No poetry or magic in being a robot

Monkey on your back, one of Kal Spelletich's art pieces.

I felt yesterday like I had been scooped after reading Jennifer Maerz’s post in the Bold Italic, which asked: Is Talking About High Rents So Often Crippling Our City?

She linked to the blog of “robotics genius” Kal Spelletich, who is a friend of mine. We’ve been getting into heated discussions on this very topic for months. Kal makes fantastical interactive machines that do things like spit fire, harness random mechanical motion to produce musical notes on a piano or a violin, or engulf you in an aromatic bundle of fennel, just for an instant. His creations are robots.

I spent a bit of time in his studio, a giant waterfront warehouse in the southeastern part of the city where strange, sharp-edged contraptions hang from the ceilings. I shared stories about the articles I was writing, increasingly on evictions and the dearth of affordable housing in San Francisco. But as we dissected the problem, Kal rejected what he saw as a narrative of desperation that has been formulated in response to the city's affordable housing crisis.

He had his own rant, saying his community’s impulse to make art was being hindered by anxiety-producing discussions over loss of living space. These constant, embittered discussions were not only tiresome but toxic to creativity, he said, and distracting people from actually engaging in their life’s work.

But something about his argument irked me, since the idea that people should bow out gracefully and pursue their creative endeavors someplace else sounded akin to surrender, while the stories I gravitate toward feature individuals who find a way to dig in and stand their ground. And taken as a whole, the greater the exodus of artists and idealists from San Francisco, the more watered-down the city’s cultural soup starts to feel. We debated it endlessly.

Here’s how Kal phrased it on his blog. “We don’t hang and talk about the revolution or our exciting new piece we are working on any more. The wind has been taken out of our sails.  We react to the corporatists and capitalists, we are not proactive. Our dialogue has been taken from us. I feel like we have played right into their hands in more ways than one.”

He concluded it by saying, “The head fuck, stress and wasted energy. ... There is nothing poetic or magic about it. And I do not see any answer for it in the Bay Area.”

I reflected on our discussions again when I read Mayor Ed Lee’s interview in the New York Times a couple weeks ago, in which Lee commented that “tech workers aren’t robots.” In a city bursting at the seams with makers and dreamers with high aspirations, those who possess coding skills are favored, since their work is perceived as having economic potential. Lee seemed very concerned with creating an environment in which they can thrive.

As the mayor told interviewer Willy Staley: “What I learned with tech companies is I gotta give people room to experiment, and also to make what might later on be a mistake. This is the attitude I want to build within San Francisco — give some time to the tech community. At the end of the day, tech workers are not robots: they feel, they think, they have values.”

That philosophy – the idea that people are people, and need room to breathe, experiment, maybe even maybe mess up – actually makes sense as a core value. The problem, as I see it, is that the economic reality of San Francisco makes it such that this recognition is extended exclusively to the tech set, while the same leeway is not granted to other kinds of makers, or to those pursuing a kind of success that can’t be defined strictly in financial terms. At the end of the day, all San Franciscans feel, think, and have values – but only some are receiving support for their work in the form of funding or policies that facilitate their success.

While one class is being encouraged to try, and forgiven when they fail, a different set – the creative or activist types who aren’t doing it for the money – are being sent the message that they must behave like tightrope walkers, or maybe robots, if they want to remain.

There are some signs of creative resistance – a community rallying together in memory of its heroes, some mischievous comic relief, here and there. By tapping into imagination instead of draining it all away with worry, this could prove to be the start of something.


Child, you don't follow threads well do you? Attention span problems again? Where you presumed someone's gender and used "his," you were responding to this: Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 11:59 pm

Not Mike.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

Thanks in support of sharing such a fastidious idea, piece of writing is pleasant, thats why i have read it completely

Posted by optimum 9200 on Jul. 15, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

Most people who work are not doing what they love to do, but rather what they feel they have to do.

These artists think they should get welfare so they can do what they love to do. The rest of us do what we don't want to do, and pay the taxes that these artists want to appropriate.

As such, it is the artists who are being selfish and self-indulgent. Artists are supposed to be poor. That is where they derive their meaning and feelings and expressions.

If you get to do what you really love, don't expect to be paid for it. I don't get paid to spend all day following my hobbies. I am too busy working to support my family and, apparently, half of the city.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 7:24 am

Can't we find a way to force "artists" to fight to the death for our entertainment every so often, with the winner receiving a small stipend to make a dumb fennel robot or some other "art"? It seems fair.

Also, Aspen!

