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Staying Grounded: I am so often wrong… at least initially

I had a very deep and brilliant thought this morning while in the shower. It was based on a scripture in Matthew and as this thought occurred to me I began mentally working through the application of this chapter and verse into my life, into my family’s daily life, and especially the implementation of my brilliance throughout all of society. This was important.IMG_3702

Then, once I was dried and dressed, I sat down with my mate’ and opened the Bible to the verse in question. Upon re reading it I realized it meant the opposite of what I had remembered and my entire scheme fell apart.

It was a valuable lesson.

I was not wrong in the spirit of what I was thinking, and definitely not wrong in motivation- I was looking to do good and be a better person. Yet when it came to these particular nuts and bolts, this little thought regarding implementation of Godly ideals, I was off-base. It is not best to be off base regarding God.

This is why we have these sorts of books. This is why scripture is called such and canonized. It keeps us grounded. There is among those with whom I commune, the recurring theme that the great value in this grounding is that the world is continually shifting, and it is this immovable type set that allows our footing to be securely on God’s ground. I don’t disagree but I would like to add that as I demonstrated this morning, it isn’t only the world that is shifting but us.

Or maybe most of us aren’t shifting in how “they” mean it regarding the world, in that God is in one place and the world is drifting and shifting away, but maybe we as individuals were never really as in line with God as we sometimes assume, and we need quite a bit of movement and improvement if we are to ever get on the right page. I find this thinking more productive especially considering most of us aren’t really all that exceptional; we are normal, which means that thinking about our own improvement rather than the requisite repenting of some imagined “other”, is more likely to bring us to the most applicable lesson.

Because odds are the things I need to work on are close to, or similar to, the things that those around me need help with also.

So I am glad to have something trustworthy in which to stay grounded, because no matter how fallible the translations in there might be, they are surely less fallible than you and me.

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My Support for Hyphenated Black People

Let me say up front that Black Americans have no need of my endorsement or recommendations in anything they might think or feel.

That being said, I am in full support of any Black American who prefers the identifier “African-American”, and here is why.

I often field questions, or rather suggestions, from various white people that “we” should all just be American with no hyphens or ethno-racial identifiers. This suggestion is normally given in the spirit, or with an expressed desire, that we should be a united, racist-free, nation. I appreciate this desire, share the hope of a day without racism, but reject the proposal, and here is why.

When the United States first formed as an independent country, those in power decided formally that to be “American”, or a citizen of the United States, a person had to be white. This is why the waves of immigrants over the years were able to shed their hyphens of Irish, English, German or otherwise and melt into that one word, American. Others had a tougher time.

This is why Arizona wasn’t allowed statehood till 1912. It had been “property” of the United States since 1848, with people living there for centuries previous, but the United States had a policy that there needed to be a critical mass of white people living in any given territory before it could be considered a state. The people living in Arizona were brown and it took a series of intentional settlements including land giveaways encouraging white immigration before white people had enough of a majority to be part of America. This critical mass of whiteness was attained around 1910, the application process took a couple years, and thanks to that ball getting started rolling, by 2010 Arizona had become 73% white.

As late as 1927, almost 60 years after the passing of the 14th amendment, the Supreme Court was still settling cases on who got to be considered white, which again, was a synonym for American. Lum v Rice decided that it was up to the individual states to decide who was and was not white (in this case it was a person from China suing to be white), in order to decide who got the full privileges of American citizenship. All because you had to be white to get those official privileges.

Most of us know the story of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s where Black Americans had to not only win legal battles but also take beatings from police officers in order to be allowed the same rights as other Americans, aka white people. Now if we keep in mind that these Black people’s families had been on this continent and participating in the building of this country every bit as long, and even longer, than many Irish, German, Italian, French, or even Iranian- all of whom assimilated by becoming legally white, we should take a closer look at what we suggest anyone do in order to assimilate.

Because back when Irish were shedding their hyphens, Black Americans were not only forbidden from full assimilation but also systematically prevented from pursuing success. So they forged their own ways to prosper.

While Black Americans were raising white children, cleaning white houses and having their labor exploited without constitutional protection, those same Black people were inventing jazz, laying a foundation for the discipline of sociology, reciting poetry over drum machines, fighting in American wars, penning novels, and helping send astronauts into space. All this while not being allowed the title of American, but rather Negro- or other words connoting their color with an added measure of insult. Consequentially Black people have developed a distinct culture that is very much American but distinct from that of those who were accepted as white/American historically. That deserves respect, honor and appreciation.

