I am an artist/activist. My art takes an internalized path to understand the levels of meaning in our visual culture, while my activism takes a more social and educational path. This blog is an open space to both paths. I drop, aggregate and analyze stuff here that comes into my view and has value in our common visual culture. Due in part to where I live - East Chicago, Indiana, I am committed to an environmental justice issues and a political economic “reading” of images. Given the power of our visual cultural to influence and persuade, I feel a dialogue is vital in becoming better “readers” of visual culture, where content and context of key images reveal the function of narratives, biases, personality and power.

Fair Use Notice
Some of the things here are bookmarks. Somethings are placeholders for other things. Some are sketches. Few things here are fully formed, and nothing is commercial. This material is made available for the purpose of analysis and critique, as well as to advance the understanding of political, media and cultural issues.

The ‘fair use’ of such material is provided for under U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Section 107, material on this site (along with credit links and attributions to original sources) is viewable for educational and intellectual purposes. I do the best to my ability to share and point to that which is fully available and I have rights to. If I am misguided I will delete material, and links upon knowledge.

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{ Principles } Pre >&< Post { cautionary }

June 2nd, 2010 4 comments
  • Pre-cautionary:

if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.

  • Post-cautionary:

Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, the lack of full scientific certainty shall be used as a reason for not implementing cost-effective measures until after the environmental degradation has actually occurred

Categories: Environment

Israel / Palestine’s Flotilla

June 1st, 2010 No comments


via Paul Kane from comments [ The Messenger ]

This was a bloody slaughter, a bloody slaughter with global implications for the relationship between each of us and our goverment, for the utter bloody impunity of government.

via [ Matthew Yglesias ]

Gaza doesn’t contain nearly enough arable land to support the Strip’s population as subsistence farmers. Which of course is true of many other places on earth. But the effect of the embargo is to make meaningful commercial activity in Gaza nearly impossible, pushing living standards down to what would be a below-subsistence level were it not for the trickle of aid that flows in. The Hamas authorities exercise some fairly rough justice over the area, extremist groups burn down summer camps and Israel launches airstrikes periodically sometimes injuring dozens sometimes hurting no one. The overall situation is incredibly bleak. Construction supplies aren’t allowed into the area, so it’s been impossible to rebuild since the war there from a couple of years back, and all the physical infrastructure is just degrading over time.

via Steve Clemons of [ The Washington Note ]

From a distance, what seems to be happening is that Israel is ratcheting up its test of what it can do in the confines of the US-Israel relationship. It is testing to see whether there exist any limits or conditionality on Israeli behavior at all. Israel believes that the Obama team is weak — and is pushing aggressively to compel the US to tolerate anything the State of Israel does as a signal to the rest of the Middle East that is itself clamoring for any sign that the Obama administration is willing to put some muscle and substantive action behind the President’s Cairo speech and other comments to the governments and people in the Arab world.

The flotilla may have been populated by peace activists who really did want to get humanitarian supplies to Gaza — but the leadership of this flotilla was trying to expose the “false choice” contradiction that the US and other powers were making between Israel’s interests and the interests of the rest of the Middle East.

This was a strategic flotilla — designed to elicit exactly the response that Israel gave. This flotilla knew which button to push to animate Israel’s military response. It is not dissimilar from what al Qaeda did by attacking New York and Washington and drawing the US military to intervene in the Middle East.

Israel, like the United States, showed itself incapable of nuance and of outmaneuvering this flotilla by resorting to means that would not have helped the activists succeed in their objectives. At the Doha Forum, I am speaking to Arabs, Jews and Christians who represent senior governmental and non-governmental organizations in their home countries — and no one here that I have found thinks that the Israeli government responded to the flotilla sensibly — even if one buys the argument that the blockade of Gaza is justified.

The U.S. really can’t afford to make the choice of Israel over the Arab world. There will be enormous geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences if it does

Categories: International, Misc

{ BP } How Will BP’s Earth Day Disaster Impact Expansion Plans Here?

May 21st, 2010 No comments

via [ WBEZ – Chicago Public Radio ] Worldview Segment “Will the Gulf Spill Affect BP Investment in Chicago Area? By Michael Puente.

