Friday, February 25, 2011

Rachel Carson

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress at great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road -- the one less traveled by -- offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

                                                                              Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was born to a farming family in western Pennsylvania in 1907, and died in 1964. There was never an election in her adult life in which she was ineligible to vote, and she was old enough to have been glad when the United States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. She was the smartest kid in her class, and enjoyed nature and literature. Her college graduated her with honors, but she delayed graduate school because of family financial difficulties. Carson did receive a master's degree in zoology from John Hopkins, but further financial difficulties, including her father's death kept her from continuing.

Carson went to work for the Bureau of Fisheries, and wrote and edited  Fisheries publications and radio broadcasts. She went on to write for newspapers and The Atlantic Monthly, and published a trilogy of books about the ocean, Under Sea and Wind, The Sea around Us, and The Edge of the Sea.

We remember Rachel Carson for her 1962 book, Silent Spring, which is one source for the environmental movement. Silent Spring documented pesticide -- particularly DDT -- damage to the environment. Bald eagles, which are fairly common now, were once threatened with extinction because pesticides, concentrating at the higher end of the food chain, made eagle eggs fragile. Carson took a lot of heat, particularly from the chemical industry,

The chief criticism of Carson and Silent Spring was that banning DDT would condemn people in the tropics to death from malaria, although Carson had argued for study and judicious use, rather than  abandonment. The criticism continues half a century later, although a lot of that time has been spent trying to understand relationships and context, the workings of systems. Carson should be remembered as a pioneer in systematic thinking about problems, in a time of pure purposiveness.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Warming Up For Rachel Carson

I've heard and read artists and illustrators who can draw from life crowing about people who use photographic references. I'm here to tell you drawing from life and drawing from pictures are separate -- if related -- skills. My study of Rachel Carson for my Faces of Wisdom series, has given me fits. I just don't know how to draw from pictures. Picking up that skill is one point of the series.

There was an earlier study that I didn't include in this post. It used a different source photo, and was even further from being a likeness than the top drawing. The story of the drawings you see here is this:

Pencil underdrawing for the top study. It's interesting that I didn't realize how far from a likeness it was until I'd inked it. My hypothesis explaining that is that getting a likeness and recognizing one probably use different parts of the brain, parts that don't work at the same time. Okay, I said, if I'm not getting it, I'll use a crutch, and maybe learn something from the crutch. The crutch was a pair of compass dividers and a ruler. The grid or diagram you see below and to the right of the face is the measured layout for the final drawing, and you can see how I took the measurements on the source photo of Rachel Carson. Next you see me thinking out loud, below some quotes from Rob Hopkins. Next the measured layout for the final drawing. Then a quick try with a similar layout. Finally the pencil underdrawing for the finished product.

Tomorrow, Rachel Carson.

If you want to see some really great drawings from photographs, take a look at my friend Julie Rathmann's website.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hazel Henderson

What I have been trying to do for 20 years is to change the debate about development and move it outside of the box marked "economics."...Trying to run an economy using only such economic indicators as the gross national product is rather like trying to fly a Boeing 747 with a single oil pressure gauge. What we need to do is fill out the instrument panel.

Hazel Henderson (in a 1988 interview)

Hazel Henderson is a British-born (1933) American citizen who is concerned with how the technological changes of our time alter how we live. Some of the alterations are pernicious, but some are merely confusing. For instance, academia business and government are adapted to analysis and reductionism -- to things instead of relationships -- but our understanding of the world increasingly demands synthesis. Henderson is essentially conservative, but according to the perversity of our time, any "conservatives" who even know her name would know that she believes economics is subsumed by ecology, and think of her as as leftist.

Henderson believes that industrialism and free-market economics represent a brief anomaly in human history. She rejects the belief that human well being demands technological progress. Simultaneously experiencing a more global understanding of existence and the limits of industrialism shocks us and seems paradoxical. Increased technological complexity makes laissez-faire economics unworkable and makes democracy difficult, because none of the players -- you, me, Obama, the Tea Partiers, al Quaeda -- has enough information to make intelligent analyses. She sees alternative movements forming to replace the dominant economic model -- alternative publishing, cooperatives, renewable energy, etc.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rob Hopkins

Change need not be a hair shirt exercise. It can be something which is exhilarating, has a feel of being a historic process, a collective call to adventure. What Transition is about is unlocking the collective genius of the community.

                                        Rob Hopkins

Without cheap oil you wouldn't be reading this book now.

                                        Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins was born in London in tumultuous 1968, the year of Prague Spring, the beginning of Ulster's "Troubles," and rioting assassination and abdication in the United States. He came of age with the collapse of the Soviet Empire. He is the author of the Transition movement, an effort to deal with the end of cheap fossil fuels by cultivating resilience in communities.

