Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Man's Trash

what are you looking at?

The Times's Matthew Collings dismisses Banksy's art, writing that his "ideas only have the value of a joke." I responded, rather tartly, in the comments:
In order to make his case here, Collings presents us with a fallacy of limited options: Banksy either has to be Rembrandt or he's rubbish. On the other hand we have exceptional cartoonists and illustrators who create inspiring work every day and who don't claim to be anything "higher" than their occupation. Banksy creates simple, striking work, which often provides concise and scathing criticism of authoritarian government, surveillance society, and war. I imagine, to some extent, it may be your conservative sensibilities Banksy has offended, more than your sense of aesthetics. So be it.

I should add that he also often satirizes capitalism and consumerism, which I'm sure does little to put him in the good graces of a conservative paper like The Times.

Check out this BBC News story about Banksy's work in Bethlehem, Israel and the Palestinian/Israeli wall. Also, this NPR story by Erik Westervelt about work by Banksy and other guerrilla graffiti artists in the same area.

Child Bride

Photo by Stephanie Sinclair

This photo by Stephanie Sinclair, a UNICEF Photo of the Year 2007, depicts an 11-year-old Afghani girl and her 40-year-old groom. Writing in Spiegel Online, Dutch writer Leon de Winter bluntly critiques the West's reaction to images like this one.
There are people who will look at this image and be able to continue with business as usual -- without disgust, nausea and rage. We are beholding the fiercest barbarism imaginable. But a carefree cultural relativism -- which this age has donned as its outward manifestation of decadent indifference -- allows many to simply look away. They turn away from the sight of an 11-year-old girl, who is about to be raped by the man sitting next to her.

The girl was sold by her parents, even if they probably wouldn't use that word. The caption that came with the photo quoted the parents as saying that they "needed the money."
De Winter points out that, at some level, this girl probably knows what is happening to her is wrong, but she also sees it as her fate. The man, on the other hand, is just sticking to tradition, which works decidedly to his advantage. He argues that we in the West have a responsibility, despite the trappings of political correctness, to do something about the situation.
Our eyes behold an abomination. Our eyes have learned to see the world from the perspective of a slowly acquired sense for humanity. And although more and more voices tell us that we -- the former colonialists and imperialists -- have lost the right to judge other cultures, we know just as well as this girl that this marriage is wrong. ...

Many of us in the West are convinced that our presence in Afghanistan cannot be justified, that our troops should withdraw and that Afghanistan should be left to the Afghans. They ask themselves: Who are we to believe that it is inhumane to sell an 11-year-old girl? Who are we to impose our values so vehemently on the Afghans, on this man and on this girl?

I don't have a clue who we are. But I know that this universe is not only a universe of iPods, Disneylands, CO2 penalties, tax write-offs, and New Year's sales in our department stores. No, I know that this is also a universe of human rights. I know that this universe is deeply shaken -- right down to its core -- by the suffering of this lonely, lonely little girl.
Elsewhere, I find that De Winter supported the invasion of Iraq. I can't agree that we should invaded Iraq, and I still don't believe we did it in the name of human rights. That's a revisionist history the Bush administration sold us after they failed to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But I do agree that if we're in Afghanistan, and ostensibly rebuilding that country, we should be doing all we can to maintain the rights of the people living there.

For the same reason, I find myself in the unenviable and unpopular position of being against the war in Iraq, but also against leaving any time soon. We should never have gone there in the first place, but we created the mess that's over there; we should be ashamed to leave it for the Iraqis to clean up. In other words, there's is a price to pay for the Bush administrations ineptitude. I don't think we can in good conscience create such a problem, then simply walk away, complaining about how the Iraqi leadership should've gotten their act together. We, as a country, voted for Bush - twice - and we should take the consequences that came with his administration's barbaric response to 9/11. Iraq isn't an iPod that fickle Americans can return because they decided they couldn't afford it after all. We have our starter marriages, we flip houses, we get liposuction instead of dieting and exercising. We want the quick fix. It's in our DNA. Well, that attitude will mean tragedy for Iraq.

