the audio version of Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, the unique biography of our 16th president that also enlightens us with biographical detail on the lives of the men who surrounded Lincoln on his cabinet. Kearns spent ten years researching and writing this massive book, and it has only taken me two months to digest the audio rendition, a task usually engaging but occasionally droll, not because of the writing but because the lifelessness of the reader. I have no regrets in having plowed through. The book is rich with details you may not have been familiar with, even if an avid Lincoln buff.

One detail that really stuck out for me is the realization that Lincoln was not the somber guy we see staring off into the distance on five dollar bills or the grim fellow we see in all those old photographs. Rather, he was an affable chap with a great sense of humor. In short, he was liked everywhere he went because he was the life of the party and, ultimately, the Republican party.

It makes sense, too, this comic Lincoln with the funny bone antics. I saw it clearly when I listened last year to the Lincoln-Douglas debates audio CD. He knew how to play the crowd. He must have been a handful in school. I remember being a little jealous of kids like that who were so quick witted and popular and always at the center of attention. My melancholy streak always got in the way of being that guy.

So I decided to do something different. I thought I'd put a smile on Abe's face so we all remember that there was more to this great man than has often met our eye. Back then, photography required absolute stillness because the exposure times were longer. This explains why all our family portraits of kin from the olden days have such serious expressions. It was a technology issue. Today, faster film and rapidfire shutter speeds have produced more photos of smiling faces than we know what to do with.

What follows here is a review from Amazon.com on Kearns' Team of Rivals. It's more than just a Lincoln bio. If you're a reader, and you enjoy history, check it out.

The life and times of Abraham Lincoln have been analyzed and dissected in countless books. Do we need another Lincoln biography? In Team of Rivals, esteemed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin proves that we do. Though she can't help but cover some familiar territory, her perspective is focused enough to offer fresh insights into Lincoln's leadership style and his deep understanding of human behavior and motivation. Goodwin makes the case for Lincoln's political genius by examining his relationships with three men he selected for his cabinet, all of whom were opponents for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. These men, all accomplished, nationally known, and presidential, originally disdained Lincoln for his backwoods upbringing and lack of experience, and were shocked and humiliated at losing to this relatively obscure Illinois lawyer. Yet Lincoln not only convinced them to join his administration--Seward as secretary of state, Chase as secretary of the treasury, and Bates as attorney general--he ultimately gained their admiration and respect as well. How he soothed egos, turned rivals into allies, and dealt with many challenges to his leadership, all for the sake of the greater good, is largely what Goodwin's fine book is about. Had he not possessed the wisdom and confidence to select and work with the best people, she argues, he could not have led the nation through one of its darkest periods.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Top Ten Environmental Disasters

My son, with aspirations in the restaurant industry, has talked for more than a year about leaving California to be a chef in New Orleans. He's a fabulous cook and loves things spicy and rich. New Orleans seemed like a dream destination for someone to add to one's experience.

Then, the oil spill came.

As you can imagine, as the days became weeks with no end in sight, concerns were raised about the viability of this new direction. One Saturday morning I was talking with my mom and she brought up an even greater disaster, the island of debris in the middle of the ocean. She said that there was a circle of plastic and garbage and waste the size of New Jersey out there. I had never heard of this so I did some checking. Turns out she was wrong. The island of debris is the size of Texas.

This week they succeeded in stemming the flow coming out of the gulf leak, to some extent, but how the mess ultimately gets addressed is another story, and something of a commentary on man's achievements on planet earth. Technologically we have accomplished so much, but we've also been leaving our mark in other ways.

Yesterday, CNBC published an editorial by Terry Tamminen titled "10 Environmental Disasters Worse Than BP Oil Spill." The title alone draws you in. We love lists, as I have noted recently, especially Top Ten lists. Tamminen is former secretary of the California EPA. The giant offshore garbage patch that my mother mentioned is number eight on his list.

