News: 200,000 Americans lost to COVID-19

The usual from

The United States’ death toll is now being casually measured in other disasters, like how many September 11, 2001 death tolls occur EACH WEEK.

This truly is world-changing. The lost people alone are world-changing – history will run a different course than it would have if they were here… Also, the esteem in which New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan are held has truly risen quite dramatically. (Good for them! I’m jealous of their leadership!)

It is difficult to resume anything near normal life, in part because of the feeling that your safety depends on the least considerate people around you. Yes 90%+ of the people I encounter on my once to twice a week essential supply runs are wearing masks and keeping respectful distances from each other, but the ones that are blathering away on their phones without a mask, chain smoking on the sidewalk without a mask (pretend it is for fire safety), or merely averting their eyes while walking past without a mask – as if I can’t see them if they don’t look at me? – are there. We’re outside, and the odds are in my favor, but they are negative advertising for any optional indoor activities.

The UK press articles I’ve read are wavering a bit on how we SHOULD be living right now. (One is based in the UK, where a dramatic case spike is causing the anti-restriction government to impose restrictions.) For officials and news writers, is difficult to write about what death tolls are “acceptable” without sounding terrible. (There is a very tidy venn diagram of people who are willing to sacrifice entire categories of people for the economy and people who are terrible. ) It is baffling (and upsetting) to look at photos of partying crowds in known infection hot spots.

There is too little progress on improving our treatment of essential workers.

I’m hoping to be lucky enough to live through this, but also fear that this will be “the new normal” for far too long.

Art: Studio Olafur Eliasson’s “sometimes the river is the bridge”

You might already know I geek out over the experimental art/science of Studio Olafur Eliasson, which I’ve likened to the Exploratorium, but for fine artists, which somehow also has an amazing vegan restaurant for staff. (Ooooooo!)

The Studio has a new show in Japan right now, and the studio decided to avoid air freight by using land and sea-surface transport to get the exhibits from their current locations and/or Germany. The transport containers included art devices to make abstract, graphical records of the journey, and the show includes those results, and everything from water and light art to experiments in using kitchen and art studio scraps to make pigments and solid modules for future artwork.

It’s CLEVER and it’s ART. Such a happy combination!

Sometimes the river is the bridge – Studio Olafur Eliasson

Sometimes the river is the bridge – Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo – Studio Olafur Eliasson

The beautifully laid out pages, which include installation images of the exhibition, scroll horizontally. (On my computer do so rapidly, so be ready to use some fine motor control!). The studio’s layouts and images impress me, as they always do.

I love the images of the food-waste-derived pigments, especially. Plant pigments have an interesting history, and one I’ve dabbled with photographically: the alternative photography community ( uses plant pigments to make anthotypes, which are photographic prints using plant pigments. How? A positive transparency shields some portions of the pigment painted onto paper from fading, with some lovely results. (Malin Fabbri wrote a lovely textbook to teach you how!) It’s nice to see SOE’s technique, and the use of dehydration specifically.

The ‘materials lab’ section is where a lot of the innovation appears, and the experiments all look thoughtful. It’s nice to see the process-thinking behind the studio’s work, rather than only finished pieces.

If you need an art break from [*gesturing at the state of the world*] things, check it out.

News: Marking the Passing of RBG

I’m one of countless people who admired and adored US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and her death yesterday comes as a terrible blow in a year of terrible blows.

She was an ICON. A heroine. A legend. A force for progress. Someone for whom people without specific religious beliefs prayed.

She worked in law, and was LOVED.

Her work, even before she joined the Supreme Court, CHANGED THE WORLD FOR THE BETTER.

I recommend this tribute/history:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed America long before she joined the supreme court | Moira Donegan

The most important feminist lawyer in the history of the American republic has died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supreme court justice and singularly influential legal mind, was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, the court’s second-ever female justice, and served for nearly 30 years. She passed away due to complications from cancer on Friday.

I used to post quotes from her dissents to my office door, back when I worked in a law firm. I loved her writing! I loved her irrepressible fight do to right by people! And her writing was so sharp, so pointed, so clear, so well-reasoned…

This tribute is adoring:

Perspective | Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave us more than enough

A few weeks ago, Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiated the wedding of a family friend. She looked as brilliant as she always did, and as tiny. A photograph circulated on social media, Ginsburg in her white collar behind a lectern, and the responses were joy giving way to panic.

I especially like this excerpt: “A gay man once told me that he had an elaborate fantasy in which he and his friends could swathe Ginsburg in bubble wrap and then carry her, in a careful phalanx formation, up and down the steps of the court each day for work. He was laughing when he started sharing the fantasy, but by the end, he was crying. He needed to believe in this version of reality, in which there was a way to extend her life indefinitely, in which six or eight gentle gay men could somehow keep the person safe who kept the country safe, in which hope could be suspended above their heads in bubble wrap.”

