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The big alpha.tribe update


I did not want to switch over to a mesh avatar for a very long time. I have had the Alpha shape and skin for years and I have really identified with Alpha, in that appearance. She looks like me. Or rather she looked like I looked 20 years ago. But, then a few weeks ago I decided that the switch had to be made if I wanted to keep up with SL as a fashion designer. I had to know how this stuff worked. It all had to do with what I have talked about on this blog from time to time. About no longer feeling up to scratch in SL, about a feeling that the world had overtaken me technologically and that I found it hard to be creative in it. So, among some other changes, I made the switch.

And almost had a coronary!

I have been using a skin template for years which has worked very well on the classic SL avatar. But when I rezzed the skin on the mesh avatar what I saw was nothing short of a monster. Very obviously the UV maps on the mesh heads and bodies had changed drastically and nothing that had been created specifically for the classic SL avatar was in place anymore. A grotesque mouth stretching from ear to ear. Eyes that were no longer where they were supposed to be. So awful looking, in fact, that I do not want to sully the appearance of this blog by posting before and after pictures. Instead I have posted a selection of the new skins at the top of this post.

Now, I take some pride in my SL store and my reputation as a SL merchant. So, once the shock was over I decided to update my entire store inventory. Which is what I have been doing full time for the past 3 or 4 weeks. I am now done. Only very few things left, and I am not sure that I will actually bother with those since they were never very big sellers.

Everyone, who can provide proof of purchase will get an update on things they paid good money to buy. Especially things that they bought since the advent of mesh avatars. I can just imagine how disappointed they must have been when they put on the skins and outfits. Akin to how one feels when something that one has ordered online arrives and turns out to be nothing but crap. I feel really ashamed. And whatever I can do to make it up to these folks I will do. Obviously the place to announce this is in SL itself, through the alpha.tribe group. Which I will do very shortly. But, if you are an alpha.tribe customer, send a screenshot of your inventory for every item you purchased from alpha.tribe to alphaauer@gmail.com and I will see to it that you get your update (and my big apologies) shortly. 
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Mesh Dramatics

One of my most cherished possessions in Second Life is a huge collection of dramatic poses created by Heidi Dahlseveen, which she very generously gave me many years ago. Heidi is a storyteller and her poses are unlike any other that I have ever seen in SL, in that they compress a huge amount expression into that one instance that the pose represents. And when one poses several avatars one ends up getting quite extraordinary mise-en-scenes. Which is something that I have done very often, also by creating entire stages to supplement the "tale." I have done this because I am fascinated with the "frozen moment." I like all the unknowns that are embedded into this. What came before? What will happen next? All is open to speculation. Unless one knows the tale, of course. But then, I don't know the tale, do I?

The reason for this may have to do with a book that sat on our coffee table at home when I was a very young child - it was called something like the "masterpieces of the renaissance and the baroque." And I remember very distinctly spending hours looking at these images. Some of which were very gruesome obviously. So, from today's standpoint, it would actually be perceived as quite objectionable that my parents left the book within my easy reach. But, back then children were exposed to much more than they are nowadays - and a very good thing it was too, if you ask me... Anyway, gruesome or not, an early exposure to what were formally poised scenes during the Renaissance that later evolved into the frozen fluidity of the Baroque, culminating in the frivolity of Fragonard or in the storminess of Gericault (the image at the top is his "Raft of the Medusa"), must have really impressed me. Because to this day, I prefer still images that demonstrate such a compressed drama to videos or animations in which the unfolding drama is determined upon by the creator of the animation or video. Not much is left to our imaginations, we are passive watchers.

While I was looking at the images in the book, as a child, I did not know all the Biblical stories that the images represented. So, they allowed me to ruminate on what was happening in them. What had led up to that one tiny moment in which all became still, and what would unfold when the motion resumed? That - I think was what fascinated me. And still fascinates me today. Not knowing.


