Monday, June 29, 2009

FINDING SPACE (not elbow room)

Well, it's finally happened. A snap I took whose location is a total mystery to me. This image is typical of what's become my front yard in the morning, behind some Target, or like-minded commercial behemoth.

In related news, my cop alarm clock count is up to four now, all very different experiences, but all leading to an 'ok you're free to go'. Never a pleasant phrase to hear before coffee.

One of those experiences was totally my bad, meaning I should have known someone would descend on me because I pulled off an exit called Secret Naval Priority Clearance Nuclear Headquarters Washington DC, or something like that. I found a great dark lot (try finding darkness in a city, seriously it's an interesting challenge), went to sleep at midnight or so, and woke to blasting white lights in my face at 2. This one was scary (#2) because they were really angry and had an enormous amount of power considering where I was. I of course assumed I was about to be whisked off to an underground bunker in Tangiers and then beaten to death until I admitted I was smuggling Uranium 328357 from Mars. In a few minutes ... "Ok, start your engine. You're free to go. This ain't a good place to pull over."

Up the street a bit, I visited another Top Secret facility, but this time as a tourist. I went into the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center museum and it was essentially a kids romp through posters and gee gaws in a one small building. I asked if this was it and they told me, after 911, no one can go in to the real area. I said COME ON! They said LIKE, I KNOW! And then, while sizing up my sneaking-in options, I spotted a NASA employee looking fellow who was dragging a group of young folks out of an auditorium. I accosted him and said, hey man, how do I get into the better neighborhood, I'm a writer you know. And he said, cool man, they would totally let you in if you make an appointment, etc. Then I asked, what's up with all these kids.

And he said, this is a science club from an Albany High School (where I am now kind of) and they were about to take a tour of the facility. I said, heeeeey, and he said, I'll ask. So I joined the tour!

Here's one of the students trying to pick up a dime without sliding while wearing astronaut gloves. The kids were mostly disinterested, but I think it was due to the long bus ride and crap weather.

The building we went to was the world's largest clean room, where the Hubble Telescope was tested, part of exact copy pictured here for trial repairs or work.

The most interesting item for me on the tour was this satellite, created by Al Gore when he was Vice and expected to launch during his presidency. Funding was cut and it sits here still until next month when Obama's new funding finally puts it in orbit. It's function - climate observation.

Friday, June 26, 2009


One of many strange features I'm noticing about the American historical landscape - The city that was home to the turning point in the creation of the Union became this ...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


As a pre-Darwinian, Tom Jefferson was scientifically misguided when it came to ideas about Africans, he certainly thought slavery was an "abominable crime," a "moral depravity," a "hideous blot," and a "fatal stain," he was in fact an abolitionist, but he also thought that the African was less likely than the indigenous population to get with the American program, that they were an inferior species who though different, should nonetheless be free, then sent back to Africa.

Outside of that idiocy, he had some winning ideas that led to an inspirational governmental model and whose ambitions made sure, as Christopher Hitchens puts it, the United States didn't become a Chile-like sliver of land with the rest of the Americas being divvied up by the European giants. He is America's first nerd and I've always thought of him as my favorite official member of the FF.

My actual favorite was another Tom, whom this Tom was close buddies with till the end, but doesn't get into the pantheon. I'll do a blog about him in a few.

I was really looking forward to visiting Monticello, TJ's house that he designed and re-designed for 40+ years, to hang out there and write.

When I arrived, there were hundreds of philistines storming the place, it was about 92 degrees with 129% humidity, I couldn't find a good shady spot to park the boy in, and the coup de grace, TWENTY dollars to go inside. I immediately started devising the sneak-in plan, but my mood was shot, the Disneyfication sucking all the inspiration out of the place, and I went to UVA instead.

This is the rotunda at the center of the Thomas Jefferson designed University of Virginia.

Inside, I asked what was original, and they said, the floor.

This is a statue out front, with Jefferson standing on the heads of his great ideas (always in the form of hot, winged chicks obviously).