Tamminen's article is more than a bland serving of food for thought. But be sure to read the comments at the end as well, a little seasoning that makes the dish even more zesty.

Here's a snapshot of what he calls the 10 worst (man-generated) environmental disasters.

10. Chevron oil refinery, El Segundo California

9. Our impact on Pacific Salmon

8. The Texas-sized garbage patch in the Pacific

7. The oil pipes of Esmeraldas, Ecuador

6. Destruction of the Mississippi and Colorado Rivers

5. Decimation of the American Bison

4. The Great Dust Bowl

3. Ocean acidification

2. Emptying of the groundwater in California

1. Air pollution

The BP spill has created a terrible mess, but it's not the only mess humans have created in history. Tamminen blames greed for a lot of it, but some of it is ignorance and probably a measure of it is overconfidence and pride. Mix in a little stupidity and the kind of attitude that assumes no responsibility, and you get into some dicey consequences. I think here of Michael Crichton's cautionary tale Jurassic Park. Everything seemed so safe, until factors out of their control came into the picture... Just like real life.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Overkill

I'm not really sure how many Leatherman knives our family has had over the years, but I do know my son lost one on the rides at Universal Studios when we were in Florida, January 2002.

A Leatherman, if you don't know, is a practical variation on the Swiss Army Knife, with lots of little gadgets and utilities to help you open a pop bottle, cut twine, tighten a screw or whatever little thing needs to be done. It's compact and it's practical and you can buy it online at The Leatherman Store.

That trip to Orlando was the first winter after 9/11 and there were almost no lines in the parks. It was a tough season for the tourist trade everywhere, but especially in Orlando. The whole country had stepped up its security measures a notch. Which is why I don't understand how my son got into the park carrying that Leatherman in his pocket. The sign out front said "No Knives" but we got in, no harm intended, just an accidental oversight because we rural folk are often guilty of being "armed" with tools. As it turns out, the Leatherman fell out of his pocket somewhere during the day, maybe in the theater where we watched T-3 in 3-D or back in the boat where Jaws sinks his teeth into a small wooden craft of unsuspecting tourists. Fortunately they didn't lockdown the park in order to find the culprits who snuck it in.

Growing up I don't think I ever owned anything more than a basic pocket knife. I had a one speed bike and a basic pocket knife. I liked simplicity.

Evidently there are people who enjoy complexity, the more extreme the better. Example of the day: The Wenger Giant Knife 16999. The Wenger Giant has 87 tools, including a cigar cutter and laser pointer. It's got a nail cleaner, corkscrew and compass. It probably packs a wallop as a weapon, too, if you strike someone across the side of the head with it. The Wenger Giant's screwdrivers with various kinds of heads, needle nose pliers, woodsaw with ruler, chain rivet set, adjustable wrench, scissors with serrated self-sharpening edges will keep you in the game if you need to be a handyman. For golfers this baby has a club face cleaner, shoe spike wrench and a divot fixer so you can impress your friends on the back nine. Fishermen doing a weekend in the woods will enjoy the fish scaler, hook disgorger and other features designed to make roughing it a little easier. Files, saws, flashlight... the only thing missing is a kitchen sink, though you can probably fix one, or even build one, using this implement. For only $1400 you can replace three-fourths of the tools in your garage.

Anyways, this was just one of the many items listed in a Wired article themed Overkill. To find out the rest of the features on this Guinness Book champion, visit Wenger.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Future Is Not Yet

This month's cover story in Wired magazine is about inventions that many people expected but that never came to pass. In other words, what happens when technology flops? The article is titled The Future That Never Happened, and it has a lot of fun facts, including some keen insights about the limits of technology.

I've mentioned it before and will likely mention it again, but I still remember looking at the back of my Cheerios box which had an illustration of a car that travelled on a cushion of air. This wonderful technology would be here in twenty years, it promised. To think you could go on both land and lakes... and never get a flat tire! Well, I believed it. But as far as I can tell, Michelin and Goodyear are still in the game big time when it comes to tires.

