Friday, February 27, 2009

sunny Labrador

It's becoming clear that moves to cut global carbon emissions may be too little and too late for us avoid the worst effects of climate change. This is a photograph of an agricultural area not too far from Beijing that's quickly being overrun by the Gobi Desert. We all know about the recent devastating fires in Australia and everyone in the Gulf areas of the US are naturally terrified of another Hurricane Katrina coming ashore.

Scientists are predicting the average global temperature will rise from 2-6 degrees Celsius in the coming century. So what? Celsius is unAmerican and doesn't mean much of anything, does it? Anyhow, just for the heck of it I looked up the number on a conversion program and learned that the mid-range temperature of 4C actually translates to 39 degrees farenheit. Yow. Is it silly of me to worry about such a thing? After all, overnight temperature swings can be much like it just about anywhere we live or we could compare it to moving from Montreal to Miami.

Whether we like it or not we need to understand that an average warming of the entire world by 4C would make the planet unrecognizable from anything humans have ever experienced. When will we know when it's time to take drastic action and will the human race ever be able to act positively in a coordinated way? Okay, I know the answer to that one but I had to ask. Goodness knows someday a few people will look back at what we've done to the planet and wonder what were we thinking. Maybe that's the answer. It will be a few people.

It's definitely time for the world to pass on the clean coal fantasy. Coal provides 50% of our electricity which comes from hundreds of expensive, enormous plants, each one of them owned by rich and powerful companies. The Chinese have been opening a coal-burning power plant every week. How can we even begin to discuss alternatives with them until we do something ourselves?

On Monday there's going to be a big rally in Washington, DC of environmental activists. The people in Appalachia have suffered for decades under the rule of the coal mining companies and the ugly, old and dirty coal fired power plant owned by Congress should be the first to go.

There are plans made and still shelved to rebuild and electrify the railroads here. A revived rail service could remove 85% of the long haul trucks from the highways within 25 years. What a great concept and how nice it would be if people didn't have to give up their cars.. at least so long as they're electric ones.

A little symbolic action may be just what the country needs to raise awareness that things can be done so we don't have to plan on moving our families to sunny Labrador. I consider it an encouragement to the current administration to keep moving forward. We've already lost too much time and I'd like to know there'll always be an April in Paris.

You can check out the full size version of the map here.

Late addendum: Lindsay Lobe came by today and noticed I'd made a serious error with my translation of a 4C temperature increase meaning 39F. Although 4C does translate to 39F, in actual practice I'd failed to note that average global (combined ocean and land) temperature is 57F and a subsequent rise of 4C translates to about 8F. Ooops. Sorry. I never was renowned for my math skills but 8F isn't good either. All the rest stays the same.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

think before you ink

Women, don't get a tattoo. That butterfly looks great on your breast when you're twenty or thirty, but when you get to seventy, it stretches into a condor.

You may lose your most valuable property through misfortune in various ways. You may lose your house, your wife and other treasures. But of your tattoo, you cannot be deprived except by death. It will be your ornament and companion until your last day.

I always look for a woman who has a tattoo. I see a woman with a tattoo, and I'm thinking, okay, here's a girl who's capable of making a decision she'll regret in the future.

Your body is a temple, but how long can you live in the same house before you redecorate?

The perfect tattoo, the one I believe we are all struggling toward, is the one that turned the jackass into a zebra.

All the above are from the quote garden. I thought I should post something but I'm feeling lazy - a semi permanent condition much of the time. Instead, I decided to post a picture I painted a couple of years ago when even office ladies were getting tattoos..

Now maybe I can go finish that overly long and tedious book I've been reading. A bubble bath in a candlelit room with some Belgian chocolate sounds about right.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

evolution of a ratbird

This is a little how-to post dedicated to my dear friend Seraphine because she's shown such interest in the silks. Making the little bags is a complex process but somehow I don't tend to think about them as an artistic one since there are so many parts involved it becomes somewhat mechanical. Maybe that's just because it's a procedure I've internalized now and that's something that doesn't happen when I'm drawing and making the moment by moment decisions required with watercolor.

