Tuesday, September 16, 2014

This environment

One of the exercises we did for the Environment module was measuring our global footprint. You answer information about your consumption, and in response you get how many Earths it would take to sustain that lifestyle if everyone had the same lifestyle.

3.41 Earths. That's how much it would take everyone in the world to live like me.

I was pretty horrified by this, because we try to be pretty responsible. As other classmates responded with their answers, and it was more commonly 4.5-6.5 earths, with I think one person over 7, it's not exactly that I felt better, but I started to understand better the smallness of some of the things we do compared to the typical lifestyle.

The other thing that I had to consider was how much of my "smaller" impact is dependent on other circumstances that I don't really control.

Our electricity comes from hydro-power and our heating comes from natural gas. That is better for the environment than goal or nuclear (which is often called clean, but only in certain senses of the word), but it's not really a choice about using them, because that's what we have here. Well, we could choose do to the heating through electric as well, but basically, environmentally we get clean power here. I had already come to realize how lucky that makes us economically after visiting with my cousins in Italy, who pay much more for utilities, but it is an ecological boon too.

My family is very conscientious about recycling. We have a hard time on vacation when there aren't options. Usually we can find some place for bottles and cans, and we will cart paper home with us, so we try, but here it is so easy. They pick our recycling up every two weeks. We don't even have to do that much sorting. Not everyone has that. I like to think that I would try anyway, but there is limited time and energy, so the obstacles in the way matter.

Finding food grown locally is easier here. It may still be more expensive, and take some effort, but it can be done. This year there is a community garden nearby, so that has affected our habits. I am starting to be more optimistic about trying to grow in our yard. Not only do we have a yard, but even if the soil is not particularly nutrient rich, it is at least not contaminated, and I feel confident using it. I feel confident using our water. This is not true for every place you can live, even in the United States.

Our refusal to eat fish can be viewed as environmentally friendly, at least with certain species, but it wasn't really a moral choice. My sisters and I think fish is gross. Mom likes it, but not enough to miss it.

One objection I have seen to the ice bucket challenge is that it is wasting water when lots of people don't have access to clean water, and closer to home California has a drought. Based on that, it does seem a little irresponsible to do it in California. I know Henry Rollins only takes short showers because so many people don't have access. I get that, but I really enjoy my shower. I don't even take a really long shower, I just enjoy it.

I mention these things because it's important to remember the others. It's important to remember the ways we are lucky, and the ways that other people aren't. If people in developing countries are digging coal out of the ground and burning that to keep warm and cook their food, I know there is an environmental impact, but how can I judge it? When they want to build factories that pollute while providing jobs that allow them to have the kind of lifestyle that we have, how can discourage them based on our own luxury?

Tomorrow we will go over an even more devastating assessment, and talk more about environment and inequality.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Inequality and the Environment

Last week was spent reviewing the comics read for the MOOC, but there were some other things I wanted to follow up on based on the non-comic materials, and that is because of the way the different areas interact.

One article covered e-waste disposal. You are probably aware that you are not supposed to throw old computers and tech waste into the regular trash. Inside the casing there can be lead, mercury, and arsenic, as well as other chemicals and metals.

What you may not know is that after you responsibly turn your old gadgets in on a tech-waste round up, the recycling process that they go through often involves women and children in developing countries stripping them apart, that they may use other hazardous chemicals in the process, and that in addition to endangering their own health, various toxins enter the local environment as runoff.

We do get those toxins out of our environment here in the United States, but that doesn't mean they are not an issue anywhere, and this is a system that can happen because there are enough people who do not care about poor people. Those workers may not be fully aware of the health threats, but they may also be desperate enough to accept it. The people who may drink contaminated water or food grown in contaminated ground have even less choice.

That's sobering, and we are going to think some more about that, but I want to bring up two other things.

Often, having money can shield you from a lot, but in an area with more inequality, the air and water are worse for everyone. You can only drink bottled water, and have water delivered, but you probably aren't going to bathe in bottled water, or wash dishes in it, and you are still going to breathe air.

Inequality harms everyone. Yes, it hits those on the lower end of the scale the hardest, but it does not only hit them. That brings us to the last link for today:

They are actually not sure if the super rich are harmed by inequality, but they can confirm that 90-95% of the population benefits when there is great equality. They wrote a whole book on it.