I understand how some could perceive thoughts like this as a sort of 21st Century White Man's Burden. But I'm not suggesting we change people's cultures, that we make them all speak English and read the Bible. And I'm certainly not suggesting that we invade every country that has what we perceive to be human rights violations. Butt what do we do? Where do we draw the line? Do we ignore every transgression, equipped with the cloudy strain of moral relativism that de Winter angrily describes? Or do we decide as humans beings (not Americans, not Caucasians, not Christians) what the essential human rights are? I think so. And then we strenuously defend them.

One simple way to do that would be to support UNICEF.


Bowie sleeveface

When I found out about sleeveface, which also has a Flickr pool, well, of course, I had to contribute.

Monday, January 28, 2008


OilBowl by Chris Stribley

My brother's latest project is this extraordinary sculpture he created from melted plastic soldiers he then painted blood red and oil black. He details the precise way he made this extraordinary statement, including how he melted each single soldier together with a heat gun. It's quite a powerful, visceral statement against the war in Iraq.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Continuing Ed

Sesame Street has put hundreds of clips online - kind of a SesameTube - for your entertainment and intellectual nourishment. Grover explains on the home page ... adorably.

There's even browsing by metatags. Only thing ... I don't see any permalinks, any easy way to send people a specific clip. Or embedding, or email this. It's in Beta, so maybe some of those those pretty standard features will arrive soon.


Barack Obama

Ever since the prospect of Barack Obama running for President arose, I've suspected that he could take South Carolina by storm. Tonight, that became a reality. At the moment, it looks like he's going to win SC handily, the figures standing at 55% for Obama to 27% for Hillary Clinton at the moment. Congratulations, Mr. Obama, for making history. Let's hope there's more history to be made in the months to come.

One caveat: As I check out the voting stats, I'm not sure they really shows as much progress in South Carolina as it might initially appear. It looks like a tremendous number of African Americans came out to vote and overwhelming voted for Obama. However, white men tended to vote for Edwards and white women for Clinton, indicating, unfortunately, that South Carolinians may have simply voted right down racial and gender lines. Oddly enough, CNN is saying he won across demographic lines, which seems a very shallow understanding of the results.

One clear piece of positive news, however, is that 52% of non-white voters from the ages of 18-29 voted for Obama. Seems the younger generation truly is more colorblind. They were the *only* non-white age group in SC to vote overwhelmingly for Obama. Every other age group voted strongly for Clinton or Edwards. What a difference a decade makes. (Stats here.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Guide to Acceptable Cursing

Some people believe that swearing (or "cursing" or "cussin") is wrong at all times and in all places. More enlightened people understand that swearing is all about timing and context.

But when are those appropriate moments, the considerate person asks? And we admire them for asking. So it was with no small amount of deliberation that I approached this subject in order to understand and articulate what some thoughtful, sensible guidelines for swearing might be. What is, if you will, the natural law for cursing? Everyone one of us appreciates concision, so I hope that these guidelines will help us each of to curse more freely, allowing even those of who curse not at all to let loose with a blue streak, when they - now armed with these guidelines - recognize a situation, which allows for or even demands it. Without further ado then, 5 Guidelines for Acceptable Cursing:

1. When one steps outside and into unseasonably cold weather.

The most appropriate language for this situation? The adjectival form of word often mistakenly believed to be an acronym of "for unlawful carnal knowledge" followed by the colloquial word for Hades, plus the simple sentence, "It's cold." This sentence comports itself with elegant economy.

2. When someone disparages one's family or loved ones.

Or one's pets. Or one's belongings. Or one's self.

3. When a fellow commuter cuts you off in traffic.

As far a suggestions go, the obvious imperative grammatical structures come to mind, coupled, of course, with anatomical references in place of the usual nouns of address or proper names - especially considering one is unlikely to know the fellow driver by name. Tangentially, this guideline, more so than the others, also allows for demonstrative physical gesturing.

