Shaderunners webcomic

I have this featured over in links, but it’s worth a closer look and a shout-out: Shaderunners.

From the comic’s ‘About’ page:

One part Prohibition fantasy, one part Robin Hood, and a whole lot of epic heist, Shaderunners follows a group of ragtag bootleggers and bohemians who band together in an effort to steal colour from the wealthy echelons of Ironwell’s high society. Among them: a philosopher, a puppeteer, a gutter rat, an opera singer, a naval officer and a hopeless romantic. Together, they run The Glass Dial, former watch shop and future night club, where all the house drinks run red.

Speak easy, pal, ‘cause the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.

Take a secondary world with a ‘feel’ of Prohibition-Era America. Unknown forces have left the world drained of all color. But the tomb of an ancient queen reveals artifacts still imbued with precious, rare color…and they become prizes in a power struggle not only between empires, but between the aristocracy and a furtive band of renegades. The renegades reason ‘Why should only the Gilts and Inks get to see color? Why shouldn’t ordinary people get to see it, too? And why shouldn’t we make money off it?’ and set out to rectify that injustice. Along the way, they might just stumble into idealism and real revolution.

The worldbuilding is A+, telling you just enough to ground you but leaving you hungry for more. The characters are interesting, each with their own flaws, strengths, and secrets. The plot is fun. The art is yummy, and perfect for the vibe.

One of the greatest tricks Shaderunners plays? How easily it follows several genderfluid characters, in a world where ‘alternative’ sexuality and gender are nothing remarkable. The art works with story image cues more easily and efficiently than pure text, to show us a character being ‘Mr’ one moment and ‘Miss’ another. In suspenders and a newsboy cap in one setting, and a silken dress and vamp-queen Deco headress in another. Rather than being a trangressive or ‘teaching’ moment, this is simply portrayed as life-as-usual…a refreshing change from both extremes, and one I wish more authors, artists, agents, and publishers would understand.

Try this webcomic. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!

 

First Look: Politics As Usual

I’ve had this piece of fiber book art in mind since 2011-2012. I’m glad I held off until now: even Mitt Romney’s version of the GOP has been eclipsed by the current crop of corrupt, venal, sanctimonious, and utterly incompetent politicians gracing the Republican Party. (And I say that as a former GOP member!)

‘Politics As Usual’ will combine beaded 18-count cross-stitch with applique patches and commercially-printed fabrics, to make an Abecedarium (ABC Book) using two political terms per alphabet letter on fabric pages. The binding will be a wood box-spine anchored by decorative red-white-and-blue glass beaded tassels. The covers will be woodburned poplar, tooled leather, fiber art, or some mix of those.

The current main word-pair lineup stands at: Alternative Facts / Agenda, Brink / Bipartisan, Constitution / Conflict, Dissent / Doublespeak, Ethics / Emolument, Fascist / Filibuster, Grassroots / Gerrymander, Hegemony / Humanist, Ideology / Impeach, Justice /  Jingo, Kleptocracy / Keynesian, Lobbyist / Loophole, Mandate / Midterm, Nationalism / Nihilism, Oligarchy / Opposition, Proxy / Pundit, Quota / Quorum, Resist / Racist, Spin / Suffrage, Theocracy / Tyranny, Unity / Useful Idiot, Vote / Veto, Wedge / Whistleblower, Xenophobia / X-Factor, Yellow Journalism / Yield, Zeitgeist, Zero Sum Game.

There may or may not be additional smaller-font words worked into the background, along with little topical motifs such as biohazard symbols, radiation symbols, the GOP Elephant, the DNC Donkey, mushroom clouds, dollar and pound signs, Resistance symbols, Trump’s hair, high-heeled shoes, palm trees, golf symbols, etc.

As befits a subversive embroidery sampler, it may or may not be housed in a repurposed cedarwood Bible box, depending on the final dimensions of the book.

It’s going to be a lot of fun to make.

 

2017 Hugo Awards List!

It’s April, and I’ve been so busy with my own art and writing I forgot one of April’s cherished traditions.

It’s Hugo Awards nomination time! And that means another Pie Fight GIF, this time courtesy of the very topical film Dr. Strangelove. I love how stoic and dignified this poor guy looks…kinda the way most of us feel now about the Hugos, the Puppies, and the battle for the soul of genre fiction.

So much has changed since last we were here! The Puppies got trounced, but Trump won, only now it looks like Trump & Co may go up against a firing squad (maybe figurative, maybe literal) any day now. Or we’ll start a WWIII between the US, China, Russia, Syria, and North Korea, with IS bringing up the rear.

Is diversity and democracy dead? Or stronger than ever?

It may be worth noting that Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and plenty of other genre SFF memes have jumped from geeky obscurity to proud symbols of the anti-Trump #Resistance. When GOP and ‘mainsteam’ pundits mock anti-GOP candidates for loving SFF or, say, posing in Star Wars or Trek cosplay gear…we laugh at the naysayers. We know our people, and with some luck and skillful (nonviolent) revolution, we know our people can win.

