Monday, May 26, 2008

The Dragon's Fragile Personality Shatters Yet Again

I guess I mentioned I have been painting quite a bit lately, and when I'm not painting, I'm researching painting and art links.
So the time has finally come to spin off another blog, the new one is called Ben Artstrong, and I'll be blogging more there about my painting projects and the rants they engender.
It's strange, Honky-Tonk Dragon began as a place to gather links and such for a graphic novel project which quickly ran into technical difficulties. But as that project derailed, I began posting about scooters, steampunk, and other topics. The blog took on a life of it's own, and Honky-Tonk Dragon became a character with a voice of his own which I came to appreciate, and classify as "lifestyle for weirdos."
Contemplations on art, and results of my own art making seemed to fit with that theme somewhat, for awhile. But lately I feel like they have been interfering with one another. Honky-Tonk Dragon seems more suited for ruminations on the fringes of pop culture, and when I have the inclination to write more seriously about fine art and aesthetics, it just doesn't seem like quite the right fit. Which means I end up not blogging about things which would fit in well on the Dragon, and not writing about the artistic subjects either. My hope is that by splitting the blogs, my online writing will increase.
I'm sure there will be instances where I will cross post, such as when I finish the current revisions to Quell, the Steampunk Vespa. But all in all, I'm hoping this expansion will help you the reader find the type of posts you are looking for quicker, as well as more effectively promoting my artistic endeavors.

Now This is What I Call a Retirement

It had been awhile since I'd checked in on Sci-Fi author Will Shetterly's blog.
Recently he posted something about his dad, who seems to have an enviable attitude towards aging and his golden years:

Dad left La Paz, Baja California, Mexico, on May 15, 1998, sailed once around the world in a small sailboat, the Vaya, then decided to do it again "now that I know how." He returned to La Paz on his 78th birday, July 9, 2004, then sailed on. His circumnavigations ended at the age of 79; he hurt his leg in the Philippines, gave the boat to the people who helped him there, and flew home to Edmonton in July, 2006, shortly after his 80th birthday.

Before he began his voyages, he wrote his children:

To die in a storm with the adrenalin pumping, fighting for survival, seems far better than anything civilized hospital care has to offer—even a collision at sea would be preferable. If I go unreported, I hope no one starts or creates any search. Ships that run down small boats do not report the fact, even if they are aware of what happened. On the other hand, a coastal wreck is usually reported, unless everything is smashed to bits in surf and rocks. In either event, I see no need to waste anyone's time and effort.To sum up: I am grateful to the Gods and the people who have provided and supported an interesting life. I have many regrets—more for things not done, than for those done badly.

I recognize that this letter is only about my concern, but I am aware of the concern of others. Having made the selfish decision to live out my declining years on my own terms (as much as possible), this letter is simply to try to answer "Why?" and to make it clear the "why" has almost nothing to do with others.

What an awesome old man! I highly recommend clicking the title link, and reading all about this cantankerous old coots adventures.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Buddha was a Dead-Beat Dad

I've long been fascinated with Buddhism, and to this day my life is enriched by wisdom gleaned from its philosophy, and by its existential technologies.
But I have a major problem with the mythology and base theology of Siddharta.
I won't get into all of that here, but Buddha's abandonment of his family troubles me. Especially since, the more I contemplate the changes parenthood will bring to my life, the more I see that being a parent can be one of the most profound spiritual experiences a person can face.
I was about to say that it would take a saint or a buddha to be the perfect parent, but when you look through the stories of holy men and women throughout history, and throughout the world's various spiritual traditions, you will find a lot of brave souls who are willing to face hunger, persecution, and total humiliation and negation of the ego. But most of these folks draw the line at reproduction, and like Buddha, when they do reproduce, they'd rather face the aforementioned trials rather than face the day-to-day realities of parenthood. Heck, even Gandhi was supposedly a terrible father, who spent his time fasting, organizing, and such, denying his affections to his wife and children.

I am sure that I won't be a perfect father. There will be times when I will be selfish, inattentive, cross, and distant. But already, just the concept of fatherhood, and the realities of Jes's swelling belly and digestive difficulties have me examining myself, and thinking about what kind of example I might be to a rug rat.

