Thursday, August 21, 2014

2H2K - July 2050 - “Chuck Close”

iAroki walking Benji, the family dog (1977)

Chuck Close was a small, compact, terrier-mutt with a shaggy coat of coarse dark grey hair and a slight under bite. Although she herself had never had the courage to kill one, Chuck was the descendant of working animals, British rat-catchers. Her line had arrived in the colonies in the early 1700s in the form of  pregnant bitch named Molly. Three hundred years later, none of Molly’s brood remained on the mainland, but a few dozen still dotted Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Like Molly, Chuck had a long muscled torso, a six inch inseam, and carried herself with the characteristic jaunty confidence of a small dog that had no idea she was small.

2H2K - July 2050 - Artificial Animals and Artificial Comfort - An Introduction:

Westinghouse's "Elektro" at the 1939 New York World's Fair. via Paleofuture

About the time Greg Borenstein and I began working on 2H2K, my father fell ill and was dying. I spent a lot of time with him, in rehab centers and hospitals, watching the ways he was treated and trying to help. One of the comforts now offered to the sick and dying are dogs. Specially trained and certified animals are a part of our most modern medical facilities. The pleasure they brought my father, who, towards the end, could enjoy very little, was a great comfort to both him - and therefor to me. But the "comfort dogs" only came once a week at most, and only for very short visits. So between tests, procedures, meals, and whatever else took up my father's last days, I would hunt for videos of dogs on YouTube. I thought of these home movie snippets as comfort dog prosthesis. When I was growing up, I'm sure he told me about the dog he had as a boy, but it was only as he lay dying that he admitted that he had been needlessly hard on the dog, taking his own boyhood unhappiness out on the animal, seventy some odd years later, he suffered terrible guilt over hurting that dog. As my father's illness progressed his appetites shrank, for drink, for food, for books. The very last thing I can remember him telling me that he wanted, was how much wanted to have a dog again. Not long after the old man died we got a puppy. Until very recently, the vast majority of dogs throughout human history were working animals, expect to earn their keep doing skilled physical labor as shepherds, rat catchers, or hunters. The comfort my dog has given me is a profound and valuable for of emotional labor, it is a deep animal connection that machines will ever be able to reproduce. But something I can imagine machines doing, relatively soon, is facilitating the emotional labor of animals.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Peace Dividend: Dystopia Now

Ferguson Missouri, 30 years after George Orwell's dystopian future of 1984
Over the past week I've been watching the police crisis in Ferguson Missouri horror. From the very beginning, when an officer shot an unarmed boy six times in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, the authorities have reacted with overwhelming force; their actions better characterized by blind rage than any concern for public safety. It's a bit like watching keystone cops who have been issued body armor and sniper rifles. In the midst this outbreak of real world distopia, Michael Solana's posted an anti-dystopian screed that is as muddled-headed as it is badly timed. (I say muddled, because Solana wrongly equates dystopias with an anti-technology sentiment - he needs to familiarize himself with utopian Luddites.) In response to Solana's essay, Brian Merchant posted a defense of dystopias. But while I felt Merchant's rebuttal was smart, I agree with Solana conclusion, if not his reasoning. We need to get back in the habit of telling stories about the future that are not dystopian.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Urban Think Tank's Grotão Community Center in San Paulo Brazil.

"There is a famous scene in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead where Howard Roark , the archetypal modernist übermensch, is waiting for the phone to ring. His rent is overdue and he is desperate for his banking client to call with a commission. Howard Roark is not an activist. An activist does not wait for the phone to ring. If there is a precondition to activism, it is being proactive. Your client does not even know you exist, cannot afford your services and has come to expect no help from yu anyway, because your client is the urban poor." - Justin McGuirk, Radical Cities