Entry into the school of your choice ™

It’s back to school time! Lunch pails and school slates may have given way to Uber eats and iPads, but one anachronism that remains is the ability for donors to get their kids into the best schools. With the Trump Justice Department launching a dubious new project targeting discrimination against white students in university admissions policies, I’m not going to explain why a diverse population in any university is not just a nice thing, but inarguably a crucial component in a country or society’s progress. Straight-up affirmative action cannot even be used college admissions, and yet still the white kids suffer.
But I do wonder how all Harvard (or any college where this happens) students and alumni are not diminished when a rich guy can make a large donation to assure admission for his under-achieving offspring? Maybe this clumsy attempt to mollify the persistent mythology of oppressed white students will accidentally put the spotlight on just how uneven admissions processes – and other, nefarious types of preference – in the round remain. There is something rigged about the process, just not probably what is commonly believed.

Emergent Forms of Other Belief


The Crisis Theme that seems to be the default, unchangeable background of everything these days can be exhausting. None of us seems to know how to handle social media – is it for self-promotion? sharing opinions? business? the fck is a status update? connecting instead of conversing – beyond obsessive attention to it or turning it off completely. That the tools have been created to make other people rich appears to be a mere byproduct, but is it? Do I need to read an article on it that my friends agree with to believe that? Every news item from the Dunce-in-chief to climate change to what’s wrong with the Democratic party to health care to guns hermetically seals us in a state of doubtful knowing. And like quicksand, if you try to get out of it too desperately, you’re only pulled back all the more. For those who insist on creating, it can be be double-trouble: your battle is not to react against but still ‘do something.’ What does that mean?

Friend of the blog Jed Perl lays out in an inadvertent cautionary tale in this Rauschenberg review, The Confidence Man of American Art:

It was as a genre-buster—an artist who crossed boundaries and cross-pollinated disciplines—that Rauschenberg was embraced in the 1960s. More than fifty years later, there are more and more artists who seem to believe, as he apparently did, that art is unbounded. The only difference is that our contemporaries—figures such as Jeff Koons, Isa Genzken, and Matthew Day Jackson—have traded his whatever-you-want for an even more open-ended and blunt whatever. A creative spirit, according to the argument that Rauschenberg did so much to advance, need not be merely a painter, a photographer, a stage designer, a printmaker, a moviemaker, a collagist, an assemblagist, a writer, an actor, a musician, or a dancer. An artist can be any or all of these things, and even many of them simultaneously. The old artisanal model of the artist—the artist whose genius is grounded in the demands of a particular craft—is replaced by the artist who is often not only figuratively but also literally without portfolio, a creative personality-at-large in the arts.

One can argue that there are historical precedents for this view. Picasso enriched both his painting and his sculpture by working back and forth between the two disciplines. And the work that Picasso did in the theater certainly precipitated significant shifts in his painting.

Just so, and there is much more. And I do not come to praise Rauschenberg or to bury him. One point can be that, for better or worse, he imagined himself and what he was doing. Sure he was affected by his culture and the times in which he lived. But Jed is correct – the question is where the question (whatever it is) takes the artist. If it runs you back into into the insufferable quandary of boredom or futility, it wasn’t the right question. We can work our way through this time, as others have other times, but not by taking it on directly. Okay maybe, if you’re Zola. But you’re not. So don’t do that at all. Ignore it? Abdication is consent. Also – nothing will change. That’s one reason to like the ‘confidence man’ citizen’s arrest of Rauschenberg. It’s a hefty charge. But that’s okay – you don’t need to [first] accept any of the givens about anyone or thing in order to get somewhere. And this is not about progress, anyway. It’s about getting to all some of that other space, all around you, that seems inaccessible. That’s what can be frustrating – and it’s not even true. It’s just a thing someone has created and you’ve allowed to be in your way, that you need to [yes] use your discipline to think beyond. And [yes] to make something.

Image: Portrait of Apollinaire as a Premonition, by Giorgio de Chiricio, 1914

Today is Towel Day

In tribute to the great Douglas Adams.
And while we’re at it:

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“What?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happenned to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”
“But that’s terrible,” said Arthur.
“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.”

No specific gin or lizard endorsement.

Fifty Years In

Like smartphones teach us to be dumb – to not know things, to not be able to find our way except by using the device – we are also learning how to forget the past. Or how to remember it inaccurately, disconnected from the forks in the road where our path darkened and we lost something irretrievable, something we did not make nor deserve but that came from us and birthed us, was us, the best and the worst, that pushed us in the right direction because we were scared to go on our own until we learned we could pull ourselves there if we could just join enough hands.
April 4, 1968, the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN, the alternately riotous and trippy sixties, the whole twentieth century, came crashing to a sudden end.
Now, 50 years into the 21st we wonder how long it’s going to last. This should not be our mindset; it wasn’t his. Is there an ideal that’s not an ideology? Is there optimism greater than hope?
Can we contemplate the breadth of shared possibility? How much justice will the market allow? The answers are not in your phone.

Back At The Front, The Next Generation

NRG freedomI think if I was setting a new story in Florida, inventing a needlessly fictional version of Florida Man, he would work in a [solar-powered] cabinet pull plant in Even, Florida:

So did the legislators underestimate the popularity of Amendment 4? Did they think they’d assuage public opinion by putting it on the ballot, getting points, and then it wouldn’t pass? Or have the green energy entrepreneurs begun out-lobbying the utilities and Big Oil? Whatever it is, something big has changed. That Amendment 4 was put before the public at all, and that the public trounced the lobbyists, announces a sea change in which sordid deals in back rooms by the Carbon Moguls with fresh-facced and clueless state senators are no longer determinative. The people are getting a say, and they want to make it easier and cheaper to go solar.
The next big item on which voters will get a say is Amendment 1, this fall. It seeks to punish those who opt for solar power on the specious argument that non-solar customers shouldn’t have to bear the burden of upgrading the electricity grid or other infrastructural changes that will come with the extra solar energy.

