One of Woody’s greatest songs. A great story, told simply. And his usual lesson: “The parents they cried and the miners they moaned – see what your greed for money has done.”
Doc Searls wrote about AI and feeling – “Feeling is human” – and the lack of human creativity in the new technologies.
My mind immediately connected his post to David Hockney’s video “Photoshop is boring“, where the artist rambles on in his intelligent and humorous way about art, photography, imaging technology and where technology has brought us.
Hockney, of course, paints and draws. He says people don’t draw anymore, it’s all photography, and it all starts to look the same, stale and boring. “Magazines used to be full of drawings, now it’s all photographs”, he says. Photoshop and other technology helps us get to this boring state, faster all the time, and I expect AI is increasing this exponentially.
Hockney is also a photographer, indeed has for many years explored the edges of what photography can do. He approaches the act of photography in a painterly way, meaning he’s seeing more intensely than a lot of photographers are capable of. He was unsatisfied with the flatness of most photographs, flatness both in space and in time. The decisive moment, a flat image and a flat point in time.
Photographers break out of the boring state by being unhappy/unsatisfied with the single image most photographs consist of. Duane Michals broke out of the decisive moment, which he spoke of with scorn, by doing sequences. He also started writing and drawing on his photographs. The art world was shocked. His sequences are analogous to Hockney’s collage of photographic images, both of them multiple images expanding the photographer and the viewer’s passage through time and space.
This seems a bit trite, but I’m not trying to do much here except get some words out. I could make it less trite with a bit more work, most likely in additional posts. Hockney has long been a favorite, and his videos are relaxed disquisitions on art, observation, technology, a whole bunch of related activities, all coming from his uninhibited expression, his enjoyment of life and his constant, focused work. I recommend listening to Hockney (many short videos are online) if you want to have new thoughts about art, creativity and technology.
I like how writing a blog post slows me down and throttles back the usual over-stimulation the web produces in my brain. An exercise in exploration and focus. More of this would be helpful to me. Art, and I’m not claiming this is art except in the sense putting words together can produce aesthetic feelings and thoughts, is not so much in the viewing as in the doing.
Back to Hockney and AI – Hockney’s productive. Work work work, smoke smoke smoke, 86 years old and still blasting along. Would AI’s sped-up “productivity” create anything like what Hockney does every day, at his own steady pace? No way. The human’s out in front. AI’s trying and failing to catch up. Hockney doesn’t “make content”, he makes art, which he explains in the phrase, referring to an owl sculpture by Picasso “that’s not an owl, that’s an account of a human being looking at an owl”.
More later . . .
“We were just in the Picasso show, you know, and looking at that owl, that marvelous owl, and today I pointed out, some people just stuff a real owl and put it in a case. [makes a sour face] Not very interesting. I was explaining to my young friend, why Picassos are so marvelous is, it isn’t an owl, it’s a human being looking at an owl. It’s an account of a human being looking at an owl. That’s what thrills us, and there’s more owlness there than in the stuffed owl.”
Well, that was more of a break between posts than I was hoping for. I can blame Buffalo’s preposterous Christmas Blizzard, but the big storm actually gave me plenty of time to write, being housebound with electric, internet and heat.
But then I have to say I’ve never been anything close to a natural born blogger. Just not voluble enough, at least on a web platform. In person I can talk with the best of them (and sometimes the worst of them). I need to remember writing is just another form of talking – if I want to write more, that is.
Anyway, I’m always thinking about the reclaimed materials business, of course, as I earn my living in it. The recent events have reinforced a number of principles I’ve learned over the past fifteen years.
It comes down to a concept common to most businesses dealing with physical objects – it has to FLOW. If it stops at any point there better be a good reason for stopping, usually it’s an indication of a problem. Hardly rocket science, but I find it helpful in beginning to identify problems.
“Has this item or group of items been in one intermediate place for too long?”
“Are these things selling?”
“Does anybody (potential buyers) know about this thing?”
All questions I ask every day.
I’m going to publish this to get something out there, and continue later when I don’t have to get out the door to work.
