Monday, June 21, 2010

Updating the technology

I'm writing this on a new-to-me iMac G5. My old notebook, the faithful HP ze5170 has been manifesting more and more ominous symptoms. I knew I wanted something that would do more tricks. When a Mac-savvy friend mentioned this unit she had been harboring I made the move to Apple.

I had been bilingual. The newspaper used Apple computers, and so does my wife. They really do have a knack for getting the software out of the way of creativity. My Mac-tech friend, who is also awesome musician Beverly Woods, fitted this thing out with a big honkin' hard drive and various graphics software. And I could lay the monitor flat and sleep on it. There's a lot of acreage here.

I picked it up earlier this week, but haven't had a chance to turn it on and load drivers for the resident peripherals until today.

I must now live up to it. My wife has a song project she wants illustrated.

After getting by on the netbook for so long it feels wonderfully roomy to have a full-size keyboard. I have to resume my dutiful attempts to learn touch typing.

I keep reaching for a touch pad that isn't there. But this is nice. Pretty darn nice.

Beginning summer with a chore for winter

Wood is not a heat source for the indolent. This summer I actually got motivated to make drying stacks from the unruly pile dumped from my firewood supplier's truck. What you see in the picture took nearly four hours. I have more to do, but I got tired. The job gets old long before it gets done.

Wood pellets have become fashionable, but pellets are a manufactured product. Their price and availability fluctuates radically. Pellets and wood chips also contribute to forest loss. They seem at first like a great way to use more of the tree, but the removal of slash and treetops from logged areas contributes to soil loss as more organic material is carted off and turned into carbon dioxide and soot in heating and energy systems instead of being left to rot.

Firewood won't work for everyone. If too many people used it, North America would become a desert in a matter of months. There are simply too many people. For now, it works for some of us. Other energy sources came to dominate for good reason. But there's no fuel like and old fuel, when it's right for the job.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The fan droned placidly

Members of the conservation commission attended the selectmen's meeting on Tuesday expecting to be criticized and possibly insulted for a decision they'd been forced to make based on inadequate information. We had not been summoned, but presented ourselves to report, as civil and rational colleagues, if the board had any questions or comments.

We are technically appointed by the select board. They could fire us and form a new commission if they chose. I do my best to help here, but if the town leaders decide that a less active and committed commission reflects the will of the citizens better, they have the power to take that controversial step. I can certainly find other ways to keep busy during the declining years of life on Earth.

We were not on the agenda. The board would only have received our decision that afternoon. We were there as a courtesy in case they wanted to address any of their concerns immediately.

Apparently they did not.

I had to leave before the end because of a previously scheduled personal commitment. Before I left I watched them govern for a while.

It's a strange little anti-government government. These people are paid with our tax dollars, which makes them kin to all in that position, but their caustic comments and eye rolls about the feds and state officials clearly showed that they do not sense it.

The chair of the board walks a convoluted tightrope above his constituency here in town. As referred to in an earlier post, the small population here holds the width of viewpoints held in the national population. We have tree-hugging socialists and gun-toting authority-haters. Interestingly, both these polar opposites get together to agree on the basics like road maintenance and other routine functions of the community before returning their customary scathing assessments of each other's mental competence.

The select board does not hold this place together so much as balance on top of the constant minor earthquake. The political speech is a caricature, the duplicity almost instantaneous, as people come forward who have very different positions. Politicians aren't lying, they're just trying to reflect the desires of whoever is in front of them at that moment. Sensitive to the entire audience, this board leans in an anti-government direction and praises property rights and jobs over environmental protection. The environmentalists are used to taking crap and being dismissed. Apparently we can take it and always will. The sad fact is, they're right. Short-sighted, selfish people who are willing to act out and destroy things always get attention over the small, the peaceful, and the hard to understand. If something is hard to understand, get angry at it and order it to become simple! And spout a catch phrase when you do it.

I don't say it's easy to govern, especially when you can face a room packed with angry neighbors. They also stop you in the grocery store, the post office and on the road. Not me, mind you. The board and commission on which I serve tend to function mostly ignored. But the selectmen are the headliners. They become the lightning rod. I've seen the chairman go from being a quiet but open person to someone not vastly, but noticeably, more guarded and angry.

Service to the people forces you to deal with everything about them. It either hardens you somewhat or it cuts you to pieces. That hardness does not have to be cold and cruel. It can simply be a measure of clinical detachment or prudent defensiveness. Or it can form a shell around a bitter center.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Local Control

Small town government is really depressing.

In the human race there's only a small pool of good leaders and another pool of leaders whose style falls more into the category of warlords and dictators. These two groups account for all the ideas the rest of us get recruited to support or oppose. People who possess fewer leadership qualities fill the management and labor positions. Some people try to stay out of social systems entirely.

So much for the general situation. Someone somewhere has compiled statistics on the actual proportions in the population. The idea that 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people springs to mind, but that's a tiny fraction of the story. Leaders pick the work.

In a small population the smaller percentage of good leaders represents a minuscule actual number. They seldom hear praise, but complaints are often delivered face to face in unconstructive terms. Leading in a small town can be like leading outlaws or pirates. As long as you can maintain control in the ranks you won't be deposed. You have to show them victories and plunder and prove that you are still tougher than they are.

