Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

2Jul/16

Reading James Baldwin

I decided to read James Baldwin. Everything he wrote, from start to finish. Even if it takes the rest of my life.

photo: Reading Baldwin

Reading Baldwin

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10Dec/15

Trumbo and Hollywood’s Romance With An All Male Mythology

Poster of Movie Trumbo 2015

Poster of Movie Trumbo 2015

It can be difficult for a feminist woman to look back at the sexism and gender inequality of history. It is even more difficult when one observes that history being told through the lens of a sexist and still unequal present. Trumbo throws us back to the days when the movie industry was dominated by men, the good women - like Trumbo's wife Cleo - were mere obedient and martyred sidekicks, and the bad women, like Helen Mirrin's portrayed Hedda Hopper, were shrews.

But times have changed, right? No, not much it seems. As the credits rolled, I read one male credit after another: writer, director, production designer, cinematographer, editor, composer, casting . . . . Yes, in 2015, just as in Trumbo's 1950s, and for most of history since, all the lead people who made this film were men. I found it particularly interesting that even the couple of filmmaking roles often reserved for women (casting and costumes) in this movie were done by men.

It goes deeper. In 2015, as in so many of the movies and plays of US history, the roles for women were still the obedient wife (Cleo) and evil witch (Hedda Hopper). You might ask, "Wasn't it just reflecting history?" As a matter of fact, one critic even referred to this movie as "educational." But, no, this movie did not reflect history, it is a Hollywood male rewrite of history. While Hedda Hopper udoubtedly played a role in the ambushing of Hollywood creatives by the Sen. Eugene McCarthy and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's communist witch hunt of the 1940s-60s, it was a minor role; those who are "educated" by this movie will come away believing that gossip columnist Hopper spearheaded the entire movement. Ultimately Trumbo serves to perpetuate the heroic male, witchy woman and martyred ingenue mythology that our society has managed to make a reality; feminist historians, anthropologists, and sociologists take note.

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30Jun/15

New Theory: Consciousness has less control than we believed

Consciousness

Consciousness

Pretty cool theory to ponder: consciousness is just a conduit, not an actor. Link.

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12Nov/14

Galileo and the Coal Companies

Susterman's portrait of Galileo, 1626

Susterman's portrait of Galileo, 1626

Today President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced they had come to an agreement to reduce carbon emissions in their respective countries. Republican U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnel and Republican U.S. House Leader John Boehner immediately mounted a fresh propaganda catch phrase campaign, accusing the two country's leaders of waging an "idealogical war on coal." In his morning column, Robert Reich asked what we think of this. This is what I think: I think those of us who are educated, who follow the work of our science experts (the scientists who have been warning us about the threat of global warming from carbon emissions since the 1970s), are currently learning what Galileo must have felt like when the Church sentenced him to house arrest for the rest of his life because he insisted that his scientific research proved that the earth circled the sun. Today the Oil, Coal and Gas companies who are attempting to rule our country and public opinion via their ownership of many in our Congress, are subbing for The Church; they are "climate change deniers" because they will be out of business if science wins the day. Galileo spent a lonely old age, but of course we all know that his Truths eventually won the day.

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22Sep/13

Why Arts Education is Critical for Every Human Being on the Planet, Part 1

digital painting Ice Tea by Terry Bailey

This is a digital painting. It is art. It was not made to teach light refraction through glass or chemistry. Although, I suppose one could do that. Ice Tea by Terry Bailey 2004

Hi, I'm back and summer 2013 is a memory. I seem to always regret that I did not eat enough tomatoes and nectarines when the end of September rolls around!

I left you hanging at the Folding Party at Institute of Figuring in Los Angeles, and I will  leave you hanging a bit more. I want to add some back-story here - in 2 posts. After that I will give you the conclusion of the Folding Party - as well as some thoughts to move forward with regarding the Institute and its goals. After that I will be sharing a story about another artist who is looking at the subject of those (in)famous psychological Rorschach tests with her art, Nicholette Kominos. And what about the Beginnings of Life story that I was exploring? Yes, we will talk more about that this fall, too!

