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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.

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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. 
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Change the light - and...

The alpha.tribe sim keeps niggling at me. It is making me face my shortcomings. But something that I did today helped. Well, helped a bit.

Binge watching Adam Curtis - but critically...

Well, binge watching is an exaggeration. But I did watch the episodes of a series called "the power of nightmares" back to back. And I have also watched "hypernormalisation" - but that was a while ago.

Obviously they are extremely well made documentaries. And obviously Adam Curtis identifies some very important things. But, therein lies the rub: He just identifies them. Nothing further. Or nothing deeper I should say.

He nibbles around the edges of a huge amount of stuff. Tries to connect it. And, because he does not reveal the underlying web that instigated most of what he identifies, he fails. He especially fails in almost all that he has to say about the Muslim world. The ideologies that brought forth jihadists and suicide bombers did not grow out of local influences. They were enforced from the outside. Or rather they came into being due to regime changes that were forced upon their countries from the outside. They are the direct result of a big green plan to counteract the rapid spread of socialist movements and leaders in the Muslim world, that was implemented especially from the 1950s to the1980s - and then continued even after the Soviet Union had collapsed. Onto today really.

The grandiose idea was to pump Islam to defeat communism. There was even a NATO-like pact called CENTO among a number of Muslim countries (led by the UK and the USA of course - God forbid that they should be left to their own devices) to do this with. Happened right here in my own country. Turkey was a part of that pact. That is what the 1980 coup here was all about.

That is why Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was overthrown and replaced with an Islamist Junta in Pakistan. Mossadegh in Iran - same thing. Get rid of the PLO (a marxist movement), replace it with Hammas... And on and on it goes. Until we get to Gaddafi who wanted to break away from the Euro and establish a gold based Dinar for African oil trade.

Adam Curtis doesn't (or can't - he does work for the BBC after all, which is hardly a monument of truth when it comes to matters of 'empire') go into any of this. And so, it doesn't gel. Doesn't come together. At all, if you ask me.

And I think all the really remarkable things that he identifies as malaises in Western societies don't come together for the very same reason. Hypernormalisation (or hyperindividualisation, as he calls it in an interview somewhere) didn't just happen. It was made to happen when the Anti-War and Civil Rights movements got to be too left-leaning to be tolerable for the Western power elite. When the issue of 'class' began to enter their discourse. They had to be squelched. First and foremost by changing the educational system. Then the academic world. The media. Setting up think tanks to control public opinion. I don't think you can look at any of this stuff without reading the Powell memorandum first.

Which, I am certain he did read. Just as I am certain that he knows that a whole bunch of secular governments with socialist agendas (that had been elected by their own people no less) throughout the Muslim world did not just get randomly overthrown or dismantled; after which their countries turned into failed States. That didn't just happen by itself. It was made to happen quite intentionally. To stop the spread of what was perceived to be a communist threat (as in the case of Bhutto in Pakistan), or to stop these nations from controlling their own natural resources (as in the case of Mossadegh and Gaddafi). Or both, in many cases.

And then out of that chaos and desperation came the jihadists and the suicide bombers. Just as hypernormalisation in the West is the result of a deliberate 'dumbing down'* strategy implemented over many decades. Sure, he knows all of that.

But...

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* I owe this term 'dumbing down' to Ellen Schrecker. And I intend to talk more about what I learned from listening to her at some point.

** Two days later: I just listened to one of Robert Scheer's brilliant podcasts. If you go to the 23rd minute, the interviewee Professor Juan Cole from Michigan University says something that confirms what I said above about the nature of Muslim societies before regime change wars dismantled them; saying that if one were to read Iraqi newspapers from the years before the Gulf war and the subsequent invasion one would see that the discussion was not about Muslim sectarianism but about political and economic issues revolving around communism versus capitalism.

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Internet cats

My twitter account is anonymous, I do not post, I only follow news. That is, this is how it was until recently. I have been adding more and more cat accounts to my twitter and am actually far more interested in the cat owners who post than in all the "important people" I used to follow exclusively.

I avoid the "cute cat talk" brigade, those are quite obnoxious of course. But people who post in a grown up language (including those who speak on behalf of their cats in a grown up language) I seem to find far more fascinating than all these journalists, commentators, politicos, academics, bla bla bla.

I do not think that I am alone in this. This "cats are the owners of the internet" thing that is being talked about probably has something to do with a general disgust that a lot of people feel for pundits, truthsayers, opinionated pontificators, politicians, experts - and dare I say it - humanity in general.

So, I think we have turned to animals. Animals make us more imaginative, they make us better. They bring forth our innocence. And they give us back our humor.

And since cats are closest to us they get front center of the stage. And also because they are very photogenic, of course. Which is why I think they have such an advantage over dogs - let us face it, they do look better than most dogs.