4. When one sees the President of the United States on television or hears him in a radio address.*

A corollary to this guideline was discussed at length: to wit, when a televangelist is seen in his (or her) native environs, should these sightings not be considered under the same principle delineated by guideline number 4? Or are the particular habits of the American televangelist peculiar enough to demand their own guideline?

5. When one sees a televangelist on television.

You'll note that specific suggestions are not provided for each guideline. This omission was intentional. Freedom to curse with great variety should be considered a right and creativity, encouraged.

*This guideline may be reviewed for relevance in early 2009.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Take My Advice

Detail from Be Yourself by Jane Laurie

These advice posters are fantastic. Designed by students at the University College of Falmouth in Cornwall, UK (where Stribleys originally come from!), they offer advice to new students. The detail above is from a gorgeous poster designed by Jane Laurie.

When Homophobes Attack

Brokeback Phelps

Fred Phelps serves up another bucket of crazy in the wake of Heath Ledger's death. That's right: he's going to protest Ledger's funeral. It's enough to make you wanna go buy a DVD of Brokeback Mountain.

Ironically, Phelps's violently irrational intolerance may do a lot for gay rights in the long run - by inadvertently provoking people to think about what is an appropriate way to treat their fellow human beings. One can hope.

Also, Fred, that hat you always wear is kinda Brokeback. Methinks the cowpoke doth protest too much.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Al Gore: Too Good To Be President

Al Gore asks a question the anti gay marriage crowd can't (or won't) answer:
Shouldn't we be promoting the kind of faithfulness and loyalty to one's partner regardless of sexual orientation?
(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Drink It Up!

I had no idea the "I drink your milkshake" line from There Will Be Blood had become so popular. It even has it's own site, wherein the owner declares it the new "Say hello to my little friend." Not sure that's what P. T. Anderson had in mind. But I see your point. By the way, if you don't know the line, you may not want to search on it, as it plays into the film's ending. Oh, and don't forget the Kelis remix.

Sympathy for Oprah

I'm not a huuuge Oprah fan for reasons irrelevant to this post, but let me say, I feel a lot of sympathy for her in the current position she finds herself: between a rock and a hard place. After all, if you're Oprah and a talented, young(ish) black man is running for President, as is a intelligent, self-possessed woman, who do you vote for? Or, more importantly in today's political scene, who do you endorse. Well, it wasn't particular surprising to me when she chose Obama. Apparently, however, some women (I'm sure not representative of the fairer sex) were incensed - to the point of calling Oprah "a traitor" to her gender. Thing is, putting yourself in Oprah's shoes, she was obviously in a lose/lose situation, wasn't she? If she'd endorsed Obama, some would've accused her of being a traitor to her race. In fact, arguably, she was in a lose/lose/lose situation, since if she'd endorsed Edwards, somebody out there would've accused her of being a traitor to both her race and her gender.

Says one commenter on Oprah's site:
For the first time in history we actually have a shot at putting a woman in the White House and Oprah backs the black MAN. She’s choosing her race over her gender.
Kinda hard to avoid the whole race and gender issue when it's shoved in your face like that, huh?

There's a certain type of person, apparently, who will brook no criticism of Hillary Clinton, answering every point about her placed in the negative column with a remark something akin to "If she were a man, you wouldn't care about that." Not so. I really don't feel like voting for Hillary Clinton at the moment, and it has nothing to do with her gender. And the problems I find in her, I find just as distasteful in any male candidate, thank you very much. Furthermore, I'd gladly vote for a female candidate I admire, given the opportunity. (Someone like the extraordinary Madeleine Albright, were she able to run, would stand head-and shoulders above every candidate.) Also, this tendency to change the subject but bringing up gender when faced with criticism is blatant intellectual dishonesty. Hillary Clinton often comes across as arrogant, and entitled (to the White House), she voted for the war in Iraq, and she's been snuggling up with Big Pharma for a while now. Those are criticisms I would level at any male candidate. Hell, that description actually makes her sound like George Bush.

