CatSynth pic: #FeelTheBern

Bernie Sanders, Cat and Nord

From Cats On Synthesizers in Space on Facebook.

COSIS for Bernie Sanders
#catsonsynthesizersinspace #feelthebern

Election Day (of the Dead)

Well, it is Election Day in the U.S., the closest thing we have to a national civic ritual. And in California, that means another of our exceptionally long ballots. Here is this November’s sample ballot plus voter guide:

[Click to enlarge.]

I have to admit, as voter guides go, this one has a pretty cool cover with a detail of the spiral staircase at San Francisco City Hall. And although it’s not the largest we have had, but still pretty substantial.

[Click to enlarge.]

Indeed, elections here can be a bit unwieldy. I find myself voting on all sorts of things, like arcane budget issues or judges that I feel completely unqualified to make a decision on. Of course, there are fun things like having our Proposition 19 (legalization of marijuana for sale in the state) and serious things like Proposition 23, an attempt to suspend our leading climate and energy law – a law that is actually a point of pride for many of us as we watch the much of the country (and our national leaders) fail on the issue. One sign I particularly liked was a dual “Go Giants!” and “No on 23” banner hanging from a building on 3rd Street, with the subtitle “Beat Texas (Oil)”. As often happens, baseball and elections collide. Our celebrations yesterday may end up being short lived depending on how things go today.

In addition to a sense of civic duty, you get a cool sticker:

I quite like having English, Spanish and Chinese all represented – there is something that feels right about it, a sense of people from different backgrounds coming together for a collective purpose.  Of course it is not all the languages spoken by residents of the city, but it is still a decent cross section.  It also made me think about a statement I had heard yesterday, thinking more optimistically about the future, that demographics is currently on the side of those with a more cosmopolitan and progressive view of the world as the older generations with their traditional notions of racial, linguistic, religious, national and sexual boundaries fade away.  But that’s a story for another time.

My current polling place is at SOMArts Cultural Center, so going to vote also means taking in the current exhibition, the annual El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) exhibition. This years theme was “Honoring Revolution with Visions of Healing”  and featured  “altars and installations that will honor the dead and provide offerings to the living.”  It was certainly interesting to have an exhibition with the theme of “revolution” adjacent to the place where I was voting.  And while the theme may be connected to the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, many of the pieces were more general in nature, honoring loved ones who have passed away, or tied to current events, such as disasters and war. For example, I was drawn to this piece because it featured musicians:

[Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. Honoring Construction Workers, Rebuilding of the New Orleans, Revolution with Visions of Healing. (Click image to enlarge.)]

At first I was not quite sure what the construction workers were about. But once I understood that it honored the workers who were helping to rebuild New Orleans, the combination of music and construction made sense. It has a double resonance, looking back on Hurricane Katrina, but there are also echoes of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer. The piece was a collaboration by Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. The also had another piece nearby, “All Cats We Have Loved”:

[Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. All the Cats We Have Loved.  (Click to enlarge.)]

Their accompanying statement was very touching:

For all our kitties who have been run over by autos, are missing in action, and disappeared into the ethery to go onto their next lives. Hopefully you are having fun pouncing and are purring up a storm! We miss you! Meow!

The passing of a loved was also the subject of one of the featured pieces, an alter by artist Adrian Arias to his mother who passed away this year.  The large installation was almost entirely white, but with bits of color in the arranged objects.  Please visit his blog for images of this piece, including a performance by the artist.  Individual remembrances were also part of Susana Aragon’s Life is a Revolution.”  This piece featured tribute images on transparencies arranged on the wall, a series of moving screens onto which images were projected, and a mirror in which ones own reflection was project (as the artist suggests, it was a bit of a challenge to make the reflection work).  The piece has a very moody but also clean quality to it that kept my attention:

[Susana Aragon. Life is a Revolution.  (Click image to enlarge.)]

In their piece “Trapped”, Ytaelena and Bruce Lopez present a narrow and dark cave-like space which viewers can enter.  It seems inviting enough, with a warm earthy aroma.  But inside there is the faint sound of a person calling for help, and a detached hand in the middle of some vegetation.  The piece is inspired by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the earthquake in Chile.

Finally, on a more positive note, Lanell Dike invites viewers to write messages of love and gratitude, and place them on an array of lights in her interactive piece “Make a Love Offering.”

[Lanell Dike. Make a Love Offering (close-up view)]

I did decide to participate and left a message, not far away from where I cast my ballot only a little earlier.

