Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dialogue

Jon Stewart's extended interview with Cliff May on torture... A very intense but important dialogue...

See the whole unedited version here...

Leecher chronicles

Google's book scanning/search project is running into troubled waters. Much as I would like all books and their text neatly accessible and seachable under a clean, spare interface, issues linger...

From here: Google’s entire business model is the commoditization of other people’s content. See Google News, Gmail, AdSense/Adwords, etc. Book Search puts Google in the driver’s seat of determining how online books are monetized, at what rates, what share Google, authors and publishers get, how the metrics are determined. Books are reduced to data. Competitors are cut out. Other players remain unable to use the orphan works. Google leverages the audience. Newspapers will die because they have been commoditized out of existence (with some fatal mistakes of their own along the way.) Do we really want books to go the same way?

Ideas on gun control

New York's own reformed john, Eliot Spitzer poses a good question and explores how we could use government procurement regulations to limit gun violence...

Those of us who were in law enforcement in New York City in the late '80s and early '90s remember how drug dealers pioneered the use of 9-mm guns. We heard over and over from our friends in the police department that they were outgunned, that their service revolvers were no match for semi-automatics in a shootout. So what did the police do? The New York City Police Department finally bought 9-mms, too. It was a classic arms race, with the gun manufacturers in the economically enviable position of selling bigger and better guns to both sides. This prompts a simple question: Why do we buy guns from companies that permit their products to be sold to bad guys?

Recent pictures



Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, 5th and 42nd, New York City, NY

Syllabus

McSweeneys has a very helpful internet age writing syllabus and course overview here:  

ENG 371WR: Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era; M-W-F: 11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Instructor: Robert Lanham
Prerequisites: Students must have completed at least two of the following.
ENG: 232WR — Advanced Tweeting: The Elements of Droll
LIT: 223 — Early-21st-Century Literature: 140 Characters or Less
ENG: 102 — Staring Blankly at Handheld Devices While Others Are Talking
ENG: 301 — Advanced Blog and Book Skimming
ENG: 231WR — Facebook Wall Alliteration and Assonance
LIT: 202 — The Literary Merits of Lolcats
LIT: 209 — Internet-Age Surrealistic Narcissism and Self-Absorption
Thanks to Bookslut for the link.

Wednesday Poem

Someone 
is looking at some horrible photo realistic paintings 
wonders if the R's will come to D's funeral since they didn't come to S's
is crying for love.
is glad to be kidnapped by Francesca on a beautiful Saturday 
is fucking bored at work
has visions of swastikas inside their heads
thinks that in the end everyone ends up alone.
hates two words: accounting software. God help us
says boys and girls should make love 
found this guitar for $25 at the Goodwill in Pittsburgh
is visiting the detox center tonight 
is opening all the windows and letting the breeze and the sun in 
is doing naughty aerobics with Mexicans in Cabo!
is too busy to be at work today but is there anyways
is planting peas and carrots and pansies
is making sake for tonight
thinks that the downturn has not been bad
is building a bridge to nowhere with her
vehemently insisted that jokes about the holocaust are bad
lost imaginary wealth and real weight recently
likes H's peaches and would like to shake your tree.
is at the beach w/ my blondieee!
is sad that seeqpod is dead
is at work while everyone is at the beach... blah!
says what is up with everyone breaking up.... its time for lovin
thinks someday.. somebody will....
stumbled into town, just like a sacred cow
gives a big Bangalore hug to all friends back in NYC and beyond
is tired of waitin 4 the resultz. It's tougher than preparin 4 it!
had a good hair and boiled brain day....
says sorry to women he had wronged
thinks hope floats but sinks like a stone in winter
is so enjoying the dancing! Tuesday is audition day
wonders why go through the process when you have a short cut
thinks why make love when you can get it
really really likes not working, wants a hot dog and is a Pheonix
thinks that it's our heart that makes us more than what we are
was shocked out of her brains last night!!!! 
won't tell a soul what she saw or how big it was
was happy that Adam Gopnik hugged her 
is watching the dog chew on a bone while Rush lashes out
thinks he spends more hours of the day drunk than sober
just picked up some of the last walnuts and set them to dry
is knackered, slathered and needs a nanny-nap
says that what doesn't kill a quail only makes it stronger.
is contemplating what chore to put off doing.
is a whore with a chore
thinks of the time when a fish swam into a wall and said "damn!"
just arrived home from the hospice after losing a very good friend
is recuperating from an Irish night out
needs and wants to give H a good bad spanking
knew a banker who killed a homeowner (albeit indirectly)
wore leotards under her pants to work
saw a Hummer hit a cyclist sending the poor bloke to the ER 
did something hot and sweaty and it was not what you think
thinks they should have aspirin bars - to chew on the night after
is missing the good times, but remains chaste
says don’t get cute or clever, just go with your gut 
did it in a few minutes
got the job woot woot!!!!! yayyy!
is protesting in front of the turkish embassy today
says shush girl, shut your lips; do a Helen Keller, talk with your hips
believes in equality for all, except reporters and photographers
has home cleaning work all day then performance at club españa
is thinking perhaps he'll have the Molson's for lunch
just noticed that his neighbor's kitchen was torn down. Foreclosure?
is hereby waiting for a spaceship to take him away

Note: This is the second of what I might call 'Facebook' based poems - made up entirely of people's status updates. The first one can be found here... 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Face

A Tamil woman holds a malnourished child at a makeshift hospital inside the war zone in Putumattalan, Sri Lanka. The photo was taken earlier this month. Image from Bigpicture. 

It should be borne in mind that civilians like these are being used as human shields by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) against the advancing Sri Lankan army forces. The LTTE, a terrorist organization bent on carving a Tamil state inside Sri Lanka was one of the first organizations to systematically use suicide bombings in terrorizing people. I still vividly remember the loss after Rajiv Gandhi was blown up by Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, a female terrorist of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. 