I've long admired Bill Clinton for his work, despite his obvious foibles, but I've lost a lot of respect for the Clintons over the past few weeks, especially, as both of them have descended into dirty tricks and open prevarication about the various stances and the life story of Barack Obama. Suddenly, Andrew Sullivan doesn't sound so truculent. Obama hasn't come out smelling entirely like a rose, but he certainly appears the more dignified by comparison.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The First Rule of GROSS

Galvin Chow makes the compelling case that Fight Club is nothing more than the continuing adventures of Calvin & Hobbes:
Just as Calvin has an imaginary jungle-animal friend named Hobbes, whom everyone else believes to be nothing but a stuffed toy, "Jack" in Fight Club has an imaginary cool-guy friend named Tyler, whom no one but Jack can see.

In both cases, the entity that began as the ideal companion soon took on a more realistic, three-dimensional quality. In other words, they became real. This is evident in that both Hobbes and Tyler also began to function as scapegoats for their creators. For instance, consider that Calvin often blames broken lamps and other assorted household mischief on Hobbes, and that Jack is inclined to believe that Fight Club and other various anti-society mischief is brought about by Tyler, not himself. Calvin claims Hobbes pounces on him every day after school; Jack believes Tyler beats him up next to 40 kilotons of nitroglycerin in a parking garage—the list goes on and on. The relationships between the two sets of friends are the exact same. Is this mere coincidence?
And that's just the beginning of the comparisons.

Union Square

Just added these thoughts about Union Square to my ABCs of New York post:
Union Square - some may think of Times Square or even Central Park as the heart of Manhattan, but, for me, it's Union Square. Practically every subway line intersects there. So do New Yorkers of every ethnicity and socio-economic level. You'll see junkies, artists and models. (I saw TED prize winner photojournalist James Nachtwey strolling through the Square late one night last year.) You can shop for fine clothes, crafts, artwork or produce. Buy a $10 CD or DVD at the Virgin Superstore. Eat at anyone of a myriad of restaurants. Or just hang out in Union Square itself, watching the skaters, musicians, or the outdoor theater, or listening to the constant parade of passionate and/or crazy people preaching their sermons and conspiracy theories. And it's free. Just steer clear of the Scientologists.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bryant Barking

Bryant Barking

New photos over at my Flickr account. Including a growing Subway set. I love subways.

Tammy Time

My friend John Lucas is the creator of Tammy Talk, a hilarious advice column which ran for a year in an entertainment newspaper down South. He has published a collection of his favorite Questions and Answers from the column, using Lulu.com's nifty self-publishing functionality.

And don't forget to visit Tammy World and Tammy movies on YouTube.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Manned Cloud

Manned Cloud by Jean-Marie Massaud

This gorgeous, cetacean-inspired flying hotel by Jean-Marie Massaud is just one the new blimp projects apparently under way, which may usher in another Age of Zeppelins.

(Via Kayne West. Yes, that Kanye.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

They Changed Their Minds

The Edge's Annual Question for 2008 was "What have you changed your mind about? Why?" In this remarkable listing, dozens of great minds (including Esther and Freeman Dyson, Sam Harris, Howard Gardner, Janna Levin, Steven Pinker, and Robert Sapolsky) explain where and why they - God forbid! - changed their minds. Certainly not a popular action in today's political climate. No, it's usually better to revise your own past, rather than explain why you changed your mind on any given matter.

Anyway, I find myself agreeing whole-heartedly with Brian Eno's thoughts on politics:
Maoism, or my disappointment with it, also changed my feelings about how politics should be done. I went from revolutionary to evolutionary. I no longer wanted to see radical change dictated from the top — even if that top claimed to be the bottom, the 'voice of the people'. I lost faith in the idea that there were quick solutions, that everyone would simultaneously see the light and things would suddenly flip over into a wonderful new reality. I started to believe it was always going to be slow, messy, compromised, unglamorous, bureaucratic, endlessly negotiated — or else extremely dangerous, chaotic and capricious. In fact I've lost faith in the idea of ideological politics altogether: I want instead to see politics as the articulation and management of a changing society in a changing world, trying to do a half-decent job for as many people as possible, trying to set things up a little better for the future.