The Wired piece begins with a futuristic chart grouping the various "marvels of tomorrow" into causal categories for their failures. Some concepts were simply impractical (Jetpacks) and some have safety concerns (Laser guns). Food in a pill defies the laws of nature and some (Invisibility and Vat-grown meat) haven't happened because the technology doesn't exist yet, though I suspect the ability to make people invisible would give new meaning to the phrase, "Big Brother is Watching You." For this reason alone I personally am not in favor of this technology ever becoming existent, thank you.

Funny man Will Farrell is featured throughout with snippets of his own wish list for the coming century, including an Automatic Dog Translator so we can communicate with man's best friend, Edible Beards, a Ray Gun that can bring mannequins to life... and a Birthday Cake with a burrito inside. (I think we can do that last one, Will.)

Jetpacks get a little ink here. Besides costing a small fortune, they have too many limitations... like the small amount of fuel you can carry, and the problem of potentially setting the back of your legs on fire. (I bet you never thought of that one, did you?) In order to steer the thing you need both hands on the controls, which makes carrying a briefcase impractical. In short, we won't see a lot of commuting via jetpack any time soon.

The self-driving car also gets a little ink. Seems like we have heard about this one for a long time, too. People could set their GPS and say go, then mind their own business, doing paperwork, text messaging or reading a little Tolstoy on the way to the office. I guess the challenges aren't worth the hassle. It is a lot easier and cheaper to listen to audio books and make text messaging illegal than it is to design a car that runs on auto-pilot.

What inventions have you been expecting that haven't happened yet?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

To Ramona

Another Side of Bob Dylan was Dylan's fourth studio album, released in August 1964 by Columbia Records. His previous album, The Times They Are A-Changin', has always been one of my favorites with its point social commentary evident in songs like Only A Pawn In Their Game, but there's not a one of these early productions that isn't a treasure. This album, while still acoustic, was criticized by many for the very reason that he did not produce more "finger pointing" songs. There is a lot of great material here, though.

I find it quite astonishing that Dylan could walk into a recording studio with nothing more than a guitar and a harmonica and produce a whole album like this with one take on each cut. That's right. Each song was recorded once. And he even had three leftovers that didn't make the LP including Mr. Tambourine Man.

These songs were months in the making though, with many gems. A number of pieces in this collection were covered by groups like The Byrds and The Turtles, a tradition that has continued now for five decades. (That is, the tradition of other artists performing Bob's songs.) The lines from one song here were written in response to JFK's assassination the previous November. Others show a deeper introspective stance than previous.
The Beatles made their first trans-Atlantic voyage in the beginning of that year, and though they never did a Dylan cover, his influence on their music is clear.

Recorded that evening on June 9th at Columbia's Studio A in New York, To Ramona is both lyrical and poignant.

To Ramona

Ramona
Come closer
Shut softly your watery eyes
The pangs of your sadness
Shall pass as your senses will rise
The flowers of the city
Though breathlike
Get deathlike at times
And there’s no use in tryin’
T’ deal with the dyin’
Though I cannot explain that in lines

Your cracked country lips
I still wish to kiss
As to be under the strength of your skin
Your magnetic movements
Still capture the minutes I’m in
But it grieves my heart, love
To see you tryin’ to be a part of
A world that just don’t exist
It’s all just a dream, babe
A vacuum, a scheme, babe
That sucks you into feelin’ like this

I can see that your head
Has been twisted and fed
By worthless foam from the mouth
I can tell you are torn
Between stayin’ and returnin’
On back to the South
You’ve been fooled into thinking
That the finishin’ end is at hand
Yet there’s no one to beat you
No one t’ defeat you
’Cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad

I’ve heard you say many times
That you’re better ’n no one
And no one is better ’n you
If you really believe that
You know you got
Nothing to win and nothing to lose
From fixtures and forces and friends
Your sorrow does stem
That hype you and type you
Making you feel
That you must be exactly like them