And also - and this I think is probably the most important reason as to why we are so obsessed with them - they represent an independence of spirit that we may no longer have ourselves. 
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A small stage


I have been making these things. I am collecting them on a tumblr to see what they look like as a group.

I am working on them at the same time as I am making the curly stuff, going back and forth between the two. They look quite different (these look more "artsy" so to speak) but to me they are really the same thing. In fact the first one was meant to be a curly thing with the faux-Japanese typography. And this one too, with the script font, although I have not put it on the curly page.

I will just keep collecting them. See what happens. If anything.
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Produsage


There is this, in my view terribly misplaced, myth that while using off the shelf software is an unavoidable evil, everything that gets built inside that software should be made by you. Painstakingly. Path by path. Or writing the code (that particular myth especially). Taking your own photos. Sculpting your own 3D models.

Otherwise you are not really the "real thing" as a designer or an artist or whatever. I am not a big proponent of this idea that it is somehow more virtuous or more creative that one should make everything oneself, from scratch.

Instead I am a big fan of using resources. Things that others have made, that they either give to me freely (usually with an attribution request) or that I buy and I can then build on, combine with other things, transform. That my stuff has this both implicit and explicit relationship to all this other stuff. That creativity today, at its very best, is a collective effort. It is an exchange stretching over time, between people who are unknown to each other. And yet the collaboration flows from one to the other. A bizarre and quite wonderful link and node relationship.

I wrote a paper about this some years ago and intend to do an update on it at some point since these chains of creativity (that I am most willingly a part of) really intrigue me. The whole process actually has a name in academia - it is called "Produsage." The person who coined the term is Axel Bruns, and he even wrote about Second Life as an example of collective creativity. The two most intrinsic properties of produsage, acording to Bruns, can be described as follows: That the output is community-based and that within this community the roles of creator/user remain fluid and interchangeable at all times. So, according to Bruns we are both content creators and content users at the same time, since in order to create the content we also need to be consuming pre-existent content.

And that is how I see this also. Not this rarefied, slow moving, effete, exclusive thing. But something that is quite dynamic and also unpredictable since what you find very often also informs what you make out of it. Influences you. 
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Curly Things

Logotype for Mr. Tabby's Spice Shop ("tekir" is "tabby" in Turkish)

Handwritten fonts, script fonts, gothic letters, art deco, art nouveau, faux-oriental fonts, retro stuff, scrolls, ornaments, patterns - these are all challenging visual elements for graphic designers. Not only are they very tricky to get to work as part of a layout (alignment issues and so on), they also have to always be used within an appropriate context. In fact, they are so tricky that I advise my novice students to stay away from them at all cost until they become more experienced as designers. Otherwise, these things (no matter how attractive they may appear to be by themselves) can end up becoming visual mine fields when placed in proximity to the other stuff that will also be on your page.

I have always liked script fonts, although in my career I have had very little occasion to use them. When it comes to handwritten fonts, until recently, I was not a fan at all. But over the past few years font designers have started to create some very elegant handwritten fonts that almost manage to conquer the intrinsic flaw of this category of fonts, which is that although they emulate handwriting they fail to do so, since unlike real handwriting the glyphs of a font are identical. In other words, every time you hit a particular letter on a keyboard you get the identical shape. Whereas when it comes to real handwriting every single letterform that your hand produces is unique. Some of the recent handwritten fonts try to overcome this through varied ligatures. With very limited success so far - it is a truly complex problem to solve. But that said, many of them are really beautiful nevertheless.

However, as I said earlier, these things really do need an appropriate context to operate in. You can't just use them anywhere, with any subject matter. They are highly specific in their usage: They are whimsical, cute, warm, personal, cuddly. They remind us of things like edibles, love letters, chocolates and candies. Our grannies. Things like that. Above all they are intimate.

So, in order to be able to use them I needed to invent a new form of play:

I am pretending that my cats, past and present, are either my clients or they are doing the design work themselves. And they include cats that are no longer alive. Who, I imagine are now running businesses in cat heaven. Very non-catlike businesses too - chocolatiers, spice merchants and so on. Like, I have one deceased soul who now owns a millinery shop. And since she had always manifested regal aspirations in this life, she has insisted that I design her a heraldic logotype made out of sewing materials.



And then there are those that are still alive, such as the big fat cat Mestan who insists on writing experimental haikus with an online poetry generator which he then writes down with faux- Japanese typography.

It doesn't take me that long to make one of these, so whenever I have an idea for one, or I come across something that gives me an idea (like a mockup or a font or a clipart or a photograph), I go over to photoshop and make it. Then I add it to a set on tumblr, where I think more of them will make an appearance for a quite a while to come:
https://curleethings.tumblr.com/