Here's the best one, the Hot Chick of Religious Freedom.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009


This place was utterly surreal. I loved it. The concept is that the buildings in this area of Williamsburg, Virginia, which was the original capital of the colonies, were in general disrepair up till the early 20th century and a resident, Dr. WAR Goodwin, wanted to restore his local church. He got JD Rockefeller JR interested and BOOM. ...

Re-creation and restoration started on November 27, 1926Arthur Shurcliff as the chief landscape architect and Perry, Shaw & Hepburn as architects. Concerned that prices might rise if their intentions were known, Rockefeller and Goodwin kept their plans a secret, quietly buying up properties. Of course, that much property suddenly changing hands was noticeable, and after eighteen months of increasingly nervous rumors, Goodwin and Rockefeller finally revealed their plans at two town meetings on June 11 and 12, 1928.

Most townspeople seem to have been contented to sell their property and expressed enthusiasm about the plan, but a few had qualms. Major S. D. Freeman said, "We will reap dollars, but will we own our town? Will you not be in the position of a butterfly pinned to a card in a glass cabinet, or like a mummy unearthed in the tomb of Tutankhamun?" wikipedia

So 88 of the 500 buildings are original, and the locations are original, and the area is entirely shut down to non-colonial era phenomenon, actors fill the streets, from British soldiers to Thomas Jefferson, who studied law here.

Like actually here.

I spoke to several of the actors and they were hilarious and friendly and full of information. My two favorite pieces being: There were no trees at all then because the town's designer said that "bears and indians" hid in them, imagining the place tree-less was a trip, AND that some of the actors actually live in these buildings but they have to keep their post-17th century devices (light, computer, etc) completely out of sight. Imagine that lifestyle.

Two of the younger actors (who were big fans of Always Sunny in Philadelphia and that episode about colonial Philly) told me that there were no adult themes explored.

Overall, the Disney facade didn't detract from the historical emanations and in fact made the experience feel like an profundity scavenger hunt. Recommended!


Monday, June 22, 2009


In 1607, colonists landed here to found a new colony for England. When I got here, my first thought was, why? The area is a muddy pit with sweltering, humid heat, and insatiably curious bugs. Just get back on the boat and keep lookin.

Their reasoning was that the location, up the James river a bit, concealed them from other nations hunting for new lands to claim. Also, the weather and water were very pleasant at first. Then summer brought the salt water in and life got tough. A small percentage of the original landing party survived and for decades the mortality rate was shockingly high.

They built this fort (destroyed and covered with earth, and currently an active archaeological site - they have a few recreations on the site) to fend off the local indians, including America's first babe, Pocahontas. One of my favorite cinematic experiences ever, The New World, does a beautiful job of illustrating the story. The film is shot as if from the perspective of the landscape, and is the closest I've ever seen film come to portraying the Psilocybin mushroom experience. (warning - everone tells me they hate the film and that it's too sllllooooowwww)

This is how the world stacked up according to England at this point ...

And so it began ...

Monday, June 15, 2009


Still processing AmericaNerd photos. In the meantime, be afraid ...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I left Bloomington, Indiana on May 20th. My plan was:


fun fun

But I ended up doing this :


where I am now, in the nation's capitol.

I am no patriot. I in fact despise boundaries of any kind, which I understand is problematic. After all, what would a cell do without a cell wall?

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."

I understand pride in one's country, nation-state, group of any kind, I am after all a passionate supporter of an English football team and want teams wearing the other colors to fail, some of them miserably. But this is AMERICA. AAAMMMEEERRIIICCCAAA!!!!! and it's extremely difficult to be here without being on the 'inside' of that self-identification, even before the towers fell. Whether brainwashed or not, whenever colonists throw off the yoke of their oppressors, you have to get excited. So when I was young, I was an avid Revolution-era reader, the Federalist Papers were bedside reading. And above all, my hero was Thomas Paine, bleeding heart propagandist and war starter. That's his quote above.

Thinking about my boyhood idealism and my manhood boyism, I've come up with what it's called. I'm an AmericaNerd™

And though I am made ill by the use of slaves by almost all the Founders and the absurd position expected of women, among many other idiot-moves, I dig whenever hierarchy is flattened at all, and I do buy the magic of the Amendment process, the masterstroke of our government.