Splitsville soliloquy

Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker expands on the scenario involving erstwhile 'Confederate States' following Governor Rick Perry’s low IQ suggestion that Texas might end its association with the United States of America and strike out on its own.

The border between the United States and the Federated States (“Confederate” being a word that remains a little too provocative) might not be as trouble-free as that between the United States and Canada, but, compared to the border with Mexico, it would probably require somewhat fewer armed citizen militias and fences topped with concertina wire to thwart illegal aliens desperate for a better life. On balance, trade relations between the U.S. and the F.S. would be advantageous to both. Cultural exchanges, tourism, and even a degree of military cooperation would be far from unthinkable.For the old country, the benefits would be obvious. A more intimately sized Congress would briskly enact sensible gun control, universal health insurance, and ample support for the arts, the humanities, and the sciences. Although Texas itself has been a net contributor to the Treasury—it gets back ninety-four cents for each dollar it sends to Washington—nearly all the other potential F.S. states, especially the ones whose politicians complain most loudly about the federal jackboot, are on the dole. (South Carolina, for example, receives $1.35 on the dollar, as compared with Illinois’s seventy-five cents.) Republicans would have a hard time winning elections for a generation or two, but eventually a responsible opposition party would emerge, along the lines of Britain’s Conservatives, and a normal alternation in power could return. The Federated States, meanwhile, could get on with the business of protecting the sanctity of marriage, mandating organized prayer sessions and the teaching of creationism in schools, and giving the theory that eliminating taxes increases government revenues a fair test. Although Texas and the other likely F.S. states already conduct some eighty-six per cent of executions, their death rows remain clogged with thousands of prisoners kept alive by meddling judges. These would be rapidly cleared out, providing more prison space for abortion providers. Although there might be some economic dislocation at first, the F.S. could remedy this by taking advantage of its eligibility for OPEC membership and arranging a new “oil shock.” Failing that, foreign aid could be solicited from Washington. But the greatest benefit would be psychological: freed from the condescension of metropolitan elites and Hollywood degenerates, the new country could tap its dormant creativity and develop a truly distinctive Way of Life.
Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil had invited the Confederados to his nation. Image from the The Imperial Museum of Brazil.

A culture of optimism?

As Specter shifts loyalties...

From here: The broader symbolism here is that it’s another sign that Barack Obama’s first two years may not look like Bill Clinton’s. In 1993-94, Clinton’s approval ratings sagged, his party lost special elections everywhere, and conservative Democrats were switching to the GOP. Obama’s approval ratings are high and holding steady, Democrats remain far more popular than Republicans, Democrats held the first special election, and now they’ve picked up a party switch. It’s still early, but Obama is starting to build a self-sustaining psychology of success.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Face

Rekha Kalindi, a 12-year-old girl living in Bararola, India,refused to get married when her parents tried to arrange one she wanted to stay in school. Her revolt, and those of two other girls in the region, have halted new child marriages in their rural region of West Bengal, India. The legal age for marriage in India is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. But arecent study published in the Lancet found 44.5 percent of Indian women in their early 20s had been wed by the time they were 18. Of those, 22.6 percent had been married before age 16, 2.6 percent before age 13.

More here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pragmatic decision-making department

The new buyers of art are a little more circumspect...

Gone are the new rich — the Russian oligarchs and oil-rich Middle Easterners, as well as the American hedge fund magnates — who in flush times were willing to pay any price. Gone too are the Europeans who were active when the weak dollar made their purchases seem cheap. Today’s buyers tend to be older collectors who bowed out of the market when prices began escalating several years ago. These patrons have far more conservative tastes, preferring works by tried-and-true names like Alexander Calder or Robert Ryman rather than those by younger artists like Takashi Murakami or Damien Hirst who were snapped up by speculators and have now lost some 50 percent of their value.
What is selling, said Brett Gorvy, a co-head of Christie’s postwar and contemporary-art department, is “the right artist and the right work.”

Worth noting about the torture brouhaha

From here.
We’ve learned much, much more about America and torture in the past five years. But as Mark Danner recently wrote, for all the revelations, one essential fact remains unchanged: “By no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it.” When the Obama administration said it declassified  four new torture memos 10 days ago in part because their contents were already largely public, it was right.

Photo


Early morning. Wall, NJ

Late evening. Wall NJ

Friday, April 24, 2009

Questions, Questions...

Salf flagellation is undesirable, but the rule of law is the most important thing that makes the United States the United States. That is why people still stand in line to come here.  

From Andrew Sullivan's blog

Toot Toot!

'Buy Me Bring Me Take Me', an oil on canvas completed a couple of years back was selected to be the masthead for UGallery.com as they get ready for the Affordable Art Fair 09' starting next month in NYC. 

History break

A screen shot from the pages of the New York Times this day 100 years back.


Roughly 1.2 million Armenians would either be slaughtered by Turkish killing squads or would die of exposure or starve to death in camps in the deserts at the southeastern edges of the Ottoman Empire. The Armenian genocide was the culmination of a decades long process of persecution of the Armenians in the Ottoman empire. That persecution was punctuated in the last two decades of the 19th century during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamit, the so-called Red Sultan.
Frontpage magazine published an interview with Vahakn Dadrian, a scholar of the Armenian genocide about five years back. It is still worth reading for the historical perspectives offered. Note: The tone is fairly partisan.

