S’s mother and my mother were very close friends going back to their high school days, so S. and I grew up together, ultimately losing touch as adults. When her father died of a heart attack, she made a nearly successful effort to commit suicide. What came out of the suicide attempt was that S. had, in fact, been molested by her father from a very early age.
So my mother told me about what had happened, about the molestation and the suicide attempt. And then she added, “I never liked her. She was always such an overtly sexual child.” Continue reading →
Leonard Nimoy passed away today at age 83. I read that he was taken to the hospital last Thursday with a possible heart attack, so I am not completely surprised. I am, instead, deeply saddened. It’s like the end of The Wrath of Khan–but this time it’s for real and there will be no Genesis planet.
Spock: The ship… out of danger? Kirk: Yes. Spock: Do not grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh… Kirk: The needs of the few. Spock: Or the one. I never took the Kobayashi Maru test until now. What do you think of my solution? Kirk: Spock.
[Spock sits down] Spock: I have been, and always shall be, your friend.
[he places a Vulcan salute on the glass] Spock: Live long and prosper.
In the online world, bad behavior can be the best behavior. How is this possible?
In “real life,” when someone approaches and asks you out, you’re obliged by social custom to reply. You may not be interested, but you can’t just pretend that the person isn’t standing there talking to you. That would be unspeakably rude. So we have developed all manner of ways of saying no thanks, in what is hopefully the kindest way possible. None of us likes to be rejected, and if we have any empathy about us at all we’re uncomfortable inflicting pain and/or embarrassment on someone – especially since that person’s only crime is thinking we’re kinda neat.
The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, wikipedia.org
In a move of unprecedented celerity and international cooperation, the Summit Against Violent Extremism launched a worldwide counterattack on the recruiting methods and radicalization techniques used by the Islamic State and other extremists. Recognizing that the threat must be neutralized on all fronts, the summit presents a comprehensive approach, from building awareness through education, to destroying extremist narratives online with facts and larger counternarratives, to empowering community efforts to disrupt radicalization before the damage is done. Specific attention was given to the role of religious leaders. From the press release: Continue reading →
Like most of the graffiti art I see in San Francisco, I had no idea what the hell this blue cartoon bear with the rainbow-spitting belly button face was supposed to mean. But it was colorful and had a whimsical quality I liked, and to me those are good enough reasons to photograph just about anything…
(Picture taken on Valencia Street in San Francisco on January 3rd, 2015. The artwork is by Sirron Norris.)
If you’ve been following the latest scandal du jour, you already know that Brian Williams has been caught in and called out for a long series of big, fat, juicy lies. The “shot down” lie was one he put on heavy rotation for over a decade, according to Variety:
In multiple retellings over the years, though, the NBC anchor has gone from saying he was “on the ground” when he learned about the RPG threat to suggesting the copter immediately in front of his took the hit to saying his own chopper was battered by both the RPG and AK-47 fire.
Called out for it recently, he vaguely admitted to the, shall we say, botched recollection, and poorly at that, at least in context of Variety’s claim. Continue reading →
patriarchal principle: Men are entitled to take up space
“Manspreading” refers to men sitting in public spaces with their legs spread wide apart. Anyone – and especially a woman – who has sat in a movie theater, airplane, or any sort of public transportation is all too familiar with the phenomenon. All too many men seem willing to rudely spread out beyond their little designated spaces in places like those I’ve mentioned. I’d really like to have a dollar for every time I’ve been squeezed out of my space in a movie theater by a man manspreading next to me – I could buy most of the books on my wish list at Amazon. Some speculate that this behavior is an act of dominance or is about male privilege. Personally, I have always thought the message is, “Hey,everybody look at me – my balls are so big that I can not even close my legs!” The problem is widespread – if you will – enough that now, the New York City subway authority is mounting a campaign against the practice, using the slogan “Dude, stop the spread please. It’s a space issue.” Continue reading →
If you believe that America’s infrastructure is in good shape, that the American middle class is thriving, that our nation supports our troops by providing them with top-notch care after they return home, that the American education system needs more standardized testing and fewer schools, and that the economic gap between the rich and the poor is nothing to worry about, then Bob Herbert’s book Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America is not for you, and you can stop reading now.
