Friday, March 16, 2018

From the Archive: Clear Cut

This is my father, Harold Shapero, standing in what appears to be a barren desert. But actually, it is the future site of the house I grew up in, an L-shaped mid-century modern ranch dwelling where there is no ranch. The earth my dad is standing on is a clear-cut, the kind of complete forest and land removal that is currently done on mountainsides to strip-mine coal or other resources. In this case, the mine would house families. The year is 1955.

This ecologically devastating project, named "Wethersfield," would never be allowed in our more sensitive era. The developers tore out all the trees and leveled a hill to an acceptable grade (though the driveway of our house was always at a noticeable slant). They went into the sandy, rocky glacial soil of New England and built homesites on poured concrete slabs. These houses didn't have any basements. My father is standing where the slab is going to go. If you look carefully at the dirt plain, you can see little markers on rods marking out where each house will be.

The artificial prairie of our lots attracted unusual birds and wildlife. For a couple of years, horned larks built their ground-nests in this environment. These larks usually breed in the Arctic tundra. The developers planted tiny saplings by the open streets, hoping that the trees would survive and be a good habitat.

The tundra didn't last. Once people were there, they loaded in landscaping, extra buildings, more tree saplings, and flowerbeds. Nature did the rest. Native trees and plants re-colonized the clear areas, marching in from protected swampland. By the early 1960s, there were already shadows on the ground. By the late 60s, open meadow habitat birds had gone and forest birds like nuthatches had re-appeared. 

Nowadays you would not believe that this development had once been a clear-cut space of imitation tundra. It looks like a New England forest, shaded by grand maples (the little saplings of 1955) and tall white pines and spruces and yellow poplars. The flat houses which were built in an echo of the "Prairie" style have mostly been replaced by two-story comfort zones. And the home that would occupy the place my father is standing, has been re-built as well, surrounded by the remains here and there of the old mid-20th century settlement.

March 16, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Return of the Blue Electron

Greetings from the subatomic world. As many of you know, my orange Element, a heavy Element, was crushed beyond repair on January 16 in the particle-race of my urban neighborhood. I was only mildly hurt (bruises) and have recovered. It was necessary to get another car, and this is what I got. It is a Honda Civic with a hatchback door. I have driven Hondas for more than 20 years so I went with what I trust. Aesthetic values were also important; I wanted an orange car but the only orange Honda is the minuscule "Fit" which was charming but tiny. This Civic is basically Honda's smallish utilitarian car, with plenty of cargo space in the back,   a modernist Japanese-anime look to the exterior, and a brilliant metallic blue color almost identical to the original Electron Blue Honda CRV that I used to drive. So...say hello to "Electron Blue 2." (This blog is number 3. Confusing? Yes, like road signs in Fairfax, VA.) I am driving the urban labyrinth in this conveyance now and I'm taking some time to get used to it. It will be a while before I get over the accident but I need to do it. 

I haven't posted to this Electron Blog for quite a while but now that the new particle is glowing on the roads, I will be writing more for it. I will be "re-blogging" some of the material from "Art By-Products" which will remain mostly art-centered. This blog will show some of my photo-restorations and writing about the fascinating places and people from the family archive. And if I have more words to emit, I will do so as part of my "blue-shift."

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

I Was a Libertard

Blog readers - if any...this essay has taken me months to write. I have not abandoned the Electron, I've just had to look into my past and make sure the embarrassing details are correct. This writing will probably annoy some people, and amuse others. It's also quite long for an Electron text but I felt the need to tell this story given the current state of politics and the pervasiveness of the ideology. If you don't like what you read, feel free to go back to my "Art By-Products" which is a lot easier on the intellect. I would be glad if anyone read this effort. So: here comes the train...


I used to be a “libertard.” What’s that, you ask, is it like what the unpleasant ones accuse Democrats and liberals with, a “libtard?” No, not what the gymnasts wear, it is not a leotard. I made this one up because it really needs to exist. It’s a name for a libertarian who is as convinced as a fundamentalist of his (or rarely her) beliefs and has proof for all of them. And would gladly lecture you on the subject but you’re not intelligent enough for them to waste time on.