And now, working with my mesh critters in Sculptris I am discovering that I can create figures that possess such compressed, heightened drama, especially when I group them together. Even if their faces are made only out of blobs and bumps. Even if they are highly minimalized.



Which brings me back to Heidi's poses: Back then when she made them the SL avatar did not have a very wide range of expressions. In fact had no expression to speak of outside of a very silly exaggerated expression hud that only created caricatures. So, looking at them with new eyes, after having played around with my blobby creatures, I see that she did the same thing. Used body language and motion in lieu of facial expression.

Obviously Heidi is a master storyteller. A genius at what she does. So, I have no aspirations to make mesh drama that would compete with what she achieved with her SL poses.

But that said, I will pursue this. How could I not, given that this is such a fascinating new playground for me. 
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Kokopelli

I love it when a software gives me ideas. And Sculptris does so. While I am playing around with the clay suddenly it looks like something and...

So, here we have the trickster god Kokopelli, who had been on my mind before as a figure I might want to look into a bit more. But, I never knew exactly how. I even tried a few things in photoshop last year but they went nowhere. And I know why: I started out with that intention, and that never works for me. I need to go in round about ways in order to catch the thing that is in my mind's eye.

I don't know if Kokopelli had dogs but I decided to give him a whole pack anyway. Will probably add a few more too.

And it isn't only Kokopelli that I have encountered in Sculptris. The other day, those fat ladies I made. They are a bit like Kybele. Not that I want to get all mythological here or anything. I will continue to play and see where it all leads.

But, I have come out of the creative doldrums - and that's a fact! And one that I am totally thrilled about, of course.
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And very well behaved they are...

Yesterday I finally got over all my inhibitions and went into 3D software, after remembering that Cica Ghost had once told me that she was using Sculptris. And after muddling around for quite a while, watching a lot of tutorials, I did get some results - the critters in the photo here. Had a hellish time with uploading the textures that I had also made for them into OpenSim (which is where I am testing all this before I spend a fortune in SL), at which point further investigation told me I had no other option but to install the dreaded loathsome Blender. And from there I could actually export the models with the embedded textures.

Not that I stuck around in Blender. I was in and out so fast I left skid marks. Just long enough to learn how to import an obj file, add the texture and export to collada. Which is probably all I need for now because Sculptris is really great. Because guess what? It is intuitive! Which is the thing that has always bugged me about 3D software. That one has to be methodical somehow.

I suppose one can do really detailed things in it too. But, I don't want to do that. Couldn't if I tried anyway. But luckily that is not what I had in mind to begin with. I want to make a whole bunch of these thingies, both 2 and 4 legged that can then populate the minimal world I have been thinking about for a while anyway.

So, today, for the first time in a long time I am once again happy with what I do.

un-serious


We used to have this saying in Turkish that is almost impossible to translate: “Gayri-ciddi.” If you were to translate it literally it would be “un-serious.” But it is quite a bit more than that. It describes a person who is shallow, not to be taken into account, superficial. Someone on whom one should never bestow any sort of responsibility because they would be incapable of carrying it. It is no longer in common usage. My parent’s generation were the last to say “gayri-ciddi” about someone. It was immensely dismissive and they would say it in that way, with that sort of facial expression to accompany it.

As my mother grew older (she died in 2008) she increasingly said it. Not just about people she knew personally but she used it for almost all politicians, opinion makers, and pundits whom she followed on TV. She was an invalid for the last few years of her life and being unable to leave home she became a voracious consumer of TV news programs. Not just the Turkish ones, but being multilingual she also kept up with France 24, BBC World and CNN international. And a German one too, DW, if I don’t remember incorrectly. So, I am sitting here wondering about what she would be saying today, and particularly what she would have to say about Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution. Because, “gayri-ciddi” is what I am sure she would have said. And vehemently. And especially so since climate change was something she was extremely concerned about.