I’d forever talk to you
But soon my words
They would turn into a meaningless ring
For deep in my heart
I know there is no help I can bring
Everything passes
Everything changes
Just do what you think you should do
And someday maybe
Who knows, baby
I’ll come and be cryin’ to you

Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music

Friday, July 16, 2010

Five Minutes with Roy Gyongy Fox

Last week a friend gave me a little surprise gift, a splendid treasure of a book called Dylan: The 5 Minute Visual Bob-ography. It was cool. It was fun. It was delightful aesthetically, and a pleasure to read. Here's how a reviewer at Amazon.com described it:

Great little introduction and artistic interpretation of Bob's life and times. For a Bob newbie or a veteran. Clearly written by a fan, but who isn't? My favorite part: when he talks about the release of "Like a Rolling Stone," the author implores the reader, "STOP EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW AND LISTEN TO IT. This book can wait. Play it a couple times. How does it feel?"

The author's name was distinctive, Roy Gyongy Fox. It had two echoes with me. First, I had just finished watching Robert Redford in The Natural, the fairy tale story about a baseball player named Roy Something Hobbs. (I can't quite recall the name, but it has a similar rhythm. Second, when we learned the colors of the rainbow as kids, the easy way to get them all was by recalling the name ROY G BIV.

Anyways, Roy Gyongy Fox was easy enough to find on Facebook, and kind enough to let a Dylan fan interview him about his Dylan booklet for fans.

Ennyman: First about your name… Where does Gyongy come from?

RGF: It's Hungarian. My parents immigrated in 1948. Today they would have been referred to as illegal aliens. Back then the term was displaced persons.

E: You obviously enjoy both art and music. When did you first become aware of these interests and where did you get your early encouragement from?

RGF: From day one it seemed like the only place to be. In kindergarten I knew. My parents seemed to think the arts were tops; no doctor lawyer stuff here.

E: About the book… Are you a writer who likes to design or an artist who writes? How did the book come about?

RGF: I've done a lot of work for blueq.com ... they were publishing small books, Mitch the creative head is a big Bob fan so it was a natural thing. I've done more visuals than words but don't really have a preference . .

E: There is a nice acknowledgement in the back thanking Bob Dylan. In what way did Bob help with this project besides being an inspiration for you?

RGF: That was it. Seemed like I needed to say thanks one more time.

E: A lot of us feel that way. How did The Bob Band come about? How did you meet and how long have you been playing together?

RGF: We've been together about 1.5 years. Dennis the lead singer and I found our way on Craigslist. Things really flow when everyone loves Bob... I found it very daunting at first, to really study the tunes. Especially Blonde on Blonde. It's really got an energy that can't be picked apart.

E: Have you ever been to Duluth (Dylan’s birthplace) or Zimmy’s and Dylan Days in Hibbing?

RGF: Nope. I never wanted to be that obsessed, but I guess I am....

E: Are you making a living through art and music or do you have a “day job” that supports your creative life?

RGF: I've been able to support myself with commercial design. Blueq has been steady for the past 4 years and some of the projects really push over into art, pure and simple...

E: Can you send a photo of yourself or self portrait painting?

RGF: I like my Facebook picture. It was done by a street artist in the village when I was 19. I look the same but older now. There are some photos of me there also, playing in the band at my daughter's wedding last summer.
E: Thank you, Roy.

Afterword
If you're a Dylan fan, hop on over to Amazon.com and buy RG Fox's Dylan. It's an affordable gem. Then visit and bookmark Fox's MySpace space featuring The Bob Band. The streaming Dylan sounds are pretty durn good. http://www.myspace.com/thebobband4

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Music of Color

The beauty of music is that you don't always have to have words to be touched. That is, music has the ability to bypass the rational part of our selves and reach past into the heart, massaging the soul in ways that an intellectual dissection of an argument never can. I don't know why that is, but we have all known and experienced it.