Herbert wrote for the New York Times before he left in 2001 to join Demos, which the book jacket defines as “a public policy think tank” in New York. To get an idea of Herbert’s take on life in America, consider the beginning of “The Fire This Time,” which he posted in August on HuffPost:
I remember the stunned reaction of so many Americans back in the summer of 2005 when legions of poor black people in desperate circumstances seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized in New Orleans during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.
Where you stay during your vacation might be more interesting than you think…
My wife and I needed a break from where we live in Brisbane, California, so we took a drive down the California coast to Pismo Beach for a weekend vacation. We found modestly-priced hotel on Shell Beach Road, and stayed for two nights.
Edmund Morgan’s The Puritan Dilemma is an interestingly apologetic biography of Massachusetts Bay Colony’s leading figure, Governor John Winthrop.
The Puritan Dilemma: the Story of John Winthrop by Edmund S. Morgan (image courtesy Goodreads)
The other “outlier” from the 2015 reading list is a brief (less that 300 pages, a mere glance by scholarly biography standards) biography of a founder of Massachusetts Bay Colony (and its multiple term governor), John Winthrop. As I mentioned in my discussion of this year’s list, I picked up this interesting volume before hitting upon the “global/local” reading plan. And so it becomes the second book essay of 2015.
In a culture whose value system is thoroughly infused with the spirit of capitalist-democratic-republicanism of one permutation or another, art, tech – let’s face it – every form of human endeavor – is measured only by its ability to generate revenue…
(For earlier essays in this series look here, here and here.)
And so we come to the last in this series of essays examining how the evolution of technology (and remember, I refer to technology in a broad sense) has affected art and artists. This last piece will examine two pieces of technology – one is an economic system (capitalism) and the other is really a myriad of technologies coming together to produce – an effect? a composite technology? (the world wide web) and their effects on art and artists over the last 20 or so years.
Adam Smith, philosopher of political economy (image courtesy Wikimedia)
The history of the uneasy relationship between the political system most commonly referred to as democracy (rarely practiced in a pure form, as, let’s assume, we all understand) and the economic system known as capitalism (also rarely practiced in a pure form, same understanding as above) has been played out nowhere perhaps as openly – and at the same time subtly – as in our America – the good old USA. Our country is one who has tried, with often wildly varying results, to reconcile the basic premises of these two important systems of thought.
The guy who catches the most heat in critiques of capitalism is the one pictured at right whose most important work, The Wealth of Nations, seems to argue for self-interest as a public good even as it warns against the human tendency to collude and engage in ugly practices such as price fixing which he sees as self-interest used against the public good. The most important – and misunderstood by the limited understanding of the average American – idea in Smith’s treatise, however, is his assertion (not that people are naturally unequal, though that certainly is very important because it conflicts with our notions of democracy) that wealth matters more than people. Continue reading →
For New Year’s, confessions of a hypocrite journalist…
I am a pretty liberal guy, but not exactly a vigorous social activist. I maintain for myself, a struggling photojournalist, the comfortable hypocrisy that periodically photographing and reporting on local (and, even more infrequently, Japanese) social issues is my contribution to stimulating compassion and action in others. This hypocrisy gets particularly assertive during the end-of-year Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
So I have a couple of stories here to briefly tell, which I offer as reminders to my fellow Americans that many folks in our country are hurting, and downtrodden, and further away from what’s left of The American Dream than you or me…
Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were victims of a terror attack. I remember the World Trade Center attack like my grandfather remembers the buzzbomb that knocked him off his bicycle. I have the piece of shrapnel that he saved, right next to my Chinatown painting of two airships closing in on the towers. I remember the smell of burning asbestos, human bodies, and desktop knick knacks, that drifted uptown for days. Continue reading →
On the rapes of Majid Khan and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Fill in the blank: rape is morally acceptable when __________.
Time. Pencils down.