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What, in heaven’s name is this? And not only what it is, but the reactions that it is getting. With the conservatives screaming “she is dangerous! this is socialism on steroids” and the progressives lauding this puerile document. ?!? Not only the resolution itself and its authors, but the whole milieu in which this is happening is profoundly, unsettlingly "un-serious." Unsettling because it means that no one is seeing the actual gravity of what confronts us as a species.

If I, as a private individual concerned (forget concerned, terrified) about global warming were to post something like a "Global Warming Solutions for the Eastern Mediterranean" version of this document as a wish list on my blog that would be one thing. Who am I? Nobody. I can say what I like. I can wish for whatever I want. I am not a policy maker. I carry no responsibility. I do not have a huge staff at my disposal that can conduct research for me. I am not someone who is in a position to bring together teams of experts to sit down and put together a “serious” document. 

But let us say that with my meager resources I want to look at this seriously. What would this entail? What would one need to address? Through what means could one propose as a solution? As I said, I can say whatever I like. I am nobody with regards to a subject like this. So, I will say what, from where I am standing, would need to be addressed and why I am so appalled by the resolution at hand:

The biggest “un-seriousness” about the New Green Deal resolution is that it somehow, amazingly, (unbelievably in fact) manages to see global warming as something that can be tackled through domestic policy changes. From an isolationist standpoint, in other words. Yes, there is this rather condescending subheading somewhere in it that says “promoting the international exchange of technology, expertise, products, funding, and services, with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action, and to help other countries achieve a Green New Deal” but other than that – nothing. There is talk of mass migrations, but only as they would impact the US, as far as I can see. It is almost entirely about addressing the biggest crisis that all of humanity has ever faced by giving a wish list of changes that are to be implemented within the US. Domestic changes in the face of a global crisis. Forget crisis, that is much too mild a word. Calamity. Oblivion. Catastrophe. I am speechless. And what really makes me speechless is that I heard the young lady herself proclaim that we have only 12 years left.

So, you retro-fit every building in the USA, which if you start today should take you 12 years. If not more. (Not to mention little practicalities such as where you would house millions of people while their homes are being overhauled, or whether there are even enough construction workers or available building materials in the entire world, let alone the US, to achieve a concurrent building project of a scale unheard of throughout history – but I digress. Let us assume for the sake of argument that somehow miraculously those issues get resolved). You build ground transport that is efficient enough to eliminate all air travel inside the country. You build a clean energy grid. etc. etc.…  

Meanwhile China and India and quite a bit of the rest of the world – some less, some more – are blasting away with their carbon dioxide spewing production. And so, the 12 years are up - and just as the building work on the very last building in the US is being finished on schedule, and the bullet trains are just about to leave their stations – the world goes under…

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This is an international problem and any “serious” resolution would have to start from that point. And certainly not by saying “with the aim of making the United States the international leader on climate action.” The minute you say that is when you show that you haven’t understood a thing.

Unless you do not understand that the whole world (no exceptions! no exceptionalism whatsoever!) totally rethinks everything that we know about international relations from the ground up – to the point where international relations effectively become obsolete since the whole notion of separate countries with separate issues becomes an irrelevancy in the face of the impending disaster – you cannot solve global warming. This is a calamity that when it strikes will strike all of humanity. And unless all of humanity tackles this in unison, no top dog – bottom dog stuff, no hegemonic interests, no exceptionalism, no “me first,” down we go. Retro-fitted buildings and bullet trains notwithstanding. Sorry.

What is needed is not a wish list or a plan or a resolution. It calls for nothing short of a complete paradigm shift that would bring about something that humanity in its history to date has yet to achieve: Seeing the globe as a whole thing. Not as a conglomeration of separate groups of people, ethnicities, religions, countries, nations - all with competing interests, each fending for itself; but instead as a whole that either faces the catastrophe together, pooling all known resources from funds to knowledge to manpower toward a common goal – or goes under. Such a paradigm shift would even need to go further: Not just seeing the globe as whole thing, but also seeing it as something that does not belong to us; as something that we are only the temporary inhabitants of. Very precarious inhabitants at that. Completely letting go of “me me me,” in other words. On every imaginable level. From military to financial to cultural to identity to the very notion of ownership itself. It would involve giving up everything for survival. 