Those of you who have followed my blog here for long know that the whole point of it is to explore the Arts and Sciences, and to show why both are of equal importance, and why they are dependent on each other, not exclusive of each other. You also know that I have a great concern about the denigration of art in our society and in our schools.

I've just completed an online course with Stanford University called Design Thinking. My classmates were primarily engineers, technologists and business people. The class was designed to help them start thinking more creatively. It was fascinating to talk to students from all over the world. And I found that it is not just the U.S. where the Arts have been eliminated; in fact, my classmate from India told me they have never had Arts in their schools.

It's ironic that this Stanford class even exists. It exists because there is no art in the schools any longer. Or very little. And art serves important skill building purposes, as well as being of value in and of itself. Everyone needs the Arts - not just artists.

Because of this class, and the work I did in it (I am happy to report that I completed it "with distinction"), I am going to be adding another column to this blog shortly. That column will specifically address the need for Arts Education. That was my final project for the class - a prototype for arts education advocacy - which I highly recommend to any engineers, scientists, business people who are lacking in creative skills .

While researching my class projects, I happened upon a forum on artedsearch.org. There I joined a discussion about the value of Arts education, and 'are the Arts valuable only if they help us learn some other subject, or do some other serious task?' (like how we hear lately that music education helps students with their math).

I received a few emailed questions to my post there about the need to research the value of Art for Arts sake. I will post my responses to those questions next.  For, although I am happy to see some school administrators begin to see the importance of getting the Arts back into the schools, NO they should not be there only to SERVE the Sciences!

 

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21Jul/13

The “Folders” – Episode Two of My Afternoon at The Institute for Figuring with Margaret Wertheim and Other New Acquaintances

Learning to Fold at Institute for Figuring animation

Learning to Fold at Institute for Figuring

On first meeting, Margaret Wertheim impresses me as one who could keep a noncommittal face when confronted with surprising news – a demeanor useful to a poker player. Unlike can’t-keep-any-emotion-off-her-face me, who would make a terrible poker player were it not for the fact that I learned early in life to stay sober during a game.

Upon hearing me disclose that I do not fold, origami or otherwise (heck, I’d be hard pressed to fold a bedsheet to pass muster by anyone older than the age of five) Margaret’s reaction is a quick nod of acknowledgement, rather than the dismay or disappointment I might have expected. She immediately resumes the setting up that she apparently had been doing before I arrived.

I use the time to browse the art in the gallery’s collection, since she does not appear to need my assistance at this stage.

As I peruse, workshop participants begin to arrive in ones and twos. At some point we are all gathered around the table that appears to be our primary work-space-to-be. It is piled high with small pieces of heavyweight paper in 2”x3” business card shape and size. The gallery walls are lined with art sculptures made from these cards as well as other folded art objects and even some crocheted pieces.

Summoning my nerve I ask a few of the others if they fold.

“Oh yes,” effuses one of the two men in the room, “I’m just the driver, but my girlfriend folds every night.”

Mental note to self, “Okay, maybe the driver boyfriend will help me not be the lowliest folder of them all.”

A young woman to my right assures me that she is so enamored with spatial relationships and math that folding should be a breeze for her. Or, something to that effect.

Wouldn’t you know?

A mother and her 12 year old son are already seated and folding together. Where did they come from? Apparently the son had been there in another room for some other purpose, but decided to pop into our group and fold for a while before leaving.