I encountered Libertarianism in the late 1970s and especially in year 1978 when the national Libertarian convention was held in Boston. I had some good friends who were devoted Libertarians and I used to hang out and listen to them. Another major influence on me was reading the “Bible” of libertarianism namely Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” I read this instead of studying for my final exams in graduate school and nevertheless did well academically, though I hated every minute of it and was preparing to leave. 

All of the libertarians I knew were science fiction fans and worked in the tech industry which was a big economic factor in the Boston area. In 1978 the Internet belonged to the U.S. military and a handful of scientists who shared data. Engineering and space calculating folks, almost all of them male, hung out in Harvard Square and their center of attraction not to mention book collecting was the “Science Fantasy Bookstore” presided over by the owner, Bruce Robert “Spike” MacPhee. I  hung out there and listened to the conversations. It was not just politics they discussed, but “alternative”  religion. I first heard of Neo-Paganism at Spike’s store, and it scared and fascinated me. 

Rand was the prophetic author of the Holy Scriptures that no Libertarian can fully escape. The important thing is that Ayn Rand was a science fiction author, not a conventional novelist. She was succeeded by writer heroes such as Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, L. Neil Smith, and other macho-techno scriveners. This is added to with conservative theorist authors like Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. These authors are on just about any Libertarian’s bookshelves. Their books often describe, as Rand does in “Atlas Shrugged,” a deteriorating civilization which can only be saved by brilliant engineering geniuses, “enlightened” military warlords, and capitalists of various sorts, reconstructing smokestack industries for the coming Millennium. Does this sound familiar? This is a fantasy by and for engineers and scientists. I listened patiently to countless conversations about how technology would save the world (this is the era of DARPA and the early Internet, after all.) The literary fans were the same people who dreamed of building themselves self-sustaining space or Moon or Mars colonies - with a libertarian social structure of course. Libertarians in Space! They were dosing themselves on Heinlein and Rand, a couple made in a philosophical techno-Utopia, “Galt’s Gulch” in space at the L5 equilibrium point.

If you assimilate (or are assimilated by) Libertarianism, you come into the domain of a weird variation on the clockwork world of the Enlightenment. The world, not just Earth but the Solar System, our Galaxy, and eventually the whole universe, is a great machine of turning gears, moving measured parts, action and reaction, check and balance. And the highest virtue is Reason and Logic, which Libertarians worship to this day. If you are intelligent enough, if you have enough reason and rationality, you can understand the system and see how one follows another, cause and effect, effort and result. And once you understand the system with your imperial wisdom, you can make it work for you.

In this view, there are no accidents, no mishaps, no inborn flaws or inevitable events. Everything has an explanation, and every problem has a solution, which you are responsible for. No begging for help from someone else - if you have the problem, you have the solution. Don’t have a job? Move to another place where there is work. Are you sick?  Maybe you didn’t live a “healthy lifestyle.” You should work harder and make enough money to pay a doctor. Did your car break down? You didn’t maintain it. The combination of reason, rationality, and hard work can turn the wheels of the world. At least, this is the way it is supposed to be. Basically, the world makes logical sense and behaves in a logical and ultimately predictable way. This is true not only for us struggling individuals but for the general social world. Is a company polluting the environment? Organize a boycott and lawful protests to oppose the company, or just ignore it as pollution isn’t that bad for you. Is a store selling inferior merchandise?  Is a provider delivering poor service? Don’t buy it and by the rules of logic, the store or provider will fail. In Libertarian World, not only are you the individual expected to take care of yourself, so is the wider social world. Sometimes, this works. But not all the time. What happens then? What happens if an accident or disability befalls you? You can organize help for yourself, find a job that allows for your disabilities, even seek help from a church or private charity. No one stops anyone from doing voluntary charitable work. But what if that is not enough? Government welfare? No way. “Taxation is theft!” The free market will solve all problems! Even if some poor soul is too disabled or old to work, you should not be forced to hand over your hard-earned cash to help them. You did the work, it was your mind and skill that earned the money. But…in that world how can anyone survive? Even if you did care about them? What if your best was still not enough?