I've always thought that religion should ultimately be a way to connect with that which is bigger than oneself. Having kids... well, it may not be the infinity of the cosmos, but it's sure bigger than anything I've faced in any tangible way...

Individual Energy Independence

Came across this story recently about a few folks who are using full electric vehicles in conjunction with solar panels.

Darrell Dickey regularly commutes to work 24 miles, one way, by bike. But when it's too cold or wet for the bike, or when he and his family travel long distances from their home in Davis, California, he drives a battery-powered electric vehicle that he charges with photovoltaic (PV) panels mounted on his garage roof.

"Five years ago, I spent about $45,000 and got a brand new car (the RAv4EV) and the solar system," he says. "We're still driving the car every day, and the solar system will continue to make fuel for whatever EV we drive in the future. For $45,000 we bought a new car and fuel for the rest or our lives."


Dickey says the inspiration to drive electric comes from having a child. "It would embarrass me to have to explain to my daughter why we continued to import and burn oil when we knew the consequences," he says. "Having no tune-ups and no trips to the gas station ever is just icing."

By installing a solar system atop his garage, Dickey took the next step in driving a totally clean car. "Now," he says, "I can deflect the comments that my 'electric' car is just a 'coal-burning' car. EVs are the ultimate flex-fuel vehicle. You can make electricity out of just about anything: sun, wind, natural gas, coal—even gasoline! Your fuel can be totally domestic, or in my case, totally local."

Asked how long it will take for the PV system to pay for itself, Dickey replies: "If we think of everything in terms of what it costs us in the short-term, we're screwed. It's the same argument people use against the Prius: When will it pay back in gas savings? But that only accounts for the money paid at the pump. What of the billions of dollars that leave our economy for oil, or the billions of our tax dollars that go toward tax incentives for oil companies? What of the cost of the military and the lives lost to protect our oil?" But the short answer for the solar pay-back, he says, was "the instant I turned my system on." Dickey had been paying $75 a month for electricity. He took a loan out to buy the PV system, and pays $70 a month toward that loan. "My electricity and gasoline bills are now zero, and next year when my loan is paid off, this investment will be paying me probably for the rest of my life. My PV system covers the power for my home and my car. It displaces $90 worth of electricity and over $100 worth of gasoline every month. So my estimate of how long until the system pays for itself is no time at all!"

Dickey says the Rav4EV is the best car he's ever owned. "My wife commutes in it 40 miles a day, five days a week. We drive it for our weekend outings and it does errands that are too far or too bulky for the bicycle. It has never been tuned up, and I've spent about $50 total on it for maintenance. My wife has not been to a gasoline station in seven years and 70,000 commute miles—not once!"

This story really got me thinking about how our oil dependance and internal combustion engines are like those check cashing places. On an economic scale, most of us don't have to face the endless cycle of pay-day loans to enable us to pay our bills, we are able to comfortably shake our heads at plight of the working poor who are raked over the coals of usury just to continue their hand-to-mouth existence.

But when it comes to energy, almost everyone is stuck in the same hand-to-mouth cycle. Do the math of your transportation and energy costs, and think about how long it would take you to see savings from a $45K loan like the Dickeys took out. Then think about the "collateral damage" costs of our world-wide dependence on fossil fuels.

Strange how one story can make me hopeful and enraged at the same time...

I know energy independence is possible, but right now it is as out of reach to me as a 401k and health insurance for migrant farm worker.

Insert Apologies for Blogstipation Here

Well it's been a crazy coupla weeks for your humble Dragon.
Work has been insanely busy, and my Mom came out for a visit, which is why I haven't posted in awhile.
When I've had a rare moment to myself, that wasn't spent staring at the walls and catching my breath, I've been painting and researching painting.
I finally was able to chat with the infamous Pirate Papa for a bit recently, and that was good.
Anyway, I've got a chance tonight to catch up on some posts I've been stewing over for a while, so look for much new stuff in the next 24 hours.
Also I'd like to send sincere apologies out to folks I've neglected to respond to, through various digital channels over the last couple weeks. Nancy Frieko, I swear that review is coming forthwith!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Is Steampunk Dying?