Is the world (particularly the prosperous part of the world) up for that? Today? No. Of course not. The Green New Deal resolution is almost a testimonial to how incapable their authors are of even understanding such a momentous paradigm shift, let alone facing it. And by taking it seriously, their audiences only help underscore how dire the situation is.

If it is a matter of survival – which I believe it is – maybe such a massive global paradigm shift might eventually occur. But it won’t happen before 100s of millions die, before entire seaboards get flooded, millions run inland all across the world. Hunger, famine. Not just in Africa and the Middle East, but everywhere. So, humanity will literally have to be up against the wall (like those alien invasion sci-fi movies where all countries become one in the face of a joint calamity, you know?). And at that point it will already be too late, of course.

A question that those who are reading this might ask could be - "so what should they have done? not address climate change at all?" If this is how they do it - then yes. It would be better to shut up about this altogether rather than to concoct something so dilettantish. That said, what could they do, if they had an interest in going about it the right way? First, get together with all progressive parties and environmental NGOs in other countries, from all over the globe. Including those from countries you may perceive to be hostile to the interests of your country. Especially those, in fact. Gain their trust. Peer to peer. Which, I can say right now will be the hardest thing to do in all of this. In fact, if you can pull this off - gain the world's trust - half the battle is won.

If you manage to get to such a point of trust (again, big if!) go on to collaborate with these folks on formulating a joint call to scientists and academics. The best of the best, from all related disciplines, again from all over the world (the scientist who has done the most pertinent work on how to save the world may well be from Iran, you know?), to come together to work on solutions which are based on joint, consolidated research. Which is probably the only way out. Consolidated research.

Put all your energy into getting funding for such a venture. As for the actual solutions - leave that to the people who know what they are doing. The scientists. The academics. And importantly - if there are any speeches to be made in the interim, leave that to them as well. Since, unlike you, they will actually know what they are talking about. Take on the humble position of public servant (for a change) and just diligently go about finding money for them to be able to keep on working together. Do not put yourself (or even your party or even your country) forward. Global equality - nothing but. And then when the time comes to do so, help create international public awareness for the scientists's findings and their proposed solutions - without adding your own two-cent's worth! Make a pledge that you will honor these findings and proposed solutions absolutely, with no holds barred, and that you will try your damnedest to get your political party and your country to honor them as well.

Dreaming aren't I?

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Personally, I do not have any hope. I am old, I will probably die before it all goes to hell. But this isn’t about me, is it? All these young people that I love? My students. My nephew. All these young people all over the planet whom I do not even know.

And you know what? The animals. I care more about them than I do about humanity in all of this. Hate me for this if you want, but this is how it is. All the wild animals we have already done in, the ones that we are in the process of doing in. And the ones to perish yet. And the domesticated ones. I lie awake at night sometimes, thinking about the animals. The video of that dying polar bear that I couldn't even watch and that still stops me from falling asleep...

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And from this back to “un-seriousness”: Half a century of global dumbing down – and here we are.

I wrote this long post as a sequel (or a case study, if you will) to this one since it seems to me that the Green New Deal is a really good example for talking about dumbing down as it is evidenced in contemporary politics. Obviously, I do not know everything that goes on in all other countries. But I am sure that there is no shortage whatsoever of similar fantasies being bandied about as “serious” propositions everywhere. I know the politics of my own country, obviously, and we have prime examples of it here every day. Which we didn’t have 50 years ago.