No buts here, libertarian purists. Inexorable logic and reason will explain everything…maybe. Both in the social and the physics world. I often wonder what Ayn Rand would have thought about the findings of quantum mechanics, in which at the smallest level, there is no logic or chain of reasoning, only dismal, sizzling statistics. She actually lived at a time where quantum mechanics was well-known, but she didn’t choose to read about it or find out more about it. Where the “Objectivist Epistemology” depended on classical Greek or Medieval notions about an absolute rational-mind reality, anything that challenged that with a fundamental irrationality was simply unacceptable.

So you may ask me, What on earth attracted me, a typical miserable Eastern graduate student intellectual with a good background in basic knowledge…what on earth attracted me to Libertarianism and their prophetess Ayn Rand? It’s paradoxical. She ranted that “emotions are not tools of cognition!” but what attracted me was the way Randworld made me feel….powerful. I read Rand and wanted to be like Rand’s tall, hard edged blonde or red-haired heroes. I wanted to turn the world’s wheels, too. I wanted not to be an effeminate academic but a mind mover with the ideological wind blowing my cape behind me as the train passed by with a stirring horn blast. I knew the secret now. Rand’s Art Deco stylizing gave me a rush I can still feel today. It was part of why I left academia and became an artist instead…I wanted to re-create that rush in my own art work. And not picturing drippy mermaids or woodsy cottages or big-eyed puppies or girls in their nightgowns standing by golden pillars. I wanted to paint the images that would rev the engine of logic and industrial righteousness for you as well as me. 

The only problem was that it was all a myth. The greatest shame for any Rand-ite was that I could not make a living all by myself. I accepted the crushing shame of not having a high-paying job but instead taking money from my generous parents. The shame of FAILURE. Which I have never escaped. I will never be a slick entrepreneur making millions on some gleaming iconic contraption. Nor will I ever wear a steel-hued satin evening dress. But I still sneaked looks at “Atlas Shrugged” every so often, just for the rush.

It was only when I read Adam Lee’s three-year commentary on “Atlas Shrugged” that the rush was stopped by a concrete block of moral reasoning and practical analysis. Lee is an Atheist blogger under the “Patheos” label and a fiction writer himself. He undertook this chapter-by-chapter evaluation of the Rand Scriptures purely for the need to save would-be thinkers like me from being ground under the wheels of the Objectivist train. He posted faithfully every Saturday and for those years I couldn’t wait for each week’s installment. He brilliantly deconstructed the twisted morality, horrific kinky relationships, proto-Fascism, and other dark smoky labyrinths of violence and wrong thinking, as well as the steaming plot holes.

Adam Lee destroyed the Rand zeppelin for me, but rather than watch it crash and burn I re-integrated the feeling into a line of my own art. You’ve seen my bright-colored geometric abstractions for years. The designs originally come from Art Deco and the early 20th century Bauhaus and the works of Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky. But they also come from old Madame Rand, where I can take ruler, T-square, or Photoshop and cast colors into the darkness. They are my skyscrapers, my power plants, my rockets and oil refineries, my technological flames. Now that you know their origin, you may not like these compositions any more. That won’t stop them. There’s always something completely different for you. In the name of the best within us, as the Iron Rand would say.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Solstice Sunbeam

(This was started around the winter solstice so even though we are approaching the Equinox it may still be of interest.)

Electron Blue 18: Solstice Sunbeam

There is a seasonal phenomenon in my dwelling which I have observed with reverence ever since I noticed it. From December until mid-January, beams of sunlight from the solstice-lowered sun, stream into secret places in the apartment: the auxiliary bathroom and the hall closet. The angle of the sunlight in these winter weeks is low enough that it streams through under the eaves and finds its mark in my otherwise poorly lit apartment.

Here is the winter sunlight.