Officials with the oil giant BP say it’s recovering about 3-thousand barrels of oil a day from that huge leak in the Gulf of Mexico. The company is spending millions to stop the leak and may have to shell out billions more in cleanup costs and economic losses to the region.

Closer to home, in Northwest Indiana, there’s concern that all this expense may affect BP’s multi-billion-dollar investment in its Whiting, Indiana refinery, just a few short miles from Chicago’s city limits.

The Gulf catastrophe also has emboldened BP’s local critics about the company’s environmental record here.

WBEZ’s Michael Puente brings us this report from our Northwest Indiana bureau in Chesterton

Michael’s Interview with me comes toward the end at the 6:10 minute point

Calumet Icon: Marian Byrnes

May 20th, 2010 No comments

Early this morning, Marian Byrnes, the longtime environmental activist of the Calumet Region passed away.

“Her incredible legacy will be remembered in all of our hearts, and future generations will hear stories about her strength, vision, wisdom, and compassion for nature. Without her endless pursuit of open space protection in the Calumet region, many acres of invaluable wetlands, prairies and forests would surely have been lost. A debt of gratitude is owed to her for her years of dedication and service to both people and nature. I am simply humbled by all she accomplished.”

– Nicole Kamins

Categories: Environment

{ BP } Live / Work Conditions

May 20th, 2010 2 comments

25-years-ago BP abandoned its professional training facilities in Robertsdale, donating the facilities to Calumet College, and moved to a 200-acre LEED certified campus in Naperville. They did so because they could no longer attract professionals to this location due to Quality of Life issues. Quality of Life issues they had a major hand in creating.

Today BP’s professional staff enjoy the healthy work environment of a green campus with ample buffering between office buildings and roadways, while residents adjacent to the BP’s refinery are not so fortunate. Today BP is constructing a whole new facility at their East Chicago / Whiting Refinery to refine the “No Good, Very Bad, Dirty” heavy sour crude from the Alberta Tars Sands and to do so they are constructing 6 cokers directly across the street from the Marktown Historic District where more than 120 children under the age of 18 live, play and sleep.

BP likes to refer to the project as a modernization or retooling project. This is an important distinction to them because to call it what is, a “new facility” or “new construction,” would trigger all sorts of regulatory reviews and permitting, including a new-source review requiring an environmental and health risk assessment. I am not certain if there has ever been a risk assessment done on the impacts the BP refinery has the neighboring communities. I don’t know if that is because they have been grandfathered in or what. I just know that new construction ought to trigger a new source review and that is not happening.

For labor purposes BP calls the project a “maintenance project.” Thus they bypass all sorts of labor rules in terms of pay, scheduling, and work conditions as would be the case for new construction. Let’s make this simple, if I tore down my house to construct a brand new home, I could not go to City Hall seeking a maintenance permit for the new construction. I would be required to seek the proper permits and follow requirements for new construction. This is just one way in which BP has been cutting corners here to save themselves costs. I can’t say what other cost cutting measures BP is making, but I do know they did not do this without the aid of regional leadership. I wonder what our regional leadership is thinking now as we learn more about the costs of BP practices to the gulf region.

This is a good environmental justice example of how benefits-without-risks are created and separated from risks-without-benefits in a free-market economy. Free-market corporations and present day land use policies have a very intentional consequent of accumulating wealth and benefits in one location while clustering risks and blight in another. All too often the geography of separation is as clear as the “Northshore” and “Southshore” designations.

It makes me wonder if anyone working in office complexes similar to the BP complex in Naperville feel any sense of culpability for the lives negatively impacted on the other side of their company’s production line. What about Kraft Foods? what about Grainger? what about Cargill? and U.S. Steel? and ArcelorMittal? Boeing? GATX? or Ryerson?