Anyway, I'll tell you a little more about how these are done and how, at the end, one can be disappointed with a result but not so much you aren't willing to try again. The process begins with a drawing done in india ink on good quality paper. In this case, as in most, it's a pretty young girl with an unusual headdress.

I use a stable stretcher frame whose inside dimensions are 12"x18" with pushpins hammered into the top edge at 3" intervals that match each other from one side to the other. I'd put them closer but need to leave room for my wrist to fit between the needle sharp silk pins. Then a piece of very dense silk charmeuse about 4"x16" is placed in the center. I attach rubber bands to the open ends of the silk pins and stretch the piece until it's held firm and well balanced.

I pin the drawing to the underside as close to the main parts of the character as I can but without touching it. Now here comes the weird part. The silk I use is so dense that I can't see the image underneath in normal light but I do have a small light box which I plug in and place under the stretched, pinned piece. Essentially, I paint the most complex parts in the dark.

My main colors have been pre-mixed in tiny batches with a dilute solution of thickener. While I'm working I remix shades and paint in facial, neck and hand contours while the dyes are still damp. I'll also paint in design elements that don't touch the character body. After an hour or two my eyes will be tired from the concentration, as well as having turned the main drawing lamp off and on multiple times to see how it's progressing, that I just tidy everything up and finish for the evening while everything dries.

The next steps involve repinning the drawing from the inside and working inside the oval frame. Once that part's done I remove the template and draw the outside design directly on the silk using fabric pens. This part goes much more quickly as I paint the main parts of the design. While the sections dry I open up the computer and come visiting or read my book for a while.

Once the whole piece is done and dry I use a metallic gutta (like a thick glue) to outline and highlight the piece. With this one, the first in over a year, I made the mistake of not removing it from the stretcher first. You have to be able to make smooth movements to do this and be able to squeeze the little tube of gutta so it flows evenly. There I was standing bent over the drawing table doing that, while trying to avoid the silk pins, making a serious design error resulting in 'ratbird with beak stuck in weird metallic flower shape'.

While I'm still in painting mode I take a second piece of charmeuse, stretch it, draw a complementary design and paint it as the lining of the little bag. Some of these get pretty complex on their own depending on my mood.

The last part of the process involves ironing the back of the silk at high temperature through a cover cloth. Then comes the steaming. A scarf is so big I'll just do one but the bag pieces are small enough that I'll wait until I have 4-6 painted ones. Laying them on plain white newsprint making sure they don't touch each other I roll them into a tight cylinder that I tape with masking tape. Then the cylinder gets rolled into a tight spiral using butcher string and slip knots. I have an eight gallon steamer pot with a basket that sits about 4" above the bottom which I fill with 2-3" of cold water. The basket goes in, a little dome of tin foil same size as silk package goes in (leaving room for steam holes around the edge), package goes on top with same size tin foil cap (can't have any direct drips), then two weeks worth of newspaper goes on top of pot (at least they're good for something), then a thick towel, then the heavy lid on top of it all. With the burner set to 'medium low' I go away (but not too far) for 2+ hours while it cooks.

Then it's unwrap, marvel at clarity and sharpness of color, let rest for 24 hours. The mechanics of the last part involve multiple washings, rinsing with white vinegar as well as plain water and water with cream rinse. Fine silk is much like fine hair. Then I sew them by machine (round the nice curves), turn, steam iron and hand finish with embroidery thread. When one turns out really well (as most do in actuality) it will look something like this:

Okay, it will be getting dark soon and may be time to start working on a new version of what turned into 'ratbird' this time. The next one will be much better, I'm sure.

If you'd like to try one of your own I'd be delighted to see your results. That doesn't necessarily mean you Seraphine. I remember the story of the t-shirt :-)

Friday, February 20, 2009

a reminder - i'm only dreaming

Inspiration is a fickle friend. Here I am home alone, house tidied, grocery list done, showered, dressed and ready for her company. Where is she? I spent an hour at my drawing table with paper and pencil but spent so much time using the eraser I may have to vacuum again. I did finish another stage of the current silk project but I don't actually accept that as a satisfactory gift of Inspiration. It's just work - more pleasant indeed than work work but..