From the interview: Islam played a major role both in the period of the Abdul Hamit massacres [1894-1896] and the 1909 Adana massacres and the World War I genocide. During the Abdul Hamit era, Islam was the main impetus, the direct impetus of the massacres, because 90 percent of the massacres took place on Fridays, which is the religious holiday. Immediately at the end of the religious ceremonies in the mosques, the mobs, harangued by Muslim clerics, were incited and as a result the motivation was reinforced to attack and massacre the Armenian population of the respective regions. In other words, Islam as an institution, and champions of Islam, the Muslim clerics, played a major role in the organization and execution of the series of massacres. In World War I, Islam also was exploited by way of formally declaring jihad, the main target of which became the Christian Armenians. Holy War can only be proclaimed by the sultan who is also the Khalif, the supreme religious authority, and the Sheikh ul Islam, the religious head of Islam. One of the greatest incentives of jihad for motivating people to kill is the promise of celestial bliss, and other kinds of rewards in heaven. This played a major role in mobilizing the masses, the naïve masses. In Archbishop Balakian's book, the Armenian Golgotha, there are scenes in which, after every massacre, the head of the gendarmes units, spread his prayer rug and thanked god for serving him through jihad-borne massacres massacres.

Toon

More of Tim Goheen's works here.

Connections and reasons...

Today 60 people were killed by suicide bombers across Iraq. Yesterday the toll was higher. 80 people were killed. It is difficult to read this and not think about new revelations reported by McClatchy a couple of days back which asserted that the Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaeda and the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime. The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush's quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them."There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. 
..."The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there." It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003.

Relatives mourned in Dhuluiya, north of Baghdad at the funeral of an Iraqi who was among the 80 killed across the country yesterday. Photo from the Associated Press

Keith Olbermann analyzes the timelines involved in this and talks to Jonathan Landay, the McClatchy reporter who first revealed that torture was used to forcibly produce false testimony reflecting a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Art. Fail. Completely.

From yesterday's NY Times... an exercise in cheapskate, wannabe solutions to having art on one's walls. On the other hand, it begs the question - what is art?

From here: Juan Montoya created a piece of “art” by hanging a canvas he painted with Benjamin Moore’s Big Country Blue over an ample sofa. One visitor to the room asked if the painting was by Barnett Newman,” he said. Nobody knows it didn’t come from a gallery.” Mr. Montoya used a 6 by 12 foot canvas; a 24 by 48 inch canvas, sized to fit a less cavernous room, is about $36 at dickblick.com.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

From the Lone Star Looney bin - II

This time it is wackos from Waco, Texas who seem to believe that the Moon generates its own light and does not reflect light... 

The Emmy-winning scientist [Bill Nye] angered a few audience members when he criticized literal interpretation of the biblical verse Genesis 1:16, which reads: "God made two great lights - the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars." He pointed out that the sun, the "greater light," is but one of countless stars and that the "lesser light" is the moon, which really is not a light at all, rather a reflector of light. A number of audience members left the room at that point, visibly angered by what some perceived as irreverence. "We believe in a God!" exclaimed one woman as she left the room with three young children.

Readings

From a book review of 'From Eve to Dawn', a history of women in 1700 pages by Marilyn French.

In Aristotle's thought, women were "deformed" men. In feudal Japan they were barred from climbing Mount Fuji because they would pollute it, and "unhappily married women were expected to commit suicide." A Buddhist text describes woman as the "emissary of hell." Her oppression is universal, her story cyclical; construed less as a human being than as an animal or force of nature, her place is outside history. Even when records begin, most women have no names. At best they are just "wife of" or "daughter of" some illustrious man. In the nineteenth century, women's skulls were measured and their brains were weighed, and found wanting. For the criminologists Lombroso and Ferrero, women were big, vicious children. Through much of recorded history they have been slaves, though in some eras "rhetoric granted them the status of angels." Arguing for women's moral superiority can be a way of keeping them in their place—a way of removing them from the civil space, where power corrupts, to the supposed purity of the private sphere. 
... Feminism has "changed the discourse" and yet "even intellectual men write about history and literature as if feminism had never occurred." She ends with a chapter on the future of feminism, in which she stresses its radical nature: that it is "a living entity," not a dogma, and one that offers an alternative model to top-down social organization. Feminism is often misunderstood; people think it is about putting women where men are now, but "the ultimate goal of feminism is to change society." The design is to create a cooperative world, a task that will not be achieved in a few generations; to do it we will have to free ourselves from the grip of history, from the assumptions of the societies in which we have grown up. The task is to convince the world that "sexism brings men...emotional and biological loss." She says, "feminism brings joy to people's heart—it is truly a gospel, a good news."
Some lines from the book is pure truism... "Control over a woman is the only form of dominance most men possess, for most men are merely subjects of more powerful men" - Marilyn French.


'Mistress and Maid', Johannes Vermeer (1632 - 1675). From the permanent collection of Frick

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sign o' the times

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist on the Casual Encounters section...
“Casual Encounters was created in response to user demand for a section that allowed for a wide range of personal meeting and relationship options, in that sense, it’s probably an accurate inside look at how people like to connect these days. Our users like the ability to be both candid and, initially, anonymous.” - says Craig Newmark (before the recent murders took place). 

Tales of sexual encounters via Craigslist run the gamut from the erotic to the bizarre. Nola, a 42-year-old saleswoman who lives in Manhattan, posts elegantly written ads seeking a man who will meet her in a public place so she can go to the bathroom and remove her panties, which she will then hand to him in an envelope. Nola, for instance, said that she got an erotic thrill from giving men her used underwear, knowing they would serve as fetish objects. She started doing this last June after she thought, “I wear underpants every single day of my life, and somebody’s got to want these underpants.” The recipients, she said, pay her a small replacement fee.
Image ripped from an ad for LU biscuits.

