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Jul 12, 2017

"News" Is No Longer Good Enough


In these times of fake news and alternative facts, it's not often that we get exactly what we expected! Case in point: our Dear Leader. Despite speculations of what sort of president Trump would be (having never exhibited any convictions about anything other than his own image), he turns out to be exactly what he presented in the campaign: a caricature of narcissism. Now the US has somehow elected him (through a process we now regret was not more democratic!) and he is the face of the US across the world, embarrassing us all day after day. And we deserve it!

I look back with great nostalgia on the Obama administration. No matter how you feel about his policies, he tackled serious business every day. When you picked up the newspaper (you know, that thing you line the birdcage with) you could read about actual national issues, as has been the case almost always throughout our history, instead of lurid White House gossip that has even conservatives calling for impeachment. Now we've elected (ok, the Electoral College elected) a leader that quite appropriately stars among a true basket of deplorables that we also elected to congress. (Forcing through a healthcare bill that has only 17% approval? REALLY?) What we have here is not a government that can see to the needs of the nation but a reality show that keeps us all riveted to new and surprising plot twists every day!

Meanwhile, there's a reason why political satire has replaced the news: it is a more appropriate response to current events. In fact, the cool, detached neutrality that news assumes simply is not appropriate for dealing with what is happening to us. What satire accomplishes that is so wonderful is that it acknowledges part of the larger truth that is subtext. In a democracy, any anti-democratic news item is actually two items. But it can't be reported that way. Satire reports both truths at once. Of course in comedy you can make stuff up, but in satire that only works if the audience KNOWS you're making it up. It's not that satirists are biased; they are human beings, who tend to outrage at outrageous events! On the other hand "neutral" news comes across as inhuman by not being so, thereby coming across as strangely mechanical. If you are not outraged at what is happening to our democracy, you're either an authoritarian or don't understand the situation!

My solution: please, let's not drain the swamp. Instead let's give them an HBO special, starring Trump! "Tremendous!" Then elect––without the help of the corporations this time, (which only amplify our basest desires as a means of stealing both our money and our government) a new serious government that can represent the people and actually tackle real problems! Satirists should go with the reality show to remind us that yes, this is ridiculous behavior that we would never tolerate in public life. And journalists can return to reporting the real news, where their skills are still as valuable as ever. Wouldn't that be a great America!

Jul 5, 2017

My Beloved Nation

"Corporate Harvest", by Tim Holmes. Predatory capitalism must be stopped!
At a lovely barbeque, eating good food among great friends, I recognized what a hard time I was having celebrating the birth of my nation, the US of A. It's not that I don't love my country, it's that the one I inhabit so dimmly resembles the one I fell in love with as a boy. Lookng at our leader and the quality of recent national decisions, it just doesn't feel to me anything like the "land of the free and the home of the brave" we all sing of.

The US constitution is one of the most exemplary documents in all of history, putting forward the idea of equality and self-determination that has been a model for the 120+ democracies that dominate the world today. With its sexist language and ignorance of favoritism, the document is less than perfect to be sure, but the ideals it enshrines have transformed the world into a much more humane community than anything seen before.

Trouble is that even as our concept of "equality" grew over the centuries to finally include women, people of color and different sexual orientations, we have increasingly lost our ability to spread equality of power along with equal citizenship, allowing the elites to once again take the reins, as they have throughout the wholebloody history of humanity. But this time it's not just the survival of the lower classes at risk, it's that of the whole human race! As climate change threatens many species across the world, including humans, the rich elites are so blinded by their ability to buy their own way into safety that they cannot see the rest of humanity as their equals.  They are driving us to extinction by their refusal to change and embrace sustainability! I believe it is our challenge to force a vision of equality upon all who do not participate if any of us are to survive. Democracy allows us this power, but we have to seize it!

The greed of the few threatens the survival of us all. And the time grows short. If we don't insist on wresting a nation of equal citizens persuing a sustainable future, the newborns among us just may be last generation to enjoy life on this planet! I am willing to sacrifice to a greater vision that includes human survival. It's going to mean radical changes to our relationship with each other and the earth. Are you with me?


Jun 13, 2017

A Funny Story of Design

Being a pretty healthy fellow I've never used a disabled parking spot until this week. I just had a minor knee surgery, shortly followed by a dentist appointment. So driving to the dentist, I did something I'd not done before. I parked in the parking space just at the bottom of a half-flight of stairs (not a real disabled spot, but just close to the stairs), and struggled up them directly into the office. When I was done there, they asked if I took the elevator up. No, I said, I took the stairs. So the nice receptionist guided me to the elevator and bid me farewell.

The elevator spits me out on the ground floor, but in a lobby emptying on the other side of the building. Calculating my options, I decided walking around the small office building on the flat would be easier than taking the elevator back up and descending the stairs on the other side. So I hobble across the lot, around the building and down the sidewalk... Which then ends in a concrete wall between this lot and the one with my car. I hobble across that and a small patch of landscaping, then hop a short wall, traverse another sidewalk and enter the target lot via the driveway as a car would, then scamper over to my car to avoid incoming traffic. Ouch!

For a pretty healthy guy with a temporary condition this is really pretty funny. But designing our cities for cars has an anti-human effect that quickly becomes serious. If a pedestrian ends up in an unexpected place it could be tragic.

I once spent a day trying to walk from a hotel outside Phoenix to a shopping mall and back, less than a mile away. I had time and two really good legs, so I walked. But the obstacle course I had to surmount unfolded like a military training course! I raced across busy highways, jumped retaining walls, scurried from planter to planter to broad sidewalks that suddenly end in an overgrown lot or a sea of parking roads. I truly felt like an escaped pet in a world ruled by cars; where if they caught you loose, they'd kill you! Who built this world again?

Jun 5, 2017

Adventure Seeps Through the Tiniest Cracks!

The last night of our Random Gifts of Art Europe tour found us in Budapest. My buddy Garret and I had spent the day with our new friends Norbert and Niki exploring the small Hungarian village of Szententre, just north of Budapest. Later that night we met Niki for a drink at a bar next to a gallery she's told me about where an artist, Kő Ferenc, displays remarkable paintings that look one way in regular light, and completely different in black light. I'd wanted to visit the gallery but both times I tried to, something went wrong. Now we were right next door but being late at night of course the place was closed and my opportunity was gone.

