the art & adventures of tracy durnell


October 31, 2007


Zoom into the Last Supper

The Last Supper in Detail

The Last Supper is totally thrashed--you can zoom in so it's like you're standing only inches from the canvas, and it's surprising how much paint is missing or flaking off the closer you zoom.

In more exciting news, my family got a new DUAL-FLUSH toilet this weekend! (Like the kind we had in New Zealand.) Hopefully it will help us save lots of water.

Labels: ,

October 26, 2007


Night Photography

Brian and I went up to Bolinas Ridge for some night photography last night. Brian took and stitched this panorama together.


October 15, 2007


Leadership: Al Gore, climate change, America

As promised, today I blog about the environment! (Obliquely.)

In case you missed it, Al Gore and the IPCC (who I mentioned in the last post) won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change.

“We would encourage all countries, including the big countries, and challenge them to think again and to say what they can do to conquer global warming,” Dr. Mjoes [lead member of the peace committee] said in Oslo.

The four other members of the peace committee generally refuse to comment on the thinking behind the award, which in recent years has moved toward issues at a degree of remove from armed conflict, like social justice, poverty remediation and environmentalism. But in a telephone interview, Berge Furre, one of the four, said, “I hope this will have an effect on the attitudes of Americans as well as people in other countries.”

Also, Thomas Friedman wrote an interesting article contrasting Al Gore and George Bush's leadership styles.

Never has so much national unity — which could have been used to develop a real energy policy, reverse our coming Social Security deficit, assemble a lasting coalition to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq, maybe even get a national health care program — been used to build so little. That is what historians will note most about Mr. Bush’s tenure — the sheer wasted opportunity of it all.

My parents just returned from the East Coast; my mom showed me a few of her pictures, including some WWII propaganda posters asking people to save rubber, fat drippings, and gas (by driving slowly - what would the bumper sticker be, "Everyday Sunday driver for war relief"?). Today, the government asks us for little besides taxes and civic obedience, and Americans have lost the habits of conservation and reuse. Two articles in the NYTimes last week argued that: a new life phase - odyssey - is developing between the stable, structured phases of adolescence and adulthood; and that my generation is willing to pursue our idealistic notions, but too complacently. Twenty-somethings have a latent energy and desire for change, but are lost in conflicting drives to pursue change and life stability and demoralized by the seeming immutability of big-business- and sound-bite-controlled politics. Thomas Friedman appeals to us:

America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them.

Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy didn’t change the world by asking people to join their Facebook crusades or to download their platforms. Activism can only be uploaded, the old-fashioned way — by young voters speaking truth to power, face to face, in big numbers, on campuses or the Washington Mall. Virtual politics is just that — virtual.

So help us help the country. Give us leaders who are ballsy enough to listen to broke college students. Convince us democracy is real and effective. Give us viable options to contribute to society while learning and surviving: AmeriCorps pays $8 an hour, more than minimum wage but tight as a living wage; going door-to-door or manning telephone banks for Greenpeace pays minimally, is a dead-end occupation, and garners little respect for anything but our youthful idealism.

Better yet, maybe someone my age will throw off the lazy mantle of internet activism (says the blogger), and unite my generation, assuaging our political hopelessness or apathy.

Labels: , ,

October 11, 2007


Suing the Government

Could I sue the U.S. government for their failure to act on global warming, saying that their inaction is harming me/people my age economically (and emotionally)? This really is a total harebrained idea, but why not think it through? I came up with it because money is the only thing it seems this administration values and because the federal government is too afraid of biting the hands that feed them: businesses and constituents who dislike and fear change.

The premise is that, based primarily on the International Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report, "both past and future [human-caused] carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium, due to the time scales required for removal of this gas from the atmosphere." (Note: if you want a relatively short but scientifically accurate summary of climate change science, read the Summary for Policy Makers [pdf].) Compound that with a 2006 UK report [pdf] and a 2007 U.S. military report that claim the costs of inaction will be greater than the costs of action now and that third-world countries, already struggling and many unstable, will be the hardest hit by climate change.

Climate change will cause:

  • changed precipitation and temperature patterns, which will lead to:
    - changes in growing conditions for many plants and crops (better in some areas, probably worse in others) - economic
    - habitat changes, pressuring native, endemic, specialist, and endangered species, while allowing the range expansion of low-elevation or tropical species including agricultural pests and vectors for disease - emotional and economic
    - exacerbation of health problems, like all the heat spells in Europe and the U.S. over the past few years have caused lots of deaths (particularly for the elderly) - economic and emotional
  • glacial melt, which will lead to:
    - pressure on high elevation species and habitat types - emotional
    - water shortages in glacial fed lakes and rivers, making them poorer quality habitat for fish like salmon that require certain water flow to aerate their eggs etc, and causing water shortages for humans - economic and emotional
  • sea level rise, which will cause flooding in coastal communities--flooding that will disrupt economic activity and create refugees that, according to the military report above, will decrease world stability (movies of sea level rise impact on major U.S. cities, google maps mashup starting on San Francisco showing different sea level rises) - economic and emotional

among other effects. But of course, this is surely all impossible since I doubt you can sue based on presumed/future harm--which would make sense, but doesn't help me (or the planet)!