If self-interest helps some people care about inequality who would not care otherwise, I will take it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Concert Movie Review - Duran Duran: Unstaged

This is a first for me.

Duran Duran: Unstaged was a 2010 Duran Duran concert performed at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, filmed by David Lynch, and broadcast over the internet. Wednesday night it was turned into a Fathom event, in theaters for one night only.

I have reviewed concerts and films, but not both at the same time. I have been to Duran Duran concerts, but not since I have started writing reviews. Taking into consideration the merits of the concert, the film, and the theater experience will cover a lot of ground.

My previous shows happened on the Astronaut tour, which brought all five original band members together, and the All You Need Is Now tour. From that I know that Duran Duran stages phenomenal shows. Costumes, visual effects, and powerful performances combine into something that is obviously professional but doesn't feel stuffy or overdone. Copious amounts of charisma from the band members helps, but there is also a lot of expertise and savvy that is easy to overlook as you get carried away. Balancing those elements could be a difficult task for a filmmaker.

I am happy to report that being in the theater felt remarkably like being at a Duran Duran concert. I think making it available for only one night helped with that, turning it into an event that we had all chosen to participate in.

Most people did stay in their seats, which was different from a live show, but there was a lot of moving around in seats, singing along, and some shouting. There was that communal feeling and enthusiasm, even knowing that we were watching something from four years ago.

It was not just filmed as an ordinary concert either, because there was the broadcast going on. The primary different this made in the performance was the inclusion of special guests. They brought out Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance for "Planet Earth", Beth Ditto of Gossip for "Notorious", Mark Ronson for several songs, and Kelis for "The Man Who Stole A Leopard" and "Come Undone".

The guest performances were enjoyable on a musical level, but I think they were even more important for the sentimental factor. First of all you could see how excited the guests were to be included, reminding us how important and influential Duran Duran has been regardless of time periods and genres. In addition, seeing how sweet and supportive the band members were to their guests increased the emotional bond.

They are lovable. We know this, but seeing Roger hug Gerard at the end, after finally getting out from behind the drum kit, or seeing John wait for Beth to hug him, even though she had gotten in a hug earlier, gets the heart even more melted.

We had never known Kelis was pronounced that way, but then, Gerard isn't pronounced that way, so maybe Kelis isn't, but listening to Simon talk is so charming regardless. And then he told a total dad joke (How do you make a dog drink? Put him in the blender), but he is a dad now. They all are.

The film aspects worked pretty well for the most part. Often Lynch chose to overlay the visual effects over the band. These ranged from fairly amorphous objects like smoke, clouds, and flames to more concrete images like masks and houses. This made it possible to see both the visuals and what the band was doing, which was a good parallel for being at a show with a large screen behind the band. There were a few times when it was more obtrusive, with mixed results.

This was most distracting on "Sunrise", where the multiplying nude Barbies with blurred out faces could have been very effective for some type of commentary, but really did not seem to fit the song. Unfortunately, it felt like it deflated the song, which was tragic because that is a really good song.

On the other hand, the visuals for "The Man Who Stole A Leopard", while the initially appeared fairly abstract, shed a new light on the song for me which I hadn't been expecting at all.

Finally, while the footage for "Come Undone" was somewhat distracting, there is also something appropriate about completely ineffective grilling practices for a song about things coming undone, and I kind of loved the puppets. It felt so David Lynch, more than any other part of the concert.

Overall I have to call it a success, as a concert, as a movie, and as a Fathom event. However, I went with three other people, so you don't need to take my word for it.

Maria: Freaking awesome!
Julie: Freaking amazing!

Yes, they said "freaking". They did use less quotable language as well, but those were their first responses.

Also, our 71-year old mother loved it, and she would not be up for a live concert, which is more strenuous. We had her in the handicapped section of the stadium seating, and this worked well for her. Also working for her, that her kids were not the loudest people there. (Still loud.)

Duran Duran:Unstaged

Duran Duran

Me on Duran Duran

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Band Review: Blue to Brown

Last night I watched the concert movie Duran Duran: Unstaged. Knowing that would be my Friday review, I decided the perfect Thursday review was the blues duo Blue to Brown, featuring Duran Duran guitarist Dom Brown and his father Rob Brown.

