Monday, January 26, 2015

boxed baby

For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.

It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life.

The maternity package - a gift from the government - is available to all expectant mothers.

It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress.

With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby's first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box's four cardboard walls.

If you'd like to read the rest of the story you can find it here, although I expect at least one person I know is already very familiar with the practice :)
Wouldn't it be nice if all new babies were given such a warm welcome? 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

winter weekend in Halifax

We're in the midst of a typical Halifax winter right now and that means the temperatures bounce back and forth between very cold and just above freezing with the addition of some often powerful winds. Considering there's usually some precipitation in the offing we can expect snow and rain in sometimes equal measure with the result that whatever hits the ground usually freezes. Icy patches and lumpy icy footprints make walking more a trial than an enjoyable outing to one's favorite haunts. Of course we're still going to the park as often as we can (barring storms and below zero windy days) but we've been avoiding the higher paths because whatever you walk up also has to be walked down - the same route the water has taken when the snow melted a bit. Ah well, at least we're almost a month past the shortest day so I won't complain.

Yesterday it was 5° and windy, so instead of the park, we decided to go and see a movie we'd been looking forward to - 'Inherent Vice'. The book written by Thomas Pynchon has become a favorite of ours, at least as far as normal size novels go. ('Against the Day' at 1100 pages is our real favorite and highly recommended if you haven't read Pynchon since 'Gravity's Rainbow'.) 'Inherent Vice' is a comedic hard-boiled novel about a hippie detective in late 60s LA. Numb, who lived there in those years, found the book very true to his memories of the time. I lived elsewhere back then but also remember the period and attitudes similarly - as probably do you. Anyway, the movie was very disappointing for both of us. The director and scriptwriter, Paul Thomas Anderson, born in 1970, seems to have missed the feeling of the book and the time entirely by turning the wild and joyous original into character studies of the detective, his ex-girlfriend (who hardly appears in the novel), and the policeman. He made such a wonderful job of portraying the early 20th century in 'There Will Be Blood' that we thought this would have been easy.  Instead, we didn't even get to see LA since almost everything was filmed inside. Anyway, I see it has a few good reviews but we gave it a one star.

We rarely go to movies these days anyway since it's much more pleasant to rent or stream them. 'Avatar' was great at the theater with our 3D glasses perched on our noses (^^). I have to say what made yesterday's experience bad before the start was having to watch commercials in 'surround sound' and then seeing previews for 'Hot Tub Time Machine 2' and some other silly overly frantic things neither of us can remember. No wonder 'The Interview' got made and released if those movies are typical of what audiences pay money for now.

Speaking of art of one kind or another, I've got myself stuck again in my attempt to illustrate the story a friend's daughter wrote many years ago. The problem is in keeping all the pictures at the same design and color levels. At this point I've just about come to the conclusion it doesn't really matter if they all look different since (for better or worse) my particular style is always going to be there even if the girl's shirt is pink in one picture and peach in another. Geez. What can I say, but I'm just not a comic book artist (a fine and worthy profession though it may be). This is a recent practice picture - still deciding on paper type and how much inking is the right amount.

Stay cozy.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

more news at 7

Does anyone remember news in the pre-internet, pre-tech age? Long ago there'd be specific times of day when people would tune into their radios or turn on their televisions to catch up on the latest developments in local and world affairs. Generally speaking, there was a 15 minute morning news program you'd listen to at breakfast if you had time before going to work. Then there was another of those at noon. But the biggest news time of the day happened in the evening between 6 and 7 o'clock. The local news was reported in the first half hour and after that it was time to find out the latest about what was going on in the country and the world at large.

Back then it wasn't the least bit unusual that people everywhere would spend days wondering if little Timmy had been rescued from the well. There was never a question about whether rescuing Timmy from the well was the right thing to do. We may not have had electronic social media but everyone was certain you couldn't leave a little kid at the bottom of a hole in the ground. That was before the 24/7 news cycle.

Now all is confusion. Depending upon the opinions of whoever it is we choose to listen to, or watch, or read, we learn there may be many good reasons for leaving little Timmy in the well. Who is that dog anyway and can she be trusted? Getting Timmy out of the well is sure to be expensive and I'd prefer that money not to come out of my hard earned tax money. The people of Timmy's ethnic group are untrustworthy so why should we help one of them? Timmy's probably dead, so why bother?

So we go on to other things that are more horrific or more entertaining. The news cycle that never stops pushes and pulls our attention from one thing to another - never leaving us time for reflection. We think we're being informed when what's really happening is that we're being manipulated into feeling anxious and unsure about what is right.