Shown up by a folding 12 year old. Now I have a sense of how my computer illiterate friends feel. . . . continues

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11Jul/13

“Do You Fold?” – Episode One of My Afternoon at The Institute for Figuring in L.A. with Physicist Margaret Wertheim and Other New Acquaintances

Institute For Figuring - Colorful Doorway

Institute For Figuring - Colorful Doorway

I’d no idea what to expect when I entered the Institute For Figuring (as in mathematical) after locating it in-between The Chinese Unity Association of Greater Los Angeles and The Empress Pavilion, in the midst of Los Angeles’ Chinatown.  I was a little nervous. But if we don’t try those nerve rattling things in the world, life would be pretty boring. At least that is what I have told myself for as long as I can remember. And probably why, when anyone asks what is my favorite quote of all time, I always cite Eleanor Roosevelt’s:

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face . . . we must do that which we think we cannot.”

I was a bit early, and there did not appear to be anyone else in the building. Gallery I guess I should call it. A gallery of very colorful and visually enticing mathematically conceived paper art and needlework. More about that in a bit.  Then Margaret Wertheim was suddenly standing in front of me.

It was a little awkward. Here was this physicist I had heard speak about amateur  physicists, and a book she had written about these outsiders with homegrown theories of the universe, Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons and Alternative Theories of Everything,  at a Caltech Skeptics meeting, what? a year or two prior, and me, an artist, writer, new media, whatever it is I am . . . And we are standing in this empty gallery, except for all the vivid trigonometrical art on the walls. And I am wondering just how early I am and should I have stopped in one of the plentiful neighborhood restaurants for some chicken wings rather than barging in ahead of the appointed workshop start time.

Nor did I have much idea what this Institute for Figuring was about, since it was my best artist friend Joe up in San Francisco who went online and found out about it after I told him about the interesting lecture by the rarity, a woman, scientist at Caltech. And it was Joe who told me I needed to go to scout out this "fascinating sounding place."

Joe is better at thinking to look things up than I am. You might remember from my last post that it was he who checked out the identity of the group who hacked this blog of mine last month. I just stared at their stupid signature and my way gone web site blog and wept.  But Joe headed for an Internet search engine and emailed back to let me know it was an infamous middle eastern hacking group. (Not to be too hard on myself – I did manage to get the site back up and harden coded it against future jerk black hat hackers.)

After her Caltech lecture, it had not occurred to me to look up Margaret Wertheim, either. But Joe did - and called to let me know not only about this Institute, but about a fascinating art project she was doing with her twin sister, Christine Wertheim, involving the crocheting of the entire underwater coral reef.

And when I finally took Joe’s advice and looked up the Institute for Figuring online, I saw they were having a Saturday, open to the public, workshop in origami business card folding and animating.

It was Joe then who had said, “Well, of course you will go, it sounds right up your alley!”

Whichever alley he was referring to I am not quite sure, because I have had zero experience with origami in my life.

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10Mar/13

How Many Times Did Life Begin? And How Many “Lives” Are There?

Or, A Little Mars &  Origins of Life History (and other related thoughts) Before Tackling Today's Space Exploration Debates, Part III

Terry Collage Animation of NASA photos of Stefanie Milam, Michel Nuevo and Scott Sandford by Dominic Hart. These NASA scientists studying the origin of life reproduced uracil, a key component of our hereditary material, in the laboratory.

Terry Collage Animation of NASA photos of Stefanie Milam, Michel Nuevo and Scott Sandford by Dominic Hart. These NASA scientists studying the origin of life reproduced uracil, a key component of our hereditary material, in the laboratory.

A while back a college student mentee of mine asked me to join her for coffee. The moment I sat down, it was clear from the sadness in her eyes and the uncharacteristic squirming in her seat, that she wanted to talk with me about something important to her, not simply to share a cappuccino moment and discuss the WEB.

This brilliant but hardly world-wizened young woman began talking as soon as we sat down, and told me that she had recently made the very difficult decision to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. What had prompted her to consult with me was not the need for advice about this decision, as it was after the fact; she needed to talk about  a group of people who had confronted her as she left the medical clinic. With tears in her eyes now, she shared with me how the group had called her "a sinner" and told her that she had "killed the life that had been created in her womb."