[ Wikipedia list of Corp HQ in the Chicago Met area ]

Compounding problems, BP extracted an additional $165 million in tax abatements from the mostly poor people of Marktown and East Chicago. They did this behind closed doors, and without a single public hearing, all while lecturing the region on “Good Government.” Despite efforts, residents, who pay the highest property taxes in the state at 7.4%, still do not know that they gave up $165 million to BP. BP accomplished this feat by spreading the wealth to voting districts outside the plume of negative externalities while taking advantage of their partnerships with corrupt local political enterprises under the plume. BP is well known for this form of philanthropic activity and I could go on about “to whom” and “how much” was given, but that will have to be for another post. Let these two examples suffice for now.

Three years ago a $25-million donation from BP capped Phase 1 of a three-part expansion and renovation campaign. Since 2002, BP had agreed to more than $125 million in state and regional legal settlements over pollution problems.

Art museums are often the beneficiaries of largess from corporations wishing to polish their sometimes less-than-gleaming image. (Cigarette, anyone?) Oops.

via [ LA Times ] BP Grand Entrance at LACMA looking not-quite-so-grand

In 2009 BP gave to Napperville for $1 an extremely expensive Hydrogen fueling station with multipliers of positive effects.

Worth / Rigor Error (state of confusion)

May 13th, 2010 1 comment

“If its not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.”

I am reminded of how professionals, technologists, academics, and artist follow politics in doing worthless things well.

Categories: Misc

Infographic: Michael Guillen

April 23rd, 2010 3 comments

There are other East Chicagoans locating East Chicago through map making.

More work.

Categories: Information Graphics

Local Politics: Tilting Power In My Precinct

April 22nd, 2010 1 comment


Yesterday, I produced some campaign literature for our precinct committeewoman.

Hopefully, I’ve been successful in communicating how contentious politics can get here. This year’s off-cycle election is especially interesting. Besides a few important county wide offices, this election will be remembered for the East Chicago committee person races. Everyone is expecting our Mayor, the Honorable George Pabey, to be found guilty sometime this summer, which would mean that the precinct committee people will appoint the next Mayor. So everyone is either getting into a race or trying to stack the races. Pabey is trying to stack the precincts with people loyal to him as is Hammond Mayor John McDermott and Mayoral hopefuls John Aguilera and Anthony Copeland.

<Interesting fact>

The Federal Prosecutors Office has had a central roll in initiating the last three changes in power here in East Chicago. Why such intense interest at the Federal level? Could the largest inland oil refinery and steel mills in the country have anything to do with that?

I wonder if this is how Oil and Steel get to vote in local politics?

– Just Asking

</Interesting fact>

Categories: East Chicago, Local

The Land I Use: Making an Environmental Inventory of East Chicago

April 6th, 2010 3 comments

Categories: The Land I Use

What I Am Looking At: On Teeny Tiny Tuesday

April 1st, 2010 1 comment

On Tuesdays, the kids get out of school early. This week we checked out the new exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry – Science Storm.

<Just saying>
It is a brilliantly organized patterned space of light, color, and waves. As an activist space of semi-permanent large scaled “interactive information installations” it draws upon the full rhythmic and sensual engagement culture of rock concert and night club stage design – A kind of refined Wonka / Rube Goldbery space of gestured science.
</Just saying>

Forgive my indulgences.

What I Am Looking At: Vinton County Ohio

April 1st, 2010 3 comments

Last weekend I visited Vinton County to help my brother in-law run for county commissioner. The trip gave me a little education into this region of the country. – Phone Photos

Information on Vinton County via [ Wikipedia ]

The Land I Use: Hazardous Waste Wells On The Southern Shores

March 25th, 2010 5 comments

[ IDEM’s ] site description of ArcelorMittal

via [ Post-Trib ] “Toxic disposal talk gets deep – Underground injection a matter of trust” By Gitte Laasby

PORTAGE — When federal officials allow companies to inject hazardous waste deep into the ground, they take the companies’ word for what kind of waste is disposed and that it isn’t leaking, a federal official admitted Wednesday night.

ArcelorMittal wants to add a new underground injection well at its Burns Harbor plant to dispose of hazardous waste for the next 10 years. The company also wants to continue to use three existing wells, where it disposes of millions of gallons of hazardous waste annually from ArcelorMittal plants.


