Art Spiegelman Is Still In the Shadow of No Towers

[My review of the Maus master's take on his hometown horror appeared in The Guardian and Salon on September 10, 2004. I'm still on Team Art...]

“I take serious offence to the RNC being in my fuckin’ city; it’s really pissing me off. It’s the same scumbags who don’t live anywhere near you, but are still going to organize a force to stop you from having an abortion – because they care about you. The same people want to feel our pain over 9/11, but they don’t realize that we’re in a completely different place. The people who actually experienced it have no connection to these people coming in. They didn’t experience it, they don’t understand what we feel, and they don’t understand us. It’s just manipulation.” — El-P

Art Spiegelman’s works, especially the groundbreaking Holocaust comic Maus, have always been as much about phenomena occurring outside his vertiginous comic strip frames as it has been about the events within them. This is because the world around the famed comix lifer has always seemed on the verge of annihilation – as he confesses more than once in his sprawling, sharply satirical In the Shadow of No Towers, a collection of strips built by Spiegelman over the last three years and finally published by Pantheon Books just before the third anniversary of 9/11.

In his foreword to No Towers, Spiegelman writes that the book’s gorgeous “single-page units,” printed on 42 pages of heavy card stock and designed to resemble the Sunday newspaper comics panels of a bygone era, “corresponded to my existential conviction that I might not live long enough to see them published.” His parents’ ordeal in Auschwitz at the hands of the Nazis, he goes on, taught him to “always keep [his] bags packed.” Spiegelman freely admits that the psychic terrors of 9/11 corresponded to a deep-seated “self-inflicted” trauma, a fervent belief that Armageddon – both the religious conflict and the Bruce Willis movie – was, as the Rolling Stones sang in Gimme Shelter, “just a shot away”.

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Memorializing Hyperreality

[An earlier version of this article was originally published on Morphizm, and syndicated on HuffPo, on September 11, 2006. Nothing much has changed.]

“What is real?” Morpheus asked Neo in the epochal tech-noir The Matrix, to the laughter of cynics and critics everywhere. Not that they didn’t respect the film’s intelligent if extrastylized velocity, which riveted pop culture and killed at the box office. It was the seeming anachronism of Morpheus’ metaphysical question, one a jaded American ’90s, well past its more earnest philosophical hunger of the ’60s, felt it had answered several times over.

And not that the film’s bullet-time exploration of our unfolding new millennium didn’t explode: It did, and everywhere. Its convincing tentacles crept into every commercial and artistic enterprise looking to make a buck on a world quickly coming apart at the seams, where films with loaded titles like Armageddon aroused mallrats rather than scaring the hell out of them.

Which seams were splitting? Which else: Those separating reality and hyperreality.

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China Gets Serious About Rooftop Solar

When it comes to job creators of the future, the line starts at cleantech and ends…well, it doesn’t end.

Rooftop solar may be drawing fire in the U.S., but China is cool with it. In fact, its National Energy Administration has asked local authorities to increase the amount and funding of small-scale solar users in hopes of hitting this year a national target of 8 gigawatts. In China, that’s a mandate for the masses.

In this case, the mandate “should encourage the development of distributed generation,” a Credit Suisse analyst told Bloomberg last week, decreasing stresses on Chinese solar companies losing sales abroad, thanks to a silly trade war with America and Germany. (Check my solar war explainer for more on that tragicomedy.)


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Green Jobs Booming in America, Nearly Doubling So Far in 2014

When it comes to job creators of the future, the line starts at cleantech and ends…well, it doesn’t end.

According to the Ecotech Institute, job postings in the “clean jobs” sector skyrocketed almost 90 percent in the first half of 2014, bringing the grand total past the 2.5 million benchmark. Ecotech also found that over a million jobs had been created in the same period, led by the solar and utility sectors, which doubled year-over-year. Electrical engineering and wind weren’t far behind, with year-over-year job growth of 74 and 65 percent, respectively, with the most attractive states for all clean jobs being unsurprisingly led by left coasters like Oregon, Washington and California.

But there’s nowhere to go but up for all of America’s states, whose individual performance has been compiled by Ecotech in a handy interactive Clean Jobs index. “[It] really demonstrates the rapid growth of the sustainable energy industry,” Ecotech Institute dean Chris Gorrie explained in a press release. “Almost double the clean jobs were posted in the first half of 2014 compared to the first half of 2013.”


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Turning Car Batteries into Solar Cells is Promising, but May Bring Risks

How’s this for reincarnation? Scientists can take old batteries out of decrepit gas-guzzlers and transform them into a solar panel powerhouses.

It’s a “classic win-win solution,” explained MIT researchers in a recent paper for Energy and Environmental Science, which found that new perovskite-based photovoltaic solar cells can recycle poisonous lead from increasingly obsolete acid-based car batteries to create cleantech for everyone. Without sacrificing much in efficiency: MIT professors Angela M. Belcher and Paula T. Hammond and their graduate students achieved power conversion of 19 percent, which is competitive in today’s marketplace.


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No One Wins the US China Solar War

We’re in the slow-motion throes of an environmental apocalypse whose existential ravages, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, are terrifyingly “irreversible.” Now is not the time to be arguing over solar cash. But we are, and with tragicomedy of Shakespearean proportions.


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In 2025, the World Will Be Solar Powered

“Solar is the Largest Source of Energy on the Planet” trumpets Thomson Reuters, which promises that within barely over a decade “the use of the sun as the world’s primary source of energy is no longer for the environmentally-conscious select; it is for the masses.”


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Shining Some Light on That Solar Panel Shortage

File this under good news masquerading as bad. According to Bloomberg, the solar industry is about to run out of panels for the first time since 2006.

But pay no attention to the alarmist headline. The good news is that the shortage has little in the way of legs.


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Why Home Solar and Net Metering Are Not Causing Utility Woes

The solar war between entrenched utilities and net metering newcomers is heating up. But utilities need to chill, according to a new report out of the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative brain trust.

“Focusing exclusively on customer-sited solar PV and net energy metering (NEM) as the main driver of declining utility revenues fundamentally mischaracterizes the real, more important reasons why some utilities could be collecting insufficient revenue and consistently falling short of their authorized returns on investment,” argues North Carolina State University’s Clean Energy Technology Center and Boston-based Meister Consultants Group in their study, Rethinking Standby and Fixed Cost Charges: Regulatory & Rate Design Pathways to Deeper Solar PV Cost Reductions (PDF). “Simply put, rate structures that target solar PV to the exclusion of the many other causes of utility revenue erosion and cost shifts from some customers to others constitute undue price discrimination against solar PV.”


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