It was about midnight when we left to walk to the subway. Passing by, I glanced at the gallery door and saw a light inside just extinguishing, silhouetting two heads against the glass. I mentioned to Niki that there was someone inside and just then two men emerged from the door. Niki said just the right thing to them (in Hungarian) and to my amazement, they motioned us in for a tour. What transpired was truly amazing.

The artist and his friend ushered us into a dark room where some music played and then a light came on illuminating a painting on the wall depicting a bejeweled crown. But in a moment the light went out and on came a black light, revealing the same crown, but gripped by a hand! (Painted in special, invisible fluorescent paint!) One by one paintings were illuminated in this way, each one more remarkable than the last. Finally at the end of about 15 such works, we found ourselves looking into a roped-off antique parlor, far past its glory days and falling to ruin. But as we were studying it the light changed again and under black light the faded, cracked and peeling walls were suddenly covered in rich, red velvet fabric. A bursting plant stood in the corner, portraits filled the decrepit, empty picture frames and a fire blazed in the formerly cold fireplace. The transformation was astonishing! I'd never seen anything like this and I told the artist so.

We were very grateful for the special post-midnight tour and I gave Ferenc a copy of our book. He in return surprised me by giving me a copy of his book: reproductions of his works showing the incredible transformations. We thanked our hosts and departed with an overwhelming sense of the magnitude of generosity that seeped out of the one moment of possibility––peeled open–– of recognizing that in the depth of a dark building there were living people! The lesson: always remain open to the unexpected potential that lurks in every crack and crevice!


May 21, 2017

A Gift From the Universe

I'm currently on a Random Gifts of Art performance tour in Berlin, heart of the thundering history of the Reich. (Where it appears this might be the first generation to come up with the idea of trying peace to see how that works! Pretty well, I'd say. And would add that the US and many nations should take the hint!) But not to get distracted...I had nothing to do our first day here but go to a few of the 150 museums, and then check my email.

Nina as a teen, in the 1890's
There I found a message from a stranger named Lisa, a woman who said she's the Rochester, New York historian and every morning she does a ritual of an eBay search for postcards of the city. She wrote me to say there was a touching postcard of Dr. Lee's Hospital in Rochester, written by "Nina" for sale on eBay that she thought might be from my family. But the email was already two weeks old! I immediately searched to see if I could find it. I looked over the eight or 10 possibilities but no, it was already gone. So I wrote to her and said thank you very much, but alas, it's too late.

But it turns out there were three separate emails from Lisa interspersed among the trash! The next one a few days later gave a transcript of the note on the card about Nina's mom's condition, and mentioned that the card was written to Lisa's ancestor, who was Nina's cousin. It very much looked to me like "Nina" was my great aunt! Then the third email, still before my own response, went on to say that Lisa was so moved by the card that she wrote a blog post about it, which posted––totally incidentally––on my birthday!

So here, for your delectation and delight, is my birthday present, Lisa's very touching post; (please don't spill ice cream on it):


I of course wrote back to Lisa with my profuse thanks and my answer to her question: why do we attach to people we've never met? That's a curious thing about people: how easy it is to get emotionally bonded to some stranger, just through some snippet of evidence that drifts through history like a message in a bottle. Of course, I knew Nina in the flesh, but the only reason I find this snip of her life 100+ years later is because a stranger felt she did, too.

So, just to see if this works with you, read the above article and then come back and listen to Nina–– in a taped letter made at 106 years old!––say goodbye. See if you can tolerate this without any emotional hookage!:

Apr 28, 2017

Reasons for Being Here

"Who Gives All Gifts",  by Tim Holmes (detail)
My life has been dedicated to making art. According to my own definition, "Art is any intentional human creation which appears to serve no other purpose".*  In other words, my life is about making totally useless stuff. (If you insist that relationships or spiritual awakening are "useful" I'd say you're confusing doing and being). If one were to ask me "what is the point of your life?" I'd be speechless. You want to avoid such an embarrassment in own life, but it does point out a stark cultural attitude that deserves some scrutiny.

Last night I attended a symposium about AI development I've been working for months to implement. It was a great community meeting and I heard a lot of talk about the smoothness and sophistication and dreams of a human future. But I couldn't shake the feeling that most all the debate about technology and humanity ––not just here but across the globe––simply refers to the capacity of human enterprise. At what point does the conversation turn to the purpose of human life? Do we even think about that any more now that we have defused communal spiritual forces among us like the social influence of religion? There seems to be an underlying assumption that the quest for greater capacity is unquestioningly worthwhile and valid. We're caught in a blind rush to greater efficiency without deeper examination. When do we stop to wonder if increasing capacity is really worthwhile? When a new device appears that allows you to eat your dinner twice as fast or to answer 100 emails a minute, will you be able to ask "Does this benefit me or just feed my assumption that capacity is all there is?" Does a mad rush into technology make us leave behind our joy in being alive?

I believe we in the first world have largely passed the point where greater efficiency truly helps. But we're so fixated on 'progress' that we're unaware of its effects. The joys of human fulfillment seem to have been lost in a struggle for results at ever-greater speed. The business world seems to me mostly fixated on transforming nature into money, individuals on becoming more efficient consumers, and communities on attracting and fostering those impulses. Where is the attention to the question of WHY? We are each left to determine the meaning of life for ourselves with little discussion and almost no attention paid to the quality of life that makes life worth living!

I hope you can seize the courage (yes, I find it difficult myself) to look at every "benefit" presented––faster internet, a brand new item, a faster, cheaper, easier anything that comes along–– and seriously think about whether it just feeds a heartless desire for 'more' or it truly brings joy and makes your life more fulfilling.

* This is not the entire definition, which is one I've refined throughout my life. I invite your comments.