 The idea of the Transition Movement is that peak oil, global warming, and various other serious challenges will inevitably change the global economy, and that the best way to affect the nature of that change is locally, by strengthening communities. Specifics necessarily come from individual communities, but some strategies are:

* Community gardens;

* Learning skills that we have largely abandoned because of abundant high-quality fuel;

* 100% recycling;

* Obtaining supplies locally;

* Getting to know our neighbors;

* Local currencies.

Many in the movement believe that living post-peak will be more fulfilling and enjoyable than the alienation and stress of the consumer economy.

In 2005 Transition came out of a class project in 2005 when Hopkins was a permaculture instructor at the Kinsale Further Education College in Kinsale, Ireland. He went on to co-found Transition Town Totnes in Totnes, Devon, England, and to publish The Transition Handbook. He gardens in Totnes and blogs at

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

M. King Hubbert

In terms of human history, the episode of fossil fuels is a very brief epoch.

                                                                       M. King Hubbert

Marion King Hubbert was a geologist whose life spanned from the year the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk to the collapse of the Soviet Union. A native Texan, Hubbert received his BS, MS, and PhD from the University of Chicago, and worked for Shell Oil from 1943 until 1964, was a research geophysicist for the US Geological Survey, and taught at Columbia University, Stanford, and UC Berkeley.

In 1956, Hubbert ssuggested that production in a geographic area -- ranging from a single oil field to the planet -- will follow a bell curve, and predicted that production in the United States would peak around 1970, which proved to be the case. Later he predicted a global peak around 1995, a little earlier than what happend, but close. The so-called Hubbert Curve is based on historical trends rather than estimates of reserves and consumption. Subsequent researchers have found similar curves in fisheries.

Hubbert also showed that rock in the Earth's crust is plastic -- it changes shape under pressure -- and formulated the correct statement for Darcy's Law, which describes the relationship between the rate flow of a fluid through a permeable medium and permeability, area, pressure drop, viscosity, and length.

He was a Technocrat, a founder of a Depression-era movement that advocated that scientists and engineers, not politicians, coordinate the economy. Hubbert believed in an economy in which goods and services were priced according to the energy consumed in their production.

Drawing Method

I'm trying, with intermittent success, to make a concentrated effort with my drawing. I'm working on a series of forty or so portraits of people who have been sources for the ideas that make up my worldview, the "Faces of Wisdom Series" ten or so of which I've already published.

Above: three scans to demonstrate my method, a photograph of geologist M. King Hubbert, a pencil copy of the photo, and the beginning lines of the ink rendering. Besides the chance to personify ideas I wish were more common in society, what I get from this series is practice at catching proportions, a skill I need to work on, and practice making clean and meaningful lines with a fairly shaky hand. And, I'm learning a lot about the relief of the human face by making the lines I shade with wrap around the forms.

The real surprise is that drawing from photos is harder for me than drawing from life. I never make pencil under-drawings when I draw from life. I've used snapshots of subjects for my newspaper profiles, to spare my subjects the tiresome chore of sitting still for half an hour or more, but it takes a lot longer for me to get things right. Hubbert's head, for instance, started out about the length of his hair longer, and it still looks a little tall.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dorothy Day

First of all, let it be remembered that I speak as an ex-Communist and one who has not testified before Congressional Committees, nor written works on the Communist conspiracy.

                                                   Dorothy Day

Knitting is very conducive to thought. It is nice to knit a while, put down the needles, write a while, then take up the sock again. 

                                                  Dorothy Day

I believe that we must reach our brother, never toning down our fundamental oppositions, but meeting him when he asks to be met, with a reason for the faith that is in us, as well as with a loving sympathy for them as brothers.  

                                                 Dorothy Day

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? 

                                                 Dorothy Day 

We believe in loving our brothers regardless of race, color or creed and we believe in showing this love by working for better conditions immediately and the ultimate owning by the workers of their means of production. 

                                                 Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was born in 1897, and lived until 1980. She was an atheist and a Communist who converted to Catholicism in 1927, and who founded the Catholic Worker movement. The Catholic Workers are pacifist servants of the poor, self-reliant, and adamant opponents of big government and big business. Day was a (Federal) tax protester, and was arrested repeatedly for ignoring nuclear air raid drills in New York City. She opposed all the American wars of her lifetime. She was a distributist, a believer in a "third way" -- between capitalism and socialism -- in which land and machinery are owned by those who use them, as opposed to business or state ownership and largesse.

The Vatican has allowed the Archdiocese of New York to open Dorothy Day's case for canonization. My understanding of canonization is that in declaring a person a saint the church recognizes the force of God's grace in her. It's easy to believe that the integrity of Day's Christian life was too strong for religious bureaucrats ever to acknowledge. (In fact, people called Day a saint during her life. She said she didn't want to be dismissed so easily.)

This non-believer recognizes something that we might call sainthood in Day, though. She has become for me the focus for an unresolved personal controversy: As near as we are to the limits of Earth's carrying capacity, can we afford to meet in loving sympathy with sincere wrongdoers and call them brothers? Steven LeBlanc and Garrett Hardin make my case for force.