There are generous helpings of funk and groove, as one would wish. Overall, it is pretty basic blues. Vocals tend to the smokier side, growling in the lower registers. It reminded me a little of Joe Cocker and Tom Waits, but more intelligible.

The guitar parts fill me with joy. "Talking Blues" may be the best example, as the guitar speaks and sings. However, listening to "Sweet Mercy" and "Please, Please" together may give you a better idea of the range, with the former punching and aggressive, and the latter soulful and pleading. Conveniently, all three tracks are grouped together on the album, Blue to Brown. The CD can be purchased via the band web site or downloaded via iTunes, along with Dom's solo albums.

They're worth checking out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Comic Review: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

For the Immigration Module, one of the suggested additional readings was The Arrival, writing and art by Shaun Tan. I had already read it, and I thought I had written about it before, but I haven't really said much.

This is probably because words would be so inadequate. Although you could make as good a case for it being a picture book as a comic book, it does come up in discussing comics, and a complex conversation on The Arrival goes like this:

1st person: Or The Arrival!
2nd person: Yes!
1st person: I know, right?

A simple conversation eliminates most of that verbiage for sharp inhalations or exhalations, plus looks.

That probably sounds pretty silly, but it I think it is a natural result of having experienced the book. I know I said I "read" it earlier, but there are no words in the book; it is all pictures.

In The Arrival a man says goodbye to his family and travels to a new land, finding work, making acquaintances, and missing his family. Tan gets fanciful in creating many of the basics. The mode of transportation is something we have never seen. In the new land foods, musical instruments, and pets all look strange. You understand what their purpose is from the context, but you can't recognize them. There is no text to give you guidance.

There are still many things that are familiar. We recognize the need to eat, and how it feels to miss family, how it heals to make friends, a love for animals, and the joy of reunion. Because there are no words, there is no need for translation.

I don't know if it is completely universal. There is a visual reference to The Bicycle Thief that a lot of people might miss, though missing it would take nothing from the story. If you live in a small village where no one ever leaves, surrounded by generations, it might feel different than if you live in a country with a long history of immigration. Still, I think a lot is universal.

The artwork simultaneously brings to mind old sepia photographs and Hieronymus Bosch, but in the front and back there are very realistic portraits based on immigrants who came through Ellis Island, just as many other pictures are based on the Ellis Island experience.

No one in my family came from there. On my father's side, everyone came through during colonial times, before there even was a United States of America (except for the Huguenot line; their path was a little more complicated, and diverted through Canada first). My mother married a descendant of those many colonists, leaving Italy as a young bride long after Ellis Island closed.

I still feel connected to those faces. Our humanity connects us, and our need to survive and do hard things and seek something better. If my ancestors came in different ways, they still came.

So in using his art to bring up both the familiar and the strange, Tan gets us to share in his protagonists disorientation, but also in his longing and in his hope, and to touch on those familiar emotions in us.

Having this emotional experience without words makes these incoherent "conversations" that readers have with each other the most sensible exchanges possible. What we mean is that we felt things, and as we felt them strictly through visual means, without words, that is the most basic level of relating to it. We show it in our faces and we breathe.

The story that The Arrival tells is worth seeing, but it is also worthwhile just to get that example of how powerful images can be. The Arrival shows us what pictures can do.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Comic Review for MOOC Module 5: Media, Government Intervention, and Information Privacy

Daredevil V1, written by Mark Waid, art by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin

I have a terrible feeling now that I have read the wrong section. I saw #4,5,6, and I took that to mean issues in Volume 1, and now wonder if I should have read Volumes 4, 5, and 6. What I read had Matt Murdock's legal career seriously compromised by the news revealing his identity, and then had him resolving a situation by gaining control of some data that basically allowed for mutually assured destruction of various criminal syndicates. However, the descriptions for the following volumes do sound like they could pertain to discussions on media and privacy.

The thought that I might end up reading more Daredevil to keep up does not disturb me, so that is a positive review. I was a little distracted in the resemblance of one of the bad guys to Kick-Ass, but I have not actually read that one, so I could be mistaken.

