23 February 2013

Remembering Wildcat Hill

I was visiting Carmel in 1976 with Bay Area curator and art teacher Hayward King along with buddies James Krehbiel and Cleve Ellis with whom I’d made the road trip to San Francisco from Montana. Mr. King was our guide to the San Francisco art scene. Part of our tour was driving south to Carmel.

Mr. King took us to Wildcat Hill in Carmel. Wildcat Hill is the home and photography studio of the Weston family which began with the much revered photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958). Hayward had been one of Edward Weston's caretakers in the years preceding Weston's death.

Hayward was also an old friend of photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) who lived nearby in Carmel. King knew I admired the work of Weston and Adams. He called Adams from Wildcat Hill to find out if Adams was up to meeting three students from Montana. Adams replied that ordinarily he'd be delighted, but that he had a touch of the flu and didn't want to stray too far from his bed. He asked Hayward to check back in a day or so. By that time, we were on our way back to Montana.

Weston &Adams at Wildcat Hill
by Pirkle Jones
When we dropped off Hayward King in his San Francisco apartment, which seemed like it was located in the shadows of the Bay Bridge, Hayward arranged an extraordinarily generous art trade with me.

He gave me a signed Pirkle Jones (1914-2009) silver print of Adams and Weston on the porch in front of Wildcat Hill. Pirkle Jones was one of Ansel Adams' first photography students at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute.

In return, I was to give Hayward King a gum bichromate print I had made, but could only describe to him. The image I agreed to give to Mr. King was a typical self-absorbed self-portrait that fledgling photography students tend to make by the dozens. This trade was testament to Hayward King's generosity and his love for, and devotion to, building The Community of art.

I carefully transported the Pirkle Jones' Wildcat Hill print back to Montana, framed my gum bichromate self-portrait and sent it to Mr. King.

Ansel Adams would have been 111 last Wednesday. In "Revealing Light" I write about Ansel Adams' affinity for light.

20 February 2013

Rules of Flawlessness

Hearing the clap, clap, clap beats of a mechanical typewriter at The Museum of Endangered Sounds jogged my memory.

The typewritten beats reminded me of youthful efforts at achieving perfection. I typed stories for a short fiction course on a mechanical typewriter.

My typewriting was obsessive, or compulsive, to varying degrees depending on what I perceived to be the quality of the story.

Quality is elusive. I knew what quality was not - quality was not gobs of correction fluid on heavy paper or jarring erasure marks on cockle-finished onion skin paper.

Back to fiction. If I thought I had conjured up a particularly good story, my relationship with the typewriter, and the act of typing, would often degrade from detached industrial efficiency, to controlled rage. If I committed one typo, I'd yell fuck-me, rip out the page, crumble it into a tight ball, and wing it across my two-room apartment.

Writing long-hand on canary-colored, college-ruled paper, I would often finish a story in short order. If the story possessed the elusive quality I sought, I'd be compelled to type into the wee hours of the night, if necessary, to produce immaculately typed pages. A few hours discarding and re-typing would reduce me to a production rate of two or three words per minute.
During those times, the typewritten words felt like I had chiseled them letter-by-letter like I was Michelangelo revealing the Pietà from a slab of Carrara marble.
It seemed to me that a good story deserved flawlessly typed pages. The same is true today, only the medium and the rules of flawlessness have changed.

14 February 2013

The Blicans of the Deep Distortion Quadrant

The Blicans are a human-like species from an asymmetric planet in the Big Baby galaxy located in the Deep Distortion quadrant of space.

Pre-Pubescent and Post-Pubescent Blican Males
Extra-terrestrial anthropologists posit that this orange-tinted species habitually perceives the ills, calamities, and human tragedies of the past through rose-tinted contacts lenses.

By all accounts, Blican males believe
  • The future has no hope;
  • The present is the past;
  • Back is forward; and
  • Old is new.
We know little of what Blican females believe except for shaken, not stirred. The female of the species is sequestered in the home where she stands by the door with a shaken, not stirred martini at the ready awaiting the eventual return her mate.