Apr 6, 2017

Owning My Ignorance

In Merida: drawing in the dark- a favorite pastime.
I don't know about you but I realized after visiting Mexico a couple times this winter that I was operating on bad assumptions about it that are at least a few decades old. When I visited there in high school it was really a fairly undeveloped third world country, or at least that was my impression. My recent experience proves that this is not the case at all. I was amazed to see how prosperous, modern and vibrant the nation is. Of course it still has lots of poverty, but I'd been operating on very old, outdated predjudices about our neighbor.

Unfortunately, the discourse in my nation has not helped straighten me out. I know that my assumptions are shared by many in the US who hear nothing but bad news in the press about Mexico (and many other nations!) and expecially from our hater-in-chief president who calls Mexicans "rapists", but in a last ditch effort to appear reasonable, adds "I assume some are good people". I had to own an unfotunate fear of Mexico because all I hear in the press is stories of drug murders and illegal immigrants fleeing economic oppression and nothing else from my environment disagrees.

There is a great danger in being disconnected from reality in any form. While I can't really blame myself for following the assumptions of my fellows, I should know enough to be skeptical about forming opinions without solid evidence. What have I missed as a result? The world is full of creative, loving, vibrant people making their lives better. It shows if you really look! I hope I've learned a valuable lesson.

Feb 17, 2017

On the Body Sexy and the Body Beautiful

We are suffering from the knee-jerk actions of a president who can't be bothered to discover the difference between "Muslim" and "terrorist". A little education would go a long way here! Some of the mysteries that seem opaque to dim bulbs like him are illuminated by Dalia Mogahed appearing on the Daily Show. For instance some of the reasons a Muslim woman wears the hijab are obvious, like expressing her faith. Another that really caught my attention (at about 4;15) is that she's thereby "privatizing her sexuality". Amen to that!

In a culture that splashes on sexy sauce to sell everything from cars to internet services to the state of Israel (really!) that does seem like an affront. In the spirit of the Trans Pacific Partnership, I can imagine corporations suing such women for destroying their right to profit from women's flesh. How dare a woman privatize her own sexuality! (For the irony-deficient that's satire.)

As hard as it is for us to step outside of our own cultural conditioning, I encourage us to try. There is a critical difference between the sexual and the beautiful body. For example, among plains Indians cultures there was a tradition that if you had a beautiful body it was your duty to share it with the tribe as a thing of beauty. (Let me put this in context- the women wore pretty modest clothing, so this expectation most likely referred to men's bodies. Also, in a culture that is not so sexualized as our own, this would not be seen in a context of sex, but of beauty. Can we wrap our heads around that?)

Whether or not our culture recognizes it, there is a crucial difference between sex and beauty! They do often coincide, but distinguishing the difference helps us to appreciate both more honestly. Recognizing and discussing that difference would carry us a long way toward a healthier culture.




Jan 31, 2017

Convictions are Expensive. And Worth It!

"Hitler as an Old Man", by Tim Holmes
Only a fortnight since Trump took the White House, already we're careening off the rails. I can hear the rumble of 1000s of people who died for the lofty dream of democracy turning over in their graves, condemning us for playing so loosely with the ideals they actually died for!

I've often wondered what it must have felt like to be in the court of King Henry VIII or any of a hundred egotistical kings and dictators that plowed shamelessly through history. Now I think I can feel it. It's not so much the brash and infantile behavior we know these truncated people exhibit––the kind of shallow idiocy people like Kim Jong Il are incapable of rising above––to me what's so alarming is the painful acquiescence we see in those around them. We know that powerful narcissists surround themselves with yes men, but you figure there's got to be at least a few reasonable humans among them who are simply overwhelmed by the corrupting and irresistible force of being close to power.

I was heartened to hear folks like Speaker Ryan say banning Muslims has no place in the Republican Party. But the party is not over yet, and Repubs are flocking to endorse this ban, apparently (giving them the benefit of significant doubt) against their better judgment. These are clearly leaders too weak to resist the lure of power, a sign of having conveniences where their convictions should be!

I believe wholeheartedly that the resilient and compassionate human spirit will prevail in the end. I only hope that the US doesn't have to be dragged through yet another stinking chapter of history like McCarthyism before we are reminded that yes, we do have a sense of decency!

Jan 14, 2017

Discovering a New River

San Jose Creek has never run for many decades.
One thing I never thought I'd experience is finding a new river! I have frequented Carmel, California, a kind of ancestral home, all my life. But visiting this week I discovered, unbelievably, a new river that at least for the past 60 years wasn't there before! There had always been a dry creek bed but no running water. When I asked a local watershed expert about this new watercourse, she hadn't heard of it either! Yesterday the two of us went there to gaze at its volume in wonder. Then, having secured special permission, we both hiked into its source. That I even got to see a wild place so close to our homestead for the first time is incredible enough, even without the new river! Within two miles up the beautiful moss-carpeted trail past lupin bushes, pine groves and quite hidden redwoods, the trail vanished into the water and as underbrush was too thick to bushwhack we could go no further. But what a thrill!

The San Jose Creek empties at Monastery Beach, just two miles south of our family house, on one of the most popular stretches of the entire west coastline. It's not like I alone discovered this, Columbus-like, I'm sure that some scientists and officials know all about the creek and its vagaries, but if the watershed expert was stumped, that tells me it's news. Furthermore, it's not just a creek, but all the days I watched it was too big to wade across at its shallowest where it empties on the beach!

We are blessed to live at a time where we've finally outgrown much of the blind consumptive approach to nature that humanity has cultivated (and still rules the chambers of power, I'm afraid!) So my hope is that there is enough public support to preserve this treasure and its waters in the midst of a state with a thirst crisis. Currently steelhead trout, a sensitive species, are being reintroduced to this and nearby waters, which I hope the government is monitoring for preservation. Hopefully we slow humans have finally realized that we depend on a healthy world if we are to survive. Now the question is will we?