I was talking yesterday with a woman who works in an Alzheimer's unit at a group home. I mentioned how these people can have the slate of their memories so completely wiped clean of every experience, yet they remember all the words to their favorite songs. The music connects, reaches in, extracts memories that have been packaged in the mind in such a different form so that they can't be erased.

Artist Wassily Kandinsky explored abstraction in art specifically because of his fascination with visual music. He very deliberately sought to find ways to express the immaterial, the spiritual, that something beyond objective, concrete forms to reach indefinable inner truths. Kandinsky's efforts to turn music into imagery were no doubt inspired in part by the fact that he was himself a musician, having played the piano and cello since childhood.

His efforts to bring music into the visual, to break apart art's historical dependence on concrete images and allow color to speak directly to our deeper selves, to make the visual into a form of music, made him a highly influential person a century ago.

Through his art as well as his writing, Kandinsky proved a liberating force in the European art scene during a time when it was undergoing its most vibrant emergence. Kandinsky's work was not a negation of form, it simply aspired to be something more.

As a young art student I failed to appreciate what he was striving to achieve through his work. In retrospect I understand better his importance in art history and that he had influenced me without my even knowing it!

It's often that way, isn't it? So much of what is happening today is because of others from generations preceding us of whom we are often unaware. Perhaps we ourselves can be influential going forward in the same unheralded manner as we strive to make this world, and our own small worlds, better places through creative living and giving.
Image is Kandinsky's Composition #8...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thots On Bots

This month's cover story in Popular Science gives a snapshot of the current status of robotics. The cover teases, "The Future of Robots: YOUR HELPER BOT HAS ARRIVED"... and in smaller print, America's First Humanoid.

In fiction and in film, we have been long fascinated with the idea of robots. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov continually returned to the theme, with stories that were later re-created in films like Bicentennial Man (Robin Williams) and I, Robot (Will Smith). The Terminator (Gov. Schwarzeneggar) films are fanciful re-enactment of a dark future where the robots have an uprising and strive to eliminate the humans they evolved from.

Amusingly, one article in this month's Pop Science is titled "Rise of the Helpful Machines", in a direct tribute to the Terminator film subtitled, "Rise of the Machines." This and the other articles here strive to give us the current pulse on robotic advances, specifically in the realm of humanoid-type robots.

Currently, Japan and South Korea are in the lead with regard to building the ultimate humanoid, but Virginia Tech gets its share of ink here for the progress they are making. Dennis Hong of VT states that "a full-sized humanoid is the Holy Grail of robotics." And the article provides an overview of the various advances, and problems, this branch of robotics is wrestling with.

Somehow, all this robot talk brings to mind an article I read 25 years ago in The Futurist magazine about robots in our future. The writer exclaimed, enthusiastically, that in one hundred years we would all have a personal robot. I was at an apartment building in South Minneapolis looking out a window at a dumpster diving street person, and wondered, "Will he have a personal robot?"

25 years have passed, and though in academic communities the enthusiasm for robots remains unabated, one wonders how these personal robots will assist in eliminating the hunger which one billion people experience daily. One wonders if the personal robots we are all going to have only refers to the "we" who live in the civilized world. Or, just precisely, how will we all have personal robots when we don't even all have jobs, or homes?

Maybe the hard working middle class can work longer hours to pay the bills for their personal robots who stay home and teach their children how to play soccer. I can envision a future government program called "Cash for Clunkers" to help people get rid of their older robots in order to buy new ones and keep the robotics industry vibrant and growing. Robot sales will be good for the economy, they'll insist.

The current work in robotics is directed toward helping support the surging population of elderly in this country. We'll have wheelchairs with robotic arms, forklifts to get us in and out of bed, and other such personal assistants for when we're veteran grandparents ourselves. Somehow, all this robo-tech is not what I pictured for that fast approaching period when Baby Boomers begin to agglomerate in nursing homes. I always assumed our bed pans would be rotated by human hands, not machines.