Perhaps this is why I've increasingly come to regard the determinedly non-ideological, ecumenical EU as the signal political experiment of our time.
And that's why I'm liberal, progressive, or whatever, but not a Democrat. It doesn't mean I don't want a revolution; I just suspect it's never going to happen at the rate I'd like it to.

Theocracy or Bust

The more I hear about Mike Huckabee the more he seems like the worst candidate on the pitch. The polite and smiling face of primitivism, a man, who, if he has his way with the Constitution, could send this country back to the Dark Ages. Think I'm exaggerating? Well, apparently, Huckabee's just been a little more revealing than usual about what's said to be one of his pet subjects, altering the Constitution:
"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards," Huckabee said, referring to the need for a constitutional human life amendment and an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Seems he generally knows what *not to say* to avoid scaring off the more secular crowd on the campaign trail. If these thoughts represent what he's willing to let slip, what else is going on inside that skull of his?

A few questions for Mr. Huckabee then:

1. Since we live in a pluralistic society, the edicts of which god or gods do you suggest we bring The Constitution into alignment with?
2. Presuming you mean Yahweh, the god of the religion you espouse, how do you intend to ensure that The Constitution is brought into alignment with his precise thoughts? What measuring stick do you intend to use?
3. Presuming you intend to use the Bible as a measurement, do you plan to do so comprehensively? For example then, in addition to a human life amendment and a marriage amendment, will you be seeking a human health and diet amendment, which will detail a precisely regulated diet for all Americans, as well as cosmetic concerns, perhaps, such as the length of men and women's hair?

I'd just like to know how comprehensive these changes are likely to be and rigorously you will stick to the Bible as you revise our apparently inadequate Constitution.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Love Thy Neighbor as Thine Inferior

"Unless Moses comes down with two stone tablets from Brokeback Mountain to tell us something different, we need to keep that understanding of marriage." - Mike Huckabee, Presidential Candidate
Ah, yes. Joking about being on the wrong side of a human rights issue is always good for a giggle. Fortunately, as folks have reminded me, Huckabee's a genuinely nice guy. Which is kind of like some of my friends down South, who would remind me that many plantation owners treated their slaves (their human property) kindly and with great dignity.

But why is Huckabee referring to Old Testament law? I thought he was a Christian.

Green Computing

Just watching The Wall Street Journal Report describe Fujitsu's new laptop casing as biodegradable. They further described it as made from corn, instead of petroleum products. It took a 30 second Google search to determine that the new casing isn't any more biodegradable than regular laptop casings are (so you can't just take it out your garden as bury it as the WSJR anchor joked), but the corn component is more biodegradable *after* it's been extracted from the petroleum-based plastic it's mixed with through a recycling process. Any guesses as to how many laptops will actually go through that process versus going straight to a landfill ... where they will take just as long to degrade as any other laptop?

A spokesman for Fujitisu on WSJR says producing the cases does save 15% in CO2 emissions, and that you'll also need to pay a little more for your corn-based laptop. Additionally, not all Fujitsu laptops will use the new component.

The Associated Press: Gadgets to Go Green at Electronics Show

Friday, January 11, 2008

RIP Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

There are famous people and then there are legends. Sir Edmund Hillary falls squarely into the latter category. Not just an adventurer, but a humanitarian and unfailingly modest. When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest with Tenzing Norgay, the former bee keeper famously replied, "because it's there." Words to live by.

Say It With Spraypaint

Valentine from Palestine

Send 30 euros to this Dutch company and they'll spray a Valentine's Day greeting to your loved one on the Palestinian side of the West Bank wall. I love the fact that something this divisive is being used to bring people together. Banksy famously did a series of 9 pointed images there, too.