Pictures from a recent group show

The Openhouse Gallery in NoLIta, NYC in partnership with the online gallery Ugallery.com presented a group show yesterday evening to raise awareness and money for art based therapy for mental diseases. 'Rendile' 72" (h) X 101" (w), an oil done by me last year was among the artworks chosen by Ugallery.com for the  show. Pictures from the show below. I must add that my large format monochrome painting did elicit some positive responses from the well attended evening gathering… Looking forward to the Affordable Art Fair early next month now… 


Two views of 'Rendile' on display

Colette Wirz, School of the Art Institute of Chicago , 'Tropical Jungle Blue', acrylic on canvas, 18" w x 18" h x 1.5" d

Abbey Golden, University of Arizona, 'With Linz in DUMBO', mixed media (collage) on canvas, 48" w x 36" h x 2" d

Rebecca Schweiger, Boston University, 'Angels and Butterflies', oil on canvas, 30" w x 40" h x 2" d

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interesting riff on libertarianism and piracy

From here:
For Ron Paul’s growing legion of dope-addled contradictarian libertarians, Somalia is like nirvana. There are no taxes. No public education. No national healthcare. No national debt. No labor laws. No environmental laws. No business regulations. No unions. No import or export restrictions. No meddlesome big government—or small government for that matter. And everyone smokes khat, which is a leafy plant that temporarily deludes its users into feeling as if their problems are gone. Somalia, a country that hasn’t had an operating central government since 1991, is a libertarian Republican’s wet dream.
... Killing pirates, it turns out, is a good political move. President Obama, in the eyes of an amoebic media, is now a decisive leader ready to take those 3am phone calls Hillary Clinton and John McCain warned us about. He allowed pirates to be shot. He’s a real leader. Now that he’s cut his teeth, faced that first ritualistic bloodletting of a US president, and experienced the power and prestige that comes from defeating pirates, perhaps it’s time to take on real, big-league pirates. Perhaps it’s time to deal with the pirates on Wall Street who have been holding our economy hostage. Maybe, if they run, we’ll even pursue them to their Somalia-like offshore tax havens.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rant on the poverty of imagination...

A twit on twitter...
Twitter — the microblogging service that lets you post and read fragmentary communications at high speed — is fun, but it’s embarrassing. You subscribe to the yawps of a bunch of people; they subscribe to your yawps; and you produce and consume yawps for the rest of your days. The me-me-me clamor brings to mind Emily Dickinson’s poem about the disgrace of fame, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”: “How public — like a Frog — / To tell one’s name — the livelong June — / To an admiring Bog!”

Question

The dilemma on the suffering inflicted via torture versus the suffering inflicted as a result of war killings...

When the Central Intelligence Agency obliterates a dozen suspected terrorists, along with assorted family members, with a missile from a drone, the news rarely stirs a strong reaction far beyond Pakistan. Yet the waterboarding of three operatives from Al Qaeda — one of them the admitted murderer of 3,000 people as organizer of the 9/11 attacks — has stirred years of recriminations, calls for prosecution and national soul-searching.
Photo from the works of Lisa Ross at Daneyal Mahmood Gallery titled 'Unrevealed'. From the press release:  Lisa Ross’s work concerns itself mainly with memory, temporality and the visual expression of faith. It is on the embodiment of the secular and the sacred that this work relies; a reconceptualization of the corporeal and its interdependence with time and place. Picture above shows 'Black Garden (crib with door)', 2002 - 2008, oil pigment on rag paper.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Future in the rear view mirror

Some predictions of a future that harkens back to the past from Peggy Noonan of the WSJ... 

The New York of the years 1750 to 2008—a city that existed for money and for all the arts and delights and beauties money brings—is for the first time going to struggle with questions about its reason for being. This will cause profound dislocations. For a good while the young will continue to flock in, for cheaper rents. Artists will still want to gather with artists—you cannot pick up the Metropolitan Museum and put it in Alma, Mich. But there will be a certain diminution in the assumption of superiority on which New York has long run, and been allowed, by America, to run. The cities and suburbs of America are about to get rougher-looking. This will not be all bad. There will be a certain authenticity chic. Storefronts, pristine buildings—all will spend less on upkeep, and gleam less.
So will humans. People will be allowed to grow old again. There will be a certain liberation in this. There will be fewer facelifts and browlifts, less Botox, less dyed hair among both men and women. They will look more like people used to look, before perfection came in. Middle-aged bodies will be thicker and softer, with more maternal and paternal give. There will be fewer gyms and fewer trainers, but more walking. Gym machines produced the pumped and cut look. They won't be so affordable now. Hollywood will take the cue. During the depression, stars such as Clark Gable were supposed to look like normal men. Physical perfection would have distanced them from their audience. Now leading men are made of megamuscles, exaggerated versions of their audience. That will change. The new home fashion will be spare. This will be the return of an old WASP style: the good, frayed carpet; dogs that look like dogs and not a hairdo in a teacup, as miniature dogs back from the canine boutique do now. A friend, noting what has and will continue to happen with car sales, said America will look like Havana—old cars and faded grandeur. It won't. It will look like 1970, only without the bell-bottoms and excessive hirsuteness. More families will have to live together. More people will drink more regularly. Secret smoking will make a comeback as part of a return to simple pleasures. People will slow down. Mainstream religion will come back.
Window pane in Chelsea, NY

Scenes From a Down - a poem

He was laid off last year from his job 
used to install and repair windows and doors, 
earning $11.50 an hour with health insurance.
The supervisor called him into a wood panelled 
office to explain they were downsizing and 
his services were no longer needed, he started 
looking for a job.the very next day.
In December, he went to the state fairgrounds
(he had seen a back page advertisement about an
impending job fair in the Columbia Star)
knowing that he would feel secure amongst 
the hundreds of other people also out of work.
He and an acquaintance applied for a few 
openings and shared a beer afterward. 
The most promising job was a position as a 
technician at an air-conditioning company. 
It paid $8.50 an hour. He never got that. 
He applied for more than 50 jobs since, 
welder, an auto mechanic and a painter.
“Anything,” he says. “I’ve been applying for anything.”
In February, he was finally granted an interview 
at a plant that made industrial adhesives.
They liked him, they liked his experience
They smiled, shook hands. It felt too easy.
The company ran a credit check and turned 
him down. All the deals that had gone awry, 
all those transactions he barely understood, 
all those strange assurances he accepted 
and advance purchases made on credit 
somehow wound itself into his credit story.
He suddenly remembered that one time when
he had walked away from a mortgage after
the large Wall Street firm told him that the 
terms had changed; in a terse letter 
with the relevant fine print underlined.
Of course, he was convinced the bank had 
cheated him. The bank countered in court 
documents that they had ‘explained and 
quantified the immediate identifiable risks'.