Jan 7, 2017

Basic Income: a Must for Equality

From "Random Gifts of Art", ink by Tim Holmes
I first ran into the idea of a basic income in Europe. This is a concept of economic life that gives every person a subisdy for simply being alive. While our Capitalist Drill Sargent screams at the idea, currently every baby who enters the capitalist world is greeted with the same fundamental assumption as a baby seaturtle: you have to sprint for your life to economic safety before you get picked off by poverty. Wouldn't it feel great to live in a world where instead, every baby hears: "Welcome to humanity! We're glad to have you and here is your lifetime grant just for being alive!" The fact that we don't allow ourselves to think like this comes from our firm attachment to the model of scarcity that underlies capitalism: if there's enough to go around, how we be able to get richer than our neighbors?

While Basic Income is no cure-all, it proceeds from a reality of modern life that we've yet to acknowledge: there's enough material comfort now for everyone, but with automation, not enough jobs to provide income. Basic Income proceeds out of the idea of abundance, that everyone is valuable and deserves a small stipend for doing nothing at all but being alive. With most all workers being outsourced by robots in coming years, paying jobs will vanish. So what is an unemployed humanity to do?

Basic Income would force us to grow up and value humans for their authentic gifts instead of the work they produce, which is how we rightly value machines. Social competition teaches us to hate slackers, but in an age of unemployment that becomes meaningless. We'll outgrow that childish attitude as we become aware that people have inherent differences that really do sometimes call for differences in accommodation. Basic Income would not only replace that but would give everyone a chance to work toward their own personal dreams rather than simply stave off social poverty. We'd best be thinking about how to survive in a world without broad employment! Here is a great place to start the conversation. Add your comments below.


Dec 14, 2016

Retroactive AI Takeover Becomes Normal

"We are the Mirror", by Tim Holmes
In my years of studying the dizzyingly rapid and complex approach of AI, I keep circling back to the same two troubling issues. The first is the very unsettling feeling of waking up to retroactive news that AI now runs a new sector of human existence, and has for some time. Case in point: this morning's New York Times article, The Great AI Awakening, begins by pointing out that in a massive leap forward in Google's Translate mechanism a month ago it became indistinguishable from human translation, did so suddenly, and––most alarmingly––secretly. (Gone: all translation jobs!) It seems bizarre that its designers snuck such a monumental accomplishment into the history of human evolution, but the reasons are not surprising. The fundamentals of what we think of as critical to capitalist enterprise, (i.e. clever, intense marketing), are overtaken by the much more coolly sophisticated goals: control and market share. Prepare for an increasing flurry of such retroactive and secretive news, (or rather revelations, if we indeed recognize them at all!)

The second troubling item I keep returning to is the dizzying feeling that we are quickly and unconsciously leaving the human-centered era that has characterized at least 50,000 years of history. What a squinty-eyed reading of recent AI developments shows me is an assurance that without a conscious human intention to hang on to what is unique and spectacular about humanity, the forces of evolution––in this case driven by machine goals––will push us inexorably into extinction as we become increasingly "inefficient" to dominant purposes.  By "us" I mean biological humanity, as opposed to the transhuman cyborgs of the quickly-emerging future. And even this distinction is going to become more prevalent as the great majority of humans simply follow the crowd into a more 'efficient' future; while the few of us proudly traditional bio humans mourn the passing of those etherial qualities that make our lives so rich: the distinctions between outcome and process, progress and purpose, happiness and joy, doing and being, simulating aliveness and inhabiting aliveness!

The hidden goals that underlie the self-learning AI revolution, which as this article points out are strikingly similar to human learning patterns, will have their own effect on evolution. But whereas we now recognize such purpose, in the future both the purpose and the effective trajectory of our evolution will become invisible and even undiscoverable! While now a tiny number of individuals indeed have seized this God-like agency over our future, humanity as a species is rapidly losing both awareness of and control over our own destiny! Now is the time to contemplate what it means to be human and decide if we are going to act, or just relax and fall into the abyss...

Nov 30, 2016

Distraction from a Deeper Crisis

We are entering a new era in the human story. It is a deep trend, one that is hard to pull up into consciousness, but will still increasingly affect our lives. The sooner we learn to recognize and grapple with it, the better our chances will be. And if we learn well, we'll open up new possibilities beyond our fondest dreams!

The election is alarming for some, gratifying for others. But all must recognize that this is a new era. Our new leader will always be able to dog-whistle us into separate camps, but let's not be distracted from the underlying change in our psyche that this represents: we have entered the era of anti-responsibility, and this reality will rule every bit of our future!

Imagine for a moment that you live in a representative democracy, where each person actually gets one vote equal to every other, regardless of age or circumstance. Government reflects the will of the people and life is at least egalitarian if not Utopian. Now let's say that there is a population explosion, pushing the average age into the teens. You would expect more laws like relaxing regulations on sex, drugs and rock and roll. Now let's say this causes another population explosion and the average age further decreases. Soon early bedtime, vegetables and school attendance are made optional. You see where I'm headed. If this becomes your legal reality, how does an adult––one who understands the wisdom of responsibility––respond?

Obviously, there are consequences to refusing responsibility. A kid can get away with it because the adults are in charge of the kid's interface with the real world, slowly giving the kid more freedoms as she takes more responsibility, thus proving she's increasingly capable of staying alive.  But when kids rule, we get Lord of the Flies. When the concept of responsibility is dethroned, some of us––and eventually none of us––really have to grapple with the inconveniences of reality. If you are poor you can always find some con man who will sign you up for a credit card. Without a sense of responsibility you never really have to pay, you just keep mortgaging the future, which buys a little time, but brings the deadline closer and closer.

Faced with some very serious problems, we have collectively and officially decided to sidestep responsibility and take the easy way out. This leads from carelessly popping bonbons while watching our credit score plummet, to fixing the date of our future extinction by plastering over that date a picture of bliss. If the bill ever comes due (it will, but for now let's just eat, drink and be merry!), there is always the fun way out: a drug overdose. Why not? Why do we ever have to pay the piper when there is an easier way out? This is the psyche of a child. And we have accepted it. This now is our future.

The choice is stark: do we become the adults (the bad cop) and try to call our fellows to responsibility? Or do we simply throw up our hands a join the party? As each person jumps ship, the load becomes heavier for those who remain. At some point the burden of responsibility (acknowledgment of our being in relationship) simply becomes too great and the last few adults collapse under the pressure. Then it's a free-for-all over the cliff of extinction.