So following an age old custom (okay, fairly recent habit), I decided to go visiting Blogland instead. Sorry if I haven't left many comments but that will come later I promise. Meanwhile I found this sweet story on my friend laughing wolf's blog and he gave me permission to repost it here. He always cheers me up and if you visit there I'm sure you'll see why.

It is reported the following edition of the Book of Genesis was discovered in the same area as the Dead Seal Scrolls.

And Adam said, "Lord, when I was in the Garden, You walked with me every day. Now I do not see You any more. I am lonesome here, and it is difficult for me to remember how much You love me."

And God said, "No problem! I will create a companion for you... that will be with you forever... and who will be a reflection of My love for you, so that you will know I love you, even when you cannot see Me. Regardless of how selfish and childish and unlovable you may be, this new companion will accept you as you are, and will love you as I do, in spite of yourself."

And God created a new animal to be a companion for Adam.
And it was a good animal.
And God was pleased.
And the new animal was pleased to be with Adam, and he wagged his tail.

And Adam said, "But Lord, I have already named all the animals in the Kingdom, so all the good names are taken, and I cannot think of a name for this new animal."

And God said, "No problem! Because I have created this new animal to be a reflection of my love for you, his name will be a reflection of my own name, and you will call him... DOG."

And DOG lived with Adam, and was a great companion to him, and loved him.
And Adam was comforted.
And God was pleased.
And DOG was content... and wagged his tail.

After a while, it came to pass that Adam's guardian angel came to the Lord and said, "Lord, Adam has become filled with pride. He struts and preens like a peacock, and he believes he is worthy of adoration. DOG has, indeed, taught him he is loved, but no one has taught him humility."

And the Lord said, "No problem! I will create for him a companion, who will be with him forever, and who will see him as he is. This new companion will remind him of his limitations, so he will know he is not worthy of adoration."

And God created CAT... to be another companion to Adam.
And CAT would not obey Adam.
And when Adam gazed into CAT's eyes, he was reminded he was not the supreme being.
And Adam learned humility.
And God was pleased.
And Adam was greatly improved.
And CAT did not care... one way or the other.

With love to Lily and LaBelette Rouge. There's nothing like the Inspiration encountered on a walk with one's dog so long as one's spiked heels don't sink too deeply into the grass. Now I think I'll go for a walk with my imaginary pup and come back to that drawing later.

Monday, February 16, 2009

it wasn't raining when noah built the ark

I've been working on a silk painting this weekend but it can get a bit boring waiting for one part to dry so I can work on the next. There came a point when I found myself staring out of the window and thinking about the $4million prize that was offered by NASA for some problem solving.

Since the 1950's, people, animals and hardware have thundered into orbit, shoved skyward by barely controlled explosions. Now that I have Friday's off work I've decided to do something useful and build my own space elevator.

By adding carbon nanotubes (roughly 10,000 times as thin as a human hair) to very pretty strands of dyed silk, I've invented a fiber strong enough and light enough to form the backbone of a space-elevator system. A sturdy tree in our backyard will serve as an excellent anchor for the thin cable and there's terrific bus service to our neighborhood for all who wish to fly or who just want to come and wave good-bye.

The cars themselves will be made of woven baskets that will be propelled by helium filled circus balloons. Passengers will be able to ride into space in a very relaxed atmosphere all the way to the geosynchronous space station whose design Crow is currently completing. He envisions it being made of stained glass panels so the unhindered light of the sun can make a fabulous display for his guests who've always wanted to see what the world looks like without suffering the agony and inconvenience of riding in a cramped rocket.

It all sounds plausible: my cable will extend up to its station 22,245 miles into space, kept under tension by the competing forces of gravity on Earth and the outward centrifugal acceleration at the platform end. The cable then extends a further 40,000 miles into space to a counterweight that helps keep the whole structure stable. I'm thinking we can use the all the weapons, tanks and SUV's made in the last 50 years for the counterweight and can fill them with the oligarchs of our political and financial systems. Maybe after they've had a few good swings around the planet they'll come to their senses.