A few months back he got an e-mail from a 
college called the U.S. Career Institute. 
They were based in Colorado. They offered 
online training for “an exciting, professional 
career” in medical billing. It was $69 a month. 
His fiancé grudgingly agreed. He says that 
he was happy that someone decided to 
send him an email promising a future made 
out and waiting for someone just like him.

He now takes his classes online, making 
slow but steady progress. Staring at the 
computer for long hurts his eyes but he 
goes on through the day while his fiancé 
works at the nearby hospital. She is a 
secretary. She makes $7.70 an hour. When 
she gets home, they sit together and pass 
evening hours on a sagging couch, a pack 
of Newport cigarettes on the coffee table, 
and the television remote in hand, surveying 
a world mired in distress. They flip between the 
action movies and news channels, absorbing 
the shifting patterns of reality and make believe.
Sometimes they microwave the packaged dinner
while on other nights, they share leftovers.
Sometimes he falls asleep, one beer too many
and no dinner. They keep each other warm
as he dreams of completing his online course and 
then starting to bill for insurance companies who 
were bailed out by the folks in Washington. 
He dreams of making $30 an hour, like they said 
in the advertisements. The wind blows steadily 
against their mobile home as he hears the rains 
come down; slowly at first and then with an 
incessant frequency that seemed to crowd out 
the disposable income calculations that was 
just forming in Raymond Vaughn’s mind.

Note: This poem was adapted and modified from a story I read about a jobless individual trying to make ends meet in the Times. 

Toon

From Harpers

Quotable

Megachurch grand poobah Rick Warren talks to conservative blogger Hugh Hewitt about his religious beliefs...
Well, the greatest churches in the world that have ever existed are in existence right now. Christianity is growing. There are two religions that are growing. Islam is growing, and Christianity is growing. Christianity is growing at a much more rapid rate than Islam. Islam is growing primarily through birthrate, okay? Christianity is growing through conversion rate. And so there are…and the greatest rates of growth are in China, in Southeast Asia, in Africa, and in Latin America. I take usually an around the world tour each year where we go visit our network. I, Hugh, over the last 30 years, I’ve trained over half a million pastors in 162 countries, so we have these networks pretty well connected, and I go back to regularly check on, kind of like Paul’s missionary journeys, go back and see how they’re doing, and encourage, and see what they need, and we learn a lot from them. And it’s the best of times, and the worst of times. Right now, we are in a stage here in America where we’re going to decide a number of major factors. One of them is will America return to the historic roots, Christian roots, that are foundational for every one of our institutions. Or will we go the way of Europe, and go secular. The bottom line is that secularism doesn’t last, because no faith will always be filled by something else, and so that’s why Islam is making strong inroads into Europe, because faith of any kind will always beat no faith.
Envartung (Expectation), 1976, Color and black and white photographic object, 57 inches in diameter. From an exhibition titled 'It's you. Not me' underway at the Andrew Kreps Gallery, Chelsea NY

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rationalizing torture - III

Quotable quotes from the torture memos:
Upon arrival at the site, the detainee "finds himself in complete control of Americans" and is subjected to "precise, quiet and almost clinical" procedures designed to underscore "the enormity and suddenness of the change in environment, the uncertainty about what will happen next, and the potential dread (a detainee) may have of US custody". His head and face are shaved; his physical condition is documented through photographs while he is nude; and he is given medical and psychological interviews to assess his condition and to make sure there are no contradiction to the use of any particular interrogation techniques.

Rationalizing torture - II

Andrew Sullivan says it like it is...
I do not believe that any American president has ever orchestrated, constructed or so closely monitored the torture of other human beings the way George W. Bush did. It is clear that it is pre-meditated; and it is clear that the parsing of torture techniques that you read in the report is a simply disgusting and repellent piece of dishonesty and bad faith. When you place it alongside the Red Cross' debriefing of the torture victims, the fit is almost perfect. I say "almost" because even Jay Bybee, in this unprofessional travesty of lawyering, stipulates that these techniques might be combined successively in any ways that could cumulatively become torture even in his absurd redefinition of the term. And yet the ICRC report shows, as one might imagine, that outside these specious legalisms, such distinctions never hold in practice. And they didn't. Human beings were contorted into classic stress positions used by the Gestapo; they had towels tied around their necks in order to smash their bodies against walls; they were denied of all sleep for up to eleven days and nights at a time; they were stuck in tiny suffocating boxes; they were waterboarded just as the victims of the Khmer Rouge were waterboarded. And through all this, Bush and Cheney had lawyers prepared to write elaborate memos saying that all of this was legal, constitutional, moral and not severe pain and suffering.

Rationalizing torture - I

The Bush administration's 'torture memo's' were released by the Obama administration today. The clear, cold and calculated scientific logic used in rationalizing torture methods seems almost Kafkaesque. 