This morning, to help me process the loss to my country, I went on Twitter and actually found comfort in the community efforts to celebrate her life. (You know times are hard if you turn to TWITTER for comfort!)


Her rest is earned. It is our turn to fight.


I know the popular analysis is going to be “we’re screwed,” and I *feel you.* But nah. RBG didn’t go out like that and neither are we. I’m not speaking that, and I’m not believing that. We gon fight. That’s what we’re gonna do.

As seen on Twitter, in a Tweet by that I’m not posting, because it includes GOP senators in the image, and I don’t want to put you through that.

One of the themes that came through Twitter among progressives is that our system is broken if one woman’s passing can create so much fear and dread for the future. Our future should not depend on any one person.

There is so much to fix, and so much work to be done. Go find a way to do your part. AND VOTE.

News/Data: Emissions Data

Here in California, where the climate crisis is literally hanging in the air, we are looking at ways to limit the remarkable damage that humans are doing to the environment. While individual responsibility is popular as a feel-good activity that makes some small positive difference (and which we should obviously all do), we could get ‘more bang for our buck’ by making big, systemic shifts. The usual obstacle is the business world and those who profit from polluting sectors. (We all know who those are.)

It’s always nice to look at data, though, and see whether the political battles over things like water use between the cattle farmers (VERY polluting & water sucking) and the almond farmers (less so, but they have a smaller lobbyist fighting force) are what should be taking up our attention.

Sector by sector: where do global greenhouse gas emissions come from?

Let’s walk through each of the sectors and sub-sectors in the pie chart, one-by-one. Energy use in industry: 24.2% Iron and Steel (7.2%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of iron and steel. Chemical & petrochemical (3.6%): energy-related emissions from the manufacturing of fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, refrigerants, oil and gas extraction, etc.

It’s nice to look at the breakdowns of this data, because something like “energy” isn’t just about the oil and gas companies operating in isolation: they have customers, and those industries are co-responsible. (Yes, this has been the oil industry’s go-to position for years, and I am reluctant to agree with them on anything, but they are selling their dirty products to other industries, and those buyers are also to blame.)

Our World In Data also has a breakout, which they link to here, about food. Food is a subject that is dear to my heart, and the environmental impacts of food have contributed to my commitment to a plant-based diet. When you look at this data, the reasons for this are obvious.

Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions

When it comes to tackling climate change, the focus tends to be on ‘clean energy’ solutions – the deployment of renewable or nuclear energy; improvements in energy efficiency; or transition to low-carbon transport. Indeed, energy, whether in the form of electricity, heat, transport or industrial processes, account for the majority – 76% – of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Human food production deserves so much more scrutiny. The industry is rife with politics and waste, and has a major impact on the health of the planet AND on our health. My government has a history of subsidizing tobacco, regardless of the cancers smoking causes, because it is a US agricultural product, and all such products were worthy of promotion with tax money! (Gaaaah!) The “four food groups” concept was not about human health, it was about product promotion OVER human health! (Gaaaah!) And then there are these animal-agriculture-sourced diseases, like bird flu and swine flu and COVID-19, or the terrible (and often fatal) e. coli outbreaks when plant foods are contaminated by animal waste, which threaten humans because some humans eat animals. We are all paying for that.

These visualizations are useful and informative.

Life: work-stress dreams with movie sequences

I’ve learned that, now that I get more REM sleep (due to pandemic-related changes to my schedule), whatever I watch before bed can influence my dreams.

Yes, I recently watched a kung fu movie, and then had a work themed dream that somehow combined a debate about a project with a martial arts sequence.

Yes, that was more interesting than the underlying work issue. By far.

Yes, I’ve been watching Lovecraft Country, and yes, that led to a dream sequence this morning in which I was talking about contract management as a white man who needed to avoid [something], and a pale woman with black hair had her eyes go pale [possibly from Train to Busan], turned into a mist, and then transformed into a flexible, red lid for a coffin-like box for me (as a man) to conceal myself, and… I have no idea what that means. But it was an impressive special effect!

Book: Earth: Bernhard Edmaier Colors of the Earth

Gorgeous cover of the gorgeous through and through book by Bernhard Edmaier

Earth: Bernhard Edmaier Colors of the Earth
by Bernhard Edmaier
published by Phaidon

Edmaier’s aerial photography work is justifiably famous; Phaidon is my favorite photography book publisher; this oversized photography book combining what I appreciate about each is a fantastic work, especially for those of you who enjoy geology.

This book is FULL of geology. Geology which is composed beautifully and makes me think of the abstract paintings I am so fond of.