“Riding silently into the sky, soon she was 100km high, higher even than the old pioneering rocket planes, the X15s, used to reach. The sky was already all but black above her, with a twinkling of stars right at the zenith, the point to which the ribbon, gold-bright in the sunlight, pointed like an arrow. Looking up that way she could see no sign of structures further up the ribbon, no sign of the counterweight. Nothing but the shining beads of more spiders clambering up this thread to the sky. She suspected she still had not grasped the scale of the elevator, not remotely.”

From Firstborn by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Publisher: Del Ray

Friday, February 13, 2009

big bird brains

for National Geocorvid News
February 13, 2009

Crows survived the global catastrophe that wiped out their dinosaur relatives due to superior brainpower, a new study suggests.

The idea came from examining a pair of prehistoric corvids found in southeast England by Victorian-era fossil hunters, according to researchers from the Natural Aves Museum in London. The two 55-million-year-old skulls suggest the ancestors of modern Crows developed larger, more complex brains earlier than previously thought.

This implies that Crow ancestors had a mental edge over non-Crowlike dinos and flying reptiles, so they were better able to adapt after the so-called K-T mass extinction event around 65 million years ago, said study co-author Angela (Tweets) Budgerigar.

Some ancient groups of birds did go extinct, she noted, so it wasn't feathers or warm-bloodedness that gave modern Crows a leg up. "It had to be something else, " she said, "and it seems to be this bigger brain."

Prof Budgerigar and colleagues, Dr. Penguin, Dr. Robin, Dr. Sparrow and Dr. Hawk, used CT scans of the skulls to make models of the size and shape of the fossil Crows' brains. What they found is that the ancient Crow brains were almost the same size as those in Crows alive today.

(Related: "T. Rex, Other Dinosaurs Had Heads Full of Air" [December 12, 2008].)

"So after the K-T event", Dr. Swallow said, these birds "were just better equipped to deal with challenging physical conditions."


Not only do we remember Gondawanda Land but we were there when the inhabitants of Atlantis overextended themselves experimenting with the Earth's geomagnetic forces and you know what happened to them. Oh no, you don't know do you because they are not only gone but completely forgotten. Crows remember.

Ah well, it's about time to take a peanut break but before I ask susan to open a new can of Planter's I just thought I'd mention one thing. Have you considered Geithner's plan to stimulate the economy looks like a last ditch effort to shore up the banks using the Paulson plan?

'How much do you want?'
'How much have you got?'
'We're printing it as fast as we can.'
'That's still not enough. We want it all.'

When 'all' still isn't enough, after the D-M Event (dead money), Crow will still be around helping susan hunt for peanuts.

(Thanks and apologies to National Geographic)

Monday, February 9, 2009

terra what?

I apologize if I upset anyone by posting about the immediacy of global warming yesterday. Goodness knows we already have enough to worry about without having to be concerned about the planet as well. Unfortunately, no matter what happens with the economic situation, we and our children still expect to wake up here every morning so that appears to make it the most important concern of all.

James Lovelock mentioned carbon sequestration in the interview so I went back to look up what I'd remembered reading about a novel concept, even though it's very old, you may not have heard about.

The Amazonian rainforest has some of the globe's richest soil that can transform poor soil into highly fertile ground. Scientists have a method to reproduce this soil - known as terra preta, or Amazonian dark earths - and say it can pull substantial amounts of carbon out of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, helping to prevent global warming. That's because terra preta is loaded with so-called bio-char. Terra preta is soil that has been enhanced by black carbon, derived from charcoal, and other organic matter.

It is estimated that as much as 10 to 20% of the soils in the Amazon basin are terra preta soils. Only after realizing these numbers did archaeologists finally understand how there had been a sufficient agricultural base to support the vast ancient civilizations in the Amazon basin, civilizations that, until recently, had largely been written off as myth. Of course, we'd be somebody else's myth too if the plagues had wiped out all of us instead of only 90% back in 1300AD.

The super-fertile soil was produced thousands of years ago by indigenous populations using slash-and-char methods instead of slash-and-burn. Slash-and-char, on the other hand, actually reduces greenhouse gases by sequestering huge amounts of carbon for thousands of years and substantially reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions from soils.

