Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I've got the holiday spirit. I'm stealing dance moves to debut on New Years Eve. Pay close attention to the shaker in the orange shirt.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Energy Future

I was listening to the nonstop rain this morning and reading about the climate talks in Copenhagen in the Times when I found the most perfect combination of online journalism and internet advertising.

You have to click it to see it large enough to get the joke.

OHHH! that's what's Shell, the world's largest corporation, is doing to tackle the phenomenally horrifying euphemism of the ensuing state of geo-politics: "new energy future."

What I first chuckled at was the irony of Shell advertising on this particular page -paying to be associated with an article about resistance to them. Then I was laughing at the "tackle" joke. Then I wasn't really laughing anymore because I was awe-struck, fully jaw-dropped by the phrase "new energy future."

The "new energy future" is meant to bring to mind the promise of green energy, the hope in plant-based zero-emissions technologies. There is no requirement of actual reduction of consumption in any real sense. Living in San Francisco, I can take a short walk to Mission Bay and see the future that this promises. An overly orchestrated zone of the city with horrible Ikea architecture made of recycled materials that visually emphasize that they were recycled, rather than minimize the energy and resources required to manufacture them. You can live in a refabed loft and trade in your old car to drive a new Prius to buy free-range meat at the Whole Foods with a clean conscious. I don't mean to make my complaint sound like it is about lifestyle choices. I am talking about the denaturing and glamorization of what used to be called environmentalism and self-satisfaction offered by these kinds of faux-conservation efforts. The concept of consumption is only furthered. Don't fix the old muni stops, build totally new ones. Don't consider living without a car, buy a totally new one regardless of how massive the amount of energy and resources that production requires. Somehow, in this new future, the problems of class and access get erased. How can this green consumption future be for everyone? Don't make -only buy. The modes of production are just as obscured as ever. The earth is still ours for the pillaging. It's a future where the earth is just as dead but our consumption looks green.

For along time, I thought it was just spin, an advertising campaign effort. For instance, clean coal isn't a thing. There is no way to make the mining or burning of coal "clean." But by calling it that we all feel better about our over use. You can read a lot more about that on the very media savvy Reality Coalition website (good pun). I remember noticing this "greenwashing" for the first time when BP changed from 'British Petroleum' to 'Beyond Petroleum.' It's not that they were going to have anything other than gas at the gas stations. It's that their gas stations in my area were being revamped with a more contemporary ergonomic design. The problem with the new energy future for all its "this is not a plastic bag" totes is that it is really the old energy past. And the problem with announcing the status quo as a new-found freedom is that people will believe it.

The man is this photo is Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian writer and activist. In 1995, he was murdered at Royal Dutch Shell's behest, hanged along with eight others on trumped-up charges. Saro-Wiwa became the leader of the grassroots organization Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) which sought to give the ethnic minority Ogonis increased independence, including political clout in the face of Shell's crushing force. Shell had been terrorizing the Ogoni people and their land since the mid-1950's. As the Ogoni began to resist the destruction of their mangroves to build pipelines, the pollution of the air from gas flaring, the toxic dumping, the theft of their farms and the revamping of viable land into oil fields, Shell as many other multinational corporations do, made the most of an unfortunate political situation and enlisted the help of a military government.

Here is a short introductory video made after Saro-Wiwa's death.

Last June, Shell paid 15.5 million dollars to settle a lawsuit originally brought in 1996 by the families of Saro-Wiwa and the other eight people executed as a result of the falsified charges as well as other victims of Shell-related autrocities. Interestingly, the trial happened at a federal court in New York. Under the 1798 Alien Tort Act, a non-citizen can bring suit for extra-judicial killing and human rights abuses no matter where they occur.

According to the Guardian article announcing the settlement , the court documents included "a letter from Shell in which it agreed to pay a unit of the Nigerian army for services rendered. The unit had retrieved one of the company's fire trucks from the village of Korokoro – an action that according to reports at the time left one Ogoni man dead and two wounded. Shell wrote it was making the payment 'as a show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favourable disposition in future assignments'."