Jay Bybee's memo is especially egregious

With the facial slap or insult slap, the interrogator slaps the individuals face with fingers slightly spread. The hand makes contact with the area directly between the tip of the individuals chin and bottom of the corresponding earlobe. The interrogator invades the individuals personal space.
...Cramped confinement involves the placement of the individual in a confined space, the dimensions of which restrict the individuals movement. The confined space is usually dark. The duration of confinement varies based upon the size of the container. For the larger confined space, the individual can stand up or sit down; the smaller space is large enough for the subject to sit down. 
... Wall standing is used to induce muscle fatigue. The individual stands about four to five feet from a wall, with his feet spread approximately to shoulder width. His arms are stretched out in front of him, with his fingers resting on the wall. 
... Finally, you would like to use a technique called the 'waterboard'. In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individuals feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide level in the individuals blood. This increase in the carbon dioxide level stimulates increased effort to breathe. This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of "suffocation and incipient panic" i.e. the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three to four full breathes. The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout.
All of the memos can be downloaded here.

Painting Post

'Performance Artist', 82" (h) X 56" (w), Oil on canvas

NASA abbreviation watch

Even if Colbert did not get a room named on the international space station after him in spite of his winning an online poll (courtesy his listeners), NASA decided to name a treadmill after the comedian in a predictable NASAish fashion...

The name of the treadmill is COLBERT and stands for Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill.

Teabagging chronicles

Yesterday was teabagging day for the conservatives. Yes, they teabagged themselves in support of lower taxes. This is a teabagging picture that sums up the real issues... These photos seems to have been taken in Houston, Texas (where else)... 
The news this morning was that the Lone Star state would now like to secede from the United States. It is interesting to note that while the real debate should be around healthcare, immigration, education and energy the conservatives feel that this is the time to go around teabagging each other and talking secession...




Source: Reddit and Flickr. More photos here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spring!


Teabagging day

Our conservative friends are teabagging today (oops, sorry! make that tea partying).

Edward Weston, Shard, 1927, Vintage gelatin silver print

Sleight of hand and orphan month based accounting - Goldman Sachs style

Goldman Sachs keeps getting better at the 'hoodwink' game... Just about everyone heard about their wondrous profits declared yesterday. Now the rest of the story...

From here: Goldman Sachs reported a profit of $1.8 billion in the first quarter, and plans to sell $5 billion in stock and get out of the government’s clutches, if it can.
How did it do that? One way was to hide a lot of losses in not-so-plain sight.
Goldman’s 2008 fiscal year ended Nov. 30. This year the company is switching to a calendar year. The leaves December as an orphan month, one that will be largely ignored. In Goldman’s earnings statement, and in most of the news reports, the quarter ended March 31 is compared to the quarter last year that ended in February.
The orphan month featured — surprise — lots of write-offs. The pretax loss was $1.3 billion, and the after-tax loss was $780 million.
Would the firm have had a profit if it had stuck to its old calendar, and had to include December and exclude March?

Note: In spite of their profits, the fact that they are blogger bullies remain...

Photo


Today's front page photo on the Times included a factoid that caught me by surprise... "Houston, the capital of Texas has more than 1500 licensed gun dealers..." - but then, what else would one expect from the great state of Texas.

Although federal agents say licensed dealers are the source of most guns going to Mexico, some come from private sellers at gun shows, where even noncitizens can buy guns. Dozens of shows are held each year across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. At a recent show in Pharr, Tex., another border town, a college freshman with a wispy beard arrived with two AR-15 rifles strapped to his body, spidery black guns designed for combat, tricked out with features that soldiers prize: collapsible stocks, pistol grips, extra long magazines. The student, who asked to be identified only as Shane, was asking $1,900 for one of his rifles. As for paper work, he wanted only a handwritten receipt with the buyer’s name and address. He was not worried, he said, about the gun’s falling into the hands of drug cartels in Mexico.
“They are going to get their guns either way,” he said. “The only thing that a ban is going to stop is good people being able to get a gun.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Connections

Frederick Soddy, a chemistry Nobel laureate on the economy and laws of thermodynamics.
He offered a perspective on economics rooted in physics — the laws of thermodynamics, in particular. An economy is often likened to a machine, though few economists follow the parallel to its logical conclusion: like any machine the economy must draw energy from outside itself. The first and second laws of thermodynamics forbid perpetual motion, schemes in which machines create energy out of nothing or recycle it forever. Soddy criticized the prevailing belief of the economy as a perpetual motion machine, capable of generating infinite wealth — a criticism echoed by his intellectual heirs in the now emergent field of ecological economics.
... Soddy would not have been surprised at our current state of affairs. The problem isn’t simply greed, isn’t simply ignorance, isn’t a failure of regulatory diligence, but a systemic flaw in how our economy finances itself. As long as growth in claims on wealth outstrips the economy’s capacity to increase its wealth, market capitalism creates a niche for entrepreneurs who are all too willing to invent instruments of debt that will someday be repudiated. There will always be a Bernard Madoff or a subprime mortgage repackager willing to set us up for catastrophe. To stop them, we must balance claims on future wealth with the economy’s power to produce that wealth. How can that be done?
Soddy distilled his eccentric vision into five policy prescriptions, each of which was taken at the time as evidence that his theories were unworkable: The first four were to abandon the gold standard, let international exchange rates float, use federal surpluses and deficits as macroeconomic policy tools that could counter cyclical trends, and establish bureaus of economic statistics (including a consumer price index) in order to facilitate this effort. All of these are now conventional practice. Soddy’s fifth proposal, the only one that remains outside the bounds of conventional wisdom, was to stop banks from creating money (and debt) out of nothing. Banks do this by lending out most of their depositors’ money at interest — making loans that the borrower soon puts in a demand deposit (checking) account, where it will soon be lent out again to create more debt and demand deposits, and so on, almost ad infinitum.

Weekend Pictures


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Goldman Sachs - a blogger bully?