All Blicans regardless of gender are characterized by pathological distrust of anything unlike them. The fossil record of their wobbly planet indicates that The Blicans are un-common. That is, they are:
  • averse to common perception;
  • repelled by common sense, and 
  • deaf, dumb, and blind to the common good.

And if that isn't vexing enough, there's evidence that Blican males are living among us here on earth. In the United States Congress for example:
  1. If The President calls for sunny skies, Blican males immediately hold a press conference calling for rain.
  2. If The President counters their opposition to sunny skies by calling for liquid sunshine, Blican males invoke the filibuster.

02 February 2013

Dummyville, USA

There is sub-culture in the US who value ignorance as a badge American authenticity.

Demon of ignorance, Apasmara,
under Shiva's right foot.
Many US high schools no longer teach civics.

If I was a political historian, I would explore the notion that the dumming-down of Americans began in earnest during the Reagan presidency.
"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." Isaac Asimov
Asimov's cult of ignorance seems to have metastasized from the anti-government sentiment ushered in by the Reagan presidency.

Foxes in the Henhouse

Reagan Administration appointees were intended to cripple government. This was accomplished by appointing people who were opposed to the purpose of the job.

Reagan chose money-driven lobbyists and ethically-challenged corporate lawyers and executives to fill key roles:
  • John Van de Water, who led a consulting firm specializing in union busting, was chosen to lead the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
  • C.W. McMillian, a VP for the National Cattleman's Association, was chosen to head the Department of Agriculture's Marketing and Inspection Division.
  • Richard Lyng, an American Meat Institute lobbyist, was chosen to be Secretary of Agriculture.
  • Joseph Tribble, from the Georgia Pulp and Paper Company, a corporation charged with dumping toxic waste into rivers, was chosen Assistant Secretary of Energy for Conservation and Renewable Energy.
  • James Watt, a lawyer who represented the nation's largest mining and timber corporations, was chosen to be Secretary of the Interior,
  • Anne Gorsuch (Burford), who built her reputation fighting environmental regulation in the Colorado state legislature, was chosen to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Ray Donovan, a construction company executive, was chosen to be Secretary of Labor. As Secretary of Labor, which oversees the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Donovan championed voluntary compliance with health and safety laws.
Part in parcel with weakening the US government was weakening its most venerable public-serving institutions like public education.

American Corporatism

The Reagan Administration ushered in the growth American Corporatism.
"In classical capitalism, what has been called the 'night-watchman' state, government's role in the economy is simply to prevent force or fraud from disrupting the autonomous operation of the free market. The market is trusted to provide. Under corporatism, it is not, instead being systematically manipulated to deliver goods to political constituencies." Robert Locke
Now we find the interests of the many (i.e., We are the 99%) are systematically ignored in favor of the interests of the few (e.g., majority shareholders and executives).

American Corporatism relies on an uniformed electorate voting against their interests. American Corporatism appeals to and manipulates the basest of fears.

Ignorance is often applauded and celebrated in the US. Unfettered streams of misinformation from right wing media (cf. Fox News) have bestowed upon the ignorant, the uninformed, and the misinformed, the mantle of real Americans.

American Education

Some 30 years following the Reagan presidency and its implicit American Corporatism, our public schools are strapped for resources and our students are bombarded by standardized tests. The tests are mandated under the two-fanged mantra of measurement and accountability. Sadly our students rarely learn civics. Moreover, there is a frustrating anti-science sentiment infiltrating public education.

Perhaps it is not in the best Corporatist interest to have an informed electorate. And perhaps it is not in the best Corporatist interest to have students publicly educated about the nuances and historical context of the US government. If so, it is because
the holy grail for American Corporatism is to dismantle American-style democracy in favor of some sort of Utopian, free market bullshit. 
The means to move toward the dystopian free market delusion is to cultivate ignorance, to misinform, and to shield the electorate from the facts.

The cult of ignorance is killing us.