Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Over-Analyzing The Obvious

There's been absolutely tons of commentary about the Occupy Wall Street protest from bloggers and journalists, much of it concerned with the apparent lack of specificity and cohesion regarding its goals. Will Wilkinson's two cents pretty much hits the nail on the head for me:
Set aside for a moment the question of the efficacy of protests and mass demonstrations as engines of social and political change. Isn't the efflorescence of spontaneous, meaningful community cheering in itself? Generally, I think it's a mistake to see phenomena like Occupy Wall Street or the tea-party movement as immediate inputs to reform. If one insists that this sort of thing must "make a difference" in order to justify one's support, it is possible to see protests, rallies, gatherings, be-ins and so forth—with or without intellectual or strategic cohesion—as investment in "social networking" and the inculcation of ideology and activist identity that may eventually pay dividends through conventional channels of reform. But that's boring, and life is too boring already, which brings me to my point. When life is both boring and lived within a matrix of maddening institutions, why not get together with thousands of like-minded folks, scream about it, screw up traffic, get arrested, whip one another into a frenzy of self-righteous indignation, spit on some people, provoke the jackboots, and maybe even wreck some stuff? Why is that not a good idea?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Patent Pending: The Ultimate Chase Scene

Lots of action movies have elaborate chase/fight scenes, often involving comical or remarkable settings and props. The popularization of parkour has made these scenes even more intense. Here's my suggestion: a chase scene occurring within a fictional modern & conceptual art gallery. The sheer number of possible hilarious and interesting visual devices would make this a joy to watch.

Characters could engage in high-flying, ariel acrobatics over hanging installations. Thugs could be dispatched with novelty and humor by utilizing bits of sculpture. Improvised weapons drawn from art materials would encourage wild and creative choreography. Not to mention the humor and instant marketing potential of destroying countless replicas of famous pieces in ironic or funny ways. Blood splatter disappearing into a Jackson Pollock painting, or marring the pure solid color fields of a Mondrian. A nose gets broken or an eye blackened as a Picasso painting slides into frame. Anish Kapoor's wax cannon leaves little to the imagination. Many sculptures spark emotion and thoughtfulness in their audience precisely because of their off-limits, no-touching status. Seeing an installation comprised entirely of ordinary cleaning supplies get knocked over, for example, would be existentially cathartic. Examples abound.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Quote of the Week

"Imagine you are on a boat docked in calm harbor and you want to quickly carry a brim-full cup of water across a stateroom without spilling. Now imagine the same situation but with the boat in rough seas. In harbor, the solution is simple: just walk quickly, but not so quickly that the water spills. At sea, speed is a secondary concern; now the real challenge is to maintain balance on an abruptly pitching floor. The solution now is to find secure handholds and footholds and to flex your knees to absorb the roll of the boat. In harbor, the solution is a simple optimization problem (walk as fast as possible but not too fast); at sea the solution requires you to enhance your ability to absorb disturbance--that is, enhance your resilience against the waves.
"Since the time of the agricultural revolution, the problem of environmental management has been conceived to be an optimization problem, like the example of carrying the water on the boat in the harbor. We have assumed that we could manage individual components of an ecological system independently, find an optimal balance between supply and demand for each component, and that other attributes of the system would stay largely constant through time.
"But, as we learn more about ecological and human systems, these assumptions are being shattered. Ecological systems are extremely dynamic, their behavior much more like the analogy of a boat at sea. They are constantly confronted with 'surprise' events such as storms, pest outbreaks, or droughts. What is optimal for one year is unlikely to be optimal the next. And, the structure and function of the systems continually change through time (and will change even more rapidly in the future as global warming becomes an ever-stronger driver of change).
"Quite simply, the basic framework underpinning our approach to environmental management has been based on false assumptions. In a world characterized by dynamic change in ecological and social systems, it is at least as important to manage systems to enhance their resilience as it is to manage the supply of specific products. In other words, we must apply 'resilience thinking' " 
From Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World by Brian Walker and David Salt (page x-xi)

Power Players: Paolo Bacigalupi

Identifying current trends in technology and culture and projecting them into the future has always been a big part of science fiction, and author Paolo Bacigalupi does this better than anyone with respect to the Earth's environmental conditions. Over numerous short stories (most collected in the spectacular anthology Pump Six) and a full-length novel (The Windup Girl), Bacigalupi describes human civilization trudging along through a bleak environmental dystopia, placing the reader at variable stages of collapse. Most of his short stories focus on one particular environmental facet, but taken as a whole a creepy sense of continuity emerges. Among the horror scenarios detailed are: peak oil, genetically modified food, transhumanism and naturalness, climate change refugees, biological warfare between agribusiness conglomerates, overpopulation, and water politics in a drought-devastated Southwestern U.S.  I recently read The Gambler, a fantastic novelette about near-future internet news coverage and environmental journalism. Check it out here.