Monthly Archives: October 2007

The Blind Lizard (complete)

54″x42″ acrylic on canvas with a custom wood frame (click it for full size).



The Blind Lizard

I’ve nearly finished my latest painting. It needs a few minor changes and then just framing. It’s called “The Blind Lizard”, an homage to Millias’s classic painting The Blind Girl. In it, all the animals marvel in glee at the spectacle and beauty of the double rainbow, with the exception of the blind lizard who can’t see the rainbows. She can however experience the beauty of the sensation of simply being alive; the feeling of the fresh air after the rain, the sun on her face, and the sounds and sensations around her.


The Life of an Ape

In the past week and a half I’ve been arrested and charged for a crime I didn’t commit, accused of at least three other major crimes I didn’t commit, and really am starting to feel like I’m living in some terrible mystery-thriller movie with all of these orchestrated events going on around me. It’s quite a surreal experience.


Speaking of surreal experiences, I was at the zoo with my daughter on Friday, and I always wonder what the orangutans are thinking as they cluster around the edge of their cells and stare woefully at the crowds tapping on the glass and taking their pictures. With many of the great apes scoring as high as humans on IQ tests, to say nothing of even very simple animals like crows (who use and invent tools), you have to wonder what their world view would be… It’s as if they’re living in The Truman Show but can see the audience the whole time. Do they realize they’re slaves and prisoners? Or because it’s the only thing they’ve ever experienced, they don’t really think about it? With minds that are roughly equivalent to humans, they must at least wonder about it.

Because there has been some evidence of apes that are taught great ape sign language are able to then teach their children or each other, I’ve always had this fantasy that apes could learn human languages and re-enter the wild, eventually emerging in huge numbers, demanding the right to vote or something. But outside of the fact that this is likely biologically impossible, as Douglas Adams wrote in The Great Ape Project,

There are many members of our own species who live in and with the forest and know it and understand it. We don’t listen to them. What is there to suggest we would listen to anything an ape could tell us? Or that he would be able to tell us of his life in a language that hasn’t been born of that life?… Maybe it is not that they have yet to gain a language, it is that we have lost one.

I mean, we don’t even tend to listen to other humans that demand rights, and it generally takes decades of legal battles (to say nothing of physical resistance) to get even minor improvements… why would we listen to animals? It’s not as if we’ve granted them any rights, let alone human-level rights (or whatever term you want to give to the rights afforded to we sentient beings that share this planet) — to quote Jeremy Bentham from Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation,

The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor… What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but, “Can they suffer?”


I will post these again when they’re finished, but I started today on my Russian nesting doll project (after about a month of nervously wondering whether my order from Russia would actually arrive). It’s a ten part set based on I know an Old Lady, put together in the order of the song so it can be sung as the set is disassembled. Here’s a shot of my sketches for it —


I know an old lady who swallowed a cow,
I wonder how she swallowed a cow?!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
I guess she’ll die.

I know an old lady who swallowed a horse,
She’s dead, of course!!

The last line in the song is why the innermost piece is a tiny little skull. The smallest ones (the cow and the horse) don’t look like much in my sketch, I know, but they will be quite cute when I’ve had a chance to paint them.

It can’t possibly be worth it…

The following comment comes from Earth-Sheltered Houses by Rob Roy (who also expands on this subject in his brilliant book Mortgage Free).

More than a third of the average American’s after-tax income is devoted to shelter, usually rent or mortgage payments. If a person works from age 20 to age 65, it can be fairly argued that he or she has put in 15 years (20 in California) just to keep a roof over their head. With a piece of land, six months’ work, and — say — $35,000, he (or she) and his family could have built his own home.

To save 14½ years of work, you cannot afford not to build, even if it means losing a job while you do it. Granted, the land (and the $35,000) has to come from somewhere, but this amount is no more (and probably no less) than the down payment on a mortgaged contractor-built home, and about half the cost of a new double-wide mobile home (figuring either option as being about the same square footage as an earth-sheltered home).

And what do you get for your time and money? You get a comfortable, long-lasting, energy-efficient, environmentally compatible, low-maintenance home. You get the design features that suit you, so that the house fits like an old slipper. You get built-in fire, earthquake, and tornado insurance. You get intimite knowledge of the home so that when maintenance or repairs are required, you’re the one best placed to make them. You get tremendous personal satisfaction. And you get freedom from a lifetime of economic servitude.

Rob Roy actually sits on the “expensive” side of DIY underground construction — earthships and various other super-cheap underground homes are well below his $35k estimate and certainly well below the cost of, say, a new car. Couple that with inexpensive land from a company like Dignam Land (in Canada), or various other companies around the world selling rural land from tax sales, logging properties, and so on, and the whole project can be done for less than the down payment on any home would be…

So… why don’t more people do it? Is it really worth giving up 15+ years of your life (and I’d say for many people, more) to pay off the house you live in just to save yourself the effort of having to do it yourself?


Surely it can’t be that a life of 9-to-5 indentured servitude is so wonderful that one can’t give up a summer or three building a house like the one above, which I believe came in at about $20,000… And with an increasing percentage of people defaulting on their mortgages and losing all of those years, even on a risk management level it seems completely nonsensical.