I truly believe this is where we are. We have a small window of opportunity to call the human family to full responsibility. but we can only do that by calling every attempt to postpone payment for what it is: a threat to us all. We have to acknowledge that we are always in relationship––with each other, our peers, other nations, nature and reality. There is no alternative. We must protect the environment, human rights, democracy, fiscal and moral responsibility and we haven't a moment to lose. The alternative is psychosis. Death will be easy, and in fact fun! Survival will be beautiful and meaningful, and the doorway to a wide open future, but it will be very hard work for everyone. This is our choice.

Nov 23, 2016

We, the Empire, Shall Prevail

World War I, or Standing Rock? You tell me.
It is true that Trump's ascendency has forced us to look at ourselves with a new sobriety. This is indeed who we are! We will never again be able to pretend that this is not OUR face. But even after the stunning results of the election I wasn't prepared for how suddenly the reality would make itself apparent. It was this photo of the military-style police "protecting" the pipeline that struck me. It looks like something out of the unspeakably brutal trenches of WWI. But this is the site of a threat no more dire than people standing up for their own clean water and religious freedoms. In reading this NYT article about the ongoing Standing Rock protest and the tragic response of our nation, we are seeing ourselves in our brutal ancestors!

If you read this account of the protest (or just about any other) and replace the words "pipeline" with "gold", this could be the account of the conquistadors of the 16th century marching across the new world, or the slaughter of these protestor's ancestors with the gold rush onslaught. What could be more stark than this snapshot: the ragged remnants of our indigenous peoples struggling to keep their last little shred of land free from further exploitation in the face of an empire marching mechanically into the heart of their nation to extract the last vestiges of valueable resources, oblivious to their cries? If any one of us faced the destruction of our cemetaries and water source would we not be on that bridge taking those bullets?  Of course the stolen gold is all gone, but a pipeline would move the gold extracted from other more distant victims home more quickly, home to the coffers of the king.

All this is happening under the benevolent reign of Obama, the most compassionate leader we've had in decades. But it's not his fault. It's not the fault of the companies that do our bidding, the figureheads of Manifest Destiny, Inc. This is who we are in the world. This is US, the empire! Now, finally, we must stand up and identify ourselves. There is no more hiding behind the curtain.

But after that––after we have shown our identity––then we have the chance to change. Let's hope it's not too late. A change of heart when the resources are all gone––then or now–– is not going to fool anyone.


Nov 14, 2016

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us!

Now at last our nation has proved to the world that we too can do the unthinkable! We have spoken very clearly and openly. declaring with no uncertainty our identity. And now that the smoke has started to clear we are confronted with the very surprising face we see in the mirror. Now when we go into the airport and see Trump in the framed presidential portrait, the name that we read underneath will be our own! Regardless of how we feel emotionally about the election, this is who we have declared once and for all that we really are: Trump is us!

Of course the world is going to be shocked; we expected that. And of course we are very quickly going to try to refute the disgusting charges they pitch at us. We are not really like that at all, it was just posturing for the camera. But the evidence is right there, and––like a sobering morning after––we have to admit that it was us who caused all this to happen. So now what is our response?

Hopefully we will take our portrait seriously and accept responsibility for our actions (I'm with Trump on this one: I am suddenly very tempted to blame the election result on fraud!!) But now we are forced to step up to the witness box. It is incumbent upon us to prove to the world and to history (our grandchildren) that this was all a mistake and this is not actually who we are. Yes, we know about all the incriminating evidence and apparently we really did do the crime. But really; this is not our authentic selves! In fact, we are now going to prove it to you all once and for all, in no uncertain terms! And we are going to do that by...

Nov 9, 2016

Survival Means Collaboration

"Sculpted Camp Path", oil by Tim Holmes
The results of the election really got me thinking a lot about the structure of community. Like a tree, community has two distinct segments. One makes up the roots: solidly fixed into the earth, fairly immovable, fairly unchanging, deriving nourishment from dark and basic elements. This part is very stiff, reliable, and if a hurricane comes along, the most likely to survive. The other part is made up of branches and leaves, growing ever upward into boundless space, seeking the light. This part is flexible, always responding to the slightest gusts from any direction, using the nutrients from below to transform light into food. Both parts of the tree are full of life, expanding into the free space around it by avoiding impenetrable objects. Both have unique aspects that only flourish in working together. This feels like a portrait of community to me, one made up of unique individuals arrayed along a spectrum between these two poles. At one pole people are motivated by fear, and at the other by love. Both are trying to solve the same problems. But they can really only move forward with the critical assistance of both perspectives.

One thing that was screamingly obvious about the election was the nonstop criticism of the opposite pole and its ideas (or lack thereof on the GOP side). Criticism is a crucial aspect of community, but without the balance of new ideas it amounts to mere helpless whining. This makes for great TV and is useful for creating an emotional frenzy, but without a creative impulse this aspect becomes poisonous to the community. It makes me wonder what happens to this impulse in nonliterate societies, like in an aboriginal Sioux tribe. (Plains Indian tribes are my favorite example because they are my spiritual family and I understand them.) In this tribal unit a mere whiner would not be ostracized but would be welcomed into the tribal Council along with the other members. But if half the tribal Council became mere whiners, the tribe would not survive.

Any society faces real problems and has to produce workable solutions. The alternative is extinction. This is exactly the situation we are in. If we don't learn that we are one, that both sides need to provide nourishment, the solutions are crucial we too will go the way of all things. God be with us!

Oct 29, 2016

Can Female Nudity Ever be Empowering?


"Whose Desire Turns", by Tim Holmes
No matter how much feminism liberates the world, we can't seem to escape the inevitable exploitation of women's bodies so rampant in our culture. But to focus on female flesh alone misses a deeper issue. Exploitation is all around us and though it's always more fun to talk about naked ladies, it applies to every element of human life which is commodified and mined for its energy by a capitalist attitude. The same can be said of art, and indeed any other activity which has any spiritual value. Capitalism reduces humans to rather pathetic consumers and in that light we all become mere objects contending for other objects.