Posted by Chromefields on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 8:45 am

So not only will these pugilist artists have the possibility of a stipend, but their pain will help them create better art.

It is tortured souls who are the most creative. What good art could ever derive from ease and privilege?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 9:00 am

Well said, guest. Kal Spelletich's fey little toys strike me as the kinder, gentler, estrogen-enriched version of Survival Research Labs. If your robot doesn't feature a severed dog's head, then just go home. But make me a latte first.

Posted by Chromefields on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 9:41 am
Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 10:51 am

No artist wants to be poor and all artists pay taxes. Without art, all of the arts, music, poetry, film, theater, are expressions of a culture. Without culture what do we have? It has been defined as Fascism. Some people are comfortable with this.

Capital is also an expression of a culture, albeit an expression of greed. I would reason that anyone's goal, would be to do what they love. That is success. The fallacy that someone needs to suffer to be good is just that, a fallacy. Pure fantasy from frustrated people confused by contemporary art. I suggest educating yourself about the culture that is happening while you are alive.

I do not know any artists who "expect to get paid". I do know people who are willing to work unbelievable hours to do their work. They even volunteer and pay out of their own pocket to do their work. What other field will people work a day job, work in the trades, tend bar or wait tables to do their real "work"?

Name another field where one pays to do their work. This proves they are on their right path, May all of you find your right path.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 9:43 am

So, everyone takes it for granted that rent control is a "subsidy"??? Rent control is the only protection the working class (incl. artists, poets, musicians, writers, teachers,etc.) has against the greed and borderline criminality of speculators/landlords looking to turn a 1000% profit on, lets face it, substandard units. Have we forgotten the goal of social progress? Is it so easy to overlook the suffering of your less affluent sisters and brothers, your less affluent 62 year old, or the working poor who sell you the oh-so-hip clothes you wear (made in India or China, no doubt.)? Amazing that at a time when Buddhism, a philosophy based on compassion for the suffering of others, is spreading like wildfire in the West that a once spiritually rich city of acceptance and open hearted egalitarianism has become the Koch brothers wettest dream! Speaking of the Koch bros., I wonder how many silicon valley tech companies are subsidieries of their vast corporate holdings..

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

Rent Control is a major contributor to the city's housing shortage.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

It is estimated that up to 35,000 rent-controlled units in SF are kept off the market, and used for friends, family, temporary rentals or sold as TIC's.

Rent control also deters the new build of rental units, even though they are theoretically exempt, because they may later be brought under RC.

And rent control encourages Ellis evictions and the permanent removal of RC units.

The policy is a disaster and, after nearly 35 years, SF has the highest rents in the nation.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

The big LIE once again. How tiresome.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:06 pm


Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

Trolls such as yourself operate on rank ignorance, not evidence or proof. Turning over a new leaf? Too little too late.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

different opinion. Debunked and devalued.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2013 @ 10:09 am

You have no skills that someone will pay you enough to live in a desirable place but you think you deserve that anyway, and so expect somebody else to help you pay for that.

And then you wonder why you get evicted?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

"At the end of the day, all San Franciscans feel, think, and have values – but only some are receiving support for their work in the form of funding or policies that facilitate their success."

Well let's tell it like it is and not mince words:

"At the end of the day, all San Franciscans SUPPOSEDLY feel, think, and have SOME SORT OF values – but only some are receiving support for their work in the form of GENEROUS CORPORATE WELFARE... ."

I would like to point out that any non-corporate entity receiving welfare is hated on by the parasitic, cold, feeling-less, lobotomized tech industry shills and hacks who vegetate daily on this site writing reams of rank comments. And those who aren't receiving generous corporate welfare from the city are being told to "move to Oakland." That cold and tacky line has been spammed endlessly on this site by the cold, parasitic, lobotomized tech industry shills and hacks who think that their parasitic political conservative savior in City Hall.can do no wrong, no matter what he does. They are devout in their blind allegiance to their savior.

[Now expect the little mindless trolls with their simple, little one-liners to come along and excrete, "you sound very angry," and "you're not tolerant with San Francisco diversity values" (even though they are the most intolerant of people and have never given a fuck about diversity EVER...just the opposite) and their other usual and predictable tiresome comments/dumps. Just ignore them. I plan to].

Posted by GuestInTheCastro on Dec. 06, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

possess the San Francisco values of tolerance and respect for diversity.