We thinking peoples of the world have a chance to push back against kleptocracy and isolationist nationalism, against anti-science and anti-global cabals. It won’t be easy. This time we aren’t reading a book or watching a movie with a scripted ending. We’re inside a messy complex real-world multi-platform Go game where half the players won’t mind suicide if it takes out the others.

It’s also worth noting that many players on the Rabid Puppy/Sad Puppy/ Gamergate sides have migrated fully over to the neo Nazi alt-right camp (not that we were surprised by this.) They understand that a generation’s movies, games, and books become mythologies that shape its thinking, and they still want to warp SFF into their image.

Don’t let them. Read dangerous, challenging, and diverse books. Write them. Watch the movies. Make the art. Support the other people doing the same thing. Fight the Nazis, the rigid theocracies of every faith, the dynasties of terror and delusion, and the petty politicians who would rather support party (or their own Cayman account) than country.

Against this backdrop this year’s Hugo nominees are (mostly) a diverse and forward-thinking lot. We have only a couple of token Puppy plants, none as charmingly perverse as our beloved Chuck Tingle. I leave it to you, gentle eligible voters, to make your choices.

 

BREATHE covers

Typically, it’s April and I only just starting to upload 2017’s book arts pieces!

Here are the roughly 1.5x3x.25″ faux-inlay covers (outside and inside) for BREATHE. I showed a first look at the pages last year. They’re a gathering of Latin mottos I thought were particularly appropriate for the current state of the world:

Dum Spiro Spero. Dum Spero Amo. Dum Amo Vivo. Dum Vivo Prosum.

While I breathe, I hope. While I hope, I love. While I love, I live. While I live, I do good.

The covers give rough English translations, along with the title, colophon, my sigil and date made.

I chose poplar because it’s a fairly hard, very fine-grained wood that takes well to woodburning. When properly varnished, good poplar feels and ‘pings’ almost like porcelain or bone.

Text and designs are burned in with a pyrography pen. You can’t see it in these scans, but I did scrollwork on every edge. It came out yummy.

I sanded and scrubbed away the burn resins (otherwise the paint won’t stick!), then filled the channels with a thickened tinted acrylic (in this case, Indigo and Titanium White). When that dried, I sanded it again until most of the wood was clean, and most of the burned channels were still filled with a paint ‘inlay’ with a fine dark brown outline. It’s not an exact artform: you can see where I sanded out the paint on the word ‘breathe’ on the lower right image.

Alert readers will have seen me try this out here. I’ve been farting around with this technique for over ten years, but this and the blood orange wand are the first times I’ve been mostly happy with the look. Hint: fine-grained wood is the key. Wengewood, purpleheart, and oak have too much open grain that collects the paint and obscures the drawing (see where I messed up on CONTINENTAL DIVIDE and CITY AT NIGHT).

When sealed with a UV resistant lacquer varnish, the silky grain of the poplar shows up in a figured pattern, with a lot of surface translucence that offsets the opaque paint.

The beaded accents are from the 30-Year Stash: blue and white porcelain inside the cover holes, with matte green/red striped ‘onyx’ glass and pale gray-purple matte seed beads. I thought these picked up the dark blue, lavender, buttercreme, and ice-blue colorways and floral theme of the fabric pages.

Thread is Navy Blue waxed polyester from Maine Thread Co.

And now on to join pages and covers! More on the finished piece here.

 

Pussyhat Legionnaire Cap

It’s done! It looks like this:

PussyHat Legionnaire Cap Marian Crane www.cranehanabooks.com/blog

It started from an old beige cotton Dorfman Pacific Legionnaire Cap, bought at Popular Surplus when that was still around in AZ.

Around 2003, for a Halloween event, I put the cap into a salmon-pink dye bath. Then doodled some red fabric paint on it, and stitched a raggedy bit of cotton fringe to the bottom. The same fabric, salvaged from a thrift store woven skirt, made part of the hatband decoration. It was intended to have a vaguely fantasy/tribal/ethnic feel.

And then it sat in the costume stash for a decade or so. I picked off some of the more extravagant decorations for another project. I almost donated the cap last summer to Goodwill.

And then Trump won. Pussyhats became a thing. Now, I can’t knit, and my crochet was barely up to hat-level for the two lumpy pink hats I sent to the Phoenix Women’s March on 1-21-2017.

But I’m a costumer. I can sew. I remembered I already had a pink hat.

A couple of ear patterns later, some Beacon Fabric Adhesive, a lot of thread, beads, handmade tassels, more salvaged fabric, and many needle stabs later, I have a ridiculously glorious flaming beacon of a Pussyhat.

Which I will be wearing in public, thank you. Maybe I can draw fire for some younger revolutionaries.

I’m also very happy with the Rebel Starbird applique on back, in seafoam green ultrasuede with coral-red glass bead accents.

 

We miss you, Carrie Fisher. #Resistance

***

If anyone wants a pattern, I don’t have a complete one – I had to change my patterns so much I’d have to re-engineer the ears.

I can tell you that sewing the ears separately with some stiff interfacing inside worked really well. Just sew inside-out while catching the very edge of the interfacing, flip right side out, turn in the bottom edge, and sew some reinforcement seams. Fold the ears to get the shape you want, then tack half an inch or so along the lower edge of the ears to lock that fold in place.