This sun invasion is something that human beings have noticed ever since they developed language and memory. If they stayed in one place long enough as settlers they would notice that the direction of sunshine and the elevation of the sun above the horizon followed a yearly cycle. When they knew how to predict these cycles, they set down markers to note it as a calendar. This is why the sun rises between the pillars of Stonehenge on the winter solstice, and why the sun only enters some monuments at solstice or equinox. 

This usage is worldwide, wherever people saw and observed the sun and its path. In Abu Simbel, Egypt, the Pharaoh Ramses II built a giant monument to himself and his divinities, the sun gods Amen-Re and Re-Horakhte. The monument was built so that on his birthday and again on the anniversary of his coronation the sunlight would thread its way through a pathway carved into the rock, and illuminate Ramses and his patron gods’ images with its golden rays. National Geographic has an excellent article on this monument, including the story of how modern engineers disassembled the stonework and re-built it out of reach of the waters of the reservoir Lake Nasser.

My apartment building is not a monument to any divinity that I know of, but nevertheless the sunlight comes in and illuminates a significant place: my bathroom. I can see and feel the warm sunlight and know that the season is turning. The sun will gain now, and winter will lessen. Let us honor the Sun Gods (Ra Ra Ra!) and the memory of Ramses, for the sun shines upon his throne.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Resisting Turnip: Boredom or Cuteness

Electron Blue 17: How to resist the Turnip

He’s here to stay, I’m sorry to say, our world and its media currently seem to orbit the misshapen roundish vegetable and all its satellites and its every perturbation. He and his antics get ratings, and ratings get money and clicks, so it will keep happening with nothing to stop it - except two things: Boredom and cuteness. Have you ever gotten bored with a “reality” TV show? Have you ever turned off a show because its storyline got dumber and dumber? Have you hoped in vain that something interesting would happen so that it would be worth watching again? I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but the media universe is full of irresistible things which lost their inspiration, or their capacity to generate outrage, and ran aground on the stolid rocks of boredom and the channel switcher. I’d rather watch a pitcher rub a baseball against his butt than listen to political speeches telling me how great it is going to be. OK, it was great for the Cubs. Not so great for the rest of us, maybe. 

If you’re bored with baseball, try this strategy to resist the Turnip. This is something which happens constantly even if people don’t consciously promote it. You can trivialize the monster. I’ll give you some examples. When the first “Star Wars” film came out, the one now known as number 4, Darth Vader was a genuine villain. He was terrifying! Not only that, he committed genocide on a planetary level, when his “Death Star” reduced the entire planet of Alderaan, along with everyone on it, to space rubble. This was one evil character. He stayed evil until the very end of film number 3, when the film makers started giving him more sympathy, as long as he was dead.

During the decade following the Star Wars films, people started to see Darth Vader in a comic way, including parodies, comedy skits, costumes, games, collectibles, and a world wide wash of Darth Vaderiana. Even more, there were Darth Vader kiddie toys, lunch boxes, Halloween costumes, plushies, you name it. Here was the killer of millions, destroyer of planets, asking for candy at someone’s door.
And nobody blinked.

The same thing has happened with the eldritch horrors of H.P. Lovecraft, where the dread Cthulhu has been turned into a toy for babies and their parents. Cthulhu is soft and green, with tentacles and big eyes! And what of the toys made in the image of plague germs? Do you really want to take Ebola Virus to bed with you? I guess that some of this must be considered “avertence” behavior, trivializing and making it cute so that it will not kill you. But can you see the terror through the plushie? 

Then why not try it with the Turnip? I saw toys made from Hillary, with hideous “Hello Kitty” style oversize heads that looked like embryos. Did they do it with Turnip? Comedians are working overtime so let’s see the Donald Toys. They will be drooled on by babies, chewed by dogs, and kicked around the house by rambunctious kids. Can we make him funny so he will not hurt us?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Return of Electron Blue

Electron Blue 16:  Changing color and returning

So it happened. The thing that none of us impotent rational pallid intellectuals dreamed of in their nightmares happened. The overweight orange Rutabaga has been selected as the leader of the free world, more or less. The vegetable has won. And in the word sphere, he is associated with the color Orange. How dare that Turnip take my brand away from me? He’s been called “His Orangeness,” “Orange Face,” “Big Pumpkin,” and other names of that sort and I won’t stand for it. I didn’t stand for Turnip then and won’t now. This means, among other things, that at least for a while, I am “divesting” (a word currently on the Buzzword List) from Orange. I pulled all the orange garments out of my closet and will fold and hide them. I can’t stop driving my Orange Honda Element, I do need the transportation. But I wish I had some sort of high-tech liquid crystal car paint job that could transform from Orange to another color with the press of a switch.