  1. What obligations does ArcelorMittal have towards future land uses of this highly valuable and ecologically sensitive property on the southern shores of Lake Michigan, a few steps away from the Indiana Dunes National Shoreline and the Little Calumet River?
  2. Is this not the perfect situation for exercising the “Precautionary Principle?”
  3. Does this not serve as an example of the extraordinary where-with-all of vested interests against the humble capacity of a public trying to ensure they live in a safe and vital community?

[ EPA Fact sheet and Public Notice – pdf ]

(Sometimes these maps need a little clarifying. The Deep wells are only a few steps away from the Indiana Dunes National Shoreline and the Little Calumet Rivers. One of the most bio-sensitive and diverse areas in the country, and one of the most impaired.)

“ArcelorMittal has three injection wells operating at 250 W. U.S. Highway 12 in Burns Harbor. These wells inject waste from a steelmaking process known as “steel pickling” and waste ammonia liquor, a product of cokemaking.”

Read more…

Categories: The Land I Use

View of Lake Erie: Road Trip to Buffalo

March 24th, 2010 No comments

Spring break and the opening reception for the show “Precious Cargo” just happen to coincide, so we took a road trip along the southern shores of Lake Erie. All photos from my phone.

Armed with market analysis’ and statistics, it is rare for an Urban Planner to reveal how they or their family’s approach and use different spaces. They never appear in the analysis. Is that possible? Just asking.


Categories: What I am Looking at

Environment: Tom Anderson Resigns

March 24th, 2010 No comments

via [ Post-Trib ]

Save the Dunes executive director Tom Anderson resigns after 20 years with the organization

Categories: Environment, Regional

The Water I Drink: Grand Cal Toxins Excavated

March 24th, 2010 No comments


HAMMOND | The first phase of a long-awaited cleanup of the Grand Calumet River was completed last week, with remediation work on the waterway now moving westward through the heart of the city.

The $33.1 million project aims to remove from the bottom of the river sediment contaminated with toxic and cancer-causing chemicals deposited there through more than a century of industrial activity.

Tainted river bottom between Columbia Avenue and Howard Avenue has been hauled away since work began in December, and excavation all the way to Calumet Avenue is scheduled for completion by June.

Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the remediation project will remove close to 82,000 cubic yards of polluted sediment from the waterway — last dredged in 1895 — all the way to Hohman Avenue.

Read more…

Categories: The Water I Drink

Regional Rats: The Grand Calumet River

March 8th, 2010 1 comment

I plan to plot the more than 600 contributers of contamination

Why would any community agree to such extreme negative costs to its land, water, air and residents?

Is there any doubt that East Chicago should be the epicenter for the dialogue on environmental justice and stewardship?

Simple thoughts:

  • If we solve the environmental problems for fence-line industrial communities like East Chicago we solve the problem for middle-class America and the causes of global warming.
  • When negative costs outweigh positive benefits is there justification to revoke the responsible party’s “Land Use” privileges?
  • Does the Law of the Commons apply?

[ EPA’s EnviroMapper ] [ Grand Calumet River Area of Concern ]

via [ Post-Trib ] Region’s sewer: Grand Cal faces long recuperation
By Gitte Laasby

State and Federal “14 Beneficial Use” Criteria.

  1. Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  2. Undesirable algae or too many nutrients in the river, often from runoff. It causes dense plant growth or animal death because of a lack of oxygen
  3. Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor
  4. Restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odor
  5. Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  6. Beach closings
  7. Fish tumors or other deformities
  8. Degradation of aesthetics
  9. Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
  10. Added costs to agriculture or industry
  11. Degradation of flora and fauna at the bottom of the river
  12. Degradation of plankton consisting of small plants or animals
  13. Restriction on dredging activities
  14. Loss of fish and wildlife habitat

GARY — The Grand Calumet River has the most problems of any river in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Cleanup has progressed slowly since the river was designated as one of the nation’s worst in 1987. Locals say it could take several decades before the river is restored to its pre-industrial state and can be a source of recreation for region residents, but several proposals are in the works

Municipalities in the region used the river as a sewer for their waste. For about a century, steel mills and treatment plants have spewed untold amounts of heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria and pollutants that can cause cancer in humans into the river.