Johannes Lehmann of Cornell University, who has written books and numerous articles about bio-char says, "The result is that about 50 percent of the biomass carbon is retained and by sequestering huge amounts of carbon, this technique constitutes a much longer and significant sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide than most other options, making it a powerful tool for long-term mitigation of climate change. In fact we have calculated that up to 12 percent of the carbon emissions produced by human activity could be offset annually if slash-and-burn were replaced by slash-and-char."

In addition, many biofuel production methods, such as generating bioenergy from agricultural, fish and forestry waste, produce bio-char as a byproduct. "The global importance of a bio-char sequestration as a byproduct of the conversion of biomass to bio-fuels is difficult to predict but is potentially very large," he added.

Applying the knowledge of terra preta to contemporary soil management also can reduce environmental pollution by decreasing the amount of fertilizer needed, because the bio-char helps retain nitrogen in the soil as well as higher levels of plant-available phosphorus, calcium, sulfur and organic matter. The black soil also does not get depleted, as do other soils, after repeated use.

"In other words, producing and applying bio-char to soil would not only dramatically improve soil and increase crop production, but also could provide a novel approach to establishing a significant, long-term sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide."

So it really could be done. What do you think? Are we wise enough yet as a race to actually do something constructive to not only heal the earth but make her more beautiful and fruitful too?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

feeding the beast

Sometimes I feel as if a giant comet is headed right this way. We've been clever enough to build telescopes to see it and mathematically adept enough to know when it will arrive BUT WE CAN'T DO A DAMN THING ABOUT IT. If it isn't war, it's the economy and then there's climate change. A huge bush fire in Australia has killed more than a hundred people and has wiped out whole towns.

Just to see how bad things are I asked Crow to sit in on a meeting with James Lovelock recently and the following is a synopsis of what he heard:

Your work on atmospheric chlorofluorocarbons led eventually to a global CFC ban that saved us from ozone-layer depletion. Do we have time to do a similar thing with carbon emissions to save ourselves from climate change?

"Not a hope in hell. Most of the "green" stuff is verging on a gigantic scam. Carbon trading, with its huge government subsidies, is just what finance and industry wanted. It's not going to do a damn thing about climate change, but it'll make a lot of money for a lot of people and postpone the moment of reckoning."

So are we doomed?

"There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of charcoal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste - which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering - into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the CO2 down quite fast."

Do you think we will survive?

"I'm an optimistic pessimist. I think it's wrong to assume we'll survive 2 °C of warming: there are already too many people on Earth. At 4 °C we could not survive with even one-tenth of our current population. The reason is we would not find enough food, unless we synthesised it. Because of this, the cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 per cent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before: between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2000 people left. It's happening again.

I don't think humans react fast enough or are clever enough to handle what's coming up. Kyoto was 11 years ago. Virtually nothing's been done except endless talk and meetings."

It's a depressing outlook.

"Not necessarily. For the first time in its 3.5 billion years of existence, the planet has an intelligent, communicating species that can consider the whole system and even do things about it. They are not yet bright enough, they have still to evolve quite a way, but they could become a very positive contributor to planetary welfare."

He couldn't mean people. He must be talking about Crows.

Friday, February 6, 2009

stay sick

Just before going off to bed last night I read about this and just last summer I was remembering the shows we saw here.

Lux Interior has gone beyond. He has shuffled off his mortal coil. He burned his candle from both ends with a phosophorescent light of glory. There's not much news about this yet but if you were a Cramps fan you know there was no other live act like them. Each and every show was a cathartic experience perhaps best described by this note from their home page:

It would be almost impossible to have never heard of The CRAMPS. Their career has been the stuff of legend. Dangerously bizarre but most of all cool, The CRAMPS represent everything that is truly reprehensible about rock’n’roll. Founding members Lux Interior (the psycho-sexual Elvis/Werewolf hybrid from hell) and guitar-slinging soul-mate Poison Ivy (the ultimate bad girl vixen) are the architects of a wicked sound that distills a cross of swamp water, moonshine and nitro down to a dangerous and unstable musical substance. Their cultural impact has spawned a legion of devil cults and dance-floor catfights, and created in its wake a cavalcade of cave-stomping imitators. As punk rock pioneers in the late seventies, they cut their teeth on the stages of CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and recorded their first record at Sam Phillips legendary Sun Studios, funded mainly by Ivy’s income as a dominatrix in NYC. They coined the now popular term “psychobilly” on their 1976 gig posters. Their hair-raising live performances are still a total, no-holds-barred rock’n’roll assault. After a quarter century of mayhem, they’re too far gone to even consider any other course.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

semi-free at last!