In some towns the veneer of civility may be thicker than in others. In this one the division between people with what you might call a global perspective and those with an intensely self-centered one is sharp. At this point there appear to be no swing voters. It all comes down to apathy. The ones who would choose not to be governed do their best to ignore government and remain invisible to it. The ones who believe government can be conducted civilly and productively for long-term benefits keep plugging away. But there aren't enough of them to fill all the necessary slots.

The present supreme leadership of the town seems unduly susceptible to pressure from the faction with very short-term goals. Unfortunately, small towns get run by people with the time to devote to it. The alternatives who have offered themselves for the position have all been demonstrably worse.

Petty people in positions of power present a particular problem. Some people fear rules because petty leaders can use them as power tools. But petty leaders who try to circumvent the rules end up doing worse damage to the system we are supposed to operate for the good of all. Sometimes the authority figure hung up on procedure is not just doing it to swing a big stick. Sometimes it really has to do with respect for the institution that is supposed to operate on a time frame beyond a single human lifetime. The system is supposed to outlive each of us individually because it serves us collectively across generations. Therefore it may have needs that supersede our short-term desires.

The 1960s brought about a great many good and necessary things. Unfortunately it also fed a culture of self indulgence and impatience that finds expression in such disparate ways as huge cars, suburban mansions, swingers' clubs and doomsday religions. Party or worship like there's no tomorrow. There's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The good things from the 1960s were a willingness to question authority at all levels and a sense of individual worth that can lead to a very responsible respectful society if you recognize that every self has worth, no greater or less than your own. It's hard when those selves choose to do things that range from annoying to abhorrent. No one said life was easy. It just gets hard in different ways as we learn more and more about ourselves and our universe. For every physical hazard we have reduced, a new ethical dilemma arises. For every technology that makes life seem easier we have a new set of unintended consequences to discover and mitigate.

I didn't ask for this. If I didn't have to work for a living I would happily just sit for days at a time, watching the mountains erode under the ever-changing weather. I've never felt the need to be constantly busy. But someone has to do something about, or for, the people who do. I have to walk into the arena of the pissing contest, umbrella in hand, and speak in defense of reason.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Cartooning is fiddling in the world of art

The world of fiddling includes hot players with extensive classical training and highly regarded performers with little or no formalized training. Likewise the ranks of cartooning include many who attended or even finished art school. Others have acquired skills mostly on their own to bring their ideas to paper.

Ultimately, the result is what matters. The formally trained practitioner in either art or music may have a bigger toolbox or a deeper understanding of the few tools applied in a given circumstance. I won't argue against a proper education. But as one who has evaded a full formal education I have to hope for the outsider as well.

Fiddling is music of the people. Cartooning is art of the people. I'm sure the first cartoon was an unflattering depiction of the tribal chief that led directly to the first commandment forbidding graven images and the first cartoonist to get stoned. Before Art was invented, people just tried to get a point across with pictures. You need me to draw you a picture? As art has developed, certain artistic people have collected advanced techniques to help them make a picture they find more satisfactory. At the same time, scribbling miscreants all over the world are doing crude renderings and eliciting huge laughs from their audience. I remember a few times in school when my friends and I could not inhale because we were trying to control our laughter during a class when someone had made or found a scribbled cartoon.

One of the best art teachers I've met was a fellow student at the first and only Center for Cartoon Studies gag cartooning workshop in 2006. I hope I would feel the same way if I encountered him as an undergraduate properly enrolled in one of his classes. All I can say is that right now what he says resonates with me.

Jamie Smith posts items about his teaching and cartooning endeavors at his blog, Ink & Snow. Here is a link to his profile information. If you wonder how it's done and how you might do some yourself, scroll through his articles. If you just want to laugh at his cartoons you can find links to take you to a bunch of them.

He did not get a college art education. But he is hardly uneducated.

One thing unifies successful people: they identify their core interest and refuse to be dislodged from it. The same quality afflicts many unsuccessful people who for various reasons fail to make it, but you seldom find a successful person who got there without trying.

I am a fiddler by temperament. I never took well to formal education even though I remained institutionalized for 17 years. I did not have the drive and the need to break out when I could remain subsidized and still pay attention only to what interested me in my immediate vicinity. My major regret is that I did not take more advantage of what I could have sniffed out. I don't really regret any lack of attention in the actual classes for which I registered.

Live and learn, the saying goes. Of course it's easy to pick alternate choices looking back. It really doesn't get any easier looking forward. You can make more rational choices but you can't control what comes from outside. You can only continue to follow your interests in the style that suits you.

When I started cartooning in seventh grade, I did not study it exhaustively. I did not understand the difficulty of the drawing process. Words and ideas came easily. They still do. The drawing comes as hard to me as prying notes off a page and hammering them one at a time like nails into my skull so that I can twiddle through 45 seconds of music. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I can come up with a thousand words far more quickly than I can produce a professional quality drawing to depict them. After looking at some of the cartooning blogs on the glorious Interweb, I'm not sure I have ever produced a professional quality drawing, regardless of what has gotten published, even though I got paid for some of it. There is some serious damn' art out there.

I scribble on.