In the past the “distinctness” brought along by immigrant groups (which is everyone other than indigenous peoples) was absorbed, or allowed, by letting these “others” be swallowed by whiteness. Some groups wanted to be white but still unique, and America said “yes” giving them St. Patrick’s and Columbus days. In response to things like Columbus Day, other white people founded things like the Daughters of The American Revolution, but all of them were united under the banner of American whiteness.

All of that is, quite literally, history. So when do we move past all that?

Fair question.

In 1967 a group of Black Americans attempted to get past it and exercise the 2nd amendment. They formed a militia and bore arms for their own protection. America responded by taking their guns and passing gun control laws. These Black people claimed the guns were to defend themselves, and that they had a right to do so, and America said they did not have that right.

The next year, sans militia, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot for advocating Black citizenship. So we know that the past wasn’t history 50 years ago.

How about 9 years ago?

The election of a bi-racial Black man to the presidency of the United States was heralded by many as the moment when we as a nation were finally over our racist past. How ironic then, that the most prominent and persistent accusation against our Black president, the accusation by which our current president made his political name, was that he was not born in America. He was accused of literally not being an American. Which was very much in line with the messages America has sent Black people all along. The past is obviously not gone yet. Was the 41 years between MLK and Obama enough to have both erased 192 years of racial division and then drive it all the way back into divisiveness due to some Black people preferring a hyphen?

Or maybe the term African-American isn’t exactly the cause, but rather just a hindrance?

Considering the contributions and struggles of Black people in this country, and knowing that all the other assimilated groups very literally shed their hyphenated status in favor of whiteness, makes the request that African-Americans only claim the title American, smack of condescending insult. I do not say this as an accusation that anyone who has forwarded such a suggestion did so from a dark and cruel place- but not all insults are intended.

Black people should be able to claim full American status without having to do so in a way that has always been a nod to whiteness. If the only way to do this is to bring back hyphens for everyone- great. Do it. But I will not be the one to tell any Black person that they should reject or ignore the African heritage that my country has so intentionally tried to dishonor all this time. For a Black person to be able to claim both their African descent, their Blackness, and their full American status simultaneously, is in my mind the best American dream. It is long past time that we, as Americans, accept that our country is, has been, and should be, a nation of people from many places, who don’t all look the same, who do not all act the same, and who can claim the fullness of who they are- while being fully American.

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Admirable Insanity: Robolights

Kitsch and art are parallel lines that never cross. Some artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and I could even argue Klimpt, sort of brush up against that line, but the whole genre of pop art acts as a buffer between the two making absolutely sure that those lines do not cross.

Unless you are in Palm Springs.

Imagine the Watts Towers but replace the Antoni Gaudi influence with Tim Burton. Just as the Watts towers are a backyard monument built “just because”, so is Robolights. But Robolights has a bazillion more Christmas lights- and toilets.

Approximately 30 years ago Kenny Irwin Jr. started building giant robots in his backyard. He was 9. Since then he has graduated art school and inherited the family house, but he has never stopped building. When I say never stopped, I mean I am unsure when he stops to eat because this place is the macabre junkyard version of kudzu. It is thick, ever growing, and covers everything.

When I first visited the place and posted pictures online, the most common questions were what and why? Neither can nor should be answered. Robolights is the kind of place that must be experienced not explained.

I can tell you that there is a feature touting itself as one of only two microwaved microwaves in the world, which would be Kitschy, but while viewing the torched appliance you are standing on a path lined by thousands of little skulls flanked by microwave legged robots under an archway holding up a roller coaster of shopping carts filled with aliens.

Everywhere you look something is spinning and flashing and probably features a skull or a toilet. And it is all in some dude’s backyard in residential neighborhood. Which on paper makes this completely kitsch. I am arguing that it is not.

When Duchamp presented a urinal as artwork it was initially rejected but is now considered by many as a foundational piece of 20th century art. Comic books aren’t necessarily taken seriously, but when Lichtenstein paints one single comic frame and blows it up larger than life, collectors pay millions. It is hard to say where the line really is.

Typing out descriptions of Robolights just doesn’t work. I’m not saying its on par with the Mona Lisa, but writing that there is this painting of an acceptable looking woman who is kinda smiling but not really, would not do justice to DaVinci. Same idea here. I’m not sure Kenny Irwin is really “saying” anything, but I’m also not convinced Leonardo had some grand message when he painted Mona.

What I am definitely saying is that we should all go see the Louvre, and Kenny’s house.

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In the Studio: secret santa

I don’t really like to paint, but I love paintings. All sorts of images really, illustration, portraits, photographs, I can stare at any of those things all day long. Painting is for me, a means to an ends, a taxing and laborious annoyance that must be endured in order to have interesting things to stare at.