Labels: , ,

October 5, 2007


Post-Apocalyptic Bum

If you've got a blog, you might consider participating in "Blog Action Day," October 15th, which aims to raise awareness of environmental issues and solutions. So, even though I have lately been very unreliable about posting, I will definitely (my top misspelled word) post on October 15th. Speaking of blogging, anyone want to help me set up an RSS feed? Apparently it's harder than I thought.

Now to the main topic, namely, that I am irrationally concerned that after the apocalypse, I will be a drain on society. I'm not sure why, but at some point I decided that one good metric of societal worth is what I'd be able to contribute to a post-apocalyptic community. The idea came up again recently when I read about world colonization in Time Enough for Love, and one incidental character complained that although he was no good at farming, when the world developed well enough to need secondary education, he'd be the best creative writing professor ever. If you want to read an entertaining 'apocalypse' story, try World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Wars, which is apparently being turned into a movie.

Society would first need agricultural, medicinal, and construction knowledge--nope. I have some rudimentary woodworking skills. I might be able to point out environmental hazards at potential sites, e.g. this is a flood plain, let's move 50 feet up the hill instead. But that sort of knowledge is really straightforward if you're actually considering it, so that's not much of a contribution. I want to learn about wild edibles, which would be useful, but that'll take a while.

Once people are fed and housed, society will need to develop infrastructure for transportation to enable the development of trade so that people can specialize but still supply their basic needs. All I have on that account is an "intro to planning" class, which doesn't give me that much expertise, and people can figure out where roads and meeting places should be. Most of the planning class was saying that people had it right until they started building for automobiles rather than people, and since we won't have cars, that won't be a problem.

After the apocalypse, will we try to rebuild the world to its current state, or will we have learned from today's problems and rebuild with some consideration for the Earth and its other inhabitants? Will we be so stressed with trying to survive that we'll forget to plan and consider our long-term goals and foundations? How would you plan and manage Utopia?

Eventually society will try to redevelop technologies. I don't know anything about electronics, gears, motors, can't build anything. I know only how to utilize technologies. I know some basic chemistry and lab techniques, but wouldn't know what to combine to make what, or how to synthesize materials. I can sauter but not weld.

Yikes. Looks like it'd be cheaper to shoot me--surely people will salvage guns. I'm not the only one who would only be able to contribute my body (if not manual labor, I could be a child-bearing vessel...). What does it say about society that so many humans would be unable to survive without it?

What knowledge and skills will earn your keep after the apocalypse?


October 4, 2007


Soundscape Preservation

I backpacked into the Yosemite Wilderness a few weeks ago. One day we hiked up to Upper Young Lake and hung out for several hours reading and enjoying the scenery. Aside from the planes that passed directly over the National Park every half hour, the loudest disturbance was the complaining squacks from a nearby Clark's nutcracker who protested our presence. The quiet between each punctuating noise enhances that sound and increases your awareness of the creatures and natural processes around you.

When I interned at Muir Woods, heli-tours flew over the park, creating such loud noise that I and other rangers were forced to stop our talks until the helicopters passed. Silence, argued the head ranger, was an integral part of the redwood forest. Few animals live in redwood forests—-silent slugs, silent deer, silent mountain lions, silent northern spotted owls. Even wind causes little noise there, as redwoods tend to grow in sheltered areas since they are so tall and their roots so shallow.

Yosemite and Muir Woods represent two protected natural areas—-what aspects of these natural areas is the Park Service meant to protect?
The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

We emphasize the visual component of these resources, and neglect the aural (and functional, but that's another story) properties of wilderness. Why? Our physical capabilities that make us visually reliant?

Man has impinged upon most other ecosystems and natural areas. To what extent should we condone man's spread and dominance by saying that man is simply an extremely successful species? To what extent does man's success rely on modifying the environment to the detriment of other species, and how does that compare to other invasive species? To what extent should man, as just another competitor for limited resources, respect existing ecosystems? How can we balance our own success with the importance of biodiversity?

National Parks are America's first attempt to preserve patches of ecosystems intact from man's influence. If we believe these places are important, both inherently and as a baseline to see how the world would be without us, we should protect them completely. In this instance, we must ask: is the preservation of natural soundscapes important enough to divert economy-influencing air traffic? If you think soundscapes seem important, read about the One Square Inch Project, which aims to protect one square inch of land in the U.S. from noise pollution.

If you're more visually oriented, perhaps consider participating in Lights Out San Francisco on Oct 20 or your city's equivalent, which you can find through the Dark Sky Association, or in a world-wide Star Count to index light pollution.

Labels: , ,

October 1, 2007


Random links

5 Nasty Critters Benefiting from Global Warming

Sweet atheist billboard in WI

Skeleton loveseat - can't remember where I got it from, too many tabs open as usual!

Labels: , ,