And yes, you can predict the counter to your "points" because they are the obvious and easy refutation to which you have no valid and viable reply.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 9:59 am

Losers like that adopt extreme politics as a reflection of their own personal failure.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 10:00 am


Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 5:07 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

The truth hurts doesn't it. Maybe when you stop acting like an asshole people will stop calling you one.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:33 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:37 pm


Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 5:06 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

"His?" Being sexist again and presuming gender? Damn you're thick and slow. That's your problem.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 7:36 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2013 @ 10:08 am

Adding to my earlier post:

I saw my neighbor yesterday. She's usually glued to her gadget but yesterday she wasn't. I asked how she was. She said she's been having blurred vision problems and headaches and she went and had it checked out and diagnosis: Gadget

Get off the gadget.

She also said she's been having problems with repetitive motion syndrome and again: Gadget.

She said she'd been gadget-free for about a week and her vision problems are improving as are the headaches. The RMS is taking longer to recover from. She said: "I was on that thing from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed, my hands look like claws and I'm not going to get back on it because I feel so much better now than I was feeling." She said she went to her gym and two different techbots walked right into her because they were looking down and to the right at their screen rather than watching where they're going. If only these techbots knew how stupid and idiotic they look when walking squinting at a screen. She said it's very unhealthy (true) and she's sorry that it ill-effected her health in order for her to realize the negative consequences of this gadget shit. She plans to just use her home phone and call people when she needs to talk with them and stop all of this unhealthy gadget behavior. But at least she's slowly feeling better. So if anyone here is having similar symptoms, it could be a result of your gadget-obsession and your body telling you to get off the damn thing. It's good to listen to one's body.

Posted by GuestInTheCastro on Dec. 08, 2013 @ 4:59 am

Why do you care what other people do?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2013 @ 10:11 am

Are you communicating what you want to communicate? Does it sound the way you want it to sound?

do what you love, it is going to lead to where you want to go?
And despite all the pain, despite the fact that so many people I love are without access to healthcare, despite the racism, rape, violence, and fear, we meet kindred souls that give us a reason to believe that there is a point to this struggle.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 11:32 am

The devout worshipers of The Hallowed, Sacrosanct, Sanctimonious, Parasitic and Predatory Tech Surveillance-State Industrial Complex (a.k.a. T-SS-IC), will greatly appreciate this article:

search engine: Student 'addiction' to technology 'similar to drug cravings', study finds

Excerpt: Withdrawal symptoms experienced by young people deprived of gadgets and technology is compared to those felt by drug addicts or smokers going “cold turkey”, a study has concluded. (Source: Telegraph/UK)

Posted by Guest on Dec. 07, 2013 @ 11:42 pm

Also regarding The Hallowed, Sacrosanct, Sanctimonious, Parasitic and Predatory Tech Surveillance-State Industrial Complex (a.k.a. T-SS-IC):

search engine: Toddlers becoming so addicted to iPads they require therapy

Excerpt: Children as young as four are becoming so addicted to smartphones and iPads that they require psychological treatment. (Telegraph/UK)

(I have no doubt that the devout faithful of the Tech Surveillance-State Industrial Complex will be absolutely delighted to hear about this and will want to encourage more of it. In their "down=up" world, they will say it's good to have addictions. It just makes money for those who treat psychological problems. And anything that makes money is justified. The ends justify the means they say. It's all about money and that's all that matter to them. I can see them trying to sell their dead parent's coffin if they thought it would make some money for them. Upon reflection, I guess I just gave them an idea they'd never thought about.)

Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2013 @ 12:08 am

Addicted to your smartphone? You’re not alone
17 Oct 2013

Posted by GuestInTheCastro on Dec. 08, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

What addiction to smart phone can do to you
September 6, 2013

Dow notes that too much smart phone use not only causes people to disconnect from reality, but smart phone withdrawal can cause physical symptoms like anxiety, insomnia and even depression.

“The more connected we are, the less we’re connecting. And it can actually create a lot of cortisone in the brain and in the body. That stress hormone is actually cardio-toxic. So it’s actually very bad not only for your mental health and your relationships, but it can also be bad for your biological health as well,” he adds.

Posted by GuestInTheCastro on Dec. 08, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

These gadgets/smartphones remind me of the tobacco, alcohol and car companies and their products/ads that never told us what the outcome/side effects of using their products would do to us. Some experts say that using these gadgets is the most addictive humans have ever become to any one thing. Far more addictive than alcohol and nicotine. I see people coming out of the Muni metro and they look panicked for a cigarette and the gadget. Often, the gadget is looked for first, then the cigarette. Most people even sleep with these things and have to wake up to check them periodically for that ever-important critical message which likely reads: "Sex will happen this weekend. c u @ bar."

Posted by GuestInTheCastro on Dec. 08, 2013 @ 5:57 pm

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