I don't mean to oversimplify important events by appearing to wish we could go back to quieter times in the news cycle. Then again, the world has always been a wild and crazy place and I do believe there's a way of learning about events that doesn't force us into hastily made opinions forged by those who may not have our best interests at heart.

I wonder how little Timmy is doing?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

beached and other mysteries

Here at the start of a whole other year my friends have made it safely ashore. It was touch and go for a while what with the oars having been lost in the maelstrom - which you may remember, but if not:

Anyway, we'll have to wait to see what happens next to our intrepid pair and those who pay such close attention to them. What could they all be up to?

Speaking of ongoing mysteries, there's an intriguing case across the street where a small apartment building has appeared to be largely uninhabited for all of the past few years we've lived here. From the end room of our place we can see the long side of the building where there are never any lights on any of its three floors. Rarely, there'll be a window lit in one room or another at the streetfront, although never for long. In winter the sidewalk is cleared and a little smoke sometimes rises from a chimney. We've never seen a 'for rent' sign or evidence of tenants. With no further evidence than this (and our active imaginations) we've come to conclusion the place is inhabited by a wealthy recluse.

At least one mystery that's confounded a number of us in the online community does seem to have a solution as described in this fascinating excerpt from an article called Ai Weiwei is Living in Our Future:

Very recently I found another way in which Google appropriates my pattern recognition abilities to further its own cause. I had to fill in a ‘CAPTCHA’.

CAPTCHA’s are used to battle spambots. By recognizing a pattern that isn’t easy to read for a computer, you are proving that you are a human. Millions of CAPTCHA’s are filled in every hour. Luis von Ahn, a computer scientist, didn’t want to waste this cognitive capacity and invented the ‘reCAPTCHA’.

Through typing in hard to read words you helped to digitize newspaper archives and books. You always had to type in two words: one that the computer would already know and another which the computer would be a bit uncertain about. Google bought reCAPTCHA in 2009.

A short while ago I noticed that you didn’t have to type in book texts anymore when filling in a reCAPTCHA. Nowadays you type in house numbers helping Google, without them asking you, to further digitize the physical world.

Perhaps there is information about that place across the street, but personally, I prefer it remains a mystery. I stopped using Google for general searches in favor of DuckDuckGo several years ago, but Blogger is Google based so there's no getting around that. However, as you'll see if you read the article, our ideas about personal privacy have already been superseded. George Orwell could never have imagined people would eventually line up willingly to pay Big Brother.

Of course, it amused me too when we watched a couple of episodes of 'Walking Dead' and I realized the 'zombies' likely performed for free. Humans are strange creatures as Crow has remarked at every opportunity.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


This particular unfinished (and since trashed) picture pretty much sums up where my creative process spent December. Stuck in limbo between one project and another I'd decided to relax by redrawing and painting an image I'd done many years ago. The only record I have of the long gone original is a small and faded photograph. This time I thought I might replace the main figures in a magical wintry landscape as the whole idea of polar bears in spring seems anathema to me now. What could I have been thinking? Quite obviously, from all we've learned about the problems of human assisted global climate change, I knew nothing back then. Anyway, there were several versions of this that I tried - each one worse than the last - and none worth keeping.

Polar Bear Spring - original

Still in the midst of being deeply sad about things I can't change I visited the blog of one of my favorite modern scientific philosophers, Bernardo Kastrup. His most recent book called 'Why Materialism is Baloney' will be  on it's way here soon. Here is the poem he posted a few days ago that I hope you will like too:

 The Legacy of a Truth-Seeker

    Having trodden the path for cycles uncountable,
    Having crossed the ocean of mind from end to end,
    Through all veils, its fountainhead have I finally seen.
    To you, honest truth-seeker treading the path behind me,
    I grant the gift of my legacy.

    I have learned thus:

    Only untruths can be experienced.
    Hence, only untruths can exist.
    Truth is fundamentally incompatible with existence
    For it is that which gives rise to existence,
    Like a loudspeaker gives rise to sound.

    Experiences are self-referential tricks:
    They arise from nothing and are made of nothing.
    If you dig deep enough within yourself,
    You shall always find the layer of self-deception
    Upon which any one of your convictions ultimately rests.

    One's reality sprouts from the first layer of self-deception
    That escapes one's field of critical awareness.
    The deeper this field, the more subtle the self-deception.
    Those with little critical awareness thus live more colorful lives:
    Their fiction is fancier.

    The honest search for truth annihilates its own subject
    Slowly, recursively, from within.
    Having peeled away every layer of self-deception within me,
    I have found myself to be like an onion:
    Nothing is left.

    Only nothing is true.
    No external references exist, no outside arbiters.
    We are self-created fictions and so is the cosmos.
    Truth-seeking is the path to self-annihilation
    And thus to liberation.