As I sat there with my afternoon decaf latte wishing that she had come to me with a design problem or a missing closing bracket in a line of code, rather than this, something Carl Sagan once said popped into my mind. I don't remember when or where he said it, but it was one of those sentences that burns into your brain for some reason, as if a part of you knows you may need it some day.

"Mary (not her real name) I said to her, Life began only once. And it was billions and billions of years ago."

Mary looked at me unsure at first about what I was saying.

"I once heard a famous scientist, Carl Sagan, say that. About when life began. Mary, life did not begin in your womb. Life was not created in your womb. Anything happening in your womb is just a part of the continuum of something, life, that began so long ago we can't even conceive of it. Billions of years ago," I told her, hoping to reassure. Thank you Carl Sagan.

"I'm not a sinner?" she asked. To a young woman who had been accused of something so terrible, that is what this was really about.

"No, you are not a sinner. You are a young woman who had to make a really difficult decision, and I am sorry you had to make it alone."

I could not help but think back about that afternoon with my student, and the words of Carl Sagan, as I have been writing about my origins of life interview with scientist Sherwood Chang and conducting the accompanying research. Carl Sagan's remark, that Life began billions of years ago, may come in handy upon occasion, but it does not actually paint the truest or most clear picture, either. (continues, see button below-right)

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27Feb/13

Writing Out Loud About The Search for Life in Space Exploration

Or, A Little Mars &  Origins of Life History Before Tackling Today's Space Exploration Debates, Part II

Books recommended by interviewee scientist Sherwood Chang: Life's Origin and Planets and Life

Books recommended by interviewee scientist Sherwood Chang

One of the exciting things about blogs is the fact that we can update them with new information, make corrections, add comments. They are not static in time and space like traditional journalism or nonfiction writing.

Yesterday I had an email response from my new scientist friend turned organic cattle rancher, Sherwood Chang, whom I quoted in my previous post (and will be quoting in the next couple of posts). He made a few corrections and additions, which I have added right into the text of the post itself (see below).

I have a Master's degree in creative nonfiction. Why I chose "creative" nonfiction rather than traditional nonfiction has to do with my respect for creativity itself. One of the reasons that creative nonfiction was established as a genre was in consideration of the need to make the reading of "facts" enjoyable, rather than a dry boring academic, experience. Creative nonfiction allows an author to experiment with style, presentation and content in ways that make the information it contains interesting. Being a new media / multimedia artist as well as author, I also believe that a creative approach to writing about information and facts also allows us writers to present our content more successfully - using new methods to convey information, rather than sticking with traditional dry, emotionless and style-less words and diagrams.

I could have taken the suggestions of Sherwood and simply changed and updated my previous post, but, instead, I went to the text and crossed out the text I was eliminating and typed the new text in bold, so that readers could actually see my process, my interaction with the scientist. To me what is exciting about this is that it brings the words and process itself to life. It makes writing a public process, a shared process. As someone I quoted in an earlier post said, "Blogging is writing out loud." (I will look up my source later and update this sentence)

Oh, and thank you Sherwood for also recommending two relevant books for us, which I will post on the book page soon, too: "For an historical review and summary of recent (up to 2002) work on the origin of life, I suggest the book, Life's Origin (2002), ed. J. William Schopf, U. of Ca. Press.  A more recent and broader based book is by W. Sullivan and J. Baross, eds.(2007) Planets and Life: The Emerging Science of Astrobiology."

My next episode on the search for life in space exploration next week. . . .

 

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21Feb/13

How Sixto Rodriguez’s Searching for Sugarman Led Me To an Amazing Personal Lecture by a Space Scientist About the Search for Life

Or, A Little Mars &  Origins of Life History Before Tackling Today's Space Exploration Debates, Part I

picture of Stanley Miller, Harold Urey and Sixto Rodriguez

Stanley Miller, Harold Urey and Sixto Rodriguez

In my post before last I mentioned I'd share some Mars exploration history before moving on to Mars in current events.