I don’t know about you, but there was never a point in my life when I needed to be told that there is no such thing as a good answer to this question. But let’s define our terms, shall we? In January 2012, the FBI finally updated its definition of rape:
“The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anuswith any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” [emphasis added]
The holiday season is most often described as “joyful,” “merry,” “bright” – candles instead of cursing the the darkness – but both the Appalachian storytellers of “A Firefox Christmas” and Charles Dickens in “The Chimes” remind us that the holidays can be a time of loneliness and disillusionment…
A Foxfire Christmas, ed. Eliot Wigginton (image courtesy Goodreads)
I complete the 2014 reading list as I did the 2013 reading list – with some holiday appropriate stories. For this year’s list I returned to the acknowledged godfather of Christmas tales, a Mr. C. Dickens, for his haunting look at what we really should mean by “starting the New Year right,” The Chimes. I followed that with the Christmas entry in the Foxfire series of folk lore compendiums, A Foxfire Christmas.
What is striking about both these works is the powerful current of pathos that runs through them. One expects this of Dickens, of course. No one does pathos like the creator of Little Nell, Oliver Twist, and Jo the crossing sweeper. The Firefox books, on the other hand, are compilations of stories and folk wisdom from long time residents of Appalachia. Their experiences, related as nearly as possible in their own words, range widely and move from the humorous to the heartbreaking – sometimes abruptly. The overall aim isn’t (as it often is with Dickens, that master manipulator of our emotions) to foster sympathy and motivate social action; Foxfire books primarily seek to preserve cultural history – the pathos one sometimes encounters there is firmly embedded in the history being shared. Continue reading →
The other day I wished everyone a Happy Solstice. Tonight, I wish my Christian friends a Merry Christmas.
Even though I have left that particular religion behind me, I can’t help feeling the tug of my childhood, when friends and family, lights and food, the magic of the manger story and, of course, the HDAD-inducing anticipation of Santa’s impending visit made this the most special night of the year. It still calls to me, across the decades.
We currently have an epidemic of philanthropy in the U.S., and that’s a very bad thing.
Philanthropy is everywhere. Good luck finding a 5K race or golf tournament or box of cookies that doesn’t have an affiliation with a not for profit. Companies have replaced annual executive golf outings with days of painting walls and digging ditches at inner city neighborhood centers. And there has emerged an entirely new industry, what professional aid workers disdainfully call “poverty tourism,” where wealthy Americans spend a week or two each year somewhere in the Third World “giving back.” Philanthropy has exploded, and now exceeds $300 billion dollars each year.
Tamir Rice grew up–and died–in the city that has adopted the movie A Christmas Story as its own, Cleveland, Ohio. But there is a vast gulf between Tamir Rice and Ralphie Parker that, even accounting for the gulf between real life and fiction, cannot be reconciled. At this holiday season, when the TNT network is about to indulge in its annual 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon, it seems a particularly appropriate time to reflect on the recent tragic shooting.
On Saturday, November 22, a man made a 911 call to the Cleveland police about “a guy with a pistol, and it’s probably fake. . . but he’s pointing it everybody.” Continue reading →
The 20th century offered artists – and everyone else – the greatest number of technological advances in human history. But these advances also changed human ecology – and artists and art – in startling ways….
For earlier essays in this series look here and here.)
RCA’s adverdog Nipper and the Victrola (image courtesy Wikimedia)
The turn of the 20th century saw humanity in the midst of an onslaught of technological change that has permanently altered how we communicate, travel, and entertain ourselves. The telephone made it possible to hear the voices of friends and family over remarkable distances and receive news, especially personal news, faster than ever before. The automobile and airplane made visiting those distant loved ones first possible, then feasible, ultimately expected. And the phonograph, motion picture camera/projector and later radio and television (remember, television’s blockbuster effect on home entertainment was delayed at least a decade by World War II) made home entertainment as simple as passively sitting and listening/watching. The culture became both easily mobile and easily sedentary in one fell swoop. Modern photography, already 75 years old by the beginning of the 20th century, had been appropriated for artistic purposes for at least 50 years. However, its documentary function far overshadowed its power as an art form for many decades.
The newer technological innovations of recording and film offered artists opportunities – but unlike other technological innovations such as I mentioned in the previous essay (industrially produced paint for artists, the use of the typewriter by authors, the harpsichord’s replacement by the piano in music), these technological innovations did not necessarily lend themselves to exploitation by artists. In truth, the technological changes that developed in the 20th century changed not simply how art was made but how art was conceived and executed and how art came to be viewed in ways that we have not fully considered. A look at the changes that occurred and what their possible meanings are for us culturally seems apropos. Continue reading →