So the blogs over the next couple weeks will explore my wide-eyed excitement being in this area, where we slashed our way through swamps, indians, english, and our souls to build the pick-up truck, the McDonalds, the Michael Jackson, and the Space Shuttle.

(taken just now at the Udvar-Hazy Museum, part of the Smithsonian - it's the Enterprise)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I was going to go straight to D.C. from Pittsburgh, but I had to "procure" something in West Virginia, so against my better judgment, I crossed the Mason-Dixon line into the South, destination - Charleston. My first experience was an accidental tour by assistant Minority Whip of the Senate, Patti Schoen, who I parked behind as she was returning to session.

WV had just approved their state budget. She gave me a quick, but rich with description, tour of the grounds and capitol building. The best part was being reminded of where WV came from in the first place. When the South seceded there was no West Virginia. There's a real geological divide between this part of the country and what is now Virgina,
so when the residents of the area wanted out because they received little to no support from Richmond, Lincoln had a dilemma allowing a state to split when he was desperate to maintain the Union. This sculpture, Lincoln Walks at Midnight, with the President hunched over, a robe over his clothes, captures the moment.

These were signs around town.

Sing it West Virginia!

I misinterpreted this as a volunteer opportunity.

On the way down to Charleston I stopped at what was ranked in 2007 as the #1 ! party school in America, University of WV, in Morgantown. I was struck by two things ... it looked to me like everyone in town was a really big Wonder Woman fan, since the WV logo is CLEARLY a knock off of the WW symbol from the 1970s.

The other was that this is the location of the world's first personal rapid transit (PRT) ala The Jetsons circa 1975 (not Wonder Woman escape pods).


Sunday, June 7, 2009


I forgot to include this disturbing triptych from the last blog (Part Two - Carnegie Art and Natural History Museums). The author (me) makes a rare appearance on the left, and that's Sophocles on the right. When I think of my work in the presence of his formidable likeness and take a calm moment to draw a comparison, what comes to mind is ... wow my nose is a lot bigger than his.

Pittsburgh earns Roboburgh as one of its many nicknames from the industry that took off after the oil, steel, and railroad-based industries collapsed. Many robotics companies grew up here including the fantastically named Applied Perception, founded by Carnegie grads in 2001. I left Pittsburgh last week to make a loop into the south but I'll be going back through for a show at the Carnegie Science Center called ROBOWORLD, opening June 13th, on my way to Toronto. Roboburgh - Part Four will come after WV, VA, DC, MD, DE, NJ, PA, and I think that's it, it's all going very fast.

Took a trip inside the Andy Warhol Museum to catch the flick, Viva!, a sexploitation homage which was a perfect thing to see in there (this is a still I grabbed during).

The one thing they don't have in there are the early fantastic drawings he did. He could really draw and did some great work for women's mags in the 50's.

Though I was born of it, I'm an enemy of Pop.

Caught an endearing, and very entertaining 30th anniversary for a local guitar shop who put on a dozen or so bands doing Beatles covers. This kid nervously sang Here Comes the Sun. (note the B on the bass drum. Each drummer had to come up and use Ringo's set-up. That and the sound guy having no idea what would happen from one act to the next made a very smooth show all the more impressive).

Carnegie built 2,811 free libraries around the world! And here is the very first one ...

And here is its graphic novel collection (including Zippy! of all things, and plenty of Alan Moore) ...

I did a great deal of exploring in Pittsburgh and I wish I could share it all.

For instance, 20 years ago I drove through there, it was the year the first Burton Batman movie was coming out, and I thought that the city is exactly what Gotham should be based on, a deteriorating industrial giant covered in trees with radically variegated topography.

On that note, I went out to explore the abandoned steel mills on town. It turned out there was only one left that hadn't been turned into a mall, and an active one still under the USS banner (U.S. Steel).

Across the river from that USS plant is a theme park called Kennywood, which according to a hip old local (my age), used to be a great, free hang-out, but it's north of $25 admission now.

On my journey around back, I discovered this old railroad building and I'll wrap up with images from my journey into its mysteries.