In the context of capitalist exploitation there is no freedom and any exposure simply becomes commodified by that cannibalistic system. Some of us see ourselves as spiritual creatures living as captives in a world of products. In this context affirming any spiritual value is an act of rebelion and thereby a person who shares their body, or indeed any intimate gesture, seizes their own freedom. Capitalism creates societies which will NEVER be free! But for every individual bound by that system, freedom is actually quite easy: refuse to objectify any spiritual value or to participate in objectification of others! While capitalism will always reduce you to a cog, you don't have to live that way. Fully inhabit your embodied spirit and although you will be exploited at every turn, this no longer defines who you really are!



Oct 21, 2016

Trump is Only the Demon's Head

We are living in very weird times. It's wild to have watched politics spiral into the gutter over the last several years. Now it's reached the status of outright bizarre. Trump is a very sad case of an extreme narcissist personality that verges on the sociopathic, “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul”, according to Mark Singer. He's a pathetic character that has never assimilated the realities that most of us master in adolescence. He is the epitome of the enfant terrible, the "terrible child" who never grows up enough to realize there are real people in the world as worthy as himself.

It's clear that Trump will lose the election, but we fool ourselves if we think this will be the end of the fever! The bigger question for me is: why has our society coughed up this particular image? This phenomenon represents about 30% of the populace that resonates with Trump's infintile psychology. This represents an enormous suthoritarian demographic among us, plenty enough to spawn a Nazi rerun. Something is going to happen and it won't be pretty. We have to accept the fact that as a nation we have this monster inside us and it will emerge one way or another.

I recently came across a cogent article that explains the Trump phemomena better than anything else I've read as a divide between rural and urban worldviews. It's quite sobering, really. Blue collar workers across the US are dumped out of the economy as the world shifts away from the traditional concept of "work". But the vast majority of the rural-minded are not really thinking abut solutions, they are reacting to the trauma they experience. So that frustration and fear is going to manifest in one way or another. Let's hope the Democrats or some more thoughtful institution can start telling the truth about the real problems that we face! The only future scenario that doesn't involve massive violence is going to be some means of broad social support. The best I've seen is Basic Income, a means of supporting human beings while most all work is done by machines. What's wrong with a solution like that? I think it's one we can all agree on, but we must first lose our fears. Let's hope we can do that before the Trump mobs go on a rampage!



Oct 15, 2016

The Deadly Heroism of Environmental Rescue

This summer I was blessed with a visit from a bicyclist (I often host cyclists), a guy pedaling alone from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina!
Luiz Alberto Araujo was excecuted by development forces.

He paused for several days at my studio when he heard of a sudden crisis back home. I watched in astonishment as he worked remotely to save a piece of wetland that was being threatened by commercial development. He and his team of 15 volunteer experts were finally able to save this very sensitive area through sheer intimidation of a powerful company by the threat of exposing the truth of their illegal tactics. The one condition of their surrender was that he keep the incident secret. (He gave me permission to write this very edited version after an hour of removing the slightest indicators of his identity).

This is a guy who several years ago was working on a similar case when he and his research partner had the tires of their car shot out by a pursuing pair on a motorcycle. The car crashed and the thugs pulled them both into the road, pointed guns at their heads and said, "What's the last thing you're going to do with your life?" He replied "I'd like to speak with my mother!" There must have been enough humanity in his reply to cause the thugs to race away, leaving them bleeding but alive. He says, "For some reason the guys didn't shoot us. I don't know any other story of any other environmentalist that had this luck."

Yesterday provided a tragic case in point when he texted me from Utah to say, "You remember I told you that I cannot return to one city in south of Pará in Brazil? Yesterday two guys in a motorcycle shot an friend of mine an environmentalist. He was municipal secretary of environment of Altamira, another city of Para." Luiz Araujo had received death threats because of his efforts to stop deforestation in the region. (Here is the story. A British one.) One of the suspected financiers of this activity is a deputy in the Brazilian congress, now brought into power as a consequence of the coup this summer, which few Americans seem to know about.

Those of us in the first world blithely go about our lives blessed with easy access to a market flooded with the cheapest stuff on earth. We know things are bad elsewhere but we don't ask questions about where our stuff comes from or what policies support our consumption. This is what is left behind. I do worry about my friend. Thank God for the people like him that work silently for the future of our sometimes incredibly stupid species. As he told me yesterday, "I was so lucky!"



  

Oct 4, 2016

The US Gets What it Wants, One Way or Another

ND authorities use military tactics against peaceful protestors.
The ongoing protests of the Standing Rock Soiux tribe in North Dakota plead against another intrusive fast-track approval for corporate projects resulting in abuses against communities and the environment. Usually corporations can march through the process without raising too much concern. This is the way it is in the US, so we don't complain too much, even when the offences become illegal. So the Dakota Access company building the pipeline through the Soiux sacred burial ground and water supply was clearly not expecting much trouble. (When I tried to contact them, they were strangely "unavailable"). It is rather embarrassing that they apparently didn't even train the poor security people they put on the front lines, who were charged with sicking dogs on the protestors without a sense that they would unleash thereby an international furror.

In fact, it's hard to imagine what–if anything–was going on inside the heads of the corporate executives. Could it be that they are so used to getting away with crimes that they really didn't think about the wisdom of using attack dogs on an encampment of peaceful protestors? If anyone had thought about it I'm sure they would have recognized this as a suicidal move. Now the company and its parent company, Energy Transfer, are squirming in the international spotlight. But ironically, this attack happened exactly 150 years after another against these same people, when the US army massacred more than 300 people. Oops.

This is not just another protest by the disenfranchized, this one is a great symbol of US dynamics today. The political landscape is clearly delineated. The corporations get preferential treatment, like elite citizens in an autocracy. Our unfortunate history is one of slaughtering the disposessed (like the Native Americans who welcomed our ancestors) to gain resources. It has taken me most of my life to learn the sad truth about the US. We were all taught about "America, land of the free", but the history we learned was carefully edited to make our nation look great. Now it is becoming clear that this whitewashes a very embarrassing story. Yes, we are improving, that is the good news! We no longer slaughter the Indians that get in the way of the resources we want. But the US has yet to learn to honor human beings. If you stick around long enough, you will recognize when you too are on the receiving end of the dogs. It happens a lot more than we know. As a nation we've graduated from slaughter to mere stealing through coersion. Is that really the best we can do?

Aug 30, 2016

How to Enslave a Planet in One Easy Lesson

One aspect of predatory capitalism that I'm just beginning to understand is unfolding courtesy of
huge, complex trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership, TPP.  As certain news reports are beginning to indicate, treaties that were designed to protect corporations from having their assets seized by greedy nations are being used to flip the tables. Now wealthy investors can overcome entire nations through litigation to recover lost profits when those nations try to protect their people (like through limits on smoking, or rejecting damaging projects like the XL Pipeline.)

"Looking Forward", charcoal by Tim Holmes
It's not really that hard to turn nations into cash machines through legal extortion if you have money and no scruples! Democracies depend on open debate between various parties, a long, messy and public process and are financed only through taxes. But corporations have no such scruples and can not only use draconian, secret, sophisticated tools to dupe democratic nations, they have the endless resources to do so. Through secret negotiations they can position themselves to charge governments for putting people before profits and there is no recourse. With huge resources, a corporation like Phillip Morris ($80 B) can extort money out of a nation like Uruguay ($50 B) without much trouble if it tries to protect its people. Furthermore, once investors hear about the money to be made by extorting taxpayers, such corporate resources become nearly bottomless. Then they can hit even the U.S.!


Once wealthy players have a grip on treaties, then infiltrating courts, governments and even educational systems are just a matter of details. Without some means of limiting the power of pirates through some sort of human-based international law, the strong will win, just like in any competative system. What is being created is a world of slavery. (We can already see this in the worldwide explosion in income inequality. I see much concern about this and no action! Even Obama, mysteriously, is touting the TPP, though he's being sued through it. Is that suspicious or is it just me?)

Can we stop it? Yes, that is what universal human rights is about, constructing intstitutions based on human beings' needs. But once we lose the human as the center of value and raise money or even efficiency to prominence, all bets are off and the strong (criminal greed) will ultimately win. One idea to build a system that allows humans to survive. That's what my vision of a Democratic Globe is meant to answer. Any others out there?

Aug 9, 2016

Sky: Falling. Mind Head

Is it just me or is the world somehow falling apart? Why is it that I feel that my percentage of success
in dealing with the business world continues to diminish?

Decades ago my experience in the art world was that businesses were run by humans and pretty much did what they said they would do; any mistake was quickly rectified. Then over the years my success with honest galleries diminished to the point where I finally abandoned the prospect of working in the art business because the chances of honesty had become so small. Case in point: just this year the one gallery that is not actively screwed me over (after selling quite well for several years) seems to be dark most of the time and the owner has been arrested for breaking and entering. This is not a comment on the state of the whole world perhaps. But I do find it extremely curious. (Am I a fool or a tolerant Christian for not storming in with the police to seize my work?)

Furthermore, it seems my regular business transactions that I initiate grow less successful over time, from computer printers to internet service to health insurance to just about anything that is not dealt with systematically. I have grown increasingly wary. Now when I order something–from the rental car to the phone service, I'm on my guard. So listen to this strange story of the simple act of shipping a package from here to Germany:

Jul 26, 2016

The Balanced Universe.

It's understandable that humans reject out of hand the concept of the goodness in darkness. But it's also immature. This was Carl Jung's Point in criticizing Christianity for revering a mere Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). Like labeling a map with East South and West as the three cardinal directions, he said there was one component missing and glaringly so. Spoiler alert: I'm grossly generalizing, but that missing element is a dark one. This has huge implications for Christianity but that's not my focus here, which is that virtually all our thinking ignores that element! Jung "illuminated" the importance of darkness to the human concept of a full reality.

The human psyche is constructed with the dark and light hemispheres of conscious and unconscious awareness. The human brain is constructed of two hemispheres, separated, but communicating through the corpus callosum. Each hemisphere is master of a different kind of thinking and intelligence; you could call it a "light" side (finding solutions to problems) and a "dark" side (wondering at how we fit into the universe). Simply deducing from 4 million years of successful evolution, the human animal cannot survive without an awareness that encompasses both, and both in equal measure; a truth revealed in the very structure of the brain; the most complex item ever seen! Science is finally becoming aware, after centuries of a reasonable bumbling, that the reason alone cannot achieve actual reasonableness, that missing from this equation–and very starkly so–is an element of humility, an awareness that good intention alone is never enough to achieve our ends. We also have to survive in the world.

The Enlightenment is rife with half-baked solutions to problems, engineered by well-meaning but myopic minds focused narrowly on a single benefit. But the universe is not constructed of isolated the elements. Everything is interconnected, everything is in relationship. Take the extermination of wolves from the American west in the 1800's. Very smart people who imagined the benefits of fewer encounters with them thought of the clever idea of erasing wolves from the landscape. But, as so often has been the case, the solution was arrived at in isolation, blind to relationships. The result was a cascade of unintended consequences in the form of other (very confusing, unattributable problems that grew out of that one premature decision). It wasn't until our own time that ecologists–diagnosing the failing health of the entire system–could see that the predators performed a critical role in balance of the entire ecological system; and so wolves were reintroduced in the 90s–to this day a very controversial decision– and ecological balance was finally bent again toward healthiness. 

Metaphysical Map: "Searching for the Foundations of the Universe"
That same clumsy thinking has been the cause of so many contemporary problems including those of global scale, like climate change, which was largely produced by our narrow focus on the immediate benefits of machine energy, the light half of the equation, at the expense of an awareness of relationship, the dark half. Had they not only pursued their own narrow goals but remained aware of the importance of balance, they'd have saved us all a great deal of trouble, including our current sobering problem of facing actual human extinction. (Yikes, that would've been worth a little forethought!) But it's never too late to learn a good lesson!