New lows for the supposedly 'venerable Wall Street institution'...

Goldman Sachs has instructed Wall Street law firm Chadbourne & Parke to pursue blogger Mike Morgan, warning him in a recent cease-and-desist letter that he may face legal action if he does not close down his website. Florida-based Mr Morgan began a blog entitled "Facts about Goldman Sachs" – the web address for which isgoldmansachs666.com – just a few weeks ago. In that time Mr Morgan, a registered investment adviser, has added a number of posts to the site, including one entitled "Does Goldman Sachs run the world?". However, many of the posts relate to other Wall Street firms and issues. According to Chadbourne & Parke's letter, dated April 8, the bank is rattled because the site "violates several of Goldman Sachs' intellectual property rights" and also "implies a relationship" with the bank itself. ... He claims he has followed all legal requirements to own and operate the website – and that the header of the site clearly states that the content has not been approved by the bank.
Photo from a recent exhibition of Barry Le Va's works at Mary Boone Gallery titled “Hands, Handles, Blades: Cleaver Configurations 1969-2009”, an exhibition curated by Klaus Kertess. From the press release: Le Va has said that these and other sculptures similarly fraught with danger and created between 1968 and 197l, such as Within the Series of Layered Pattern Acts created by shattering sheets of glass on the floor, were more about exploring mathematical givens in relation to time and space than about threat of danger. In the case of the Cleaver pieces, those givens are the artist’s height and the fixed radius of the arc of his arm’s thrust. Of course, these works were originally created during a time of great violence in our culture.

On the recent TEA party fracas

A very helpful deconstruction of the recent tea party antics (tea for Taxes Enough Already) tried out by the conservatives (from a reader on the Andrew Sullivan blog). 
I live in Kansas and have several family members who fit the mold of these Tea Partiers. The sense I get from them is much like what I felt after the 2004 election - absolute disbelief that this country could make such a decision. The reason that my relatives are so concerned is that Bush stood for everything they truly believed in - US primacy, nationalism, God (the Christianist version), guns, no gays, no illegals, where criminals get a fair trial before we hang them. In their mind, Obama repudiates all of that. These rallies are an effort by a group that feels highly marginalized to find some comfort in the company of others with similar beliefs, and to express their fear and frustration over what they see happening to their country. At least, that's why my uncles and grandparents will be there.
... And when you (and others) dismiss these concerns as "adolescent, unserious hysteria," it only hardens their resolve. What will make this go away is time, and the realization that America has "survived" the threat posed by a President who represents so much that they find threatening.
The Boston Tea Party--destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor, 1773. From the NYPL archives.

Housing bubbles - a contrarian viewpoint

An interesting way of segmenting the housing markets...
George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki's research has revealed three distinct types of housing markets--and only one of the three shows real signs of distress. Even then, that distress is only in a limited number of areas.
The first type of market behaves the way markets are supposed to behave, with smooth adjustments between supply and demand. When prices rose in places such as Dallas and Charlotte, builders constructed new houses. When prices softened, builders stopped. "Prices in these markets rose gradually," Zywicki says, "and now they're settling back to earth. There hasn't been any tragedy."
The second type of market, which appears in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., demonstrates a long history of price volatility. "The housing stock in these markets is constrained," Zywicki says, "either by geography--San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by water, for example--or land use controls." When demand in such a market increases, prices soar. And when demand weakens, prices plummet.
"But the people who live in these markets expect big price swings," Zywicki says. "They've learned to live with them. They're holding onto their homes because they're confident prices will eventually recover. Again, there hasn't been any tragedy."
The third type of market displays both the ability to expand the supply of houses that characterizes the first type of market and the price swings that characterize the second type. "Type three markets," Zywicki says, "are concentrated in the Sun Belt. Ordinary investors seem to have calculated that a lot of people would either retire or buy second homes in these places. And when prices went up, speculators moved in. Pure bubbles developed."

In type three markets, hundreds of thousands of new homes went up. This oversupply will now keep prices low for years. "Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tampa--those are the places you'll find the tragedies," Zywicki says.
Instead of frightening people by talking about the end of the American dream, Zywicki argues, the Obama administration should offer reassurance, stressing the specific, limited nature of the foreclosure problem. "Heck," Zywicki says, "41 out of the 50 states have foreclosure rates below the national mean."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Weekend photo

Friday Miscellany

There are several varieties of the mango, but the most delicious is the "mango d'or," originally imported into the island from Cayenne, and greatly improved by generous cultivation. The fruit weighs from twelve to sixteen ounces; the seed is thin, small, and corrugated, without the stringy threads which mar the pleasure of eating some varieties of the mango; the pulp is deep yellow in color, of the consistency of ice-cream and a delicious aroma exhales from it. To partake of the mango in full perfection is one of the indescribable luxuries of tropical life. ..Look at the large tree opposite, its spreading branches bending down under the weight of its delicious burden. What a lovely contrast of the golden globes with the dark green foliage! The gardener, who comes to bring us some of the fruit, says that a tree of this size bears from two thousand to three thousand mangoes. Ah, here is the fruit! If you have never eaten a mango, you must be instructed in the art. Roll up your sleeves, pin a napkin under your chin, and have a basin of water close at hand; strip the peel from the mango, revealing the delicious, golden-hued, creamy pulp; seize the fruit by the ends with both hands, and bite tenderly into it. Be as careful as you will, the abundant juice will overflow from your lips and run over your hands and wrists. But you rinse face and hands in the water beside you, and repeat the operation until the appetite is sated. Excerpted from 'Rambles in Martinique' published in Harpers (January 1874)...

Photo

A retrospective of Satyajit Ray films titled “First Light: Satyajit Ray From the Apu Trilogy to the Calcutta Trilogy” opens Wednesday and runs through April 30 at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center. Image above from the movie 'Charulata' (1964). Simply magical.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Texas legislator is winner of dumb racist comment of the week!