Would FDR have come up with such a document? Something that has every appearance of being based on zero research? Hardly any critical thinking? Forget critical thinking, an absence of basic cause-effect analysis even (as I was trying to show when I asked where millions of people were to be housed while their homes were being retro-fitted?) Would Churchill have presented something like this to the public domain? Would De Gaulle? Atatürk? Moving closer in time – would Kennedy have? Harold Wilson? Jimmy Carter? Willi Brandt? Helmut Kohl? Indira Gandhi? Gorbachev? Demirel, here in Turkey? I am too lazy to go on google and draw up a long list of politicians from decades ago, from before the Powell memorandum era, but you get my meaning. There were public officers who were extremely good at what they did and others who muddled through somehow. And there were those who were awful. Corrupt. Venal. There were a few naive ones. And lots of cunning ones. None of that is any different from today. What is different is that not even the worst of the lot would have written such a thing. Their instinct of self preservation would have hindered it. The worry of being laughed at. To be whistled off the stage. It would have been quite unthinkable, anywhere in the world, to face the public with a jejune domestic wish list in the face of impending total global destruction. (No matter how well meant it might have been, although I have my serious doubts about that also – the whole thing seems very much like an opportunistic spectacle to me.)

Unlike their predecessors today's politicians do not get pelted with rotten eggs. There will be no consequences to anything that they say or do - or don't say or don't do. Which is why they do it, of course. They know that they will get taken seriously even in the face of abject nonsense. For 5 minutes at least. That is what is so horrifying here. Because it really shows how very deep we have all fallen. To what an extent the societies that we live in have been mercilessly "dumbed down."
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The dumbing down of the World Mind



I have been teaching graphic design at 3 universities, good ones that are tough to get into, for 26 years. The thing about graphic design is that it is a complex field to be an instructor in. Contrary to popular misconception graphic design is not about visuality, it is actually about words. Or rather it is a field that lies at the intersection of words and images since the job of a graphic designer is to transform the spoken word into a visual artifact. Which is a highly sophisticated process, of course. How to go about doing that is what you teach. So, naturally, this involves going into all sorts of adjacent fields such as art, literature, cultural studies, history, mythology, semiotics, philosophy and so forth. In short, it involves an intertwining with the Humanities.

My students are not only local kids. In every class that I have recently taught there have been international students since my current employer is a part of the European Erasmus exchange program. So, I have had the opportunity to observe at first hand what the effects of the post Powell memorandum educational system are, not just on young people here but on European youth as well. I have been able to do so since, as I said, my field of expertise relies on an application of knowledge that is based in the Humanities. 

How many students do I encounter who are familiar with Greek mythology, for example? How many know what the Peloponnesian wars were all about? How many know that before adopting Islam the Iranians had a vast Zoroastrian empire that goes back for millennia? And what is Zoroastrianism to begin with? How many of them have read Balzac? Or Omar Khayyam? Or Kafka? Or Dostoyevsky? How many know why the first world war happened? Just random topics here, I can extend this list of unknowns ad infinitum, but I think this much is enough to make my point. They will know about these things to the extent that they are covered in popular culture, TV series and the like. But, unlike my generation, they did not learn about this stuff as part of their high school curriculum.

Not their fault that they don’t know, or mostly don’t even have much interest in this stuff. They are usually bright kids (whizz math test results, most of them) who are simply victims of an educational strategy that diverted almost all of their attention to STEM subjects.

I have observed this. But, I did not know exactly why taking the Humanities out of the curriculum had been deemed to be a good thing to do. I did not even know that there had been a deliberate policy to do this. Maybe, I thought, it was just an outcome of an increased interest in STEM. But, then I encountered a historian named Ellen Schrecker. And things fell into place.

There is a fascinating interview with her that I would advise all who are patient enough to be reading this ramble of mine to listen to from start to end. (To American friends who may be reading this and are worried about Russia these days: Yes, this is on RT, but please bear with me on this one. She is an emeritus professor at Yeshiva University, which is hardly the sort of institution that would foster untoward or dubious activity of any kind...)