. . . about the reclaimed materials business.
Too Much Stuff
I’ve been thinking of writing about various parts of the business of acquiring and selling building materials. I’ve been working in this industry since 2007, have been running a store for most of that time, have worked on deconstruction and salvage teams and have discussed and analyzed all its nooks and crannies with my colleagues at great length.
My first topic is suggested by recent events, namely the shutdown of Buffalo ReUse in late November 2022. We (ReUse Action) swooped in when they lost their lease, offering to clean out their building in exchange for control of the non-profit organization. They accepted our offer, and we’re in the midst of the cleanout.
The disposition of the materials at the Buffalo ReUse store is a huge job. We’ve hardly begun the removal to the landfill, but I expect us to fill and send away 15-20 dumpsters before we’re through. About 90% of the materials at the store is worthless and will have to be landfilled; the rest we’re either bringing to our store or selling cheap/giving away to the public.
I could write about this episode for hours, but the specific point I feel compelled to write about is the recent common reaction among supporters of both Buffalo ReUse and ReUse Action – “Oh, how sad! All that good material going to the landfill!”, with a subtext of “We thought you were a green organization, and here you are throwing away good material!”
Too Much Worthless Stuff
Let me back up a little. I said “about 90% of the [Buffalo ReUse] materials at the store is worthless”.
What do I mean by “worthless”? That a whole building full of carefully saved material has no value? Yes, but let me expand on that.
I refer to our reclaimed material operation as a business. When we started and ran Buffalo ReUse, as a non-profit, it was a business.
Businesses, in this society, need to make a profit, or, put another way, have a margin sufficient to remain in operation. So worthless means something that won’t make money for the business. This is because it can’t be sold, because nobody wants to buy it.
So why is it worthless, and how did we end up with a building full of worthless material?
For years, customers and visitors to our store have said to me “It must be really cool to work with all this wonderful material!” I try to be polite and agree, but I’ve been known to say “It was really cool for about six months, then it was more like “Oh no, more material in the unending flood of stuff!'”
Once things get rolling, and people know you want their unwanted things (because you remind them without ceasing) it truly becomes an unending flood.
So, you learn to say no, and as time goes on and the pile of material gets bigger, you say no to more things, things you used to take.
I’d say it’s Rule Number One, because if you aren’t picky about what you take, you soon have a real problem. Too much material, and particularly too much unwanted material (people don’t buy it) becomes a storage and disposal problem.
I’ll continue in my next post. This is about five hundred words. Can you tell I could talk about this for hours?
Summary: Direct, physical changes to neighborhood streets that reduce the volume and speed of traffic increase personal safety and community quality of life. Some drivers get very angry when they feel their need to move swiftly through city neighborhoods is impeded.
My take: We’re getting a little of this with the speed humps the City’s putting in. It’s just a beginning. GoBike’s bike lane tests are showing us another part of the way forward. Monbiot makes a good point about how the effects of reducing traffic volume and speed are different for bigger and smaller streets. Also, efforts to calm biggers streets can push it through neighborhoods, to bad effect. Neighborhood streets are full of those pesky pedestrians, cyclists, old and disabled folks and little kids, often because they’re avoiding the local stroad.
“There could scarcely be a more reasonable policy. Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) seek to stop residential streets being used as escape valves for overloaded arterial roads. They replace a privilege exercised by a few – rat-running through local streets – with rights enjoyed by the many: cleaner air, less noise, safe passage for children, cyclists, users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters, stronger communities.”
“The angry drivers insist that LTNs have been imposed on them. Well, whether they agree or not, there are consultations. But no one was consulted about their streets being used as short cuts. No one was consulted about facing a higher risk of asthma and dementia as a result of air pollution, or seeing their communities split by walls of traffic. No one was consulted about losing the places where neighbours could talk and children could play.”
. . . that I interpreted as being about privilege. One group of people was “all right”, the other group couldn’t win for nothin’. Rained on, pushed aside, not ignored exactly but not acknowledged.