Then use Beacon or another ‘permanent’ high-tack fabric adhesive to baste the ears into place. Every cap will have a slightly different brim/crown geometry, so the curled-into-the brim look of mine was a happy accident.

After the glue has set, come in and secure all seams with same-color thread worked through the cap fabric. (I never rely on glue alone.) I frayed some bright pink linen strips to line the ear bases front and back, to give more hot-pink tones to my salmon pink cap.

Marian Crane Pussyhat Legionnaire Cap

There’s a long-term advantage to designing around and between trends. Certain themes/colors surge and fade in the fashion world. An ice-pink dress I made nearly 20 years ago? Now back in style as a wrap, with a few tweaks. This vivid salmon/red/turquoise theme, that I started at least 13 years ago? Had a flare-up about a year ago.

I’ve seen these Cici Espadrilles from Maurice’s before, but my local thrift outlet got a pair my size for much less than the $24 retail price. They’re a perfect match. I’m not entirely sure I didn’t design the Legionnaire Cap around this very colorway, based on murky memories of the Cici shoes from over the last year or so. And it doesn’t really matter. Added to the salmon pants and shirt I already have, I’ve got an absurdly bright outfit.

Cici Espadrilles, Maurices, salmon multi

Toddler Grandma Insurgency, anyone?

Of Shade and Soul: A Touch Trilogy Novella

My friend A. G. Carpenter and the great people at Falstaff Books have released ‘Of Shade and Soul’, the second novella in her Southern gothic ‘Touch’ trilogy.

Delaney Green might be dead, but she don’t mean to stay that way. As she searches for a way back to the realm of the living, and the man she lay down flesh and bone for, Percival Cox and his team investigate a series of deaths and stolen souls. But Percy is not the man he used to be. If Del can’t find a way to stop him from waking his past, he could destroy everything, including himself.

This is a powerful continuation of the first book (I was honored to read both in their beta stages and final form). The final product is worthy of a Poe award. If you like moody Southern gothic, horror-fantasy, magical realism with a languid air of magnolia and burnt blood…this is your trilogy. Come read it here:

https://www.amazon.com/Shade-Soul-Touch-Trilogy-Novella-ebook/dp/B01MZE2D64

Dragon Batik, a PussyHat, and the Tax Day March

A test piece from circa 1991, made with scrap linen, plain old paraffin wax, acrylic dyes, a lot of cheap paper towels and a thrift-store iron, and a design borrowed from Balinese carvings and an amaaaazing Chinese celadon vase (Thank you, ASU West Library).

I’m posting it because it’s fun, fierce, and there’s only so many times a day I can poke at Donald Trump.

Although…

While I was digging this piece out of storage, I ran across another old hall costume orphan: a cotton muslin Legionnaire’s cap with backflap. In a fit of madness one year in the Aughts, I dyed bright salmon pink for a Halloween stunt, then stuck a camel’s worth of fringe and beads on it. A few years later, some of the adornments came off, to be stitched on something else. I almost donated the piece to Goodwill last year.

“Hey self,” I said while eyeing the cap’s possibilities. “It’s PINK.” I have fabric in matching and complementary shades, and another camel’s worth of more fringe and beads. I have a whole outfit the same color, heh heh.

I think it can be turned into a spectacular PussyHat, and I can make others out of the scraps.

There are rumblings across social media, that, since The Donald seems afraid to release his tax returns; that the Women’s March on Saturday seemed to really piss him off; and that many of us just like banging on cages…we might be aiming to march again on Saturday, April 15, just before the US Tax Day.

Earlier in March (TBA), a lot of angry scientists are planning a march of their own.

Will you join us?

Crowd sizes and why they may actually matter

So apparently there were at least three times as many people protesting Trump in Washington, D.C. Saturday 1-21-2017 than attended Trump’s inauguration the day before. The National Guard has confirmed it the largest single-location protest in American history. If you count all the *other* protests in the US and worldwide, participation numbered in the millions.

This would be moderately interesting, if not for Trump’s thin-skinned, totally size queen reaction.

Trump Twitter and Facebook armies immediately explained it was because *their* people had to stay at home and work at jobs, like responsible adults.

The Department of the Interior had its social media accounts frozen Saturday, after someone there tweeted comparisons of the crowds for Trump’s inauguration, and Obama’s two ceremonies. Hint: Trump’s crowd was far more sparse.

Javier Zarracina/Vox

On Saturday, Sean Spicer trotted out to do a hasty press conference…claiming the media inaccurately showed Trump’s crowd. Then Spicer flat out lied about the size of Saturday’s protest, spawning instant comparisons to Baghdad Bob.

I repeat: Spicer’s claim was a blatant lie. From The Guardian. From the NY Times. From USA Today. From Vox. From The Atlantic.

Because the National Park Service no longer provides ‘accurate’ counts of crowds (due to backlash), we have only indirect metrics to estimate the difference in crowd sizes. Days before both the inauguration and the Women’s March, we knew that organizers had applied for around 200 bus parking permits for Trump’s shindig, whereas Women’s March organizers had applied for at least 1,200 bus permits. Every indication is that those buses were full, too.