Transmetropolitan V1, written by Warren Ellis, art by Darick Robertson

This was my introduction to Spider Jerusalem. He is likable at his core, but exhausting to spend time with, and so that's kind of how reading the book goes. The class did get an interview with Warren Ellis, and I don't think he answered a single question as asked, but was nonetheless delightful, and there is probably some symmetry there.

Ellis did tell us that Spider is a child, and yes, that makes sense, but there was also a pause to realize that the is from the late '90s, and so much has passed and developed since then that there is this realization that this is a much more mature writer now, which leads to the next assigned reading...

Global Frequency V1, written by Warren Ellis, multiple artists

I am tempted to call this a more mature work. Transmetropolitan has a lot of depth and smart things going on, and it does have a sense of responsibility as over and over again Spider's motivations do indicate that he cares, but he is lashing out angrily and tempestuously. Those on the Global Frequency are organized, precise (at least as much as possible), and they are trying really hard to do the right thing.

That sounds like it is more optimistic, but some of the issues get very dark. I kind of hate only having "multiple artists" there, because each story had such a distinct look, and the art and the subject melded together. If my favorite image is the parkour practicing agent rising from the Thames after successfully preventing a bomb detonation, the images of a burned out agent perishing with the subjects of horrific experiments is more haunting. The set-up allows for infinite stories.

Nightly News V1, art and writing by Jonathan Hickman

Take the clamor of the loudest pages in Transmetropolitan, and the darkness of the darkest pages of Global Frequency, and you may still not be prepared for Nightly News.

In addition to a complex plot, with some very thin disguises over pretty recognizable characters, and lots of additional statistics, and there is a very real sense of information overload. It is an amazing feat that Hickman created everything that you see and read in the book, but it also feels appropriate, like bringing in another person would have diluted the effect.

It is not a happy feel-good book, but it is powerful.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Comic Review for MOOC Module 4: Immigration

I have finally finished all of the reading and videos for the Massive Open Online Course for Social Issues Through Comic Books. Actually, I have been done for over a week, and I had been done with the comics already, but sometimes the academic papers put me off a bit, as they are often incredibly boring. They often contain good points, and boring is certainly the comic style for the academic paper genre, but it is very sad.

Action Comics #900, written by Paul Cornell, with many artists
Superman Unchained #1, written by Scott Snyder, Pencils and Inks by Jim Lee, Dustin Nguyen, and Scott Williams

I am going to treat these together because I just don't care for Superman that much. We have here the story where Superman renounces his United States citizenship, viewing himself more as a citizen of the world, and wanting to at times take action without it reflecting on the US. At the same time, Clark Kent's Kansas upbringing did raise him, and if what the government wants are not compatible with those values, then that's something to think about.

There were really good discussions on this, and on identity, but I really found the reading tiresome. My favorite part is that when Lex Luthor has a chance to cease all human suffering if he can let his hatred for Superman go (and he can't), there is a moment when we see Death lying back and enjoying the sun on snow with the skier who just suffered a fatal accident. That made me smile, but it was short-lived. (Pun not really intentional, but I know it's there.)

Skin Horse: Book One - Mission Alaska, written by Miguel Angel Garrido and Matthew Weldon, with art by Miguel Angel Garrido

I actually ended up buying the next two books, Tigerlily Jones and Path of the Notary. I think I wanted to anyway, but I justified it as being necessary because they really didn't explore the immigration issue very much, and I thought I would get a better perspective from reading what followed. Book One did end on kind of a cliffhanger.

Instead, the next two books started off completely new, with only a small reference to previous events. The series is like that in general. Characters are described whom you do not see, events are referred to that you were never able to read about, and closure just may not happen.

Taking all of that into account, and even admitting that sometimes it might be trying too hard to be whimsical, it is still pretty funny and the artwork is absolutely adorable.

American Born Chinese, writing and art by Gene Luen Yang

This book is perfect. I don't say that lightly.

It weaves together a tale about the Monkey King with the story of a young boy along a common theme of transformation. There are parts of it that are very uncomfortable, and are so valuable and necessary. This is must-read.

There was one optional reading which I am going to write about Wednesday, but we'll go over the Module 5 reading first.