Oh well... the research continues. Their even working on machines that will replace doctors. Anyone for robotic brain surgery? I'm really not too excited about getting to my lobotomy appointment right now. Unless they bring me in by robo-cop, I will just take a pass, thank you.

Meantime, have an electrifying day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Zombies Create Confusion In Portland

My mother, when I was growing up, was an Registered Nurse who was also a First Aid trainer sometimes. On one occasion I remember her being part of a staged event in which rescue teams were being trained in how to deal with larger scale accidents. The training organizers had done a re-enactment of a bus wreck using boy scouts as victims. Mom said they tried to make it graphically real including bones sticking out and fake blood. (I remember her saying the recipe for fake blood is Nestle's Quik and red food coloring. The powdered chocolate helps give the blood its proper viscosity.) I got the impression it had been quite interesting.

A couple years ago I arrived at an intersection where a van full of young people had been plowed into by a car that evidently failed to stop at a stop sign. The van was upside down and all around there were teens and young adults sitting or lying on the grass and on the road being attended to by others. Fortunate, the victims in this case had no bones sticking out and there was very little blood, just a lot of hurting bodies.

It is with these images in mind that I read the following article about a van rollover in Portland.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A car full of people dressed as zombies crashed on Interstate 84 near downtown Portland on Friday, causing initial confusion by people who witnessed the crash.

Evidently the accident victims were en route to a zombie party.

Sgt. Greg Stewart said people who witnessed the crash initially thought the victims' injuries were much more serious, because of the zombie costumes.

"We're glad that everyone is alive, despite being 'undead'," Sgt. Stewart said, referring to the costumes.

Sounds to me like Sgt. Stewart found the incident amusing. But if you check out this image at Wikipedia, you'll understand immediately why a car crash involving a carload of people dressed as zombies might cause consternation. Yowzer! Is that you, sweetheart?

No deep thoughts here today... just a story for the water cooler.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Seeds from an Old Notebook

I was doing some cleaning, organizing (one of life's necessary evils) and came across an old notebook. I have thirty years of journals, most of which I can put my hands on in a minute here in my office, but I also had a number of "writer's journals" and personal journals with miscellaneous notes and observations. It's interesting to me that I have inscription dates (Mar 10, Mar 14) but do not have the year identified. I'm guessing this notebook is twelve to fifteen years old.

Here are a few notes I found there.

1. "There's nothing stupid about a person who throws away nothing to get something; but a person who throws away everything to get nothing, that's stupid."

2. Like a bird I flit from one branch to another, making progress daily along one line or another... I make decisions based on enthusiasm or necessity; commitments come first, then my energy level determines what is next.

3. Read a chapter of Men Are From Mars, Women Venus... talked about how men go withing while stressed, solving their problems "inside the cave", becoming internal. This "detachment" (becoming absent) drives women crazy.

4. In order to keep them from becoming a hindrance, our work goals must be as compelling as our personal goals. Otherwise, work soon becomes a barrier to what we really want. My goal: synthesize.

5. Men of action change the world. Talk is cheap.

6. Napoleon was a man of action, not necessarily original. He borrowed from history. "A developer and perfecter of the ideas of others." p. 136, Chandler

7. On Motivation: "A man does not have himself killed for a few half-pence a day, or for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul in order to electrify the man." ~Napoleon

8. "Strategy is the art of making use of time and space." ~Napoleon

9. Is it foolish to "force" growth? Can we really "make" it happen? Isn't health, growth, reaching up for the sky our natural propensity? We have within us the seed of dreams. Our job is to remove barriers, to participate with that which is within us.... What holds us back? What are my self-defeating behaviors?

10. "Occupy till I come" implies that we be busy, active, not passive about it.

A few seeds for the week ahead.... Have a good one.

To watch how the picture at the top of this page was created, visit Not Dead Yet, at YouTube.