The DC-area transit authority reported that on Friday, January 20, approximately 193,000 people rode the Metro system as of 11am. The crowds for Saturday were estimated to be at least three times that, around 470,000 people.

The reason WHY this important?

It shows the level of engagement of really angry people, who feel that the new administration is corrupt, venal, rent-seeking, ignorant, and illegitimate. Who fear the loss of hard-won civil rights. Who fear the devastation even know showing from global climate change.

Trump is entering office as the most unpopular President of the United States in four decades. He barely won the Electoral College votes, and that was because of antique apportionment rules that give more sparsely populated rural areas more voting power than urban areas. He lost the popular vote by at least 3,000,000.

He has no ‘national mandate’ and he knows it.

Alternate factsare lies.

Crowd-size arguments show how truly thin-skinned Trump & Co really are. Their unpopularity is a yuuuge problem for them, a soft target, and they know that, too.

Trump has no depth of character: his only personal metrics are his apparent wealth and ratings. Trump’s own ego is the biggest trap awaiting him. It forces him to engage in constant damage control against the slightest insult from the smallest source. Obama was, in many respects, the too-calm ‘Shake It Off’ President, and comedy routines spawned around how much we wanted to see him get angry (The Rock Obama).

Trump & Co shown that any pushback on their perceived popularity hurts them, which just shows us where to strike. Maximum impact! Show up at marches. Ding Trump & Co on social media. Start organizing at local levels, and learn from the Tea Party’s exasperating tactics. Support at least one actual news outlet with a subscription. Call out fake news when you see it. Punch Nazis whenever you can. Resist the normalization of fascism.

Remember that the last time we had extremely large protests against a President, Watergate happened and Nixon was forced to resign a year later.

Trump = Fascist

Just so we’re clear.

This guy is not heroic, he’s not smart, and he’s not honorable. He got where he is in life by being the exact opposite of those three qualities. He’s gold-plated pewter proof that if you have enough money, you can steamroll your way through life, aided by people who want to scamper after your crumbs.

He didn’t win the popular vote, and he’s the most unpopular President-Elect in 40 years. He’s also a patsy.

I’ll quote again from a joke I heard on Twitter: ‘There’s a new fable going around. You heard about the scorpion who hitches a ride across a river by riding on a frog’s back, and halfway across makes America great again?’

Yeah, right.

The really sad thing is that a majority of the people who voted for him, are going to be the ones hurt by the misguided and rapacious actions of his administration.

2016 year in review

I could almost get away with the stub listing ‘It sucked’.

The many and varied ways 2016 achieved maximum suckage will be studied in later history (if there is anyone left alive to study it). I’m not raising my blood pressure detailing those slings and arrows tonight.

Instead, I want to talk about good things.

I’m still alive. Most of my family and dearest friends are still alive. A very good friend survived serious career and health setbacks. I am loved and cherished, which is awesome and humbling.

I eased away from one publisher this year, and gave another new one a chance. In art, one venue I thought moribund is actually turning lucrative, while I’ve dropped another before it cost me too much to recover from. My writing struggled out of a lazy plateau and improved dramatically. I have a wealth of art, jewelry, and writing projects to address, and just enough skill to reach them.

I have goals for 2017, and far less fear about them than I would have thought, a couple of safe and happy years ago.

So for my readers and anyone stumbling onto this post: I hope you have a sane, healthy, happy, productive, humane, and triumphant new year.

Endure. Live. Thrive. Resist.

More publishers behaving badly

As if 2016 hadn’t sucked badly enough before this, December saw news that two more publishers were going under with messy implosions. In both cases, authors and readers were left hanging.

Torquere was a small erotic romance publisher once reasonably respected, but torpedoed by mismanagement over the last few years.

The bigger news a few days ago: the abrupt dissolution of AllRomance Ebooks/OmniLit. This was a digital ebook sales platform that had just branched into direct publishing. For other publishers, ARe/Omni had thousands of titles across many genres, from Big Five houses to small independents and self-published authors. (I even had a spot on ARe, in prep for my future self-pub efforts.)

I lost a few dollars from sales of Maestro this last quarter, I’m sure. I know other authors who estimate they’ve lost $10K or more. Follow the link for more news about this crash (which may have less to do with financial losses than graft and fraud.)

Torquere’s troubles, we knew about at least half a year. The ARe debacle had hints of trouble a few months ago for some authors, but most of us never saw it coming.

We don’t like to see Amazon as the only outlet. For many of us, ARe was the next biggest earner, and its loss will ripple across the romance genre.

Welcome to the future, I guess.

Update 1-2-2017: The AllRomance/OmniLit sites have vanished now, like a once-vast city buried in lava. I remember how big those sites were, especially to romance. It seems surreal that they’re gone.

More disquieting are the hints and rumors of continued odd behavior from Lori James, and the realization that ARe/Omni were on shaky foundations at least two years ago. The good news is that Big Five publishers will almost certainly file suit, but that won’t help the small presses and individual authors also dragged down.