Shell continues to operate in Nigeria. It continues to dump waste and use gas flares in the Niger Delta.
Shell's revenue last year was 458.361 billion USD and is the world's largest corporation. It operates in 140 countries. Ken Saro-Wiwa's death like the complete destruction of his community is not an isolated incident.

This is how you "tackle the new energy future."

Here are links to more information on Ken Saro-Wiwa
the website of the plaintiffs in the case
letter from Chinua Achebe, Susan Sontag and more for the PEN society on behalf of Saro-Wiwa after his arrest.
wingnuty Shell watchdog website

I hope there is some thought of Ken Saro-Wiwa at the talks in Copenhagen. In writing about this, I am struck by the aspects that hit me as "realities." There are realities to consumption. The horrific realities in the fact of the post-colonial corporate empires. Ones where we have to confront the chain of events and more complexly, the passivity and complacency that allow these kinds of things to happen. There are realities to recognized also in that video in where people achieve a sense of agency through organizing, speaking out and declaring themselves worthy of rights. Environmentalism is to think about the earth dynamically. It is so much more than "go green." Somehow the popularization of green consumption overshadows the real issue at hand: misery and destruction- of people, of land -for the gluttony of just a few.

"The writer cannot be a mere storyteller, he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely X-ray society’s weaknesses, its ills, its perils, he or she must be actively involved shaping its present and its future.”
-Ken Saro-Wiwa, 1993.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Probably the best piece of art I have ever made. Courtesy of KATER.

Sunday, December 6, 2009



From the January 2009 Telegraph article...
An owl and a Bassett Hound have struck up an unusual friendship.
The pair have become inseparable since meeting at an animal refuge, and are quite happy to cuddle up together on an armchair.
Beryl the Basset Hound, who is a grand old dame at 16 years old, and four-year-old tawny owl Wol struck up a friendship when their owner realised they both loved watching television in the evenings.
Sara Ross, who shares her home in Tenterden, Kent, with the animals said: "They are both rescue animals and they're like best buddies. Wol needs full-time care and one day I was giving him a bit of exercise and he just plonked down on Beryl's back. She doesn't mind, she's really laid back and a bit of a pussycat really. "She didn't mind at all and now you can't keep them apart.
"Four times-a-week you'll see them settle down to watch what's going on in Albert Square. Beryl barks when it's over and Wol gets a bit upset too, with a bit of flapping.
She added: "They are inseparable. They love cuddling up and watching television together.
"It won't come as a surprise that they love nature documentaries, but they also like soaps like Coronation Street and Emmerdale."
She added: "I've never known two animals who are so different hit it off quite so well. They just love being around each other."

I would just like to add that I too love cuddling on an armchair and watching TV in the evenings so I could probably also be best friends with them.

"Alive and Well and Living in Someone Else's Face"

Everyone's time comes eventually. Even a man of 3,000 faces.

This is the number one best obituary of all time.

Jan Leighton, Actor Who Played Everyone, Dies at 87

Published: November 27, 2009
Correction Appended

Jan Leighton, an actor who conjured a career by dressing up as historical figures, appearing in so many commercials, print advertisements and industrial films as George Washington, William Shakespeare and Christopher Columbus that he was both ubiquitous and anonymous, died on Nov. 16 in Manhattan. He was 87.The cause was complications after a stroke, said his daughter, Hallie.

Mr. Leighton, who was listed in the 1985 Guinness Book of World Records as the actor who had played the most roles (2,407), began his professional career as a legitimate actor, appearing on live television dramas and at least once on Broadway, in a 1960 Cy Coleman musical called “Wildcat,” starring Lucille Ball. But when the jobs became scarce, he reinvented himself as a walking, talking hall of fame, an impersonator for hire. He researched the characters, created his own costumes — he had more than 400 of them in his Manhattan apartment when he died — and often did his own makeup.