We strip-mine your underground culture
Take the bite out and rinse it clean
Give ourselves credit for creating it
Then sell it back to you
At twice the price

- Fleshdunce, by The Dead Kennedys

Will Steampunk survive being the next big thing? There were a couple of things this morning which some might interpret at signs of the coming Steam-pocalypse.
First is the mere existence of this story in the New York Times Fashion section on Steampunk. Major media attention is frequently to the coup de grace to an emerging subculture.
Second is to be found within the the article, the mention of Giovanni James of the James Gang magical performance troupe opening his own bricks and mortar Steampunk shop in NYC:
He plans to offer brass Rubik’s cubes, riding boots, early-20th-century-style motorbikes, handmade leather mailbags and brass or wooden iPhone cases, all under the label TJG Engineering.

There will, of course, be a clothing line with vintage and new looks modeled on Mr. James’s own neo-Edwardian sartorial signature. “I’m so sick of baggy pants hanging off your bottom,” he said. “This is more refined. It goes back to a time when people had some dignity.

“It’s a new day.”

Off-the-rack Steampunk? Why I say, how gauche! Any real steampunk casts their own goggles and gears from... Wait... did that say early-20th-century-style motorbikes, and handmade leather mailbags?

I am so there!

I mean really, Steampunk was dead to begin with. It is all about reanimating the mouldering corpses of bygone fashion, technology, and manners. So what if someone purchases their tails at a haberdashery rather than a thrift store?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Scooter Blog Roundup

It must be Spring, because the scooter bloggers are posting in earnest again.
Many of the bloggers are commenting on the deluge of news stories of people turning to scooters to beat $4 a gallon gas prices. The more astute of you might notice that the previous link is to ScooterFix, which is the new incarnation of Crystal Waters & company's Girl Bike. Girl Bike has been one of the longest running scooter blogs, but it is nice to see that Crystal (who was at one time an official Vespa blogger) is moving to a more gender inclusive scooter platform. Of course, I kid, I kid, because I love. It looks like ScooterFix will sticking with the long-running Girl Bike tradition of covering pink scooter gear, though, so it should feel pretty familiar.
One of the other long-running standbys of scooter reportage, 2 Stroke Buzz, has been posting some learned insights into the economics of scootering. Most recently Illnoise linked to this post on Justinsominia documenting the cost of ownership for a year on a Vespa LX 150. For those you who like to cut to the chase:


In total, with the 3rd service I already mentioned above, I’ve spent $1,193.85 on maintenance over the last year, of which only the $150 brush touch up could be considered unnecessary, though at the same time I lucked out that the $260 clutch pulley replacement happened within 4 days of my warranty expiring. So for a vehicle that only cost me $4300, I’ve already spent 27% of purchase price on maintenance. Ouch. I don’t know if I’m paying a San Francisco labor premium or what, but I’m not sure I’m going back to the Vespa dealership now that my warranty has expired.

Gear, insurance, parking

And of course that total does not include the cost of riding jackets, rain gear, helmets, and gloves which I’ve probably spent about $500 on. Or $500 a year on insurance. Or $60 a year for city street parking plus the inevitable parking tickets (I’ve probably gotten 3-4 so far at $40 a pop).

All that said, I love my Vespa. I wish it looked better, but it’s a tool, not a museum piece. It allows me to get to work on my schedule, and park in the city where ever I want.

I don't know about the SF labor rates, but I think living in the Bay is definitely impacting his insurance rates...

Still, 2 Stroke Buzz has a good point in another post on scooter economics where he does the scooter math:

Spending money to save money is a popular American pastime (e.g. buying a Kitchen Aid mixer reasoning you’ll eat out less, or the scary trend of “Earth Day Sales”). Numbers can be twisted to make you believe anything, but don’t trust them unless you’re the one doing the math, filling the blanks with your own, honest, real-world, data. Change your lifestyle and your consumption over time and you’ll see savings, but don’t go out and finance a $5000 60mpg Vespa at 28% APR to ride on sunny weekends, because your interest on the loan is going to cost you more than the few hundred bucks you’ll save on gas. If you want it and you can afford it, get it, it’s goodtimes, believe me, but don’t blame the Saudis for your attraction to Italian industrial design.

Very good point, Bryan. Oh, and for those of you who are junkys for latest machines to come from Piaggio, he also has a good report on the upcoming Vespa 300 Sport.