I’m no lawyer or publishing professional. My sense, from listening to people who are: look closely at your publisher. Try to determine if they’re responding quickly and responsibly to these debacles, and to shifts in the larger publishing world. If not, you might want to pull back or get out while you can.

There will almost certainly be small publishers who will lose large amounts of money from what Lori James owes. Some will lose more money trying to pay their authors’ ARe/Omni royalties out of pocket. Some won’t pay, or will only pay the 10% they might get. Either way, some of these publishers won’t survive the financial hit or the exodus of angry authors. If you love your publisher, rally around and help…but be willing to take the risks, too.

As a reader, the most important thing you can do for the writers you love: leave online reviews. Wherever you buy a physical or ebook, give an honest review. Don’t randomly gush 5-star reviews…put some thought into them. Why did you like the book? Why not? Even a guarded 3-star review can have great positive effects; even a negative review can spark the interest of other readers.

Digital books can make an author’s backlist accessible. But no one will buy that backlist if they don’t know it exists. So review!

 

 

 

 

Beall’s List and fake academic publishers

The predatory vanity publishing world is not limited to fiction. Academic and scientific papers are also a hot commodity, since the legitimate markets can have high entry barriers in fees and vetting. A host of predatory and often outright criminal publishers have surfaced to ‘serve’ those customers.

Many scientists and academics need to publish work to promote their career, grants applications, or general reputation.

Many dubious presenters need an official-looking publishing credit to bolster their claims or products (similar to how fiction vanity publishers use fake or problematic contests and associations to push their services.)

How to tell the difference, when many respected logical thinkers may not be able to?

Look for the same flops in logic you’d find in other anti-intellectual communities. The same meaningless jingoism, the same vague promises…and often, the same exorbitant publishing fees!

The US and Europe have their share of these outfits. But a large number of them are based in India – a rising market combining powerful legitimate publishers, brilliant academics, knowledge-hungry students, large amounts of money, predatory vanity publishers, and viciously divisive nationalist politics.

Here’s a link to Scholarly Open Access, and Beall’s List of predatory and fake journals. If you find a ‘journal’ listed here, it’s worth taking your time to be skeptical before you decide to submit to it!

Here’s a link to Brian Dunning’s ‘Skeptoid’ podcast about fake academic publishers and the white hat hoaxers who help expose them.

Just for laughs – and the learning experience! – here’s a Wiki link to the time when SF writer Isaac Asimov thoroughly trolled a scientific journal that wasn’t paying attention.

Here’s John H. McCool in The Scientist ‘Opinion: Why I Published in a Predatory Journal’.

Why is this crap a worldwide problem? A lack of properly vetted and researched scientific and academic work hurts all countries’ scientific intelligence quotient. It allows for easier plundering of whole economies by special interests using ‘fake news’ to advance their agenda. It covers and excuses wars and genocides. It promotes simplistic thinking and Orwellian Double-Speak over difficult but worthwhile truths. It has specific individual human costs, as when cancer patients choose ineffective bogus treatments over proven science, based off poorly-researched work in fake journals.

It has career costs, too. When unprepared or corrupt professionals plagiarize other people’s work or ‘buy’ their credentials, they’re lying about their qualifications. It might slide by without anyone knowing, and no one may be substantially harmed by the deception. But it can also lead to career shame, such as this case when some savvy Kansas students did the research that their school board obviously failed to do. Or now, when the antics of the manifestly unqualified Donald Trump may lead to countless unnecessary deaths in wars and poverty.

Peer review, like democracy, only works when your peers are intelligent, critical-thinking, and well-read members of the wider community.

What up, Russians?

First off, to the Russians who keep trying to hack me: why? I’m small fry, not worth your effort. I have 13 subscribers with a handful of other readers, and I run a blog that is mostly a wall o’text. No pretty pictures, no clickbait ads, and no one powerful cares what I think.

Granted, I’ve got your number. You’re either an entrepreneur or a state-sponsored hacker. You’re probably just trying to make a buck in an authoritarian state where the average wage has dropped to what, $200 a month? $100? Less? Where corruption, alcoholism, drug use, and kleptocracy have run rampant since the failure of perestroika, while life expectancy has plummeted. Where your Supreme Despot deflected your rightful anger away from himself and toward cultural ‘others’, in a shameful alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Hint: Pussy Riot isn’t your enemy. Putin and his friends are.

Communism failed to ever create its perfect state, with Russia, Cuba, North Korea…shall I go on? The authoritarian leanings in your country transformed emerging capitalism into plutocracy almost immediately; jury’s still out on what going to happen in Cuba or North Korea.

When you copied Western Capitalism, you also imported the worst of our attitudes toward scorning the poor and the working class, and worshiping the rich. I’m sorry for that, I had better hopes for you. Carl Sagan saw where you were going in 1996:

Russia is an instructive case. Under the tsars, religious superstition was encouraged, but scientific and skeptical thinking—except by a few tame scientists—was ruthlessly expunged. Under Communism, both religion and pseudoscience were systematically suppressed—except for the superstition of the state ideological religion. It was advertised as scientific, but fell as far short of this ideal as the most unself-critical mystery cult. Critical thinking—except by scientists in hermetically sealed compartments of knowledge—was recognized as dangerous, was not taught in the schools, and was punished where expressed. As a result, post-Communism, many Russians view science with suspicion. When the lid was lifted, as was also true of virulent ethnic hatreds, what had all along been bubbling subsurface was exposed to view. The region is now awash in UFOs, poltergeists, faith healers, quack medicines, magic waters, and old-rime superstition. A stunning decline in life expectancy, increasing infant mortality, rampant epidemic disease, subminimal medical standards, and ignorance of preventative medicine all work to raise the threshold at which skepticism is triggered in an increasingly desperate population.