More "Primary" Highways: Hawai'i

Well, another Tuesday, and another primary election here in the U.S. This time we visit the state Hawai'i, one of only six states I have not actually visited.

Even though it is disconnected from the U.S. mainland, it does have interstate highways, such as H-1 in the Honolulu area. Hawai'i uses a separate numbering system from the contiguous U.S. states, all prefixed with an “H”. Other than that they are pretty much like any other freeways around a major city:

wikimedia commons

Except of course for the cool Hawai'ian place names:

This last photo is from the site Both this site and are great resources for highways of Hawai'i, about which I knew very little before this project.

Of course, the part of Hawai'i I most want to visit is not Honolulu, but rather the “Big Island” of Hawai'i. In addition to being the largest, it is the youngest, and the one that is still volcanically active. Highway 11, which is part of the belt highway around the “Big Island”, passes through some of the most active areas including Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

In addition to their geological significance, these lava flows have a marvelous aesthetic quality. Indeed, the seem quite modern in their fluid geometry and texture, I could easily see a sculpture of similar qualities at the museums I frequent, or as something I would consider for my own collection.

Of course, one must not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about flowing molten rock, which is of a magnitude larger than ourselves or our highways:

Continuing on highway 11, one arrives at the Kaʻū Desert, a spectacularly lifeless landscape shaped by past eruptions, strong windows and “rain shadow” of the nearby volcanoes:

[Click to enlarge]
[Photo by Steve Young]

The Big Island is an amazing study in contrasts, active volcanoes, barren deserts, and also verdant tropical forests. I do need to find an excuse to visit the island some day.

As for the elections, Hawai'i is likely to support Barack Obama, who grew up there (yet another interesting aspect of his geographical and ethnic story). And it looks like he has one the other major contest today in Wisconsin. So he now takes the lead, but it is hard to know whether this contest is over or not. And so we will be back with at least one more installment of this series on March 4 with Texas and Ohio.

Super Tuesday Fun with Highways: I-80

So how to continue our “primary highway series” when so many states are voting at once? Well, we can't visit them all, but we touch several important places with a trip along Interstate 80. I-80 runs the entire width of United States connecting New York City to San Francisco, two cities to which I have connections. In between New York and California, it crosses three other states voting this Tuesday: New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. We have already visited two other states crossed by I-80, Iowa and Nevada, during earlier contests.

Actually, I-80 never enters New York. Rather, its eastern end is in Teaneck, a town on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge:

It would have been cool if I-80 crossed the bridge along with I-95 into New York. Perhaps then splitting at the Bruckner Interchange in the Bronx (yes, I had to get the Bruckner Interchange into this article) before heading out to Long Island.

North of New York City is Chappaqua, “hometown of CatSynth and Hillary Clinton,” as I have mentioned a few times on this site. And while it is my hometown in that I grew up there, Hillary's original hometown is a little bit west of New York and New Jersey, in Chicago. But of course you can get there by heading west on I-80, which passes through Chicago's southern suburbs.

Chicago is all the home of Barack Obama. So we have two candidates with Chicago roots, either of whom I would be very happy to support.

What a strange position to be in, to have such a choice – and I admit I have had a hard time deciding. There are historic opportunities with each, connections to various aspects of my own life (geography, education, mixed heritage). I guess it's much better than 2004 when I was excited about no one.

Traveling further west along I-80, we eventually come to Utah, a place of striking natural beauty that I would love to visit again soon. In the south are canyons, stone formations and other wonders of the southwest. In the north, along I-80, are the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats:

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When they say salt flats they mean flat. It is an incredibly stark landscape, and that's part of what makes a great experience. And the silence. Longtime readers know how such things appeal to my personal and aesthetic sensibilities. Although I have been to the Great Salt Lake, I did not get to see Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which is considered a major work of modern American art, and which I have seen reproduced countless times.

Heading further west, we cross Nevada and then arrive in California, where I-80 crosses the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, my new hometown.

I-80 actually ends as the western approach of the Bay Bridge, although most people (and road signs) suggest that it continues into San Francisco to US 101. This section of freeway actually cuts through my South-of-Market (SOMA) neighborhood, contributing to its urban, industrial feel.

[Click to enlarge]

I did manage to find my polling place, and will soon have to make a choice as this election season reaches home. But it is great that those of us in California finally get to make a difference. Same for the folks in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. So many of us have had very little opportunity to actually have a say in the process, long dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire and the South. The rest of the country will finally have to listen to the people in our major urban centers and in the west. And I'll be satisfied with whomever we end up choosing (at least in one party).