The light aspect of our intention (solving a problem) is always twined with the dark aspect of relationship (full awareness of relationships and consequences). Of course we can never know what we don't know. But what would really help, and what humanity must learn if we are to survive, is that we can know that we don't know. By adapting a light/dark view of the reality of the Universe, we might just save ourselves some serious troubles. If every time we thought of a solution (Iraq comes to mind!), we could say "there's a good solution, now I wonder what dark mysteries will appear?" Could be that, after all, it's the meek that will inherit the earth!

Jul 8, 2016

The Great Itch

"Salome Acts", by Tim Holmes
I'm constantly churning inside with an nameless desire inaccessible to words. It is a subtle inch: constant, nagging and somewhat specific; but forcing it into thoughts is pointless. It's like I'm dangling over a waterfall, feeling simultaneously the cool spray, exhilarating height, stunning beauty and the very taste of death.

A simple itch speaks a simple phrase. I'm at once compelled to put my long-nailed hand to its task. As reaching around and feeling inside my shirt the path to my skin, every attempt feels good at the start– a step in the right direction! But suddenly it's quite impossible. I'm scratching an itch with a string quartet!

Because, as it happens, this is not a normal itch. It is the slight trembling from the terror of being fully alive.

I have everything I need for success. I have an enormous studio with space enough for 20 artists laboring to birth the new millennium.

So, flushed with my good fortune, all my tools laid out before me, I lift a new tool and with it apply a beautiful phrase I've been saving for years. But stop: this is a painting, where every beautiful phrase is equal in its utter uselessness. The itch is not here beneath my nails, it's on the other side of the valley, hidden in the dance between pale blue and subtle pink.

Perhaps this is the tune to which we all dance: trying to match our clumsy steps to the music that pulses within us, while desperately trying to make it look effortless and intentional. Surely I don't just dance alone...

Beauty calls me constantly. Beauty is everywhere–I can taste it on the wind in every direction. It calls my name every day, like the dinner gong. Sometimes a sweet melody, sometimes the scream erupting  the depths. Always itchy.

And yet…

Where is that clear path and where the perfect tool to finally scratch that itch to satisfaction?

Jun 27, 2016

Random Obervations on Europe

Having just returned from a tour of central Europe with my buddy Garret, performing our Random Gifts of Art Live! performance, I have some cogent observations:

Swedish cooperation - Swedish society is a collection of farmers who traditionally had to cooperate in order to survive. This was the explanation I heard on a few occasions to explain why the Swedes are really good at political cooperation. If they find some bad element among them–like a toxin in plastic– they ban it. It's not like in the US where you have the democrats who want to ban something and immediately the Republicans defend the producers and rile about how many jobs will be lost and swear they will bury the democrats. Borlege (where we performed) in fact has the most eco-friendly mine in the world. Their goal is to make it the first non-toxic mine in the world. It's a good idea, and they prodeed with the expense knowing that the market will reward that idea. Brilliant!

Bicycles in Copenhagen - We arrived in Copenhagen at night. This is one of many Scandinavian cities known for its bicycle traffic. There are bike lanes everywhere and they are well-used, reducing car traffic by unimaginable amounts. But I was astonished to see many bicyclists racing around in the inner city without helmets and wearing black clothes! I don't know how many of them die, but it says to me that they are pretty confident about not being plowed over by cars.
 One lovely day we registered for the "CityBike" program, where you can take one of hundreds of bikes stationed all over town. You enter your membership number in a kiosk, remove a bike from the rack, and cycle whereever you want. Then when you're done you can locate a station, return the bike to a rack and be on your way. It's not only a great system, but the bike you get is a wonder! It not only has a GPS device and a screen that shows you your location, shows your route, nearby attractions and locates drop-off stations, but when you start pedaling an electric motor kicks in, making pedaling nearly effortless! All for a very few $ per hour! What a concept!

Bathrooms - As soon as I hit European soil I knew we were not in Kansas any more. I entered the bathroom at the airport and there behind the men's urinals was a woman calmly swabbing the floor. I soon discovered this was not uncommon. It didn't freak me out to have a woman in the men's room as long as she knew where she was, but obviously this is normal in Europe, a practice that would drive some Americans appopleptic. At the Brody Studio–where we performed in Budapest–we found a very reasonable solution to the bathroom issue: a unisex bathroom for everybody, built just like a woman's bathroom. Except for us confused Americans, it's a great system; all are accepted here except for any inappropriate sexual paranoia, which seems to rule only far-away places like North Carolina.
We also saw a great design at a public park in Vienna, where the porta-potty-sized toilet was a big stainless bowl with a seat that folds over it. Then after you flush you push a button and wash your hands over the same bowl. Hey, as long as it's clean, it makes for a very efficient machine!

Cobblestones - I'm amazed that in our age there are still billions of cobblestones making up the streets and sidewalks of Europe. Essentially these are hand-made streets, as each stone must be set into place by a person. This not only makes for very snappy street repairs as the paving can be replaced quickly, but the effect is very beautiful. Of course it makes for a rougher surface, but I also hear that studies show that walking on cobblestones is better for the brain! Apparently the minor adjustments needed to walk on the surface keep the brain in good shape.
I asked a fellow I sat next to on the bus about how cobblestones can still be justified. He said "Well, it sure keeps a lot of people employed." That I thought was a very generous answer, rather than, "More damn tax money down the drain!"

Constant Elevator - We saw one door-less elevator (on its weekend day of rest) that when it's working constantly moves, one up, one down. When the elevator hits your floor level you step on and it glides you to your new floor where you step off. Yes, it takes coordination but most of us are probably not going to decapitate ourselves (and really, what fun!) I don't think such a dangerous concept would survive for a week in letigious America, where I came back to see an innocent beachball with one whole panel taken up by warnings! God, I'd forgotten the world is so dangerous!

Windows - I'm not sure why in America we don't adopt the very clever European window design. There many of the new windows have two sets of hinges. If you turn the handle down, the window swings open to the side. Turn the handle up and the top opens up, hinging on the bottom. for ventilation. Even some doors work this way, so you can walk out, or–as we did on occasion– you lock the place up but leave the door open at the top for ventilation: secure and open at the same time.
Snogging - British expression for French kissing! (Sounds like something salamanders do). Who'd-a-thought?

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Tim Holmes Studio

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.