But honestly, while I love Russian art, culture, and poetry, I have to accept I’m talking about a social mindset that still thinks xenophobia and Stalin are worthy ideals.

So for the user in Moscow with the IP address

31.173.101.161

Stop trying, you’re just embarrassing yourself. Go be useful to humanity’s future. Go hack the American GOP again, and show the world whatever pictures of live boys and dead girls you can hold over Trump & Co.

White Walls, Ghost Ship, and the arts in America

While we’re looking at the economic and social issues coalescing around the Ghost Ship fire, we need to accept that exploitation of creatives is so common it’s basically a tenet of American culture.

The vanity publishers I talk about in the ‘Filigree’s Rule’ section of this blog? They’re only one of the more-blatant tips of a big iceberg, culminating in our President-Elect.

Coded into bedrock American culture is the idea that art is frivolous or a luxury, that artists are second-class citizens who don’t contribute much to the greater good. ‘Safe’ art gets a nod from the powers-that-be, while ‘unsafe’ art gets tagged as unsavory and socially dangerous. ‘Play’ is never as worthy as ‘work’, even though play has been shown to be a common behavior among smarter animals, and a core practice of many genius-level humans.

I can hear any number of civic boosters, art professionals, teachers, grants committee members, and charitable foundation members yelping ‘Not so!’ if they read this. While they are all tirelessly working to fight upstream against the very attitudes I just mentioned.

Ask yourselves how much better your jobs would be, if Americans truly valued art and creativity?

From the San Francisco area comes this update on a story I first heard about years ago: the saga of a hip gallery called ‘White Walls’, a grifter called Justin Giarla, and the artists who ran afoul of him.

I was in the art supply retail business around the time White Walls became really famous. I remember seeing the glossy magazine ads for the space. I can see how artists got seduced by the pitch.

Quoted from the first story: “He did this intentionally to people, and bullied them when confronted,” Soukup wrote. “He hid behind the threat that he could ruin you if you spoke out against him.”

Quoted from the second story: When street artist David Young V, also known as DYoungV, saw Harman’s post about Giarla, it inspired him to go public with his own story. “It’s been public knowledge that Justin has been either stealing from or attempting to steal from artists for years,” DYoungV wrote in a public Facebook post. “Yet artists heard all the warnings and continued to work with him anyway. It’s almost like nobody wanted to believe the ‘rumors’ until it actually happened to them.”

Anyone who has been in the art sphere for a while has met a Giarla. I’ve known several, and yes, lost money and art to them. That artists, musicians, and writers have a tendency to shrug off such misadventures as ‘part of doing business’ is a sad but necessary fact of our lives. When any gallery exposure might be the lucky break we need to become famous – or even just solvent – we gamble.

The Giarla story at least has some merit, now that other artists beyond the initial whistle-blower have come forward to admit being scammed, too.

So if you’re a new artist trying to get your big break, what can you do? Here’s some tips I’ve learned from 30 years in the trenches:

It’s a business first, friendship second. Don’t believe anyone you work with, when they call your relationship ‘a family’. The more they emphasize ‘family’, the more you should silently add ‘dysfunctional’, and plan accordingly. Be nice about it, but protect yourself. While you’re at it, don’t completely trust your fellow artists, either – they’re all subject to the same temptations and shortcuts, and you might become a handy patsy or scapegoat.

Get everything in writing. Do not rely on handshake deals, since they can fall apart like wet toilet paper. Even the most well-meaning gallery owner can fall off the wagon, or even the map. Getting terms of your business relationship on paper may help bump you up in the line, if it comes to litigation or bankruptcy courts.

Never risk more than you can afford to lose. Accept that every single painting, sculpture, manuscript, poem, or song you produce in that relationship is subject to theft, in one way or another. Gamble – but spread out your risk factors.

Very rarely is ‘working for exposure’ worth your time. Any time someone asks you to volunteer your labor, materials, and time for free or a pittance, make sure the ‘exposure’ is actually worth something on your CV.

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably either a filthy lie from a scammer, or the nonsense from someone too airheaded to survive in business.

 

 

Artists, protect yourselves

The lessons are piling on from last Friday’s horrific ‘Ghost Ship’ fire in Oakland, California.

At least three dozen people died.

To recap: The Ghost Ship was an urban warehouse illegally and shoddily converted into cheap work-live housing for artists, musicians, and other creatives. Electricity and water were siphoned from neighbors, and frequently didn’t work. Pre-fire images show a cluttered maze-like space called both ‘beautiful’ and ‘horrible’ by ex-tenants. It was a tinderbox waiting for a spark.