Not every wall must have something hung on it, but some walls, when left blank, leave a hole in the room. That is why I paint. That… and also because sometimes I just get an idea of a picture I want to look at. Had I the means I could probably find stuff I like out there on the market, but till then, I paint.

Sometimes other people have rooms with blank spots on the wall and something must be done.

Someone once asked me, “What is your motivation as an artist?” I think it sounded flippant when I answered, “I just paint stuff I think it would be cool to look at.” but I meant it.img_3278

That isn’t to say I’m shy about my work, I rather like it when other people like what I do.img_3073

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Saying “Good Luck” in Russian

When your good friend is moving to Moscow in a week, you post an appropriate drawing.

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Mt. Rubidoux 

6pm on Mt. Rubidoux

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Cost of College When Converted to Minimum Wage Hours

Because I had some extra time on a Sunday afternoon, I thought I would take the time to convert the cost of college into minimum wage hours. I may need to reevaluate how I spend my free time.

The current federally mandated minimum wage is $7.25.

The current average in-state tuition at a public university is $9,410. That figures out to 1,297 hours of work.statue main building

Just for fun, and perspective, the minimum wage and average tuition in 1970 was $1.60 and $358 respectively. That represents a 481% increase in minimum wage hours.

But that is just tuition. People also need to sleep and eat, which costs more money, especially if you intend to sleep indoors. To pay the average room, board, AND the average tuition, a minimum wage worker must put in 40 hours per week- for 15 months.

College accreditation boards assume (dictate) that a full time college student will spend between 24-36 hours per week in class or studying. The variance is due to the variations in class content and student aptitude. Let’s call it 30 hours for simplicity.

40 hours working, plus 30 hours schooling, leaves 98 hours per week to also fit in 56 hours of sleeping, giving a student 6 hours per day left over. How luxurious. Anyone can do that right?

Perhaps one can. It would be hard of course, but anything worth doing is hard right?

Maybe those extra six hours a day are necessary for beer-pong and protesting things. Or maybe they are needed to work out ways to find a minimum wage job that will schedule you for 40 hours per week, which doesn’t happen because that’s full time and requires benefits, so probably the student needs two part time jobs that will each schedule out 20 hours a week. If they are both on campus this could work, cut down on travel time and whatnot, but if not this kid will need to schedule in some travel time. On a bus. Because I forgot to figure in the expenses associated with a car. Or laundry. I’m going to pretend this is a pretty responsible student and assume they cut out beer-pong.

The math proves it can be done- at least in a perfect vacuum without unexpected expenses or buying toiletries- or income taxes.toepenn

But… and of course there is a but…

This student will not be able to do an internship, play any sports or join any clubs. This student will have to go to class, study, and work, forget playing around. No high jinks or animal house ballyhoo, which sounds like the no nonsense real life dictates any responsible parent would tell their child. Especially if that parent is doling out advice with the wisdom of their own experience from back in 1970.

Which makes me a little sad and terrified.

Sad because things are indeed different now, but also terrified because college’s usefulness is really in all those things outside the classroom. Doing good in class puts a lot of stuff inside your head but it doesn’t put your butt into a job. Most of the things that lead to jobs, like relationship networks, internships, experiences, and interviews, all happen after hours.

That isn’t even considering the things that lead to actual learning and thinking, like study abroad, field work, and participation in diverse experiential activities. This minimum wage working, public school going, student will be working very hard to get the bare minimum of what colleges offer and is very likely going to get some negative feedback from Mom and Dad when they ask for extra money or bring home loads of extra laundry and this student will probably get a lecture about how it was back in the old days and how kids didn’t complain and they did it themselves so quit being a complainey little snowflake.

So, dear snowflake, let me help you a little. What follows is not science, nor does it consider things like taxes and interest, but it gives you a thumbnail of how now compares to then in the spirit of making apples versus oranges more into apples versus crab apples.

Average 1970

Salary- $6,186= $515.50 per month no taxes

Cost of home- $23,600/3 years salary/$65.50 per month for 30 years no interest

New car $3,542/$59 per month for 5 years no interest

Healthcare $380 per year= $31 per month

Monthly budget

Rent $65.50 + Car $59 + Ins $31 = $155.50 or 30.16% of income

Minimum wage- $1.60

Tuition at local state U- $358= 223 hours minimum wage work

 

Average 2017

Salary- $51,939= $4,328.25 no taxes

Cost of home- $292,891/5 year salary/$813 per month for 30 years no interest

New car- $30, 152/$502 per month for 5 years no interest

Healthcare $9,810= $817 per month

Rent $813 + Car $502 + Health $817 = $2132 or 49.25% of income

Minimum wage- $7.25

Tuition at local state U- $9410= 1297 hours minimum wage work

College is 481% more expensive today when converted to minimum wage hours.

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