What Schrecker (who, incidentally, is also the one who inspired me to use the term "dumbing down" as a title for this post) tells us is that education, particularly higher education, was changed quite deliberately to exclude the Humanities and the qualitative part of the social sciences beginning from the 1970s. She is talking about the US, but I know from personal experience that the strategy that originated there spread to the these parts of the world very quickly. 

In my own country this was a big part of what the 1980 coup was all about. Turks who went through the educational system before the coup, learned completely different things than those who went to school after 1980. A very large part of the curriculum for the pre-1980 generations were literature and history. After 1980 these were whittled down to a bare minimum. Before 1980 literature and history classes meant not just Turkish history and literature but world history and literature. So, we spent the whole first year of high school studying antique history, for example. That is why someone my age who received a high school education in Turkey will know about the Peloponnesian wars, or the Zoroastrian Empire. Whereas the poor kids post 1980 will have no idea.

Why was this eliminated? It was proclaimed that it spread communistic, internationalist ideas, that was why. The student movements and the workers union movements that led up to the coup would not have happened if these people had not heard about such things. Had not read Dickens and Maxim Gorky. So, they had to go. They were replaced largely by STEM classes that focused on solving tests rather than on scientific inquiry, and then added to that were a small selection of classes which were more in the nature of nationalistic indoctrination sessions rather than the sort of education in history and literature that we had received. The result is the mess that we are in today.

According to Schrecker a similar thing happened in the US, where the political activism of the 1960s led to great concern among the ruling elite who looked at the educational system as the root cause of a questioning generation. While they talk Chris Hedges mentions the Powell memorandum and she says “exactly!” and then explains what happened, how corporate interests reshaped intellectual life starting from the 1970s onto today. Her concern is mainly higher education, that is what she talks about – how universities were transformed from being the repositories of knowledge into STEM cultures in which for decades now only quantitative research and teaching have curried favor and have gotten funded. 

And, as part of this destruction, she goes into the Humanities in detail: She adds to the all-important mission of the Humanities, which is learning “how to think” rather than “what to think” (an issue that Chris Hedges brings up during the interview), by quoting from a book by Martha Nussbaum where it is said that the humanities give a “taste for the other” by getting into the head of the other through literature, through history and even through disciplines such as sociology. And this, Schrecker says, makes you a better person, one who can relate to others which is something that leads to “good citizenship” in that it gives a solid foundation for looking for connections with others that go beyond just “me me me.” And that, she says, is what is being lost. 

It may have originated in the US and the things that Powell proposed may well have been the strategy that was implemented. Was the strategy then deliberately spread out to countries like mine? That were seen to be prone to communist influences? Did European countries adopt it to curb their own rebellious youth? After all, one of the biggest student revolts of the 1960s happened in France and Germany. Big enough a revolt to give a name to that whole generation – the generation of 1968.

Something happened to education over the past 50 years. And Schrecker gives me a huge insight into what that something may have been. That it wasn’t just a random thing. Or that it came out of a bigger need for STEM education for which the Humanities had to be sacrificed. That it was a well-intentioned search for something better. But you see, I have never been a big believer in the good intentions of rulers anyway. And Schrecker validates this belief of mine: What took place was a deliberate quest to dumb down the populace.

And the effects of it are devastating. The level of contemporary political discourse, for example (something which I intend to go into in some detail in the next post). The isolation. The loss of purpose. The confusion. The apathy. The “hypernormalisation” that Adam Curtis talks about. You cannot explain any of that without looking at what appears to be a planned strategy (and here I am going to humbly add to Ellen Schrecker) that at the end of the day, aimed to eliminate “good citizenship” altogether. Because good citizens tend to want to come together and instigate social change. They are capable of going beyond “me me me.” But “me me me” is probably exactly where they wanted us to be and where they want us to remain.