City and county officials explain they’re too overworked and disorganized to effectively deal with the hundreds of other illegal ‘work-live’ sites in their area.

Neighbors explain they called officials numerous times about the infamous warehouse.

The building owners claim they had no idea it was being used as a living space, or that the interior was hideously not up to safety codes…even though they were cited numerous times.

The building manager has shrugged off repeated warnings about fire safety and health codes, and even now seems to be trying to whine and bluster his way out of blame. He’s making those claims about ‘we’re all a family’ that we’ve heard from other exploiters.

Urban artists explain that the economy and affordable housing shortages force marginalized groups to seek ‘Ghost Ship’ types of often-illegal and nearly always exploitative communal housing. That governments and social groups have to step up to protect those vulnerable communities.

You know what, creative snowflakes? That’s feelgood Obama-era bullshit. You are on your own.

Most cities and states don’t actually care about artists, because most artists are not a lucrative enough tax base to be heard. Cities may make ‘We support the creative class’ noises, but seldom make solid promises or follow-through on safe housing and workspaces. We have a few good examples in AZ, but we also have our share of Arty Slumlords and boom-to-bust art neighborhoods.

Most civic leaders don’t want to encourage ‘alternative’ artists in any genre, because those artists have a bent for critical social commentary. In a Trump America, artists need to acknowledge they are now resistance fighters instead of cash cows. Trump himself, with his rants about comedy shows and Broadway musicals (and his own horrible taste in art!) has shown he doesn’t get that art *should* be able to challenge comfort zones.

In Trump America, there will be fewer regulations facing businesses, so don’t look for help there, either.

Why do we artists gather in cities? More opportunities, and often more safety and self expression than our heartland hometowns…especially now. Even for those of us who previously shied away from activist art. We no longer have that luxury.

The good news is we CAN protect ourselves. We can learn some basic science and safety measures. Make friends with (and pool our resources to PAY) electrical, construction, and plumbing specialists. Up our critical-thinking skills, so we can recognize deathtrap housing and megalomaniac site management when we see it. We can take logical steps to make our live-work spaces as safe as possible.

We need to think like doomsday preppers, and plan to be artists in zombie-apocalypse dystopias, where our survival depends on the choices we make. No one else is going to rescue us.

 

Pyramid Schemes, Dunbar’s Number, and Betsy DeVos

Trump’s latest cabinet pick for Secretary of Education is ‘Michigan royalty’ Betsy DeVos. This is not only a potential disaster for American public education, it’s another sure sign that when Trump says ‘Drain the Swamp!’, he must mean his version of Opposite Day. As in crony capitalism on steroids.

How swampy is Betsy DeVos, in this context?

Neither she nor her children attended public school. She’s on record for many years as an opponent of public schooling. She’s an extremely wealthy woman who champions public money funneled to private religious schools, advocates pro-religious and anti-science teaching, favors racial school segregation under the guise of ‘school choice’, and has sent political dark money to some of the worst of the religious right’s ‘Christian’ PACs and Super-PACs.

What’s the religious angle? Her brother Erik Prince (of Blackwater infamy) has advocated a white Christian theocracy in America. From this article in The InterceptThe Prince and DeVos families gave the seed money for what came to be known as the Republican Revolution when Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1994 on a far-right platform known as the Contract with America.

But the rot goes decades further back.

Why does Betsy DeVos want to kill public education? Probably because of its Common Core goals of teaching STEM skills and critical thinking, the natural enemies of theocracy.

Where’s the multi-level marketing angle? She married into the family that founded Amway and some other large MLM companies.

I first ran across MLMs in the late 1980’s, while researching money-making opportunities in Arizona. I quickly realized their mathematical impossibility, and didn’t commit myself to any of them. I looked into them again in 2012, while researching their similarities to and connections with several vanity-publishing companies.

MLMs are built on shaky legal underpinnings, since many of them skate near but not into Ponzi schemes. Most can claim they make money by selling real products. The hard truth is that most MLMs make far more money by leveraging commissions on more and more ‘new distributors’ who fuel the pyramid scheme. Only a few people, the early adopters at the top of the pyramid, are going to amass any real wealth. Basic mathematics shows that the pyramid runs out of earning power quickly, in its lower levels.

MLMs pitch a great ‘dream’ with little solid evidence, wrap their pitch in quasi-religious terms, rake in millions of dollars in commissions, and tend to put the blame of failure on their unsuccessful members. In short, they are the perfect compatriots of many Prosperity Gospel adherents and Tea-Party/Trumpvoters.

What’s Dunbar’s Number? A possible cognitive limit to how many social connections individuals can maintain, based upon British anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s studies of primate brain size and social group size.

In this context, ‘social connection’ indicates how many people one person can know well, and still know how everyone in that network relates to every other member. The bigger the brain, it seems, the bigger the ‘tribe’ to which one can maintain loyalty and mutual trust. For most humans, that number seems to hover around 150 people.