Then what will I use for my theme color instead? I already switch twice a year, in Advent (the four weeks up until Christmas) and during Lent (the six weeks before Easter). Priests in the Catholic and Anglican churches wear purple during these seasons, as well as blue sometimes. I have been purpling myself for years so why not now? I have plenty of purple stuff. 

And as for this Blog which was named “Orangeness” when I started it as a humorous screed, well, things haven’t been so humorous since I started it. But I still want to write. So how do I change colors here? By going back to the past. I had a blog called “Electron Blue” from 2004 to 2008. It was named after the brilliant blue color of my car at that time, a Honda CRV. I wrote “Electron Blue” to chronicle my self-driven project to learn mathematics and physics, so the original Electron Blue was science and math-oriented. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to study these things, due to pressure from the day job. A few years later I revived it as “Electron Blue 2” and that ran for a year or two. Now that I no longer have the day job, I have more time to write so why not just switch back to the bloggy colors of blue and violet, (with a little orange accent here and there) but without the exclusive emphasis on science. I fished the header art out of digital oblivion, changed the wording and a bit of design, and now I am ready to once again throw my little koosh balls of verbiage into the endless chaotic flux of the infosphere. If you are interested, the URL for this remains the same: I will be writing about a wider range of things than in the previous two iterations, as well as continuing my humor and rants when I feel like it. I’ll help you forget Turnip and his gang of vegetables, at least for a moment or two. Welcome to Electron Blue 3.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Algebra of Madness

Orangeness 15: The Algebra of Madness

A does not equal A but B equals A. Three times AB is 1/3 of AB. A multiplied by -1 is 10A. If you repeat A does not equal A long enough and enough times, it will be true. And you can divide that by zero and come out positive. See? I'm good at math. I'm the best at math. I can tell those math professors at MIT plenty they don't know. I can turn a billion dollar loss into a billion dollar gain, because 1 billion = 1 billion. I know more about math than anyone. Believe me. So if you block off something with parentheses, which any high school kid should know, you get everything that’s covered in those parentheses. I know more about math than anyone, and I’ve got that all figured out, trust me. Multiply that by a fraction of 300 million and you get 600 million, all coming to invade us. Honestly, do the math. You’ll have math teachers begging on the streets.

Meanwhile, if you take your e-mail archive and actually look at it before talking about it, you will find important subjects like sales from Macy’s, L.L. Bean, Target, Home Depot, Staples, Safeway, and 10,000 ads, 20,000 demands for your time and money from an entire charity industry, even an entire economy. That’s important, right? So let’s do the math. 10,000 + 20,000 = 30,000. Plus or minus about 3000 extra ones from the prolific “Dot and Bo” online fake furniture store, which sent out so many e-mails that the company went bankrupt. So that’s it for the e-mails, add it up and it’s nothing. Right! 

Believe me, I know what numbers are. After all, a woman is from 1 to 10! They call those “real numbers,” which means they’re not fake. Not fake at all. I only want women who are 10s, that is number winners, decade girls, orders of magnitude, baby. But after 30, forgeddaboutit. There’s a linear equation here matching age with hotness, inverse proportions. Trust me, you start at 10 and go up from there till you get to 30 and that’s the end, you’re off the graph. Career over.

Remember to only trust the polls that have me ahead. I’m a winner and cannot lose, do the math. Is the math rigged? You tell me. I’m good at math. I’m the best at math. I can tell those math professors at those fancy colleges what they don’t know. Believe me, we’ll put them all out of business. Nothing will count any more, only me.