In disguise, Mr. Leighton might pop up in almost any medium. On television, he lit a cigar as Fidel Castro in a commercial for Bic lighters and sold Toyotas as Albert Einstein for a Southern California car dealership. He promoted a Minnesota savings bank as Abraham Lincoln and an Arizona department store as Robert E. Lee. For one bank commercial he portrayed Clark Gable, Groucho Marx, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, all complaining about other banks that charged for checks. He pitched Cheerios as Alexander Hamilton, beer as Johann Sebastian Bach, early mobile phones as Dracula and cough syrup as the Frankenstein monster. He even played Mr. Whipple’s twin in a commercial for Charmin bathroom tissue.

On film, he played Albert Einstein in a 1982 science fiction comedy “Zapped!” He motivated Westinghouse employees as George Washington and the salesmen of Scania trucks as Gen. George Patton. In print he appeared twice on the cover of New York magazine, once as Henry Kissinger and once as Leonardo da Vinci; he was Uncle Sam on the cover of Time. He was the face of Saul Bellow’s title character “Henderson the Rain King” on a paperback edition of the book, and appeared as a host of characters, including Confucius and Pericles, on the book jacket of Gore Vidal’s “Creation.” He made appearances at gala events and private parties as presidents and wizards and such.

He would go anywhere to do a job and would play anyone: Vince Lombardi, Babe Ruth, Gandhi, Mozart, Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes. Ebenezer Scrooge, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Charlemagne, Darwin, Wyatt Earp, Walter Cronkite and even Margaret Thatcher were all in his repertory.

“He was best George Washington of his day,” Jay Pearlman, who worked frequently with Mr. Leighton as a makeup artist said in an interview, adding that Mr. Leighton might get two dozen bookings as Washington in a year.

Mr. Pearlman remembered Mr. Leighton’s going to an amusement park in 1979: “I think it was Ashland, Ky. — and he shot four 60-second commercials in one day. He was a wolf man, he was a grandfather, he was General Patton and he was Groucho Marx. He’d call me up and say, ‘We’re going to San Francisco,’ and we’d fly out to San Francisco, and he’d do one Ben Franklin, and we’d get back on the plane and fly home.”

Mr. Leighton was born in the Bronx as Milton Lichtman on Dec. 27, 1921, and grew up mostly in east Harlem. His father, Harry, owned a handful of taxicabs and vending machines. Young Milton served in the Air Force in World War II, and afterward he studied music briefly at a university in Mexico City. He was living in El Paso and working as a shoe salesman when he decided to pursue what he had loved as a child — acting — and returned to New York. In 1949, like a number of Jewish actors, he changed his name in order to de-emphasize his ethnicity and get more work.

“His features were handsome but regular,” Mr. Pearlman, the makeup artist, said about why Mr. Leighton was so well suited to his work. “He could always submerge himself in makeup and in facial contortions.”

In addition to doing character work, Mr. Leighton was also a hand model, and he did numerous radio voices and voiceovers as well as children’s recordings. He and his daughter, Hallie, were the co-authors of two books, “Rare Words and How to Master Their Meanings” and its sequel, “Rare Words II.”

Mr. Leighton was married four times. The first marriage was annulled and the others ended in divorce. Ms. Leighton, who lives in Manhattan, is the daughter of his third wife, Lynda Myles; he is also survived by a son, Ross Leighton, of Queens, whose mother was Mr. Leighton’s second wife, Ruth Markowe.

The anonymity of his work was something Mr. Leighton embraced. Asked once how he was doing, he replied, “I’m alive and well and living in someone else’s face.”

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Scania trucks.

Correction: December 1, 2009

I am obsessed with Jan Leighton.

Here he is as ALFRED E. NEWMAN.

He could even class up that coonskin as Davey Crockett.

His FRANKENSTEIN is almost as good as his CHURCHILL.

I looked up the books he and his daughter wrote: Rare Words and Rare Words II.

I like his legacy so much.