That 150 contains our close and distant kin groups, our co-workers and business partners, our social clubs and churches, and can stretch to cover distant and former associates. The ties of religious or social affiliation can extend a person’s allegiance to much bigger ‘tribes’ linked by agreed-upon behaviors. But it can also be co-opted very easily by authoritarian states and leaders, unscrupulous grifters, and others intent on gaming social networks.

The rise of Facebook ‘fake news’ was driven by false kinship signals created by for-profit and/or for-cause alt.right ‘news’ sites.

That 150 is not coincidentally the same average number of people that MLM sellers can beg to buy their ‘products’ or the average sales-to-family-and-friends by vanity-published authors.

John Oliver has a good overview of MLM faults here. Robert L. FitzPatrick has a quick guide to MLM’s here.

What does this rambling post come down to? Betsy DeVos does not speak for true American ideals, and she will probably use her wealth and MLM-honed dirty tricks to advance causes that will damage America.

Trump can’t factually state he’ll ‘Drain the Swamp’ while putting forward such divisive and disastrous cabinet picks. I don’t know whether he’s an evil genius, a practical businessman rewarding early loyalty, or a bored dilettante, but he’s outsourcing the fate of America to people diametrically opposed to our actual Founding Fathers’ Enlightenment goals.

What Donald J. Trump doesn’t seem to understand is that on January 21, 2017, he will effectively be obsolete in the eyes of his Vice President and his more-conservative cabinet picks. He did his job: he got Pence elected, and picked the Pence cabinet.

Trump has already lost control of his narrative.

People like Pence and DeVos will rule America whether Trump steps down in disgrace, is impeached, or killed (and look closely at Pence & Co then!), or simply ignores the day-to-day operation of what will be the Pence administration. That’s great for Pence, the DeVos and Prince Families, and the other right-wingers who want Christian religious rule of America for generations to come.

Not so good for pro-science folks, non-religious people, the LGBTQ community, moderate multi-culturalism, and anyone with brown skin.

What can we do? Be vigilant. Be logical. Prove that our tribe is bigger and better, and will win in the end.

 

How to deal with Neo Nazis

Let’s face it, the alt.right are Neo Nazis, pure and simple. They’re not ‘white nationalists’. They’re not ‘dapper’. They don’t simply want a ‘white homeland’ free from all ‘colored’ influences…they want to crowd out and exterminate the Other. We know this, we’ve seen this dance before.

Their tools are misinformation and resentment, fear, and a hunger for security and relevance.

How to deal with the new crop?

1. Call them out when you see them. Call out their collaborators and apologists. Boycott, call their sponsors, raise awareness, push back.

2. Mock the shit out of them.

SgtSchultzy reminds of that Illinois Nazi scene in Blues Brothers.

Blazing Saddles’ Bad Guy Lineup is an enduring classic, and could almost be Trump’s transition team and cabinet picks.

Spike Jones (the novelty comedy musician) had this gem mocking Hitler back in the day.

3. Remember where this leads (graphic images), and that it sure as fuck CAN happen here.

Don’t make America into Amerika.

Donald J. Trump will be forced to resign…

…Or be impeached, or even be assassinated (possibly even by his own people). And that should scare the crap out of every liberal in America.

The Trump alternatives are worse.

Even if none of those things happen, Trump has made it pretty clear he has neither an inclination for nor an interest in the details of his new job. He’s already said he plans to outsource much of it, to a core group of loyalists chosen for their early and slavish Trump support, not their qualifications for office. He needs adulation and constant reassurance, and these people will provide it to him.

Why be even more scared?

Because Trump’s #2 guy is Mike Pence, whom the alt.right white terrorists and the ultra-religious conservatives *love*.

I’d even go so far as to say that Donald J. Trump was always going to be someone’s patsy.

His children want a right-wing Kennedy dynasty, and will happily use him as a foundation stone.

The Democrats thought he’d be a wonderful toxic candidate against whom their nominee could steamroll with ease.

The Republicans realized early on they needed someone to reach Angry America, and Trump was handy through his birther/Tea Party connections. He could win. But he was never meant to stay in office. Under this scenario, Trump’s yuuuuge character flaws were an asset: sooner or later, he can be counted on to be forced aside, leaving the field for Pence and an authoritarian ultra-right Christian government. (This would probably have been John McCain’s fate, had he and Sarah Palin won in 2008.)

So I’d say watch Trump, sure, but spend some energy watching what Pence and Bannon have cooking in their political labs.

Update 1-15-2017: Since that post I (and most of the thinking populace) have been made aware of perhaps the biggest influence on Donald Trump’s actions: Vladimir Putin. Sure the jokes have been flying for months (years), but there are real conflicts of interest, data pointing to kompromat, and some close-to-treason actions by Trump & Co.

Why would Russia want to destabilize the US and the EU? Easy, it opens the playing field for their dreams of glory…if not very survival. Why would Trump play along? Other than his monstrous ego and whispering son-in-law telling him that Vlad Really Likes Him? Money. Trump’s overseas holdings are vast, and his entanglement with Russian oligarch already legendary. He can only be President for 8 years legally (under current law, look to the Watchmen movie for hints how that could play out). But he’s in this game for money and power, and he thinks an allegiance with Putin will extend that.

At great risk to the U.S. and the rest of the world, I must add.