In the midst of my interest in the current state of space exploration I coincidentally was offered a ride by a space scientist between my friend Karen's apartment in Berkeley and my friend Joe's house in Vallejo last October. I was visiting the Bay Area in order to see and hear the amazing Sixto Rodriguez, who was appearing at Bimbo's 365 Club in San Francisco.

I'd discovered Sixto was soon to play in San Francisco (my home town) after I saw the documentary about his remarkable life, Searching for Sugarman, in Pasadena. I went home, jumped online, and, in a happy spontaneous act, bought several tickets for his performance. I then called a few friends in the Bay Area to tell them I was coming up for a week visit, and asked them all to join me for the concert. Karen had insisted that I not bother renting a car as I could take BART or hitch rides any where I wanted to go. I saw this as a real adventure, and was later glad I took her advice. One experiences a whole new social world without the "protection and safety" of one's own vehicle.

Sherwood Chang, the scientist who gave me the lift to Vallejo,  is a retired space scientist now living in Northern California and running the largest organic cattle ranch in the state. He spent his previous career as a scientist with NASA 's Ames Laboratory in Northern California. I know that scientists David Peat and David Bohm would not have been surprised by what I considered a very happy coincidence (to meet a space scientist on vacation when I am blogging about space), because Peat and Bohm noted that it is of greater interest that we all do not notice more life coincidences given the mathematical likelihood of their abundance.

I hopped into Sherwood's SUV, buckled up, turned on my GPS as neither of us knew how to get to Joe's from Karen's, and asked him, "So. Tell me about your career as a scientist." He questioned what I wanted to know, and I told him, "Everything." I also told him that I have read lots of science since I was a very young kid, even though I am professionally a writer and artist, so that he did not have to talk down to me. Sherwood took me at my word, and proceeded to thoroughly entertain me with the most elaborate and compact one hour lecture (about the history of the search for life in space exploration ) I have ever experienced.

This is what I learned:

One way we can begin to understand the history of our universe biosphere is by studying molecular biology. Because the history of living things is stored in the genetic code of all organisms. But if we want a full understanding, we must also glean information from a bunch of other scientific disciplines. Astrophysicists look deep into space, and back in time, and try to figure out how planets formed around stars. Geochemists and Geophysicists help us to understand how planets formed  and what the environment is/was like in each of the star systems planets they study. They are all wondering if and when any planets or planetary systems are/were receptive to life or not.

While these scientists are doing their research, mathematicians and computer scientists are busy analyzing the data these  scientists come up with, and developing theories based on that data. One can certainly imagine that we are able to understand a great deal more today with the powerful computers at everyone's disposal for modeling, calculating and analyzing, than we were able to understand when all we had was a roomful of mathematicians sitting around calculating on their own (as recently as WWII to my knowledge) or working with a room-sized computer that had about 100K of memory!

Sherwood began his career in the 1950s as a chemist. Chemists study reactions. And the reactions Sherwood and his buddies were interested in were those that occurred in ancient, primordial, environments on Earth and on other planets in our solar system. If we are going to understand the beginning(s) of life, a great place to start is on the young Earth at the time our planets formed. And the first thing we would need to know, is what was the environment like then, before life appeared. Of course the goal then was to understand when and why life appeared here on Earth, and if it did on other planets as well.

Back in the day (as my college design students are fond of saying) not much was known about primordial (earliest stage of development) environments. Many scientists thought that the early atmosphere of Earth was similar to that of Jupiter. That belief was based on actual science according to my space history travel guide, Sherwood; it was just that Jupiter's was the only atmosphere they thought relevant to early Earth's.

So in 1952 at the University of Chicago, two scientists, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey, decided to create chemical reactions that would simulate Jupiter's atmosphere . . . to be continued

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