Who knows? Maybe it’s a bit different with that rising tide gently lapping at your chamber door.

Image: I can’t believe that image actually exists.

Floating Solar

SOLAR-masterThe next innovation in solar power capture is here there:

But floating solar arrays are becoming more popular, with installations already operating in Australia and the United States, and more planned or under construction.

The growing interest is driven in part by huge growth in the solar market in recent years as the cost of the technology has dropped quickly.

Floating solar arrays — they are often referred to as “floatovoltaics,” a term trademarked by one company — also have advantages over solar plants on land, their proponents say. Renting or buying land is more expensive, and there are fewer regulations for structures built on reservoirs, water treatment ponds and other bodies of water not used for recreation. Unlike most land-based solar plants, floating arrays can also be hidden from public view, a factor in the nonprofit Sonoma Clean Power Company’s decision to pursue the technology.

The floating arrays have other assets. They help keep water from evaporating, making the technology attractive in drought-plagued areas, and restrict algae blooms. And they are more efficient than land-based panels, because water cools the panels.

“The efficiencies are what motivated us to look at this,” said Rajesh Nellore, the chief executive of Infratech Industries, which has completed the first section of a floating solar plant in Jamestown, Australia, that will eventually cover five water treatment basins.

And evidently, fish love them. The anti-evaporation properties alone are the worth the ticket. Plus: energy. Let’s rip up the freeways, build spill ways and fill ’em up with PV cells.

Lego my LIGO

Congratulations to the scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory for the discover that confirms a fundamental premise of how gravity operates:

Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity predicted gravitational waves 100 years ago. The theory states that gravity—the warping of space and time by mass—would manifest as ripples.
The waves detected by LIGO came from the collision of two black holes more than 1 billion years ago.
Physicists have long had indirect evidence that such infinitely tiny waves exist, but never had technology capable of detecting and measuring them. A gravitational wave is about 10,000 times smaller than the width of a proton.

You could say that the real work begins now, plotting out the next moves in this new direction. But that unnecessarily plays down the magnitude of this accomplishment. It took real work to get this far. 100 years later, Einstein was right. Now there’s a ripple.

Image: impression of a gravitational wave generation, via the BBC.

Too Solar to Fail

Following on the news that Paris is spending €1bn to revamp/fix/heal Les Halles comes more news that the City Of Light is getting even more serious about where that light gets it power:

paris

The French government plans to pave 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of its roads with solar panels in the next five years, which will supply power to millions of people.

“The maximum effect of the program, if successful, could be to furnish 5 million people with electricity, or about 8 percent of the French population,” Ségolène Royal, France’s minister of ecology and energy, said according to Global Construction Review.

La route photovoltaïque indeed. 14 feet of solarized roadway would be enough to supply the electrical needs of one household. Way to go, Republique Francaise. Here,  take this road.

The Frenetic End of Oil

General Economic Imagery From North Dakota Ahead Of The Republican CaucusParis talks but clean energy patents fly, it seems.  This Bloomberg feature on the boom and bust of the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota has the look of a high speed news reel that is, maybe, not quite how we imagined it. But once the process shows itself from beginning to end so quickly in this way, you can imagine happening over and over again. The pollution, the waste, the overbuilding, the exodus:

The discovery last decade that fossil fuels could be tapped from deep beneath the windswept prairies of North Dakota acted like a magnet on American working people. By the thousands they came, from as far as Texas and California, fortune-seekers in a modern-day Gold Rush. Together with visionary companies like Continental Resources and industry behemoths ExxonMobil and Norway’s Statoil, they exploited a new technology called fracking — blasting the underground Bakken rock formation with sand and water and slurping up the crude that was hiding there for millennia — to increase oil output in the region 12-fold from 2006 to 2014. The bonanza helped drive the U.S. closer to energy self-sufficiency than it’s been since the 1980s.

The frenzied production exacted a price — oversupply was one reason the U.S. crude price took a nosedive, losing more than half its value from a June 2014 peak. The number of rigs pumping crude from the Bakken plummeted to about 70 from a high of 200, and the tide of workers began to ebb.

Meanwhile, clean energy patents are at their all time high, which may also be a frenzied if inelegant prologue to the next age that is also not as previously imagined. In what remains of the capitalist economy, money still rushes in first, not pretty, sometimes not even choosy. But at least we can be a little more sanguine about what’s left to choose from, that the new ideas are exploding with quiet steam instead of smokey emissions, that maybe growth now will be slow and visible like the gentle oscillation of giant windmills. I know, poetry is sometimes like the explicit sunset in the image: not sure whether it’s rising or setting unless we understand the direction we’re facing.

 Image: David Acker/Bloomberg, fishing in the frozen Missouri River.

Green Opposition

Keystone-PipelineIt is enough to say that economics and environmental opposition have made building the Keystone XL Pipeline impractical. What this outcome may portend for the fates of other fossil fuels as the economics change may bare a little more fleshing out:

The company behind the Keystone XL pipeline has asked the US government to put its review of the controversial project on hold.

TransCanada says the pause is necessary while it negotiates with Nebraska over the pipeline’s route through the state.

The move came as a surprise as TransCanada executives have pushed hard to get approval.

Environmental groups oppose the 1,179-mile (1,897km) pipeline, saying it will increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Maybe they’re pulling it until President Carson can approve the travesty project. But perhaps the reckoning is that neither version of green opposition is sufficient to turn the tide against an legacy energy source – that the power of both and maybe every meaning of green is necessary to make the difference