This isn’t JUST a book of beautiful photography which happens to be organized by color: it is also filled with scientific explanations for the colors and forms in the images. I hereby give a special shout out to iron oxide, for all the magic it does around the world!

Before you ask: OF COURSE there are images of volcanoes, volcanic cones, and LAVA. And oceans, and coral reefs, and icebergs that have just turned over and are glassy and clear, and glowing blue pools of meltwater, and…

One of countless remarkable images of the natural world, so skillfully captured by Edmaier.

You’ll learn something new about how crystals or mountains formed; you’ll want to fly to remote islands and volcanoes to see their remarkable textures; you’ll have a new appreciation for all the colors a glacier can feature. My tiny, low-resolution teaser images won’t do this heavy, beautifully produced book justice, but I can say that I recommend it with great zeal.

You likely could have guessed this, but Bernhard Edmaier has a fantastic website, which reveals that he did study geology, and which features other books of his, some of which I don’t yet own. (Oh-oh.)

Enjoy the beauty of the natural world, and especially its geology, through the work of this talented photographer.

News: Reluctant Pandemic Update

The usual from

Johns Hopkins has come up with a daily data video, which is really well-produced. I’ll embed it here:

We’re at a point where about 35,000 Americans are being diagnosed daily, and about 1,000 Americans are dying daily.


This is a rough time.

I was chatting with a colleague, and now all chats with colleagues begin with checking in to be sure the other person is okay at a basic level.

We gradually got around to the point of discussing when the world would be closer to functional again, and while she wondered if this year would look like an extreme outlier in the history books, I worried that the history books might mark this year as the beginning of… a new phase, not necessarily an easier one. And we both wondered aloud how to get some of the new part to be POSITIVE: to fix something of the many things that were broken when things were “normal.”

I hope we can. The old normal wasn’t great, and while many of us would trade anything to go back to it… we could do better. I mean, we might even be able to take care of each other and our planet. We could CHOOSE that, if we get through this. Better choices may be HOW we get through this…

Book: Machine Art (Museum of Modern Art Catalog from 1934)

What a great cover! What a great band wrapped around it! Great design overall.

Machine Art (Sixtieth Anniversary Edition)
by The Museum of Modern Art
published by The Museum of Modern Art (and Abrams)
1934, reprinted in 1994

I don’t think I’ve written up a review of the de Young Museum of San Francisco’s show & book on Precisionism called Cult of the Machine (which I should do!), but suffice to say for now that I’m interested in how “the machine age” changed how we think about the design of utilitarian (useful) objects. While the de Young show was a retrospective, Machine Art is a catalog of a show DURING the era of fascination with what machines can do.

It’s a pretty funny catalog.

The new preface by Philip Johnson is a light-hearted acknowledgement that the catalog essays he’d written were a bit naive, and that he was very zealous with his ‘machine made = good, handmade = bad’ arguments. The essays are unbalanced in favor of mass production, though there is some acknowledgment that early machine production made inferior products to those of artisans. There is also a decoration-is-evil thread to the writing, because of course there is – this is how we know we are modern! 🙂

A phone photo from my couch of sample illustrations from the catalog

While the Precisionist show I’m comparing this to was a celebration of the best-of-the-best in retrospect, this catalog is far more… happy with chrome toasters of no special renown.

These functional design ideas have stood the test of time – these toasters were for sale in 1934, and models of the same appearance are available now – but aren’t something you’d necessarily buy a postcard of. (I buy some pretty weird postcards, just so you know.) They are plain enough to be shown as examples of a kind of functional purity (aside from the chrome, which is seen as functional rather than garish – I’m more pure than you, and I say this should be sheathed in plain concrete, bwa ha ha ha ha) , but are not glamorous. They definitely do avoid unnecessary decoration (again, I think the high polish IS decoration, but that’s me). The catch is that objects that look like this have become generic and somewhat invisible – which is either a great victory of function over the sentimentally decorative past, or… just the passage of time wearing the shine off these objects.

Oh look, the fancy drip coffee stacked labware setup has always existed! Who knew?

Summary: interesting catalog with essays of a zealous pro-machine/anti-handicraft bent, with objects which succeeded to such excess that the novelty and surprise of them sails past me. (Another thing ruined for me by architecture school and Bauhaus books & shows!)

News: Smoke Darkens Sky Across California

We had a dark day on September 9th, and I’m still seeing amazing photos of it. My own neighborhood was covered in fog, so I couldn’t see far in the orange twilight that dominated the day, caused by smoke high in our atmosphere.

Others beyond the fog line did a lot with the view! I’ll share some of their great work, linked back to the source.


What #SanFrancisco looks like almost 2 hours after sunrise. #CaliforniaFires


Life on Mars 🪐#OrangeSky

And video: