28 May 2009

Thoughts on Empathy and Self Regulation

Watching people in cars at a broken stoplight a while back, I got an idea.

What is it that motivates people to be aware and careful in such situations?
If you watch what happens you can deduce a lot of things about the basic nature of people.

The traffic light serves as a regulatory device which tells people what to do and when, and although there is some leeway (minor flexibility in enforcement of law) it is a fairly successful system. The traffic light removes the necessity for total self-regulation. When the police officer shows up to direct traffic in the case of a broken light, this is a restoration of imposed authority, and hence people don't have to look out for each other anymore.

But before the Police show up what happens?
There a few exceptions, wild-cards who don't give a fuck, but my observations tell me that people slow down, they tend to follow a simple alternating pattern of one car one way, one car the other. In order to prevent general chaos, and in an immediate sense, to prevent destruction, bodily harm/suffering and death upon others, and not have it imposed on them. In effect people self regulate. Not in the "internal police officer" sense, but in the "I need to watch out for myself and others" sense.

What does this tell me?
People still have a general feeling of empathy for one another. Put simply: People don't want to put others in a situation that they themselves would not like to be in, i.e. death/dismemberment/broke and carless.
You could argue that there are other reasons for such cautious behavior, witnesses to a wreck being one, but I would argue that witnesses are another way in which people look out for each other.
Whether this is acknowledged is up for debate and probably varies by individual. The point is, we are capable of thinking beyond ourselves, and that we do not need an imposed authority to understand that basic social awareness and solidarity is beneficial to us all as individuals. We may need a revised social education system to point out those benefits, but they are there and on a base level we all recognize them.

Anarchism is not social chaos and disorder, rather it is the essence of that social education, the knowledge that we all benefit by looking out for each other, and that we do not need someone else to tell us that.
It falls to us in our daily actions to exemplify that.

Washington's Prop 8

Here's a virtual repeat of an e-mail I recieved today:

Washington took a huge step forward for equality when Governor Gregoire signed a strong domestic partnership bill last week.

But the Conservative Right is moving to repeal the heart of the new law—and if they succeed, it will be Washington's own Proposition 8, taking away the rights of same-sex couples.
In Washington, committed same-sex couples and their families now enjoy the same legal protections granted to married couples under state law. The radical right just filed a referendum—Referendum 71—to repeal many of those protections and benefits.

In Washington, today, we need everyone who believes in equality to take a stand for civil rights and decline to sign the Referendum 71 petitions. Especially straight people.


Opponents of equality need more than 120,000 signatures to place this referendum on the ballot.

Please join thousands of people across Washington in saying no to discrimination by pledging: "I decline to sign!" Please put your name on our pledge not to sign this referendum. Then forward this email to your friends and ask them to sign as well.

The Petition

26 May 2009

Spread Thin

When I don't have time to sketch or ideas, I resort to copying pictures or other stuff from all the art books I have which I figure works out to practice in the long run anyway. My new sketchbook is not very good for watercolors because the pages absorb water way too quick, you can see the lousy evidence of this above. This means I have to start using colored pencils again.
As soon as I finish the quarter I need to get back to work on Saint Bronson which hasn't been totally neglected in the last two months but hasn't come much further either.

24 May 2009

Welcome to A Cycle of Ignorance

On the cover of People Magazine this week, Bristol Palin, the 18 year old daughter of Sarah Palin talks about her experience as a teen mother. I haven't read the article, I don't think I need to. The cover quote is sufficient.

"If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex. Trust me, nobody."

Where did she think babies came from?

Novelty vending machines? The fetus-pound? Wal-Mart?
What did she think the consequences of sex were?
Sparkles and free soda-pop?

One clue as to where all the stupid came from might be her mother Sarah Palin's fundamentalist opposition to sex education. Stupid breeds stupid breeds stupid. It's pretty obvious, if you don't tell an inexperienced child the consequences of an action they are likely to take the action because they don't know what could happen.
But, fundamentalists don't really have a reputation for a firm grasp on logic.

I have a suspicion that there might even be a connection between the whole immaculate conception hype, and the lack of awareness for the concept of impregnation. How convenient.

Bristol though, isn't totally dumb. Or is at least is less insistent than her mother.

The irony of this is that you don't have to teach "graphic" sex education, none of the old in-out, in-out as Alex would say. To teach girls like Bristol the "consequences" all you have to do is teach them about the loss of autonomy, the economic consequences and the social stigma of being an unwed teenage mother. I suspect that's probably what she's referring to anyway, and knowing about it beforehand might have helped a little.