Orin, over at Scootin' Old Skool, just reported today that cartoonist Dan Piraro, who draws one of my favorite strips Bizarro, rides a Vespa. Since Breathed, Waterson, and Larson's retirements / slow-downs, it is common to hear folks complain that the comics page just sucks, these days. Bizarro (as well as Mutts, Zits, and Foxtrot) makes the comics page worht being the first thing you turn the paper to.

He is also the original and only owner of the P125 (which has been kitted to 175cc) in the picture above. “For years, It was covered in crash bars, stadium mirrors, etc., and looked very ‘Quadrophenia’,” he writes. “It still has the crash bars but I’ve taken off the stadium mirrors so I can lane split here in NYC (Piraro and wife Ashley are longtime residents of the Big Apple). I’d love to put them back on, but I use it all the time in the city and need it to be more utilitarian.”

I’ve always wanted to ride in New York City. People think I’m crazy. Writes Dan, “NYC is the safest place I’ve ever ridden precisely because of the traffic and chaos that makes people think otherwise. Heavy traffic keeps speeds down and the chaos of pedestrians, bicycle messengers, roller bladers, scooters, mopeds, skateboarders, whathaveyou, keeps drivers on constant alert.”

So where’s a dangerous place? “Soccer moms on the phone, driving an SUV full of noisy kids in Dallas were the scariest kinds of drivers I’ve ever faced, by far.” Piraro grew up in Oklahoma and spent time in Dallas before moving to NYC.

This is actually encouraging, since moving to the East Coast, I have been fantasizing about scooting into Gotham, myself. Great scoop, Orin!

Speaking of Scoops, Steve over at The Scooter Scoop, has a crazy post up about a guy who crammed a 600cc Honda Silverwing motor into a Ruckus frame. Now, I have long thought that the Ruckus had a sweet design, that was underserved by it's miniscule engine, but... Good Lawdie! Click the Crazy Post link for pictures and more info.

Well, sorry about the "clip show" (of other people's stuff), I'm working on my (seemingly) never-ending series of scooter gear posts. Currently in the works is a post on the various materials used in textile jackets, but technical info on this stuff is hard to come by, so it is turning into more of a research paper than a blog post.

Also, just this evening, I cracked out my oil paints for the first time in seven years. So you can look forward to more painting posts in the coming days.

Until next time, Scoot On!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Artist as Parent

Blessed Mother by Kevin Kresse

I am so overwhelmed with various emotions about being an expectant father, that it has been very hard for me to blog, or do much else productive.
I've been organizing the studio, though, as I have the premonition that this surge of feeling will eventually manifest itself in some creative work.
Though we are socially conditioned to see artists as hedonistic libertines, the connection between creativity and reproduction makes a certain sense to me. But as I try to wrack my brains for examples which illustrate this connection, the only one I can come up with is one of my artistic heroes, Kevin Kresse.
Kevin and his partner Bridget, had just quit their real jobs in order to focus on developing his artistic career, when they learned they were expecting twins. From this combination of circumstances Kevin began a series of paintings which exemplify many of the feelings I am facing.

Take for instance this one, Outside the Ring of Marys

of which Kevin says: "The overall idea is about the limitations of being an artist versus the power of creating a new life."

A couple more of my favorites from his work from this period are Daywatch and Nightwatch:

I've always been struck by something powerful in these pieces, a palpable sense of anticipation which I've recently begun to understand all too well.

I have a feeling in a few months this sense of fretful expectation will give way to the feeling of overpowering protectiveness Kresse expresses in
Papa Bear (Safe Mountain), of which he says: "One of two Papa Bear paintings based on the new feelings that children bring out in a parent- the need to protect and nurture."

I just thought I'd share a few of these with you, because well, I'd love to see Kresse get a larger audience, and I'm trying to kick myself into gear to paint more. I don't have much tangible to offer a child. But I can do my best to be a good example, which entails doing more with my talents and skills.

Friday, May 02, 2008

In Utero Update

So Jes went in for her first prenatal exam yesterday...
Apparently, our estimates were just a tad off... where we'd thought she was 12-15 weeks along, turns out it is more like 25 weeks...
We checked out the birthing center we'd like to use, and it's pretty nice.
Jes also had her first sonogram, (seen above) looks like it is a girl. The experts tell us she is doing just fine.

I however have quit smoking, and am totally freaked.