Today, elevated levels of mercury, lead, cadmium and polychlorinated biphenyls lie buried in the Grand Cal to a depth of up to 11.5 feet below ground surface, according to the EPA. The river also has problems with oil and grease and too little oxygen. EPA estimates that the Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal contain 5 million to 10 million cubic yards of contaminated sediment up to 20 feet deep.

What else contributes to the ailments of the Grand Cal?

Fifteen combined sewer overflows discharge an estimated 11 billion gallons of raw wastewater into the harbor and river, according to the EPA. About 57 percent of that is discharged within eight miles of Lake Michigan, which contributes to E. coli contamination nearby, EPA says. Bacteria are the main reason for beach closings.

Stormwater runoff and water leached out from 11 waste disposal and storage sites located within 0.2 miles of the river continue to degrade water quality.

Five Superfund sites, the most contaminated places in the nation, are located in the area. So are 423 hazardous waste sites. And more than 150 leaking underground storage petroleum tanks. Air pollution and contaminated groundwater also affect the river, EPA says.

Today, about 90 percent of the river consists of wastewater from industry and sewage from municipal treatment plants, EPA says.

When officials assess the health of a river, they judge it based on 14 possible “beneficial uses,” such as whether people can swim in the river or eat fish from it and whether the river has the variety of bugs that would be expected in similar places.

The Grand Calumet is the only river in the United States that’s impaired in all 14 possible ways, said Gary Gulezian, director of EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office.

The Grand Calumet River and the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal were identified in 1987 as an “area of concern.”

Read more…

Categories: The Water I Drink

More Lessig

March 8th, 2010 No comments

Lawrence Lessig is a kind of category upon himself.

Categories: Misc

National Trust For Historic Preservation

March 8th, 2010 No comments
Marktown - East Chicago Indiana

Marktown - East Chicago Indiana

[ Marktown Historic District ]

As proposed, the federal budget would slash funding for National Heritage Areas by 50% and completely eliminate two key preservation programs – Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America. The reality is this funding matters now more than ever, and not just because these programs protect and preserve our national heritage.

Saving America’s Treasures

Categories: Case Studies

Region Rat: Regional Expressions

March 8th, 2010 4 comments

Categories: Misc

In My Studio: Four Charrettes – Frameworks

March 3rd, 2010 2 comments

I will be participating in Paul Sargent’s “Precious Cargo” show in Buffalo this month.

Precious Cargo
March 18 – May 15, 2010
University at Buffalo Art Gallery
Opening Reception: March 18, 5 – 7pm
Screening Event: May 14, 2010
Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center

Precious Cargo is an exhibition of contemporary art and design projects addressing the flow of goods and services in an interdependent post-global world.  Organized by multidisciplinary artist Paul Lloyd Sargent, works in this exhibition critique and complicate such binary oppositions as: inter/national vs. regional/local transport, [interdependent] global trade vs. [self-sufficient] local trade, supply chain vs. disposal chain, resource exhaustion vs. sustainable culture, consumption vs. reuse, resource vs. commodity, and more.  This is the second exhibition in an annual Artist in Residence program in which artists are invited to transform the gallery space over the duration of the exhibition run, providing audiences an opportunity to engage the artist-at-work and witness the transformation of the gallery over time.  Sargent will be working in the gallery on March 20, 30 & 31 and April 1, 6, 7 & 8 constructing “Not To Scale,” a working relief map of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway made entirely from found objects illustrating the lock system, canals, and waterways necessary for travel from the Atlantic Ocean to ports along each of the Great Lakes.

Contributing works in the UB Art Gallery will be:
The Center for Land Use Interpretation(CLUI)
The Center for Urban Pedagogy(CUP)
Compass Group working in the MRCC
Thomas Frank
Chris Jordan
Stella Marrs
Mary Mattingly
Lize Mogel
Stephanie Rothenberg
Sam Sebren
The Waterpod®
Alex Young
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