23 May 2009

Nuts Ironic

I'm not sure if this is really ironic or not, but I think it's sortof sad. As I've noted in a previous essay Peanut Butter: Builder and Destroyer of Worlds, I really like peanut butter. However, and here's the ironic part:
Cashews are hands down the best nut of all. There is no room for argument on this, don't even try.
But in defiance of all logic, cashew butter, is not very good.
Peanuts, while truly the workhorse of the nut pantheon, do not rise above their plebeian status and remain as nuts merely serviceable. They are to be more succinct, a blue collar nut. Hence their popularity in beer drinking establishments, both a a salty snack which encourages drinking, and as floor detritus to prevent slipping in spilled beer or vomit.
However,when ground into a paste, peanuts become the unassailable champion of nut butters.

Cashew = perfection personified
Peanut = tolerable
Cashew butter = tolerable
Peanut butter = perfection personified

On a second and somewhat unrelated matter:

We have a toaster in our house which does a fine job toasting bread.
However, upon application to the toasted bread, butter or butter substitute does not melt sufficiently and remains in a somewhat congealed state. I have on every occasion had to place the bread upside down on the top of the toaster in order to use the heat to complete the melting process, or put the bread in the oven. This seems like a failure in the fundamental essence of toast on several levels.
First, the bread is dissipating heat far too quickly.
Second, there is a step missing if, from commencement to completion the butter is not fully melted. It doesn't seem right that there should be another step required. This is awkward, and jars my memory. How did I make toast in the past? I have no memory of having to take an extra step to fully melt the butter.
Four possible causes:
1.) Bread has become less dense since my childhood, and thus retains heat for a shorter period of time.
2.) Toasters have become less efficient or there is a conspiracy to force the home toast consumer to use more electricity.
3.) The butter is too cold and should be at room temperature upon application to the toast.
4.) My memory is faulty.

20 May 2009

What To Do

I've had this problem for a while where I can't figure out how to express my idea of what to do about something that seems wrong to me. After I was asked to do the last illustration for Real Change, I read the article, and it made things much more clear for me.
Basically, I don't like the fact that whole groups of people are disqualified from participating in society because of their poverty. I believe that this poverty is usually associated with systematic institutional prejudice, and is perpetuated by cultural practices.
But how can we change this?
As author Alice O'Connor says in the interview, the "poverty paradigm... is based on appeals to altruism and philanthropy rather than to social/economic justice and shared citizenship rights."

I'm always thinking to myself, what can I do to help change this problem, and change peoples lives for the better? Often the first thing that comes to mind is philanthropy, donating to foodbanks, donating to shelters, etc. But I know that this won't "solve" the problem, honestly, I don't think there is any one thing that will solve it. We have to find ways to undermine the systematic institutional practices, counteract them.

That's what makes it hard for most people, it requires that we do something, make ourselves uncomfortable, or inconvenienced rather than just writing a check or dropping some canned beans in a box. It can certainly make me uncomfortable.

Those things are needed too, people need to have something to eat right now, but it doesn't prevent people in the future from also having to depend on charity for sustenance.

19 May 2009

Cannery Row Painting

Not one of my better pieces but I had to complete it under pressure in the middle of midterms. So, considering that it came out better than I could have hoped. It's on a big canvas, roughly four by three I think. I'm betting that this one won't sell.

16 May 2009

13 May 2009

Nose Things

It's not well known outside of the small circle of Balkan historians, but Tito's leadership of Yugoslavia was really quite tenuous and often teeterd on the brink of revolt. Not because Tito was a tyrant necessarily, that's a question for another time and place, but because the ethnic tensions that would later erupt with such ferocious horror in the 90's, were only just kept below the surface in "unified" Yugoslavia.

Tito took a harsh stance on internal conflict because he himself was walking a fine line between East and West, shunning the Communist International (Comintern) party line to the great consternation of "The Plowman", and for a time, maintaining a protectionist, anti capitalist course.

The Yugoslav criminal justice system at this time was somewhat crude and eccentric because it was trying to do something that didn't shear too close to either Bloc. It didn't want the Gulag, and it didn't want "Capital" punishment. So what happened is that the Yugoslav federal police system came up with some really bizarre punishments. Like this one here. These men have comitted the crime of evading military service, and petty thievery. According to the writing on the back of the original file photograph, they were headed toward the Italian border and had stolen bread and canned fishes and canned tomatoes. Their punishment; to smell their own armpits for 18 months while working on a garlic farm.