A North Texas legislator (Representative Betty Brown) during House testimony on voter identification legislation said Asian-descent voters should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.”
“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” From here.

Reality check

From here. The number of Americans killed in mass shootings in the last month is greater than the number of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan this year. 54 innocents dead in nine shootings over the past four weeks. In Iraq, 45 U.S. soldiers died in 2009. In Afghanistan, 43 soldiers were killed in 2009.

Of course, even after the shooting incident in Binghamton, NY last Friday, both senators from that state (Schumer and Gillibrand) said it was too early to comment on whether gun control laws should be strengthened as a result of this case.

Wonder what kind of a catastrophe will get them to think about strengthening gun control laws...

On unpuckering

One woman’s quest to understand plastic surgery and its practitioners...
In 2007 alone, Americans spent $13 billion on 11.7 million cosmetic procedures (both surgical and nonsurgical). An ongoing controversy over what qualifies as “cosmetic” makes it difficult to determine the number of treatments that were purely restorative, necessitated by third-degree burns, mastectomies, and other medical issues. But what’s clear is that the overall number of men and women undergoing cosmetic procedures in the U.S. has increased by 457 percent since 1997, when relevant statistical data was first collected. As many as one in 20 people today reportedly suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (B.D.D.), a sort of “imagined ugly” syndrome. While difficult to diagnose, plastic-surgery addiction is often linked to B.D.D. Dr. Barry Eppley, who writes a blog titled “Explore Plastic Surgery,” estimates that one-third of plastic-surgery patients will eventually return to have additional work done.

... I’ll show you if you like,” says Maria, the svelte, well-dressed 42-year-old manager of Dr. Elliot Heller’s office, when I ask if she’s had her boobs done.
I nod and, without hesitation, Maria approaches me from behind the dark wooden desk, beige cowl-neck sweater peeled from her torso to reveal two perky, C-cup breasts.
“Can I touch?,” I ask, inspired by acute curiosity.
“Go ahead.”
I stand and place a palm on Maria’s left breast, then poke it the way a child would a large block of jell-o. It feels not like human flesh, but like a compressed sack of the pink ectoplasm from Ghostbusters II resting behind a thin layer of skin. All the while, Maria gazes at me with a prideful expression. I have to admire her. Perhaps it’s more arrogant to deny one’s vanity than to embrace it.
Dominic Crouse, 'Ecce Homo' 2003, Toned silver gelatin print, 24" X 20"

Readings

From the book 'When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood' by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh.

On one occasion, I mustered the courage to ask my mother to buy me a skateboard (they were all the rage at the time) and she took me to Sears to have a look. In the middle of the sports department was a bin filled with skateboards in bright bubblegum colors. A sign read $10.99.
"Once the revolution comes,' my mother said to me, 'everyone will have a skateboard, because all skateboards will be free.' Then she took me by the hand and led me out of the store. I pictured a world of long rolling grassy hills, where it was always summertime and boys skateboarded up and down the slopes.
One Christmas a tree was donated to us by a local charity.
'When the revolution comes everyone will have a Christmas tree,' my mother said.
'Will we have them year-round then?' I asked.
'When the revolution comes no one will want a Christmas tree because no one will believe in God.'
Then we spent the afternoon decorating our tree together, stringing popcorn and kumquats, hanging lights from the branches, and when we were done we cut a moon out of cardboard, wrapped it in aluminum foil and placed it on the top.
The difference between our family and other poor families was that my mother actively chose to be poor.
Ruth Bernhard, In the Box, Horizontal, 1961. Gelatin Silver Print, 16” X 20”

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Subtext

A brief tour on the origins of anti-Americanism from a book review of 'In Defense of America', by Bronwen Maddox.
A widely held belief among the liberal intelligentsia, both in the states and in Europe, is that anti-Americanism began under the second President Bush. History tells a different story. Take France, for example. Charles de Gaulle, the most popular political figure in recent French history, staked his presidency on driving a wedge into the American-led NATO alliance during the Cold War’s early years (it was only last month that France finally rejoined NATO’s military command structure). Anti-Americanism goes back to before the founding of the United States; it’s not just a political disposition, but also a theoretical premise based upon deep-seated feelings of historical envy and opposition to capitalism—not to mention cultural snobbery. Another cause, Maddox notes, is the simultaneous decline of Europe alongside America’s international ascendance. No matter what America does, she suggests, it’s unlikely completely to eradicate this inherent European mindset.
From here.

Image shows David Choe's artwork. He is a muralist and graphic artist whose solo show at the Chaoyang Liquor Factory Gallery in Beijing China titled “Death Blossom”, opened April 4th.

Spring


Monday, April 06, 2009

Quotable

“If I were they, I would think carefully before setting foot outside the United States. They are now, and forever in the future, at risk of arrest. Until this is sorted out, they are in their own legal black hole.” - Philippe Sands, a British based lawyer talking about the plight of six senior Bush administration officials who were recently implicated in acts of torture by a Spanish Court. From here.

Gonzalo Boye, the Chilean-born Spanish lawyer who recently filed the criminal complaint against the Bush officials was influenced by Philippe Sands' book 'Torture Team'.

The 'six in a fix' are as follows:
  • Douglas Feith, the former Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy
  • Alberto Gonzales, the former Attorney General
  • John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer
  • David Addington, the chief of staff and the principal legal adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney
  • William Haynes II, former general counsel for the Department of Defense
  • Jay Bybee, Yoo's former boss at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel

Peter Saul, 'Stuck', 67" X 59", Acrylic on canvas, 2007. Image from a recent visit to Mary Boone Gallery who had on show 'IMAGE MATTER', an exhibition curated by Klaus Kertess.