NPH told me about privilege when I was in my early teens, as I remember. She quoted someone, Ingrid Bergman perhaps, who said “they won’t tolerate our privilege and their lack of privilege forever”. A long path to that reality, gaining speed in the present because of communication and recording.
This is a watercolor my mother, Nancy Hayes, painted around 1949. View is to the south/southeast, from a ninth floor window at 23 High Street, Buffalo.
Edited for clarification: I’m guessing 1949, but it could have been anywhere from 1946 to 1954, when my Dad worked at UB for the first time.
The building’s gone. It was between Main and Washington, I think mid-block. South side of High Street.
I’m re-doing the matting. The frame was made by my father, then finished by my mother. She slathered black paint on the oak, then wiped it off, the front side anyway. Then my Dad finished it off, in a fairly crude way that’s held up very well. They were a handy couple and quite a team when it came to making things.
I think the houses in the painting are on Washington Street. Some may still be there, though houses were moved around in that block so it might be hard to tell.
Paco, what do you think of the image that all the artists have of you? You’re practically a god in flamenco.
Well, it’s something I got used to. Because it’s always been like that, ever since I was a child I think. When I was small people praised me and they’d say “oh, the kid, how the kid plays!… the kid …the kid…” So it’s something you get used to and it’s more a pain in the ass, if you pardon my language, than anything else. Well, you enjoy it but the responsibility of being there is huge and every time you make a record you get obsessed and you want to do it better. It’s very nice, I can’t complain, but sometimes the responsibility overcomes the pleasure of doing things, having to do things well can at times cancel out the pleasure of doing them.
Four photos from the day-after brunch:
. . . to show off materials. The “windows” allow us to use various clear and translucent glasses, the rest of the table could be chestnut, oak or hemlock. Put some lights inside and it will be quite a looker.
Asked if he grows tired of talking about ecological stewardship, digging in, and coalition-building, the poet Gary Snyder responds with candor: “Am I tired of talking about it? I’m tired of doing it!” he roars. “But hey, you’ve got to keep doing it. That’s part of politics, and politics is more than winning and losing at the polls.”
When Allen met him in 1954, Peter [Orlovsky] had been honorably discharged from the Army – where he worked as an ambulance driver — for telling a psychiatrist, “An army with guns is an army against love.”
–Steve Silberman, in Lion’s Roar
From Gore Vidal‘s memoir Palimpsest:
Recently , a television interviewer quoted me as having said, “I seem to have met everyone, but I know no one.” Grinning like a tiger in anticipation of antelope, she leaned forward, gently salivating, eager to hear a tragic sigh, see a tear of self-pity. Plainly, due to my high and solitary place in the world—am I not the Living Buddha?—and to my cold nature and to my refusal to conform to warm mature family values, I am doomed to be the eternal outsider, the black sheep among those great good white flocks of folks who graze contentedly in the amber fields of the Republic.
I told her briskly that I had never wanted to meet most of the people that I had met and the fact that I never got to know most of them took dedication and steadfastness on my part. By choice and luck, my life has been spent reading other people’s books and making sentences for my own. More to the point, if you have known one person you have known them all. Of course, I am not so sure that I have known even one person well, but, as the Greeks sensibly believed, should you get to know yourself, you will have penetrated as much of the human mystery as anyone need ever know.
“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.”
In You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, W.C. Fields tells a customer that his grandfather’s last words, “just before they sprung the trap” were, “You can’t cheat an honest man; never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump.”
If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.
—Elmore Leonard character Rayland Givens, perhaps from the TV show
(photo by flickr user Guilherme Nicholas)
Sometimes you meet, coming down the leafy path along which you are walking, a man dressed as Napoleon; as he talks to you, you look at him with distrust, pity, amusement—carefully do not look, rather. But as the two of you walk along, and people come up with wallpaper designs full of Imperial bees, rashly offer their condolences on the death of the Duc d’Enghien, ask for a son’s appointment as Assistant Quartermaster-General of the army being sent to the Peninsula, you realize that it is not he but his whole society that has “lost touch with reality.”
—- Randall Jarrell