This is better written and more thought provoking.

11 May 2009


Whatever this is, it's amazing.

10 May 2009

Paintings by Breugel

Peasant Dance

The Blind Leading the Blind

The Triumph of Death

These are the sort of paintings, and they were done at the time when message was everything, there was no such thing as commercial art. You can be sure that just about everything in all of these paintings has a specific meaning.

07 May 2009

Weak Bikers

My sincerest hope is that this is the interior of his house. Even though it wouldn't make sense to have a motorcycle in the house per se.
So I guess its a garage, but still, I really like the unfinished wood walls.
Although this fellows glasses and hairline diminish any potential menace, it brings to mind the secret glee of the weak. When an archetype popularly identified with violence or cruelty, like a biker for example, is hindered by a medical condition it can be quite satisfying to his prior or potential victims.

Though you would never admit it openly in their presence, it puts a smile on your face to see the school bully with a broken leg. When I was in high school one of the biggest jerks in my grade, a guy named Josh, was screwing around with his pals and sitting on to the top of the car while they drove around. When I heard he had flown off and gotten really badly busted up, I was secretly beside myself. He recovered of course, but he didn't get any smarter, he got hooked on methamphetamines and for all I know is dead.

Effectively it's just the idea of seeing someone bigger or meaner than you brought down to your level. The impenetrable fortress showing some cracks so to speak. In conjunction with this picture it reminds me of those "ironic" biker ads that were popular around the millenium. They played on the popular conception of the big mean biker and by putting them in totally "abnormal" situations. I remember one with an old lady who put on leathers at the end, one where a beardy biker frolicked with his grandson at the end, and some other ones mostly advertising for pharmaceuticals or insurance as I recall. The only one I could find is this Allstate ad which doesn't quite capture it, but you get the point I think.

Gone To Croatoan also has something to say about bikers.

04 May 2009


When I was a kid I thought truckers were cool, mostly because they had air-horns on their trucks and would more often than not honk them as we drove by on the highway and I made the usual tugging motion with my arm.

Some of this may have to do with being a kid in the 80's when truckers were actually cool in popular culture. They had movies, albeit B-movies, that glorified them (Breaker, Breaker, Over the Top) and a comic book series (US1).

As I grew up I came to learn a lot of things about truckers that I do not think are very cool.

-Lot Lizards are actually just prostitutes who frequent parking lots where truckers park to sleep or eat or whatever. I was introduced to this concept on a bumper sticker that said "No Lot Lizards", and a book in which a hooker signaled her offer to a trucker by flashing her headlights.
-I probably got the idea from horror films about hitchhikers, but I sometimes think of truckers in terms of serial murder because their relatively anonymous interstate travel allows for a great deal of contact with people whose dissapearance would go unnoticed otherwise.
-Obviously the whole time deadline thing contributed to a significant amount of drug use which had to be addressed by laws limiting the number of driving hours in a 24 hour period. Supposedly the interstate trucking system contributed a great deal to the spread in popularity of methamphetamines, particularly in the western US. Also supposedly, meth addicts sometimes walk along highways looking for discarded bottles of urine to drink in the assumption that trucker urine will contain surplus meth.
-In South Africa truckers visiting prostitutes along their route have been a major factor in the epidemic spread of AIDS in that country.

I think you could make an argument that these are either a result of the semi-nomadic deadline oriented lifestyle, or that there are certain personality types that are drawn to that lifestyle. Some of these are not really related to truckers themselves beyond the fact that they grew up around the industry as a sort of symbiotic relationship. I am not trying to implicate truckers or trucking in general in some sort of grand conspiracy, just to illuminate what the general concept brings to my mind.
Nevertheless, short of providing the majority of the population of the US population with products (primarily food) which they cannot otherwise produce themselves, I can think of few pros for the trucking industry that counteract the above cons.
I vote for trains, they look cooler too.

All that said, the man in the picture above may be a trucker, but there is little or no evidence in the above photo to suggest it outside of a stereotypical "image".
The rear view mirror is too small for a semi trailer. The vehicle in the opposite window does not resemble another semi, and is roughly level with his truck, so his vehicle must be of average height. Same with the standing photographer who appears in his glasses to be at the same height as him, this is confirmed by the angle of the photograph which is level with his window. The back cab window is visible directly behind his head which suggests (but does not guarantee) that his car is an average truck.

So anyway, that's what this picture made me think of.
This is what it made Gone to Croatoan think of.