There's a significant problem with keeping up with web logs when you're an artist rather than a writer and that's keeping the visual stuff coming on a regular basis. Oh yes, I have a collection of things I've made and pictures I've painted but I've had very little time to add to that collection while trying to stay on top of making reasonably frequent posts and visiting the blogs I enjoy. I'd visit more but even the little I do takes hours of the evenings when I could be painting or, to be honest, reading a book.

The good news is I've worked my final Friday at my job. Had I asked for a four day week last year I would have been refused but in the current economy my boss was delighted when I volunteered to cut back my hours. The fact that a sharp young woman with two children to support has the least seniority in the department did have something to do with my decision but I'm not that virtuous and I like the idea of having some extra time for projects.

The other thing that's occurred to me is just how many people with seniority are hanging on to their jobs for dear life even though they're no longer very effective. New computer software keeps everybody jumping through fiery hoops with ever shorter distances between and younger people definitely have an advantage at keeping up with the changes. I know people who've had their desk jobs for 25 years or more but because they aren't old enough for Medicare, even though they have guaranteed pensions, they stay on. It's unfortunate.

Anyway, I'll be home on Friday, then next Friday and then the Friday after that. This could be fun. Maybe one of these months I'll add Thursday too. There are all sorts of worthwhile things that need doing. I have a feeling I still won't have enough time..

Sunday, February 1, 2009

a celebration of Crow

Crow here.
Happy Crow.
Proud Crow.
Humble Crow.
Can't you see me now strolling down a sunny avenue wearing my bright yellow dress in the company of a cheerful canine friend? Okay, so that's a scary thought but read on.

Why all these adjectives? It's because my dear friend, Pagan Sphinx, gifted me with a Fabulous Blog Award which I'm accepting on behalf of susan who has been a reluctant, although tractable, student of economics and ecology all these interesting years. I won't give you one of my less than optimistic prognostications this evening because today I've been requested to admit to 5 addictions. Only 5? It's going to be hard to choose but here goes:

1. I like to eat the brandied nuts and fruit in really old fruitcake. A well made fruitcake is a great geologic event.

2. I'm addicted to frequent flier miles without ever having to buy a ticket. Douglas Adams helped teach my nephew Gerhard to fly by telling him, 'The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.' It worked like a charm.

3. I avoid worry, stress and tension. That and good grooming is the secret to my success and longevity.

4. I fly when it's light and sleep. or find a friendly bar, when it's dark but even so, time is fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you've wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.

5. I'm addicted to people in spite of what my old friend Einstein had to say about you: 'Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe.'

Now I get to present the award to 5 of my favorite friends. Some of my favorite friends have wings or four feet and no computers so I'm just going to have to tell them about the yellow dress and try to ignore them falling off their perches in gales of hilarity. The others I'd like to send on the award to are:

The nationally renowned artist, Linda of Vulture Peak Muse.
Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman.
The cranky but loveable, James Howard Kunstler.
The prescient Dr. Doom also known as Nouriel Roubini.
Famed Long Island philosopher, Spartacus.

Oops! There goes my big bottomed friend, Carmelacita Quranga el-Quaila. I'm gonna be late for the opera if I don't catch up. See you guys around and remember if you see a wooden nickel hold on to it. It may be a valuable antique.

LATE BREAKING ANNOUNCEMENT: James Howard Kunstler has responded to the presentation of this prestigious award by stating he's simply not worthy of such an honor and besides that, he looks terrible in yellow. He's requested the Fabulous Blog Award be redirected to one of his favorite authors: the acclaimed and beautiful sophisticate, Utah Savage.