Via Good Magazine

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Dept. of Only in New York

Via The Associated Press: Two 65-year-old men wheel the body of their dead friend around Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan, trying to cash one of his social security checks.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Chris ACEO

I had never heard of ACEOs ("art card, editions and originals") or artist trading cards (ATCs) until my brother created this one, a great little self portrait. (He's even listed it for bidding on eBay.) These are essentially miniatures created by artists and traded amongst artists and regular folks, with a modern-day popularity, which can apparently be traced to M. Vänçi Stirnemann in 1997.

They're kind of like visual haikus, since the artists are limited to creating their work on a 2 1/2 by 3 1/2" trading card - for example, a baseball card. Though they're usually made on card stock, ATCs can also be made on all sorts of other materials, including metal, fabric, glass, wood and leather.

Interestingly enough, ACEOs are considered a spin-off of ATCs, since they were created for selling whereas ATC were traditionally traded. So there's some controversy among artists, since some believe ATCs were intended only for trading. Ah, it's the old "sell-out" argument again I suppose. I think if an artist wants to make a little dough off his work, that's his business (perhaps literally) and more power to him.

With that in mind, check out some examples below, and consider making a bid on me bro's work!

ACEO - site with auctions
ATC Gallery
Illustrated ATCs
Listing of my brother's work available on eBay

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Viva La Evolución

viva la evolucion

When I saw this shirt, I just had to have it. So now, I'm shamelessly promoting it and the site I bought it on in the hope of making a buck or two. Hey, Manhattan rents don't come cheap, my friends. Besides, the tee promotes a good cause, right?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Few Words in Defense of Our Country

As this YouTube video shows, Randy Newman remains as scathing, as politically incorrect, and as hilarious at 64 as ever. Even if all his songs all do sound the same. An abridged version of this song even ran as a NYT op-ed piece almost a year ago. How'd I miss that at the time!
The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free
Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

It's Natural

The evidence that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon comes from all quarters. Rachel Hertz, author of The Scent of Desire in a Nerve interview:
One study found that gay men gravitate towards the smell of gay men. What does this tell us?

I think it points to the fact there is reasonably good evidence that there is a biological underpinning to male homosexuality.
Seeing that quote reminded me of this excellent New York article I read several months ago which explains how gay men were more likely to express certain specific physical characteristics - characteristics entirely beyond their control. For example, they're more likely to have an index finger that is close in size to their ring finger and their hair is even more likely to grow (or whorl) in the opposite direction than straight men's. The argument that "it just ain't natural" won't wash anymore - unless you avoid all evidence to the contrary.

Additional biological indicators mentioned in the New York article:
  • Gay men and straight women have an increased density of fingerprint ridges on the thumb and pinkie of the left hand.
  • Overall their arms, legs, and hands are smaller relative to stature (among whites but not blacks)
  • There are technical differences in the way most men and most women hear, except among lesbians, whose ears function more like men’s.
  • There are gender-based cognitive differences in which gay men appear more like women. One involves mentally rotating a 3-D object, something males tend to do better than females—except gay men score more like straight women and lesbians function more like straight men.
  • In navigational tasks and verbal-fluency tests, gay men and lesbians tend to have sex-atypical scores.
  • In any family, the second-born son is 33 percent more likely than the first to be gay, and the third is 33 percent more likely than the second, and so on.
  • Gay men and lesbians have a 50 percent greater chance of being left-handed or ambidextrous than their straight counterparts.
  • In (presumably straight) men, a cell cluster in the hypothalamus called INAH3 is more than twice the size of the cluster in (presumably straight) women. ... In gay men, INAH3 is similar in size to straight women’s.
Hopefully, it's obvious that these are statistical averages. Having a counter-clockwise hair whorl, for example, doesn't prove that someone is gay. On the other hand, if this information contributes to an understanding among more of us that there is variation among human beings - and that homosexuality is one of those variations - well, that'd be an improvement on the current situation.

The article also mentions that there are over 500 species of animal where homosexuality has been documented. A good number to remember the next time someone tells you that homosexuality can't be found elsewhere in nature or that it's "unnatural."