    Rejoice, for your pains, fears, frustrations and regrets
    Are all untrue.
    There is nothing to fear, nothing to strive for, nothing to regret.
    You have no soul; that's just self-deception.
    And you won't die; that's just self-deception.

    But beware!
    As a dream allegorically portrays the inner state of the dreamer,
    As a novel insinuates the aspirations of the writer,
    As a lie betrays the insecurities of the liar,
    So the fiction you call reality reveals something about truth.

    Thus pay attention to life,
    For truth expresses itself only through its own fictions.
    To discern truth in fiction: here is the cosmic conundrum!
    To engage wholeheartedly without being taken in: here is the ultimate challenge!
    To find meaning in nothingness: here is the epic demand of nature!

    Watch reality as you watch a theatrical play:
    With inquisitiveness and curiosity.
    But watch it as audience, never as character.
    Characters spend their lives chasing their own shadows,
    Whereas audiences attain subtle insight.

    May my legacy serve you as a warning, but also as encouragement.
    The prize at the end of the path is handsome:
    The freedom to make the deliberate, guiltless choice
    Of which untruth to live.
    Exercising this choice wisely is the art of life.

This is a message I need to remember. Happily, in the past few days my creative abilities (such as they are) seem to have returned, making it likely the next picture installment of the girl, her dog, and the two weird dragons will appear next time.

Best wishes for the New Year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

having cast off

Sometimes these things take longer than I expect they will but now I can show you the latest illustration from the annals of my unwritten story. If it's any help at all, I'll also mention the pictures are in no particular order. You may remember the boat from 'Turbulence' - this is before that :). For the time being this one will be the last of them as I'm planning to get serious about a different story - one with a girl but no dog and no dragons either. Well, in actuality there is a dragon in the story I'm thinking of, but rather than being a smallish, curious dragon like one of these, he's a much larger and more ferocious member of his species. Don't worry, you'll see the pictures as they develop and likely a picture or two of Crow as well. He starts to feel neglected if I wait too long between portraits.

Now we're in those last days of the year leading to the shortest one - in this hemisphere anyway. I don't know about you, but I always feel much more relaxed once it's all over and we can begin looking forward to longer days and shorter nights even if it is freezing cold outside.

I won't bother mentioning the bad news of the past week or so (call me a coward if you like), but the good news I read a few days ago is that the Masai people of Tanzania won't have to move off their land after all. I was shocked to read a few weeks ago that the that the Tanzanian government had reintroduced plans to forcibly relocate 40,000 pastoralists to make way for a luxury hunting and safari company based in the United Arab Emirates. Unbelievable. We can only hope that the next step will be to give the Masai permanent rights to their land.

We are a strange species, but one that's capable of extraordinarily beautiful achievements too.

Happy December

Sunday, November 23, 2014

character studies

So far as my own work is concerned, you can see I've been doing more sketching than finishing these past few weeks as I try to image(ine) the characters for a story written a number of years ago by the now grown daughter of a friend. It's a challenge, but kind of fun for all that.

In the meantime it keeps getting colder here as we count down to the shortest daylight hours of the year. There's been rain aplenty and cloudy skies too, but happily we've had no snow to spoil our walks in the park. A long stretch of that walk is by a channel in the bay where the woodland rises to a height on the left and the sea is at the bottom of a steep drop to the right. One recent day we'd fed some crows at one of the spots where we drop peanuts for them on our way to the point of land that faces right out to sea. The crows were following when we noticed a flock of chickadees flitting around in the brush to our left. Usually what happens when we see them is I scatter some nuts and wait to let them eat while we keep the greedy crows at bay. This time I still had the food in my hand when a hungry chickadee landed on one of my fingers and took a nut. Before I had time to react the little birds came one after another to take their share of peanuts from my hand. It was the sweetest feeling ever to be that trusted. Now that we know they'll often come if we wait a bit, feeding them has become one of those little events to treasure.

I know this is a small thing, perhaps even an ordinary occurrence. If so, I hope a connection with the wild world is something routine in your life. For me, it's an example (one I can hold in my hand) of real magic in the world. It's funny to think that until the final triumph of the scientific revolution at the start of the eighteenth century, magic and a great many things connected with it were treated as everyday matters in Western cultures. The sense of life, mind, and meaning in the cosmos is something that we as individuals put into the mix in the process of constructing our worlds.

Experiencing the world as a community of existent thinking beings leads us to understand that every living thing has an equal part to play in the great web of life. The opposite is to experience the world as a dead and mindless mass of raw material that has only whatever meaning and value certain human beings choose to give it. Which of those behaviors is more useful in the present predicament of industrial society is another point worth considering.

For something extra (and finished in this case) I did find a great short video you might enjoy watching as much as I did: