20181113 3rd Floor to 2nd Floor

After editing all day for OSF, Vera invited Zihua and I to show each other our work in the Gemeinshaftraum. The proposition reminded me of graduate school critiques, of which I was not and still am not very fond. Vera began by showing us her abstract videos, the first, “Panoramic Panic Body” (2014, 10 minutes), was comprised of several botanical elements, some macro and and some at recognizable scale, trading places in the center of the screen, woven between negative shots of trees. An unpredictable looping pattern of the elements brought the attention to the mid and background texture elements, while asynchronous sound stitched the video together.

I watched Vera's work from the perspective of the celluloid film art work that was popular in the Bay Area scene. I asked her outright where the inspiration and historical relationship to that style of film making had come from and she said that Freiburg had had a strong experimental film period in the 1970s, those film makers were now professor where she had studied. In relation to the Bay Area movement (of which still held some parts of SF in a experimental stranglehold), experimental cinema's materiality, fascination with Eastern ideology, e.g. Youngblood's attempt at framing video art as a transcendental tool:

"When we say expanded cinema we actually mean expanded consciousness." [1]

I was a little confused and surprised of how or why German film makers would propagate abstract film art. Why would German experimental film makers be theoretically inclined to scratch celluloid if they weren't reading Marshall McLuhan? What use are hypnotic moving images if mental numbing toward escaping one’s consciousness isn’t the point?

Practically, I wondered how these artists in Germany got their hands on film equipment and whether there were industries there that sold off old gear to locals, in the way described the television industry in NYC sold inadvertently equipped the art film makers who founded Anthology Film Archives, the Film-makers Cooperative and the influence that trickled upstate to Binghamton and later Alfred, NY. [2][3]

Getting at the genealogy of thought, with the discursive distinction of German theory on moving images, e.g. the Frankfurt School, more preoccupied with representation and social construction through images, i.e. Cultural Studies, than focusing on the medium of film, light and visual perception, i.e. what would become Media Studies, why would there be a Brakhage-esqe scene in Freiburg? The most logical answer is that art, art styles, art practices and artists travel, even if the theory that shaped it is left in its country of origin. Prior to the globalized world, or the networked world of the Internet, art existed in the routes of transit and it's for this reason that one encounters local artists in remote regions who are working in a style that may have never had any roots in that place.

Zihua showed us a video of a performance of his composition "remnants present," performed by the percussionist Noam Bierstone. [4][5] During the 13 minute piece, three objects–a large gong, a pan and a wooden board–hang in front of Bierstone, who is making scratching and tapping sounds using a metal wire whisk, and scratching a magnetic across the metal, which is attracting a magnetic on the other side, which could be seen moving while the scratching sound was being made. The percussionist and scenery were darkly lit by a side light. I was be I looked at Zihua during this video and he had his eyes closed. My first thought was the composition could be perfect for a film score.

I attempted to show my SGT STAR work, but the wifi didn’t work in the Gemeinshaftraum, so it was assigned as homework. [5]


[1] "Expanded Cinema," Gene Youngblood, P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York 1970
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expanded_Cinema

[2] Film-makers' Cooperative
http://film-makerscoop.com/

[3] "Binghamton Babylon: Voices from the Cinema Department, 1967-1977," Scott M. MacDonald, SUNY Press, 2015
http://www.sunypress.edu/p-6144-binghamton-babylon.aspx

[4] Zihua Tan, remnants present / Noam Bierstone
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRVO5dOCtBQ
http://www.noambierstone.com/index.php/en/

[5] SGT STAR

http:///qoarmy.com

20181112 Desk to Kitchen

I resumed my work for OSF today and Murphey's law was at work. All of the most recent Premiere and After Effects files were not uploaded to the cloud, nor copied to my hard drive. To recreate all of the work necessary to be in a position to complete what I was intended to finish this week, would itself require a week of work. I searched everywhere three times before contacting Sumit and inquiring about the possibility of him logging into my laptop and copying all the .aep and .pproj to box. Afterward, I changed my Okta password.

The time difference meant that the morning was spent researching exactly what was left outstanding, and the evening, after I had received the files, were conforming the tasks to the current files. I worked 16 hours Monday.

20181111 Puntigamer to Dom im Berg

I went out to explore the city. Exploring an area that is already inhabited is essentially getting lost and locating oneself. Seeing things that many people have seen before, but vibrate with novelty to your eyes.

The southeast side of the city of Graz becomes Euro-suburban very fast: houses, some farm plots, automotive-dependent with islands of megastructures, inconsistent sidewalks, fences and driveways. It's quaint in size and aesthetic. It's tidy. It's sparsely populated by structures and I saw just enough people to not notice that it was abandoned.

Puch museum.jpg

I visited the Puch Museum, which is essentially a large garage of the myriad of the Puch products–mopeds, trucks, cars, bicycles–jammed into the center of the space, with little narrative consideration of how visitors actually see the works. This was a collector's museum, not a curator's museum. When Hitler annexed Austria, industry such as Puch was a primary motivation. That may explain the absence of narrative. Just imagine the third wall sign: "And here is when we made Nazi trucks." Not exactly a heart warmer. I was the only visitor, so maybe I was over-thinking the institution's rationale to obscure their past. The sole attendant occupied himself by spray painting something at the far north end of the garage. The fumes made their way to the middle of the garage around the time I decided to leave.

I stopped by Schaumbad to look at Eva's studio as a possible site for interviewing Steve Weiss or Martin and Romana. The studio was filled with layers of art projects, research, production and life. It was hard to believe that Eva had been there less than a decade. A large light with the word "over" sat perfectly in the corner. From what I'd gathered about the protest against the Murkraftwerk, "over" continued to bitterly loom over Romana and Martin.

I made haste to another art event. The event in the Schlossberg was described to me as an artist who was going to bring together a descendant of the Archduke Ferdinand and the descendant of the Archduke's assassin, Gavrilo Princip, for a handshake. The location was a room in the Dom im Berg, a mountain that was hollowed out to serve as a bomb shelter during World War I. It was too fitting, too perfect to not attend.

The event began with trio band playing Serbian music followed by other musicians playing a royal Habsburg melody.The stage was set with the Austrian musicians stage left and the Serbian musicians stage right. In the center were two black leather, Scandi-chic couches. Igor F. Petković, the artist, sat in the center. After the music conclude he gave a long, contextualizing speech, of which I could only understand him mentioning the two songs, and made several references to "Kultur." It felt almost like he was giving a benediction of the music. He then invited to interlocutors on stage to discuss Kultur, immigration and how Central Europe is a mixing pot of cultures. By the time the third person had answered a question, it began to feel like a talk show. There was so much talking, lecturing, that I wondered how this would be different as an "art event" in the U.S., or even if this was billed as an art event. Was this the performance? What introduction did such a symbolically-loaded gesture need? Austrian art events, I would learn, are usually predicated with a long, verbal introduction.

Part of the event included the ceremonial recognition of winners of the The Alfred Fried Photography Award 2018, which had a theme of "What does peace look like?" The presenter, Lois Lammherhuber expounded on the topic of photography and peace at length, before a ceremonial lecturer, spot lit, reading from a clear acrylic podium, announced the winner with pomp. The ceremony went on and on and I was running out abstract footage to film; I had thought the event may be visually interesting. Ultimately, I couldn't take it anymore. I had to leave before seeing what I thought would be money shot–the descendants shaking hands.

More interesting than the symbolic act was the intentional production of history-making–as opposed to placemaking, or (thing)making–which may be indicative of the kulturzeitgeist. There is so much talk about "Europe" here, which I've taken as a juxtaposition or affront to what is "Austrian," given the Chancellor's politicking. Compounded with Brexit, Hungary, Poland, the perpetual and near concern of Russia, Crimea, and the Ukraine, striving for a critical distance, a point from which this whole messy–in its wholeness and messiness–can be seen is comforting. As the liberal left–artists–contend against the populist (mostly non-creatives)–the importance of holding onto the production of history increases. The creation or recreation of historical events, the mode of producing history–texts, online archives, photos, video and social media can be a strategy to not only moralize about a historical past, but situate a historical present and predict a historic future. History is written by hands trembling to be shook by the infirm memory of an Alzheimer future.

20181110 Schloßberg to Freiheitsplatz

Abraham invited me to scale the Schloßberg. The day was clear, the air crisp. The topic of our discussions always slips into the gutter of geopolitics and economics. He's a smart guy but I was curious to know where he got his information and what formed his perspective. As if in response and affront to our last conversation about the influence of media outlets on social perception, and alternative ways to learn about current events, he told me that he has no choice but to get his information from news media; he has no time to become an expert on the topics. That was his phrasing. He wouldn’t disclose the exact media names, which I noted in absentia. Still, he feels strongly about the topics of geopolitics.

Abraham recounted an anecdote about one of his colleagues gloating about being possibly hired by an American startup. Ultimately nothing ever formalized for her. I got the impression that there is implicit prestige and explicit high-earnings in Silicon Valley were something that was both attractive and disdained to him. As a mathematician, statistician and tri-lingual Mexican, Abraham could be a competitive candidate for many Silicon Valley startups. I suggested that he looked into it jobs in the U.S. He retorted with the textbook answer of young men: I never really think about making money. That’s not what interests me.

I didn’t flinch at the answer because I’ve said the same thing, and still believed the same thing. I might still believe the same thing. But isn’t having a moonlighting career inherently the excuse for not caring about money? I mean, if you don’t have a passion that you’re pursuing and you’re just working, isn’t money exactly what you’re interested in, given the tasks being the same Having walked away from my job, I demonstrated the same thing. But I can’t lie to myself and say that money is not a high-priority in my life, not only in the lifestyle to which I’ve grown accustomed but the fact that, once I’d acquired some money, my perspective has shifted on many topics. (The latter is as predictable as Abraham’s and my answer.) But returning to the answer I wondered if he, or I, really could “not think about money.” As if, not having it excused him or I from the world around us.

Equally, I wondered, as Abraham had admitted, how much a luxury it was to not have to prioritize money. I wonder this not only on an individual level–since both he and I are part of a small part of the world’s population that has completed post-secondary education–but also on a national level. The existence of some infrastructure–social, medical, environmental, criminal–allows us to not to seek out life-saving financial support. And if the capricious variable of where you are born offers this luxury, are there constituents to the geopolitical world that requisite for this condition? More succinctly: What is wealth?

A siren sounds at 12 every Saturday, which dates back to the war days, as a test of the emergency communication program. The rooftop horn was at eye level as we descended. The tone reminded me of the fire siren that sounded in Goldendale summers as a child. One long scream meant a fire in town; two long screams meant a fire out of town, and the volunteer firefighters went calling. I would always look out the sliding glass to the porch cast yellow by the corrugated plastic roof, to the backyard grass brown by summer sun, to the hedges and Rhet’s backyard, through the fence to the horizon for a distant chimney of smoke. Sometimes I saw smoke.

The European Balcony project was scheduled at 16h at Freiheitsplatz in Graz. It is an international project intending to make European countries more united, the Freiheitsplatz was chosen in Graz due to its historical significance. Allegedly, a politician made the announcement from the balcony of the Schauspiele that the country of Austria was born, 100 years before, on November the 12, 1918. [1]

At the event I saw a few familiar faces: Marleen and Micheal from Studio Asynchrome, Heidrun from Forum Stadtpark, and Stefan Schmidt from Kork cafe. About forty people congregated and read from a page-length statement in German. I filmed a few people who didn’t seem self-conscious of being recorded into posterity. After the short reading, Stefan generously explained the project and calculated its value and relevance in the larger European political context. The ensuing exchange, or rather expression of Stefan’s anxieties, about the future of Austria, the political right. Some of his accusations were expected: their ignorant, anti-immigrant perspective, their cutting of social welfare programs, their ethno-nationalist fervor. But his anxiety for his daughter’s future equality was unexpected and explained to me as part of the political right’s journey back to a traditional social arrangement with women pregnant in the kitchen, barefoot.


[1] "Zur Erinnerung an die Proklamation der Republik vor 100 Jahren," Tag Des Denkmal

https://tagdesdenkmals.at/de/objekte-2018/steiermark/graz-schauspielhaus-balkon-zum-freiheitsplatz/

20181109 Stone Age to Water Age



Graz map.png

The management of rainwater runoff is becoming a central concern for many cities; climate change is shortening the duration of transitional seasons, but increasing the amount of precipitation. In one sense, stone material in cities are central to this problem, since they prevent both percolation and soil hydration. They are chosen for these characteristics in effort to secure other urban value assets–infrastructure like transportation, piping, electricity, et al. But they are also chosen because stones, when exposed to moisture, erode more slowly than human life or a government. If our life span was only 24 hours, leaves would suffice as a city floor.

While homes may be made of wood or steel, cities are made of stone. Some places have dirt or sand roads, and structures made of sticks, or just a roof, but they are limited in dimension. They may be inhabited, they may be massive conglomerations of tin roofs, or mud huts, but are they cities? (Some countries have different legal taxonomy for village, town, or city, but does the legal status change the experience or activity of the place?) And does the weather, and subsequently the materials we lay in response to the environmental conditions, change our experience or activity? If we become a globe of water, and our cities are floating consortia of boats, will they be our cities?

Austria is considered a water-rich country with mountain springs, run off, rivers and lakes. It is also stone rich. The streets of Graz show evidence of ongoing relationship to the hallowed ground on which the city sits. Different stones connote different eras of construction, spanning centuries, but also different uses and different masonry technologies. Currently, we are in the asphalt era. A black, impermeable sheet shaped to the geolocation's demands: curved, flat, roughed, smoothed.

Some stones connote a bike lane. Some a path for the blind. The Belgian blocks of the entrances to many hofs, including into the center of Priesterseminar, connote an interior public space that borders on private; the stones are laid in intersecting arcs. The sidewalks, streets, and curbs are all different stones. For the pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist the stones offer a solid surface. In Graz, these superficies are wrought in different stone.

At the first Soil Symposium, I learned that almost 80% of the city of New York is covered in an impermeable material, concrete or roofing. Looking at the arial map of Graz, I see the pattern of terra cotta bordered blocks with a green center in the old city. Outside the old city, where smaller structures become the norm, greenery blends with concrete and homes to average a gray zone. In the surrounding hills, forest green dominates. I would estimate that 50% of the surface of Graz is impermeable.

Towns are a technology of the Stone Age.

20181108 Schaumbad to Künstlerhaus

Iris offered to lead a tour through the Districts of Puntigam, Graz-Neuhart and Gries. Schaumbad is located on Puchstraße, named after Johann Puch's manufacturing company, most well-known in the U.S. for the 49.cc Puch Maxi mopeds that are popular for existing in a legal gray zone between human-powered and motor-powered conveyances, which required different licenses and road usage. The southern neighborhood was the original industrial center, located south of the city it should be noted that pollution generated from this area and likely disposed into the Mur would impact towns downstream in souther Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, etc., on the tribulation to the Drava and Danube.

The industrial past and present are evident. Near Schaumbad are distributors of industrial material, landscaping supplies, kitchen decoration, but also a few recycling companies, which can be thought of as the next industrial revolution: once it's less expensive to repurpose than manufacture from raw material.

Walking up Puchstraße we saw the monuments to an industrial past: the towers of concrete about ten stories high, windows broken and doors missing. The towers are covered in solar panels, which are hung so well that they appear to be part of the original building design. On the ground floor a modest revival is underway in the form of a rock climbing gym, Crossfit studio and squash court. Around the back is a literary space and a new building to house artists. Graffiti and murals fill in where there aren't solar panels

Iris walking Tour-9.jpg

We saw Caritas Ressidorf, a mens homeless shelter before turning down Auf der Tändelwiese to see Dr. Schlossar-Park where the Grazer artist Hartmut Skerbisch built a garden labyrinth. The garden was not in the best shape; autumn has not treated it well and most of the phytowalls were in decay. But a gesture of the city's support for local artists, as well as a sign of its lack of it changing its mind.

Iris walking Tour-11.jpg

The buildings in this area, many of which were social housing projects from the beginning of the twentieth century, form walls along the street and guard green space within the block. Other developments are rows of two and three story homes with spacious backyards.

We continued down Kapellenstraße and saw the Urnenfriedhof Graz, one of the older cemeteries in the city. Iris told us that it is very expensive to be buried there and that, unlike plots in the U.S., they are not permanently owned, but leased. When one's descendants no longer pay the lease to the plot, the body is exhumed and the plot leased to a newly dead. Cemeteries are more for the living to remember the dead, than for the dead to have company.

Turning up Payer-Weyprecht-Straße we came to Kunstgarten, a familiar cultural institution in the backyard of Irmi and Reinfrid Horn. They program film screenings, concerts, exhibitions and residencies, and maintain a botany library. Pure generosity and endurance. Reinfrid in his overalls, toiling away at the computer, and Irmi welcoming us over tea and Früchtebrot. We chatted for a few hours but the highlight of the conversation was learning of the 23 years of tension between them and their missionary neighbors. Reinfrid portrayed them as rural conservatives who moved to the city, treated their pets like farm animals and didn't appreciate culture nor community. The called the police in response to concerts, and their dogs barked at guests. The long game.

The next stop was the Graz-Karlau Prison, seated on archduke Karl II's summer hunting grounds. From the street we could see the silhouette of two people, whom I presume were inmates watching the evening traffic. The complex has a central tower with four radial arms, and an adjacent structure running parallel to the street. The grounds are walled off and decorated by public art projects on the side bordering Triester Straße. As one of the larger prisons in Austria, it was the holding cell of the mass-murder Jack Unterweger, who became the icon of prison rehabilitation after he successfully transitioned back to freedom by becoming a writer and journalist. Having used his imprisonment to craft short stories, poems, plays and an autobiography, he gained the respect and admiration of Viennese cafe intellectuals.[1] He recanted his psycho-sexual homicides, his signature works were strangulation of sex workers with their own bras. After serving his sentence, he became a minor celebrity, international journalist, but soon resumed killing, re-imprisoned and committed suicide. Terrorists and nationalist terrorist were also held, together, at Graz-Karlau.

Iris walking Tour-31.jpg

The tour brought us past a slaughterhouse, just across the street from a Tierkorper Sammelstelle, or dead pet depository. It was not clear which site was the origin of the foul smell.

We continued across the river over Karlaugürtel, past Peepshow, a laufhaus, and up Neuholdaugasse, when I looked up Leitnergasse and saw a large tree in the sidewalk, seemingly oversized and out of place. I realized that, due to the narrow width of the sidewalks, there are not many sidewalk trees, as one finds in some cities. Instead, the green areas are set behind buildings in the center of the block. Since many sidewalk trees have short, difficult lives due to soil compaction, pet excrement and urban activity, perhaps it's better that trees are centralized on blocks.


Tierkorper Sammelstelle.jpg

[1] "Killer Prose," Rick Atkinson, Washington Post, August 3, 1994.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1994/08/03/killer-prose/796b8f84-0ee1-437e-9cd6-6496cbecbbe6/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d06ca07aafc1

20181107 ESC to Kork Cafe

Iris invited me to an event at ESC Median Kunst Labor that was guided by the director, Reni. ESC had commissioned "Distant Skies: Pressure Waves," by Kathy Hinde, a British artist, a series of large-scale origami birds, whose wings were animated by crude pistons, all hung in front of Hubble telescope images of the galaxy. Simplistically beautiful, the location in the windows provoked a window-display aesthetic one might find on Fifth Avenue. I liked them.

Perchten3.jpg

In the front exhibition space, the collaborative "Palimpsest" (with Daniel Skoglund) explored the different transliteration of data from drawings on the floor into sound which are in turn used to manipulate video footage. What the visitor sees are machines that look like land-borne drones on the floor scribbling abstract designs on paper, a projection onto the machine and some nearby monitors. It reminded me of the drawings made by machines that that were popular a decade ago back when that documentary of an elephant that could paint and whose paintings were selling made plebeians continue to ask the question "What is art?" These works don't ask this question, and for that, I'm thankful.

Lastly, in the main exhibition space Hinde was show "Phase Transition" a series of three sculptures converted data about global warming to heated lamps over ice, which dropped into a steel trough, creating rust patterns in the bottom. Some audio was connected to these. As a trio of three or four of these systems, I'm not sure what the point of having more than one was, but trend of visualizing data and reproducing it in different media is vaguely similar to the fascination of synaesthesia in the Nineteenth Century, only the myth of the artist as neurologically unique and appreciating sensorial perception differently than most people is replaced with the myth that the artist is a mild genius.[1]

At ESC I met the new resident artist at Schaumbad, Vera. Fay, the gallery assistant, and Iris shortly debated the merits of art work about climate change. In the context of the exhibition, and during the discussion I sensed a history between these two young ladies. I learned that they had been students in an art history class together.

Zihua and I went to the opening of Keyvin and saw only the closing of the event but he showed me the downstairs of the space, which functioned as a workshop or storage. The building was very old, and the basement, which required descended several narrow stone passageways, was unfinished, densely packed although the ceiling must have been 12 feet high.

We met Iris and Vera at Kork cafe near the University to see a performance by the Graz artist Stefan Schmitzer. His performance consisted of a drummer and keyboardist playing disjointed songs while Stefan read from publications by the right-leaning Austrian government. Although I didn't understand the reading because it was in German, I was impressed because by the space, which was a lively cafe with patrons enjoying beers and hanging out, while this avant gard performance occupied the place of what would be a bad open-mic (tucked into a corner, no cover fee, and people really being at the cafe to socialize, not to be entertained or see a performance) in a U.S. cafe. [2]

For the size of the population, Graz has a lot of cultural activities operating at an impressive level. While San Francisco has about 700,000 inhabitants, and a few million if the greater San Francisco Area is included, at short of 300,000 people Graz and has many many more events, and higher quality of work, both on grounds of content and production value. The cultural institutions of Graz–Künstlerhaus KM, Grazer Kunstverein, and Kunsthaus Graz for contemporary art, mirror the role of San Francisco's Yerba Buena, or Berkeley's Pacific Art Museum. The Kunsthaus includes Camera Austria’s exhibition space; Camera Austria also produces a printed magazine. Graz has a plethora of smaller spaces, like Kunsthalle Graz and of course Schaumbad.

Perchten1.jpg

The Universalmuseum Joanneum is a massive complex of regional institutions that include natural history, artifacts, zoology, mineralogy, paleontology, folk culture and art. It actually includes Kunsthaus Graz within its network. Besides contemporary art, there are numerous religious museums and historic museums: GrazMuseum, Tramway Museum, Schloss Eggenberg (another Joanneum), Museum Der Wahrenmung, Schell Collection, Naturkundemuseum, Haus Der Arkitektur, Styrian Armoury, Palais Herberstein, a sculpture park and numerous historic and architectural sites. There are galleries, some high-end commercial, others more experimental with a non-profit model. The Diagonale film festival is an addition to the local, smaller cinemas that will screen Cannes and Berlinale programming.

Perchten4.jpg

By population, Graz is more appropriately compared to either Seattle or Portland, but by this metric there is no comparison with the cultural activity and level to Graz. Even combining the two U.S. cities. The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Frye inadvertently collaborate toward fulfilling the void of institutional contemporary art in Seattle. However, their collections aren’t orientated to complement this mission and much of the floorpan is dedicated to landscape painters or German Romanticists, which influence your experience seeing newer works in adjacent galleries. As the relevance of art to the Millennial audience increasingly equates to revisioned histories of truth, power, sexuality, gender and representation–across media–institutions face the reality of evolving or closing their doors. And in the last 10 years there have been occasional, and thankfully an increasing frequency of shows of international repute in Seattle–Harun Farocki at the SAM and Carrie Mae Weems at the Henry to name a few–but every time I visit I'm reminded of the tremendous wealth of the city–the numerous corporations and billionaires (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates)–and sorely surprised that only Paul Allen has seriously supported arts and culture. (Can the public visit Microsoft’s art collection?) Architecturally speaking, I prefer the facade of Experience Museum Project to Peter Cook's Kunsthaus Graz, but I've never seen an important or interesting show the EMP, and the interior space is a tropical wine cellar: too warm to keep anything of value. Seattle has had some fledgling organizations that were promising–Western Bridge, 911 Media–but they couldn't gain the traction, years, and support needed to grow into a world class stature. The exception to this is the Seattle Sculpture Park. As a city that was the mythical center of 1990s music, Seattle could have positioned itself as a world destination for contemporary culture. Yet Seattle’s best cultural activities are found in house-show scene, cafes and restaurants.

Graz institutions achieve an international scope through introducing local and international practitioners in residencies, special exhibitions and programming with budgets. Notably, the majority of cultural institutions in Graz are headed by accomplished females. At least four of these institutional leaders were feminists artists involved in the magazine Eva & Co.

The Steirischer Herbst [1] is an important annual arts festival that been happening for over forty years. With an emphasis on new and avant-garde art, most media are included–music, films, installations, radio programs, theater, exhibitions–as well as programming for discussions and lectures. Seattle’s Bumbershoot would be a similar scale, though Bumbershoot emphasizes music and lasts only for Labor Day Weekend; Steirischer Herbst lasts for about a month.

CMRK is an evening of coordinated openings in Graz in which four institutions that support contemporary art–Camera Austria, Künstlerhaus KM, <roto> and Grazer Kunstverein–each have a reception for one hour, each occurring in succession. The event aims to connect the contemporary arts community of Graz s well as draws crowds from Vienna by offering a free shuttle bus between the two cities. [4]

Perchten5.jpg

The sector that I see missing is a strong contemporary gallery district in Graz. There isn't a large, distinct arts neighborhood and the few galleries that I visited were spread out around the cities. Here, Graz could learn from the model that Seattle developed with the Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts that function as anchor of the Seattle's gallery area. [5]

In the context of connectivity to international producer, Steiermark has attracted international artists, writers, musicians, regularly through their residencies and commissions, exhibitions and talks. San Francisco's Headlands, nearby Djerassi, or Montalvo lack the exposure of residency that is located within a city and open to the public. Seattle's residency scene is small; local niche organization like Jack Straw, mostly support local talent.


[1] ESC Medien Kunst Labor

https://esc.mur.at/de/projekt/distant-skies-pressure-waves

[2] Stefan Schmitzer

https://schmitzer.mur.at/

[3] CMRK

http://www.cmrk.org/k_eng.html

[4] Steirischer Herbst - Festival of New Art

http://2015.steirischerherbst.at/english/Festival

[5] Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts

http://tklofts.com/

20181106 Mur to Kunsthaus Graz

The light in Graz is diffuse, slightly foggy, the humidity coming up from the Mur, or densifying as the air moves up and against the mountains, is perfect for filming. It's not too bright or contrasted; it's not too dim. When the sun is blocked by clouds, a timeless, directionless state exists.

In the morning I went down to the bank of the Mur and followed a footpath to create a long shot. I had put my 5D3 on a gimbal to smooth out my ambulation. Travel videography is confronted with two problems. First, when traveling one isn't familiar with the landscape and not certain of the exact location one wants to capture. In a sense, it's this uncertainty that creates the need to travel in the first place, but logistically speaking, it makes it difficult to know what gear one should travel with, and within the trip, when one needs what gear and where. It's not always practical to carry a tripod with the open ended possibility of shooting a panning shot. And it's even less practical to carry all the gear everywhere, always.

Alternatively, it's not always possible to return to places one sees while traveling. But one wants to bring a camera along to capture the experience of discovery. The downside is that a camera without support creates video footage that is too unstable to use in most cases. A gimbal is supposed to complement a camera, and be less obtrusive for travel. 

The footage that gimbal produces is something like a floating an eye. It's smooth enough to not reference a first person perspective, but has enough movement to not feel like a tableau, or omniscient god perspective. The gimbal allows for the disembodied eye.

In the afternoon Zihua and I stopped by the Künstlerhaus Graz, to see the exhibition "Artificial Paradise?" about virtual reality. The exhibition began or ended downstairs, with a landscape painting of Johann Kniep, Ideale Landscaft mit unt4ergehender Sonne, 1806. The painting depicts a Roman soldiers watching the setting sun while a young man talks with an older man and young woman reclines on a hill. The landscape has typical elements of the Romantic period: dramatic colors, vegetation, classical architecture in ruins, waterfalls, hills and atmospheric desaturation to suggest depth. The catalogue essay on the work explains how Arcadian scenes functioned as a mode of escapism for the Renaissance aristocracy, and parallels it to contemporary modes of immersion. a period when artists of Western Europe were imagining the ruins of Greece and Rome as portals into a period where landscape existed in a harmonious relationship to ruinous cityscape.

Kniep Ideale Landscahft mit untergehender Sonne.jpg

I spent time in all of the works, but those with headsets had the advantage of recalling video games, while the works that were simply video recall cinema. The nuances between these two types of entertain become more evident when both media attempt to create an aesthetic experience.

In video games, there is always an initial comparative assessment: how "good" (real, better) does this look compared to other technologies. The march toward re-creating a realistic world within the context of a closed game scenario has been the success of the video game industry, while it seems that making life into a game would be the shorter, more elegant technology to adapt to the already-realistic world in which we live. But that territory is occupied by sports, athletes, and the physical. 

Cinema is mistakenly thought of as moving images that convey information. But the appeal of cinema is widely the conveyance of emotions. Cinema has images, but we don't want them exclusively. Very few people want to just watch the moving images of a place. That would be like watching a security camera. Even after solving the variable of where to place the camera–in a paradise beach, gorgeous landscape, or girls locker room–we quickly bore of a representation of a place. It’s the job of narrative through which we frequently see personalities and desires, power dynamics and situations, and this is usually told through humans who play the characters. We vicariously put ourselves in situations; we see in stories, and we garner a liking or disliking to personalities, just as we do in real life; and we dislike movies that have characters that we feel neither liking nor disliking for, often more than performed personalities that we hate. In virtual reality, there may not be a character, just a disembodied camera that is located where your own embodied eyes are. The landscape is supposed to be a place you inhabit. In the case of both forms at Künstlerhaus, these works are "interesting" but not engaging; they feel systematic and once the pattern becomes clear, we are left only to appreciate the accuracy of the representation of the objects in this virtual realm, which fall short. 

The element of immersion was the supposed innovative and decisive characteristic of the artworks, and the technology used, which encompassed a greater visual field, often by putting on a headpiece that obstructs seeing anything except the video content.

Paul Chan's video in this exhibition notably references video games through pixelated characters who are fucking and killing in loops. The curatorial statement refers to Chan’s borrowing from Charles Fourier and Henry Darger, but Salò comes to mind, though without the reverberation to anything cautionary, again lacking narrative or evoking any connection to character. The power of Salò is not the graphic content, but the power structure exposed through the narrative, which makes the graphic content not only visceral but suggests its possibility. 

The absence of narrative has been a defining element of video art. The rejection of the toolset that facilitates the emotional experience that is central to cinema. It's why people describe video art as something that people don't really "like" or want to watch, but appreciate it on the grounds that it is an art form. The lack of an obligation to the audience to connect to the content on an emotional level has afforded artists to create a wider variety of video content, but also relegated the content to a small audience compared to cinema, and made video artists impoverished compared to their cinematic counterparts. The audience's eye, if looking through a camera lens, is even more disembodied if no body is in the audience. 

Steve R. McQueen is a rare example of visual artist that made video art and now works in the world of narrative cinema. His adaptation of 12 Years a Slave can be used as a rebuttal to the claim of immersive video: we inhabited the horror and pain of Patsey being whipped for going to get soap not because a headset inhibits us looking away, but because Edwin makes Solomon punish her, because of Mistress Epps is overflowing with jealousy. Our esophagus shortens, our stomach twists around our heart at the sound of each popping whip because the injustice is palpable; we want to look away but we know we would see only our own world, a sphere of injustice in which we are not only immersed, but also complicit and collateral damage. 

The element of immersion was the supposed to be innovative and a decisive characteristic of the artworks, and the technology used. Frequently the commonality of encompassing a greater visual field by putting on a headpiece that obstructs seeing anything except the video content obstructed the most common thread in the show, which was the use of consumer technology to make art. Many works were not immersive in the visual sense–Addie Wagenknecht’s Data and Dragons refers to the physical complexity of everyday data infrastructure around us. 

Manuel Roßner’s VR work Du musst dien Leben ändern reveals large line sculptures that exist in the space. His project Float Gallery, an online virtual gallery space, is more interesting than the low-level AR piece in the show, but both explore the misnomer of virtual space, which was originally referencing storage capacity, with sculptural space.

The most out-of-place award in the show goes to Ivana Bašić Belay My Light, the Ground is Gone, courtesy the artist and Marlborough Contemporary, which doesn’t represent the artist but likely trying to include the work in shows in order to increase its historical and economic value. It’s a stunning piece, but the curatorial decision to include it is questionable.

Marc Lee’s 10.000 Moving Cities–Same but Different is an app that’s for sale for $349.99, recreates cities with images about them. I didn’t see this in the show, maybe it was over?

Harun Farocki’s works, Serious Gamer I-III, were the most interesting and critical, although I’ve seen them at MoMA years ago. Farocki focuses on the US military’s training through virtual reality games.

The exhibition missed an important lesson from the Romantic period, which was the movement away from then modern life–industrialization and urbanization–and toward a past life that were never really lived by Europeans, i.e. the Classical Age in Greece. Greek Civilization functioned as an imaginary of eternal truths, distant, aged but also a connection to the permanence of European values. The perspective of the viewer in those works is objective, what becomes the fourth wall in theatre. The eye is disembodied. We are on-lookers, but from a distance that is separated by time and space. Kniep’s figure were not 19th Century Romantics, but white Middle-Eastern time travelers from almost 2000 years before. The Romantics imagined backwards, depicting a world that could be observed. The works in Artificial Paradise locate the eye of the view within a loaded context–within the headset, within an understood social context–and all of them, even Farocki through cinema, recapitulate the dogma of consumer technologies: that transcendence is possible.

20181105 Afro-Asiatische to Mur

Monday meant the building administration could fix my room's electricity.

Zihua and I went to the Afro-Asiatische Insitute to collect our 850€ monthly stipend, transportation pass and cultural passes. The residency demonstrates the exceptional intra-institutional cooperation. A jury from das Land Steiermark chooses the artists and then institutions within Graz–Schaumbad, or a film, music or literary organization–bid for the selected artists. The selected artists are then given a plethora of resources and support from multiple organizations. The housing is offered within Priesterseminar, a seminary building of the Katholische Kirche that includes a museum on the ground floor, and housing for priests and seminary students but also engineering students; the financial stipend comes from the Afro-Asiatische (because both Zihua and I are both Asian?), which is an organization that started in the 1960s following the Austria's decolonization period of Africa; and the cultural passes and transport were given to us by the Katholische Hochschulegemeinde Graz located across the lobby from the Afro-Asiatische. Upon receipt of our last paperwork, we were instructed to register our presence with the city government, which was obligatory for anyone living in Graz for more than a tourist duration.

The process of registration included writing one’s name, educational title, religion, home address, nationality, residential address and whether we were immigrating or not on a form and submit it to the authorities. Who lives where and what is their status–socially and geographically–is expected, though little corroboration is required: No return plane ticket, no license with address, no bank statement–only a signature from our host and a passport.

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Reading the form, I wondered how many steps into extreme politics–right or left–would be necessary to activate this seeming objective information to become instruments of horrific ends. Maybe that's my American distrust for government, though I realized how a similar process exists in the U.S.: transferring one's residency is legally obligated within 30 days of moving to a state, but there is an element of class and conformity explicit in this Austrian process, a conformity that is both impressive and frightening. The utility to the notion of state, inside and outside is clear. This is for non-citizens; in terms of migration, I am a tourist, not a permanent resident or citizen.

This paperwork was submitted to the Servicestelle der Stadt Graz, which itself was a journey into the administration of administration. The address of the office on the paper is actually police headquarters, wherein an officer directs people around the corner to a door–one of many municipal offices–where one takes a number in a waiting room. Was the direction toward the police intended? If so, for what? The correct office is situated behind a waiting room that is walled with brochures of city initiatives, more brochures than I have ever seen in my life.

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Programs for recycling, electronic waste, registering your pets, senior programs, health, parking, cycling, et al. Implicit in the presence of these brochures are the jobs of graphic designers to produce the informatics; printers; proof-readers; legislators. This is an important way that the government communicates with its citizens. The information infrastructure and the expectations that people will take these brochures and read them, even keep them for reference, ultimately dispose of them; the infrastructure of recycling waste of material.

When my number came up, I met with a functionary who translated the data on the form to a computer. Almost no conversation took place, simply a "Hallo" and the he started pecking away at the keyboard. Zihua was served by the functionary beside me. He was given a welcome swag bag, I was not.

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Outside of the bureau, we ran into an artist from Schaumbad, Keyvin, who runs an exhibition space on Schmiedgasse. This gave me the feeling of living in a small town where everyone knew everyone. He invited us to an upcoming exhibition opening.

In the evening I had to remind myself that one of the advantages of being in Graz is the level of public safety. Even areas that Iris felt obligated to mention were considered "bad areas" at night–the Stadtpark–I have already walked through alone and it feels very safe, quiet but with pedestrian traffic. I went down to the Mur to photograph the river at night. The Mur is an existential resource for the city of Graz. It forms the two sides of the city–the "good" and the "bad"–and its functioned as a source of water, mills, and hydropower. Vito Acconci's Murinsel is the dominant visual on the river, with changing lEDs like a UFO fishing. An outsider to whom the citizens have become accustomed.

20181104 Innere Stadt to Schaumbad

I committed a cardinal Austrian sin: I was late. Really late. An hour late. And for no good reason. I'm sure there's a word in German for this situation (arschlochspäter?)

The feeling of Sunday (because it was Sunday) took over my whole being today. I leisurely went downstairs and photographed the Priesterseminar building. I reviewed the images; I edited them; I wrote. I leisurely did some exercise in the gym. I felt my body; I got my mind inside the muscle, the movement. I leisurely prepared to film the footpath along the Mur. I set up the gimbal, I set up magic lantern. I leisurely ate lunch, departed and, transversing Hauptplatz, I remembered that there was something, only one thing, on my calendar for the next weeks: I had a meeting at Schaumbad at 2pm. I looked at my clock and it was already 2:38. Fuck. I needed a tram, but I needed a ticket, but I needed exact change first. I dug in my pocket. Luck. Tram ticket, tram, I confirmed the route several times, considered an alibi or excuse, but tossed them all out. Thinking of all my friends, mostly artists, who, while traveling, have arrived an hour or more late. Considering the perspective of the artists at Schaumbad who were waiting, my heart slumped. Would they be as impatient as I have been? Coming to terms that with the reality that there was nothing I could do to not be late today, I had only to seek their forgiveness; I would be at their mercy.


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But the artists were all very courteous and didn't even seem to care about my late arrival, although after my apologies, the formal introduction promptly began, so it was clear that they were waiting for me. I told the group about my project on the Speicherkanal and how it related to my larger interest in urban ecology and solid waste management; I shared the anecdote about the journey of the Mobro 4000 to dump its waste in different states and several countries, before finally returning to Long Island; I noted how New York City declares a state of emergency each time it rains due to the flooding on the impermeable concrete, and combined rainwater in the sewer system. Water management and movement have a symbiotic relationship in the city, since the surface creates a firm path for walking in a wet environment, but the water has to go somewhere and how and where it moves has often been a collision with our biological dependence on water that is hygienic.


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When my introduction was over, each present artist introduced him/herself and what they have been working on. Everyone's interests were clear and appealing. I was surprised by the number of artists at Schaumbad who were working with trash, recycled materials, or environmental topics. But the exchange was rather short because the organization was in the middle of their annual programming meeting, and many people needed to leave soon. I made my exit and watched a documentary about the Mur that was on exhibit downstairs. The structure film followed the Mur from its glacial runoff to its confluence with the Drava.

20181103 Graz to Priesterseminar

No electrical outlets meant no wifi in my room and the need to hunt down a power source to recharge my techno-trash: laptop, phone, computer. I camped out in the floor Clubraum from 9 am until noon.

From the size of Priesterseminar, the impressive repetition of windows and doors, the density of rooms per floor, I expected that several dozen of people were inhabiting each floor and sharing the kitchen. The first other inhabitants, Daniel, an electrical engineering student came in. I introduced myself to him. We chatted a few moments; he went about making his breakfast and left. A little while later Emilia entered; a physics student, first year. I introduced myself and she ate and chatted with me and then left. In the afternoon a Zihua entered with the gaze of a person either lost or exploring his surroundings, I introduced myself. He is also an artist in residence, based in Canada. He left to further explore. An hour later Abraham entered; I introduced myself. He was eager for conversation and we chatted at length before he went about preparing his food, at which point I wondered how much of this introductory exchange was motivated by myself and whether the students would take the initiative to introduce themself if I did not make a motion. So for the next three hours I worked at the table and simply said 'Hallo' when people entered, if they said 'hallo' to me, but none, not one, made took the initiative to introduce him or herself. I was curious of how the inhabitants of this shared space behaved by default. Not only did the students not converse much with me, but the commingling between those who were in the kitchen at the same time was very limited. It's hard to determine how much of this seemingly reserved shared disposition is due to the individuals who live here, the nature of Priesterseminar–it being architecturally and scholastically emphasizing solitude, being culturally stereotypical, or a function of kids nowadays preferring to eat their food in front of youtube rather than hangout in a shared kitchen together. But in the end, very few–less than a dozen–students came into the clubraum, which confused me.

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Abraham offered to give a tour of Priesterseminar. He showed me the laundry room, translated the operating instructions, and etiquette which directed the separation of the students who lived in one part of the building and the seminary students who lived in the other, and which parts of the drying room were reserved for which students. He showed me the fitnessstudio, which was a disappoint for me, since I had arrived to Graz with the knowledge that Arnold Schwarzenegger had grew up in the area. Most of equipment appeared to be from the 1990s, or even 1980s, and much in pretty bad shaped. The room was pretty disorganized, with several machines inaccessible and/or obstructing the use of other equipment. Several machines I had no idea how to operate or what benefit is to be extracted from using the machine. The bright side is that it's free and seldom used.

The bike storage was profoundly well organized. Each bike has a given parking spot, marked with a number, and vertically maintained with a wheel brace. Notably, the bikes were quite dated and appeared in bad shape, but I've since learned most are functionally sufficient.

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The last stop of the tour is the Gemeinschaftraum, or socializing/party-room. As Abraham explained it, it's where people can come or reserve a time to let loose. At first glance it looks like the basement den of a fraternity house. Aged leather couches slumping from use; multiple coffee tables aligned for the purpose of stowing beer between swigs but almost impossible to circumambulate; a foosball table; dart board; a bar that separates a sort of drink-staging/kitchenette area, but not intended to seat guests; a refrigerator stocked with beer; a piggy bank to receive the suggested donation of €1/beer; and a room with a television, another couch, shopping cart believed to be used for beer runs, and a tree stump that looks as if some hand-sawing competition was performed on it.

I'm a horrible foosball player, but my suggestion to play was to terminate the idling conversation with Abraham, and we began a longer debate about freewill, politics to the culture of Austrians. Abraham works as a math researcher; he's from Mexico and speaks perfect English with a German accent. He has an interesting perspective not only because being from Mexico at a time when Trump and US relations are particularly bad, but also because he shares a distrust for the media and American society. Specifically, he mentioned that he had the opportunity to study in the US but made the decision to come to Europe because he "didn't want to be part of that kind of society." Some of the elements of America that he particularly dislikes are the absence of a social safety net, environmental degradation and vapid consumerism.

Abraham's selection of topics personally resonated with me because they were so closely echoing things I heard and thought about when I lived in Spain 15 years ago. Under the Bush administration, European criticism of the US was at an all time high, particularly a critique of unilateral military action. But the conversation with Abraham was different than the discussions I had with Catalans over a decade ago, in part because I now felt compelled to dispel some of the myths that people have about the United States. For example, his claim that there is no social safety net in the U.S. is simply not true: I was happy to concede that many European countries may have more, and that the benefits in the U.S. vary by state, but there are programs, which included subsidized housing and free healthcare for low income and elderly. Not only did Abraham have misinformation about American unemployment benefits, but he had misinformation about European or Austrian unemployment benefits. He believed the benefits for the unemployed were perpetual, limitless. In fact, in NYS, a person is entitled to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits; in Austria 20 weeks.[1][2] I assume there are more nuances and limitations between each system, and I'm not certain that NYS offers better benefits overall (I'd be surprised if that's the case), but the fact there is such a prevalent misconception is curious. It may be that benefits are less stigmatized, or more easily accessible in many European countries than in many American states. But what's most interesting to me is that the European perception is still focused toward America, and not comparative to China, Russia, Brazil, Australia or even Canada.

Abraham stated that between Hilary and Trump he would have chosen Trump because he thought that Trump would cause the system to collapse more quickly. I wonder if he meant this as pure provocation, or if he simply does not understand the level of irresponsibility in his preference. I responded to his comment with a long-winded, historical romp from the fall of the Hapsburg empire, American imperialism, the White Man's burden, the shift in post-colonial studies to the One Belt initiative in China. I probably should have asked whether he was comfortable with people dying in order to collapse the system that he despises.

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[1] "Amount and Duration of Benefits," NOLO

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/collecting-unemployment-benefits-new-york-32507-2.html

[2] "Unemployment Benefits in Austria," A-Kasser

https://www.a-kasser.dk/unemployment-insurance-in-europe/austria/

20181102 Wein to Schaumbad

I woke at 6 am and texted Vanesa, who was still awake partying with the Telenovela that’s sleeping on our couch. With only the morning in Vienna, I made haste into the morning air, before the businesses opened, before the workers started their commute, before crowds formed.

My first stop was Stephensplatz. I wanted to film the Graben public bathrooms, which claim to be the oldest functioning public toilets in the world. Outside of the Herren bathroom were men working PVC piping into the ground. They were part of the many municipal workers out today; everyone awake at 7 am drove trucks or vans. The garbage men work in teams of four. One driver, one man hanging the garbage bings onto hooks at the rear of the truck and flipping the bins empty into the truck, one man bringing bins from the sidewalk to the truck, and one man bringing bins from businesses to the curb. The whole endeavor is fast and almost no litter occurs. The garbage trucks are much smaller than in New York, having to fit into narrower passageways and tighter turns.

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The toilets’ operating hours are 8 am to 8 pm. One descends into a marble-lined Art Nouveau room with antique urinals encased in glass display opposing modern, low-flow urinals. One passes through a door to enter the room for toilets, whose sliding doors are locked open until one pays the attendant who removes the lock. The stall has a fogged glass doors that slide on wooden frames. A sink fits in one corner, and the toilet, with a wooden seat and wood back–where I presume the pipes or water tank is hidden inside; it stands about five feet tall. At the top is a brass knob that one pulls up to activate the flush. All of this is within a four foot-square area.

I ate breakfast at Anker, a chain of bakeries founded in 1891. I watched the steady flow of people come in and order and their manner of placing an order. Afterward I headed to T-mobile to get a European sim card with faster data. I stumbled over my bad German at the store, and the lady switched to fluent English and quickly sold me a an 8GB plan for 20euros and handed me the SIM card, but didn't give me a paperclip to pop out my old sim, so I spent the next few hours passively glancing everywhere I was going to spy something small. I finally ended up nicking a sliver of a chopstick off, which I saved in my phone case for any future sim swap.

I seemed to have lost my sense of direction in Vienna. I blame this in part due to the winding streets, the German names which I tend to forget easily, the frequency of paths to change names, and the existence of smaller, sort of entrances (hof?) that look like driveways but area actually streets. In the course of trying to find my bearing I noticed the strange reoccurrence of the word 'Vienna' inscribed in some buildings. Not signs, but inscriptions, or bas reliefs. Why would the English name for this city be here? In other places, sure enough, 'Wien' can be found. There didn't seem to be an order of age or style or function of building which carried the English name of this city.

I’m not convinced that people are paying for the Vienna U Bahn. I see couples pass through the open gates at the entrance to the station, holding hands, and raise them in glee over the ticket validation station, without breaking hold. Only tourists from Spain whom I saw trying to figure out the automated machine, have paid. On the trains I have not seen anyone enforcing the tickets.

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Entering from the U Bahn into the Hauptbahnhof is strangely similar to the Jamaica station and JFK airport in New York. At first, there's a sense that the architecture is functional but outdated. A long corridor opens into atriums with narrow stairways leaning against the wall, extending up to train terminals. A series of monitors states the departing and arriving train destinations, time and platform above a series of printed daily schedules of routes. The brick interior could be an old exterior, and feels like a child of the 1970s. And, like the vagrancy of Jamaica station, a young man asked me for a Euro at Hauptbahnhof! But very soon, the old caste of transit centers as a place to go to in order to leave dissolves aways and the contemporary transit center as a place to shop, eat, drink and hang out unfolds.

I bought a pair of Nike shoes for the gym at a sports equipment store in Hauptbahnhof for 49 euros. Black. The public bathrooms are turnstile operated with a small fee, which seemed out of place, given the socialist tendency and advocation of the public sphere. Though this is in keeping with the old toilets at Graber. Going up to the platform is impressive. The diamond-shaped apertures in the roof accentuate the waving undulations overhead. The platforms are only one story off the ground, but the designer, Swiss architect, Theo Hotz, made the space feel incredibly expansive and elevated.

In good Austrian manner, the train arrived and left precisely on time.

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The train ride from Wien to Graz is gorgeous. After a few stops in Vienna, the train begins passing small villages with farming plots in rotation. Dairy cows grazing the hills. In almost every village we pass I see someone jogging. The land becomes more mountainous and the pat work of alpine trees becomes visible. By Payerbauch-Reichenou the full gamut of autumn colors have painted the hills. The train hugs one mountainside until finally shoring up the courage to cross a bridge over a canyon, the view opens up through a valley until the train can hug another hillside. Yellows. Burnt Sienna. The green fir trees. Lime undergrowth.

The silence of the Austrians is golden. The trains are so well engineered and maintained that it’s hard to tell that they’re moving. Even in the winding hills, the rails barely growl. I think of the trains in the US–Amtrak, MetroNorth, and of course the MTA subways. At one point, we passed over a bridge and a light whir sound began. I waited until we were no longer on the bridge and when the whir didn’t stop, I realized it was actually the sound of forced air inside the train car.

No one is on the phone. I realized I was in the Quiet car when someone started to softly snore.

Breitenfeld metal recycling.

Mürzverbrand water treatment.

The train finally arrives to Graz and I step off, look in both directions for which of the two exits makes most sense to try and meet Franz, the receptionist from Schaumbad who is tasked to pick me up. On the third glance right I see him emerge from the crowd and causally walk toward me as if I had seen him before and we exit together. Franz's English is minimal, perhaps as little as my German. We drove in silence, with the exception of his pointing out the Schlossberg

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Iris met us at 2 Bürgergasse, Priesterseminar in front of the Dom. Franz helped unload my things and Iris showed me to my room, #339. The marble floors in the hallway recalls the ancient past of this building, which has been well preserved, encased in modern windows and glass partitions that control movement and heath. It was built in the 16th Century for priests. One can best see the eons past while descending the stairs, noting the worn porous stones, sloping in the center, which darkly contrast light gray marble in the hallway. On the ground floor an entire different stonework is present. Rough, aged, waxed.

Opposing my room is the town cathedral. I look directly into a vertical stained-glass window protected by aftermarket metal mesh. A pattern of three columns of circles, about the size of the bottom of beer bottles, run vertically down three columns of glass, which tapers at the top into three triangles divided by three leaf-shapes created by the sandstone framing. The translucent trinity.

My room is a one-bedroom with private bathroom. One enters through a solid wood door with an overlapping lip that seals the door frame. The entrance has wood panels and a low ceiling, so it feels like entering a ship. Two closets in the entrance and two bookcases inside the room, a single mattress, nightstand with lamp, two wooden Ikea chairs and matching coffee table, and a third white Ikea chair. All appear new or close to new. A large writing desk sits in the corner near the double-pane windows, drapes and electric heater. The room colors are yellow birch wood, pale blue and white. I had a little anxiety about this living space; New Yorkers always do. We're so accustomed to being shafted and jammed into sardine cans that our trauma becomes part of our quirky outlook on life; that dignity may be independent of how one feels at home, or that adapting to an extreme isn't really adapting at all, but compromising with your own financial limitations. This room could be a luxury apartment in Manhattan. The bathroom has an English style toilet, with water in the rear, no platform. The shower has magnetic strips that seal the door shut, perfectly flush.

Iris showed me the building's administrative office on our way out, instructing me to introduce myself on Monday when it opens. We headed down Bürgergasse to Jakominiplatz to take the 5 tram to the studio on Puchstraße. On the way, Iris pointed out the construction site of the city's combined sewage overflow system, which is what attracted me to Graz in the first place. In comparison to New York’s perpetually failing system, the Austrian claim that all overflow of untreated sewage during heavy precipitation can be diverted, stored and treated, is impressive. As part of the Illinois River Project, the conjecture of doing a project about a sewage system seemed fitting, but little more than a thematic outline has been imagined or documented. The need to renovate CSOs, including New York's, comes from the increased levels of concentrated precipitation due to climate change. Transitions between seasons are shorter but the amount of precipitation is the same, or greater, but during that shortened period. The result is flooding, and rainwater flooding sewer systems, causing untreated brown water to escape into the waterways, causing infection and disease. [1]

How does one visualize a city-wide system? Sewage has been represented as messy mass, tubes, shown either in cross section or from within looking out, or bulky jointed pipes. But how can this be better understood? Intestines? Through the video of a colonoscopy?

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We arrived to Schaumbad and Iris introduced me to Eva Ursprung, a founder of Schaumbad and was exhibiting her work at the gallery there. Her collaboration with Doris Jauk-Hinz traced the water in the Mür and the Draua river. The project looks at the water quality, sensitive sites of the two rivers, and the appearance around the rivers.

The Schaumbad is an artist studio, cooperative, exhibition space and video production organization. It's about ten years old. The space reminds me of my graduate school studios, only with more developed people and interiors, and more wealth of resources–a cyc wall, green screen studio, audio recording studio, wood shop, risograph, gallery, two kitchens, and a friendly cat named Baba. The program includes artists in residence, Sunday artist discussions, and exhibitions.

Returning to my room, I plugged in my power adapter and a a power strip, plugging in my computer and phone for charging, then saw the charge button wasn't working; I flicked the switch on the powerstrip and killed the power. Wifi, lamps, everything but overhead lights, out. It was Saturday night, and the maintenance guy wouldn't be back until Monday.


1. Climate change impact on infection risks during bathing downstream of sewage emissions from CSOs or WWTPs, Ankie Sterk, Heleen de Man, Jack. F Schijven, Ton de Nijs, Ana Maria de Roda Husman, Water Research, August 2016

20181031-1101 JFK to Gatwick

20181031-1101 Day 1 JFK to Gatwick

Sutphin Blvd-Archer Ave-Jamaica station is the collision site of suitcase-wielding global travelers and hyperlocal homeless folks who are begging for unused metro cards, spare change and delivering threats to anyone who touches them. The travelers, who are mostly white, try to ignore the vagrants here, who are mostly black, although it’s clear that not only does everyone see and flinch for a moment in fear, but they take a final note on their way out of New York; the former treat this area like a purgatory through which to pass before reaching a promised land; the latter treat the area as an fishing hole to try to lure those sympathetic tourists one last time.

The station architecture must be the identical twin of the Port Authority, separated at birth; similarly it houses the visual repository of every suburban mothers’ worst dreams, Time Square circa 1980. Jockeying through the crowd and defunct escalator, one gasps for air outside the station entrance, is Europa Bar, a gentleman’s club which may or may not be open for business, but still has a 2.5 rating on Google maps.

Sutphin.jpg

Norwegian air is considered an economy airline but I made amends with the nickel and diming, which applied to my overweight luggage costs by considering the fee simply part of my plane, which, although would not have been the cheapest, it would have still been cheaper than some airlines. The flight was on a 787 Boeing Dreamliner. Gorgeous plane and this was the first time I've ridden one. They didn't overlook any opportunity to remind the passengers of the features of the plane, which include blue LED lighting to be more relaxing, improved air circulation to reduce jet leg, and nine toilets, asymmetrically distributed through the cabin. The nearest toilet to me was adjacent to the mast of the central seating row, on the starboard side. The most expedient way to get to the bathroom was to pass in front of the central row, between a wall and three passengers' feet. A British couple seated there had been complaining about another couple who sat in my row–who appeared to be a mid-50s gym-junky and his busty, exotic wife 15 years his junior. The gym-junkies kept accessing their luggage, which was stowed above the Brits. I had overheard the gym-junky apologizing at one point, and earlier I had suggested the husband go to the bathroom across the aisle when I saw him waiting to pass someone in my aisle who was waiting for the bathroom. About an hour into the flight I went to the bathroom passing in front of them. On my return, I found the woman slouching down, almost lying in her seat, with her toe against the wall, in what I would learn would be an attempt to inhibit my progress. When I excused myself to pass, her husband said, "I'm sorry but you're not supposed to pass through here," and extended his foot also. Without pausing I simply stepped over both to of them and then asked of him, "Oh really?"

Dreamliner.jpg

Being over international waters, and neither of them wearing a Norwegian airlines uniform, I'm wonder about their expectations in dictating my behavior, or expressing their disfavor in having passing in front of them. I wonder if their tickets were more expensive and advertised greater leg room.

The notion that there is some set of international etiquette as best understood by the British is a lingering sentiment from the Age of the British empire. The sense that one is entitled firstly to free space in a (pseudo) public forum and second that one has the right to try to enforce it is a disposition that has a specific point in the matrices of self-value and self-righteousness. Another, different point, is feeling that one doesn't want to impede, doesn't belong, or prefers to accommodate. The element of assertion and attraction to confrontation is unique. Of course, the disposition to face opposition, look it in the face and step over it, is unique also.

I’ve been anticipating this trip for over a year and what I recall of the positive excitement has evaporated. Now I’m just tired and stressed, trying to recall how to get back to creativity. Is creativity the way to positivity or the other way around?

The mental image of this trip has shifted from being solo to Vanesa accompanying me to being single but her being in Spain to a few couple trips while in residence. Mental images–creating them, befriending them, carrying them, spending time with them takes energy; recreating one, or aborting one is exhausting. Most recently, I've been looking at this trip as a chance to escape the daily horror that is the United States since Trump has taken office. The last week was particularly intense. It began with my patron-saint, George Soros, receiving a bomb in the mail. On Wednesday, CNN, located two blocks from my office received a bomb. The whole week was tense. When the finally caught the guy and some repose was in order, a psychopath attacked and killed 11 people worshipping in a Pittsburgh synagogue, in the neighborhood of a coworker. So my escape to Graz is a much-needed pause from the calamity that is the United States.

CNN headquarters.jpg

In the last months, my preparations have shifted from familiarizing myself with basic A1.1 German to reading about colonial era waste management. Most of the literature is academic and dry, with the exception of Daniel DeFoe’s Journal of a Plague Year. What’s remarkable about DeFoe is that his book is both about the utopian idea of a city and the description of calamity. In addition to being a proponent of the narrative form, DeFoe’s work is distinct from the canon of European plague literature that is ripe with existential and religious skepticism.

Technically my preparation has included buying more filming equipment, as I'm imagining two forms of production: studio interviews and ambulatory footage. It seems a shame to travel across the world and not walk around a city. But certainly, I've overpacked, or perhaps I should have brought a bigger crew.

The last time I was in London Gatwick was following the inside advice of Bob Limbocker who told me it would be cheaper to get to Barcelona by first laying over in London and then taking a cheaper regional airline. That was my introduction to Ryan air and easyjet. I had not recalled any details from that leg of that journey but visiting it now, I recall the place.

London Gatwick doesn't seem to have a distinctly planned shape but rather extensions that mutated off of various passageways as a need arose. Labyrinthian would describe it if there were only one possible exit or entrance, instead all passages seem to egress.

The area for special needs–blind, aged, or immobile–is especially humane and impressive. Immediately upon seeing it I noticed how many people were in the airport who were coming from or going to the area, or who were relying on the signage and symbols that emanated from it. It was awe-inspiring and beautiful to see someone types of persons that my city doesn't accommodate traveling internationally.

I will say only this of JFK airport: TSA is a terrorist disorganization. Pure chaos. Pure stress, served with an appetizer of boredom. Ocasio-Cortez talks about ICE needing to be abolished, but I vote for abolishing TSA first. Since 2002, this theater has been diligently seeking out the rudest, least friendly, least intelligent members of American society and given them a position of encumbrance. The systematic security passage and friendliness of London Gatwick makes JFK look like FEMA in an emergency situation. In the 17 years since 9/11, the English have created rolling, hand-powered conveyor belts that carry empty trays below a doubled-wide table that allows six people to undress or unpack their bags while a person waits behind them. Whichever person finishes first and pass their tray behind the tray of those in front down another rolling table through the x-ray screening. I would estimate that are 20 of such stations, which are fed by a complex web of stanchion paths which are administrated by a team of five individuals, one who sends travelers down a pathway of 1 of 5 pathways which terminate at a junction of four possible paths which are administered by another individual.

Vueling didn't charge me extra for my overweight luggage. Nor did they weigh my carry-on bag. The flight itself was about 10% occupied, although my row was fully occupied by two medium-sized, rotund Austrians. Of the 11 rows in front of me, 4 people sat. But the two men who sat next to me were very courteous and well mannered, as one expects from Austrians.

Arriving to Wien I picked up my luggage and noticed the City Express train selling tickets throughout the airport. Many airports offer this sort of privately operated transportation services targeted at travelers. They remind me of the children who beg for money from tourists in many city centers of poorer countries. Local travelers and those familiar with the city prefer to take the local transport; in Vienna that's OBB. I bought my ticket to Graz at the same time, for 39 euros.

We passed a cemetery with high, rock walls. I wonder if they are walling people in or out. A group of military men were getting into their cars, parked outside the cemetery gates.

There is a lot of graffiti along the train line corridors.

I got off at Rennweg and rolled my suitcase to my airbnb on Landstraßer Hauptstraße. My host sent me the combination for the key outside the door and I entered into the darkening passageway, not thinking to look for a light switch. The instructions were for apartment 10 on the first floor, but I forgot that the ground floor is zero in Europe, until a neighbor pointed me up to the first floor. The apartment is palatial but sparse. Every door hinge cries for oil. The toilet, a typical German style, ventilates to the hallway entrance to the apartment. I presume if one forgets their keys he could wiggle through this window. There are three bedrooms in the apartment, each with a number over the door. There are three hundred reviews for this place, and I presume that all three rooms appear like mine: two single beds with red sheets, and lumpy pillow, a gray comforter, folded to fit, a green recliner with matching footrest, table and two chairs. Curtains.

I dropped my things, showered and walked out to see the neighborhood. I learned that there was an U Bahn station only three blocks from the apartment, while my OBB station was almost 15 minutes walking. I found a T Mobile store, which was closed prior to termination of business hours, at which point I learned today was All Saints Day holiday.

The streets are quiet. No business is playing music. Only restaurants and bars and open. People whisper on the sidewalk. No honking. It's very tranquil. A horse and carriage passes down the street; above it are Christmas lights hanging, waiting to turn on. My hunger hasn't caught up to the new schedule, so I decide to go to bed at 8 pm.

Hansel, Gretel, and the Consumer-Military Complex

Ai Weiwei’s collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron’s Hansel and Gretel at the Park Ave Armory (June 7–August 6, 2017) raises unintended questions about surveillance, it’s limits, applications and interrelation with consumerism. Justifiably, we anticipate the merger of an infamous political dissident and big-budget cultural complex architects to forge an insight into one of Western society’s most prescient questions, and be able to inhabit that insight and see it from the perspective of dissident on whom surveillance has been exercised. But instead we encounter an obtuse approach to the predictable power structures of observation laid in a path to techno-aesthetics that feel as dated as the Patriot Act I. But there’s more. (If only it were intentional.)  

 The Park Ave Armory, 2017

The Park Ave Armory, 2017

The two part installation buttresses an archimedean point–a door–at which the visitor occupies the role of the prison guard in Bentham’s panopticon model, on a staircase landing, a peeping-hole. I’m starting at the end of the journey, rather than the entrance. Performing the critique we expect from the designers, we look back at the prior point of the installation in the Wade Thomson Drill hall, see our past selves in the innocent and unaware visitors, experiencing the previous stage of the journey. We had entered the dark room with hovering drones and projections of image-capture and one part control-station part research-space. We had walked from Lexington Avenue, down a dim, black velvet corridor, the exit of which into the Drill hall felt expansive: the unlit void located gray rectangles lain over the subtle arc of the floor. We had looked. Seen. Moved around. Exited. Re-entering on Park Ave, we had paused at the camera, then journey up the staircase and from the peeping hole, the those places of contemplation and play, look to float in an ether. Platforms of light with shadow dancers. I saw people sort of dancing, walking, pausing, contemplation. Each area within this nowhere space varied by intensity of brightness; some were entirely dark. Red rectangles within these platforms of light freeze images of your movement. This became a choreography of surveillance, an exchange of image for movement, interacting with your own captured, flattened representation.

There’s a level of theatricality in the installation at the Park Ave. Amory. Like a Grotowski play in which even the audience has been removed, visitors move around dimly lit rectangles, gazing at their own image projection that is being captured and encapsulated with an enigmatic red box as drones hover above creating a refreshing current of cool air amidst the otherwise stagnant darkness.

 Dancers, 2017

Dancers, 2017

But on the floor of the drill hall, the buzzing of drones swaying on cables like an invisible chandelier, stirring up a cooling summer breeze vertiginously against the gaze to the floor onto which one’s image captured from above is projected, seems partial, incomplete, wanting. There was the persistent sense that this wasn’t all there was supposed to be, and, in fact one was under surveillance. Upon entering, a text printed in large, bold typeface was pasted on the wall, bracketed by a partially-hidden but obviously working camera above and below the paper set up a, “Ok, when are you going to show me enjoying this moment that I’ve almost forgot is about surveillance.” Exit through the blue light in the corner, walk around the building. Re-enter on Park Ave, have your ticket scanned, pause in front of a red light as instructed and see your face in nightvision displayed on the wall. The hallway diverts right and left. To the right, sure enough, you see those cameras of the entrance on Lexington, streaming on a wall. Boring. A series of tables with iPad invites you to find your face, i.e. the accuracy of facial recognition, and look over a website showing (one) history of surveillance. Ok, but why am I here? I mean, I can see the website anywhere, right? (Why pay $17 to look at an iPad webpage?). Conjoining these two spaces is a flight of stairs up to the peeping hole. Next to the hole is a symbol of a eye printed on 8.5 x 11” paper, calling those below to come, peer. Please.

When you’re interacting with the drones, you know you’re being watched–that’s the point–but you don’t know you’re being watched from the staircase. And as you enter at Lexington Avenue, and read the blunt text that’s been Flex Taped® on, you see the small camera’s recording you. When you re-enter on Park Avenue, you’re asked to stop at the camera.

From the peep hole, the supposed end of the route of surveillance. The title alludes to the trail of breadcrumbs left by the children as they were led into the woods to die, the trail which leads them back home. In the digital world, particularly online but increasingly in the physical world, we leave sorts of breadcrumbs that can be traced back to our individual, our person, our identity. The second section is demonstrates the basic facial recognition technology by capturing visitors’ upon entrance, pushing their image onto large wall monitors and inviting one to search their own face through the aid of an iPad. Your face, like a fingerprint, can be a breadcrumb.

The immediate recollection of Laura Poitras’s installation in Astro Noise at the Whitney Museum in which the visitors are invited to lay down and gaze at ceiling projection of stars and later, upon exiting, have the curtain pulled off their head to reveal, ta-da! You were being surveilled! Thematically, Poitras’s surveillance work, specifically the mobile phone scraping piece in the same show, recalled Trevor Paglen’s show at Metro pictures in 2015, in which he presented Autonomy Cube (2015), which is a wi-fi hotspot that sends all traffic through Tor browser relays. The gesture offers a semi-anonymous browsing experience, lacking only a VPN for further anonymity, but really smartly conveys the existence of Tor to the fine art world crowd, as Poitras’s mobile scraper displayed the technology of capturing telecommunications data, as Weiwei, Herzog and de Meuron demonstrated the surveillance application in the consumer grade drones. But again, surveillance technologies within the safe space of art institutions are distinct from how those same technologies are implemented by a government on a campaign against “terror” and  with the exception of a few art world players like Ai Weiwei, Poitras, and Paglen, the governmental surveillance largely omits members of our socioeconomic class, occasionally deviating along racial and religious lines. And its in this elision and inconsistency that the facade of surveillance comes to light. The technology and infrastructure may reach all, but is applied directly to few. A simple test is to search how to make a ____________ on Google. Go ahead, do it. You won’t be folded into the NSA nor FBI nor CIA database to have a sting operation rendered. You won’t be stopped at an airport. Practically speaking, it’s this inconsistency through which we as a majority continue to allow the Patriot Act’s sunset to extend and parts of the expired act to be reinstated USA Freedom Act. Most don’t feel the direct consequences of being surveilled because the demonstration of power has a preconceived recipient in mind. As a predominantly white, middle to upper class crowd, the art world are more like voyeurs of surveillance than subjects of its protocol.

Weiwei, Herzog & de Meuron aren’t trying to trick you indefinitely. They want to give you the experience of switching roles, being the children who ultimately shoves the old hag in the oven and escape from her dinner clutches. They seem bound by the unspoken ethical chains that dictate in order to critique surveillance one can’t recapitulate its hierarchy upon the artworld visitors to the show. Here, the question of how to persuade us of the existence of tools of surveillance is answered by a strategy of deference, role switching. But there’s a lack of control in this shape shifting when one realizes surveillance with a capital S doesn’t apply in the world of art as it does outside the rarified walls of the museum. In fact, the art world–its patrons, artifacts–have been using tools of surveillance not only since the beginning of photography when subjects we aligned with the exceptionality of the artistic class—the proprietors of art, the creators, portraits and art reproductions—which weren’t surveilled in the sense of be disempowered or controlled by image conveyance but empowered by it. The art world has willingly adapted CCTV systems in museums, galleries and fairs.

Surveillance tools in the museums are not constructing the criminal from the social body of members of the artworld, as in the criminal is constructed in the social body more widely, through the aid of cameras that offer “proof” to the person’s criminality. Surveillance is not a person in relation to a technology, but a relationship of power whose reach is extended through the confluence of lens glass and sensor and screen and imputed into a judicial system. And so here in the armory of Park Avenue, one of the wealthiest streets in North America, we can’t say that these cameras are subjugating us in the prisoners in the Panopticon. These are not peering for the minority who’s jumped the subway turnstyle, or shoplifted. These are not police body cams. No one is using the footage or purview to exorcise their domination over us; we, the good patrons of the artworld, self monitor and self regulate. We play all roles here. Sure, we’ll switch, but it’s weightless. And it is this tradition of near-horizontal power that informs the ethics of this space.

As a demonstration of the technologies that can be used for surveillance like drones with motion tracking, face recognition, and pinhole cameras, the trio of Weiwei, Herzog & de Meuron show us what they found at last year’s Black Friday sale. All of this is pretty tepid until you enter the gift shop. In fact, the gift shop really explodes what’s absent in this turgid critique of surveillance, which is not a demonstration of a technology, but how these socioscientific principals are weaving their way through a consumer society. The gift shop has the expected memorabilia of books and posters of the show, but the cell phone case, thermal signature blocking cape and blankets, glasses with reflective lenses that block face recognition, Faraday bags and RFID wallet to protect your financial data from being maliciously intercepted. There are shield hats that block all the electromagnetic frequencies that are bombarding us. Aluminum helmets, anyone? At first glance, all this seems to hint at a subtle acceptance of daily, integrated paranoia. But we should be more attentive to why a consumer product is a solution legal reality. Nothing is new, novel, nor interesting. In fact, it’s banal. It’s banal, literally. It’s banal to the extent that all the technologies that are exhibited have consumer-grade products that can foil them, all for sale, right there in the gift shop. What’s more banal than a technology that’s already reached a level of having mass consumer-level defense? Inadvertently, the gift shop is the most interesting aspect of the exhibition because it shows us the relationship between surveillance at consumerism.

Although unintended, this is the real conclusion to the exhibition journey. You’ve descended down the stairs from the peephole, you’ve checked out the iPads, you’ve seen your facial recognition, you’ve seen people entering on Lexington and like hungover, hungry Sunday morning you start rummaging through the remaining doors of the Armory, looking for something to justify your $17 entrance ticket. The gift shop. Holy shit.

Ai Weiwei. (Is there on Hello Kitty-esque Ai Weiwei shirt? I get the monographs, sure, but the throw pillows? Seriously? Remember, this exhibition isn’t a critique of consumer society. It’s about drones. Wait. And architecture? The website’s good, check out the website. On Herzog & de Meuron’s site there’s a sort of promo video that aligns the project to closed circuit TV tradition by dividing the screen area into four separate feeds, which at once show the armory’s programming and decoration. It’s okay. ) In the wake of Edward Snowden messing up all the NSA Thanksgiving plans in 2013, we saw Silent Circle’s Blackphone roll out, Protonmail, with servers based in Switzerland, addressed the problem of email un-encryption, and the list continues. Go on Amazon and search “encrypted” to see the plethora of consumer electronics that are responding to the inculcated sense of privacy invaded. The gift shop brings us all these "necessities" to one place, situating them in the context of a political dissident who needs privacy. Compared with the website that shows the history of surveillance, this gift shop with its spiced up aluminum foil hats, now with a fashionable bill so you can blend it at the game, is much more meaningful in the history people watching out about being watched. Yet the nefarious reality is that consumer goods occupy an important role in surveillance, and military technologies more generally. In a hypothetical situation in which the developer of the IR-blocking wallet is the same person at MIT who developed the IR-reading technology that the wallet aims to block, we see the game that the defense industry plays, even if the biographical data of the developers isn't accurate.

So many modern luxuries and worthless junk lying around, all of which makes our lives as easy as they are come from military developments. GPS. Telegraphs. Wristwatches. Computers. Camouflage. Fully-automatic machine guns. But what was once a trickle-down to consumer goods have now become a subsidy by consumer to trickle up. The amount of consumer electronic spending far surpasses the amount of the Defense budget that’s earmarked for development. A billion smartphones sell per year, a staggering ledger on how much these companies can poor in R&D. Soldiers in Iraq are using Apple devices for translation, rather than wading through years of bureaucracy for bespoke design. How about a supercomputer made of PlayStation 3? Financially, many of these technologies could not maintain the pace of development without a consumer-base of street versions of these military grade defense weapons. The flow of tools between consumer and soldier is troubling not only because it appears that civilians are subsidizing killing that we may not condone through the use of technologies wrapped in gadget that we deeply covet, but also because our gadgets are getting imbued with tools that don’t necessarily reflect our needs. In the world of software, this is called “bloatware,” the apps included on a device, apps you didn't ask for, don't use, and don't need. The facial recognition capabilities of the iPhone and iPad, as seen in the Hansel and Gretel has nothing to do with a smartphone. We have 4-digit encryption, we have 7-digit encryption. We have fingerprint recognition, now facial recognition? How about scrotal recognition? How about test my DNA to make sure it’s really me and whether the user is biologically predisposed to drop this fucking phone in the toilet. VPN, NFC, most accessibility features have little use to consumers but readily align with the State Department needs. 

Perhaps the most relevant of techno-trash that shines light on this incestuous holiday at the Park Ave Armory are drones themselves. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAVs, those friendly consumer-grade gadgets that guys are using to make every crane shot in every indie movie, or fly around on the beach or park, are ramping up. They're reaching commercial grade, now able to carry and deliver goods. Meanwhile, UAS, unmanned Aerial Systems, like the Reaper, which were used by the military for first surveillance and now to drop bombs, are  getting smaller. 2.8 million UAVs have been sold already, while more and more militaries around the world are buying UAS. LOCUST, Low-cost UAV Swarming Technology says it all: they're taking the consumer scaled UAVs and making them useful in the battlefield, a hybrid between UAV and UAS. 

 Peephole, 2017

Peephole, 2017

Weaponry wouldn't be complete without defense. Police and hired defense contractors are putting UAVs to use in crowd surveillance. Then there's the weapon against UAVs: The Dronegun, used to scramble the communication between the UAV and controller. Developed by John M. Franklin and Dr. Brian P. Hearing at Johns Hopkins Air and Missile Defense Sector, the technology is framed as protection for politicians, the military and the rich and famous. Dronegun's technology reveals growing use of UAVs by insurgency, fringe consumers who may want to assassinate someone, and technologically-endowed perverts.  

UAS are a testament for the casualization of conflict, both in terms of policy and mortalities. Termed as "targeted killings" by the U.S., the questionable exodus from traditional realm of warfare dodges into a civilian context. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed after September 11, 2001, is a carte blanche to kill anyone really anywhere at basically anytime. 93,547 bombs have been dropped as of August 23, 2017.  Hypothetically limited to al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their buddies, the open door is whoever these buddies turn out to be, become, emerge or evolve. ISIS. ISIL. And anyone who lives in the neighborhood, city, country, or region where they may be found, or thought to be. (Death by Drone, pp. 27) Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia. Let's not forget that killing civilians is a war crime.

Drone strikes have increased under Trump, which increased under Obama. Civilian casualties have also increased. And it's not just the U.S. Saudi Arabia continues drone strikes on Yemeni rebels, as unmanned hunt and kill missions increasingly become the lingua franca of absentee diplomacy. Blocked by an international Arms Trade Treaty, Saudi Arabia has turned to Chinese military technology to continue their campaign against the Houthis, while Iranian produced drones given the rebels fire to return to Saudi Arabia, ostensibly turning Yemen into the stage for testing international weapon capabilities, a role Spain played prior to World War II. 

Drone strikes are more secretive than manned attacks, presumably because the threat of a depressed parent of an fallen American soldier is less likely. And because the domain of the War on Terror is not limited to national boundaries, the attack by drones doesn't require the usual Congressional approval that a military act of aggression requires. Drones are the casual way of killing. We can see that, like most military weaponry that is applied to the foreign domain, it's soon applied to the domestic market, often without the regulation of historical courts of war. Hollow-tipped bullets, introduced by the British during the colonial wars in India, were outlawed by the Hague due to their excessive brutality. They are still lawfully used by U.S. police against civilians. So while technology is now trickling from the consumer up to the military, weaponry continues to trickle back down. 

 Future Throw Pillow, 2017

Future Throw Pillow, 2017


Notes

Airwars.org
https://airwars.org/

"Civilian Drones," The Economist, July 8, 2017
http://www.economist.com/technology-quarterly/2017-06-08/civilian-drones

"China's Saudi Drone Factory Compensates for US Ban," Middle East Eye, March 29, 2017
http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/china-build-factory-saudi-arabia-fill-drone-shortage-1200657135

Death by Drone, Open Society Foundations, New York, NY, 2015

"GPS, Drones, Microwaves and Other Everyday Technologies Born on the Battlefield," Les Shu, Digital Trends, May 26, 2014
https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/modern-civilian-tech-made-possible-wartime-research-development/

"Key Staff," Droneshield, August 23, 20217
https://www.droneshield.com/key-staff

"LOCUST: Autonomous, swarming UAVs fly into the future," David Smalley, Office of Naval Research,April 14, 2015
https://www.onr.navy.mil/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2015/LOCUST-low-cost-UAV-swarm-ONR.aspx

"The Military Consumer Complex," The Economist, December 10, 2009
http://www.economist.com/node/15065709

"Military Tech Versus Street Tech: Who's Got the Edge?" James Vlahos, Popular Science, August 15, 2004
http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2004-08/military-tech-versus-street-tech-whoacutes-got-edge

"The (Not-So) Peaceful Transition of Power: Trump's Drone Strikes Outpace Obama," Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Affairs, March 2, 2017
https://www.cfr.org/blog/not-so-peaceful-transition-power-trumps-drone-strikes-outpace-obama

"US Air Force Connects 1,760 PlayStation 3's to Build Supercomputer," Lisa Zyga, Physics, December 2, 2010
https://phys.org/news/2010-12-air-playstation-3s-supercomputer.html

Technologians

 Orthodox Steeples under repair, 2016

Orthodox Steeples under repair, 2016

To what extent must rationality persevere in order to distinguish itself from faith?  Is a seminal intention sufficient, or must rationality be subject to its own self critique at any stage in order to remain a faithful non-believer? 

I don’t think about faith or religion much because the manifestation of organized religion isn’t a predominant part of my life or community. I live a secular life and for the most part the people around me have agreed to participate in this secular experience; we don’t talk about faith in a higher being or an organized religion with the exception of when those two things intersect with politics, e.g. when religious fanatics try to swing the political debate into the influence of the Bible or when Islamophobia rears its head. More subtly, faith is present as a characteristic of a culture, usually as the explanation a friend or colleague’s personal formation–he grew up Jewish, she grew up Catholic, etc. So my musing about rationality in comparison to faith is a question about the status of these differing thought practices and points more toward unorganized religion, rather than the elements of institutionalized belief practices. My concern about these two paths of thinking about the world is based on the semblance of secular thinking and suppositions I see today, one that is rooted in the reliance on consumer technological advances and salvation through technology, rather than a belief that in the All Might. However, I’m not attempting a history of automatons or avatars.Only when necessary will I distinguish what I mean when referring to “technology.” Rather, I’m aiming to write a marriage certificate of our society’s preference to violent domination, ecological suicide and the life preservers believe are in store. 

 Google's image recognition software at work identifying this garbage can

Google's image recognition software at work identifying this garbage can

 Google maps creating a rainbow that didn't exist, or did it?

Google maps creating a rainbow that didn't exist, or did it?

Here’s my working baseline for what is rational: making decisions based on testable truths that may cultivate an expected, desired end, which is somehow beneficial to the decision maker. This isn’t intended to be a watertight definition, but enough to get off the ground in comparing ‘rational’ with ‘faith.’ Really, the crux of the distinction pertains to the testability of the information that motivates the decision, i.e. whether it’s a theory that can be proven or disproven. Rationality, in this sense, in a blending of logic in the philosophical or mathematical sense and elements the scientific method. There is also the anthropocentric element that what is rational can be conveyed and understood by other people.

Faith is based on an idea that can’t be proven nor disproven. Inherently, it’s something that could be suspect but isn’t; it’s accepted in trusting and explanatory in nature.

Still, very quickly from the point of defining ‘faith’ and ‘rational’ the meager gap allotted almost vanishes immediately. The distance diminishes both within and between terms. Between terms, I’m wondering whether I should have faith in the model of faith or if I should I have faith in the model of rationality. Within the model of rationality, the foundations on which any testable information is built becomes a faith for heuristic purposes. For example, I’m not an engineer, but I have faith that when I turn the key of a cars ignition, the system of engineering principles are going to lead to combustion and I’ll be able to drive away.

In both working definitions I’m avoiding getting into the accuracy of these terms; I’m avoiding Oxford’s Dictionary of Philosophy and I’m avoiding choosing which standard or author to select as the expert of these because the definition, precise or familiar is not secondary but tertiary to what the argument is about. Common, everyday understanding (a rational understanding!) of these two types of thinking is sufficient. But also, this diminution plays into the third term as well as what it is I’m critiquing.

The definition of ‘technology’ too eludes accuracy and could easily lead me on a detour, but fortunately that eliding in meaning resembles the program at which I’m taking aim. I’m referring not only to the superficial consumer technologies like handheld devices that roll out every six months by Apple. The exact object or technology is irrelevant in this argument and in definition. Instead, I’m referring to the networks of intentions from the belief that there is a good in the pursuit and creation of knowledge toward an ends, the production of that (by)product, the transmission of its utility and means to others, and the acceptance of that message of significance by others in the form that an advancement has been made, is relevant and, at times, warrants compensation or acquisition. The specificity of what is produced is as irrelevant in this scenario as the product that the subsequent product replaces, making the former version irrelevant to the consumer (and technology obsolete to the previous researcher), or definition of technology outdated. It’s the message of irrelevance that convinces the consumer that there is a need for a new model or replacement and undermines the philosopher concerned with defining technology before arriving to a useful critique of it.

Here’s one of my favorite examples of this obsolescence because it’s so fucking brashly absurd and overt: This year we’re persuaded to by a phone because the screen is small. Next year, we should update because they’re smaller and more portable; it fits right in your pocket! Last year, we get screens that are curved; this year, the flatter the better.

Technological advances are predicated on disavowing a previous technology or version in some degree and claiming the newer version superior. This is basically the game of obsolescence. I first identified it in 1995 when my Nintendo Entertainment System and game collection was held inferior to Super Nintendo Entertainment System, whose many games were the exact same fucking title but had more curves in the images. (I bought a Super NES but jumped ship on the video game world shortly thereafter, disavowing the vicious cycle of training your ten digits to twitch in a certain way…[was piano the first game system?].)

This irrationality is ubiquitous to the consumer technology market, but also other markets.It’s tempting to expand the critique to media in general; a medium inherently supplants something else. The Roman popularity of glass was due to its ability to mimic other media, such as ceramics and metals. America’s love for polymers was and is its capacity to mimic molded metals, themselves surrogates for cast objects or hand-shaped forms. But is that supplanting necessary? And it’s not just the media that are irrelevantly supplanted, the products are also supplanted, creating micro fractures within a technology. That is, a medium functions by both being superior to another medium, creating a possible route for its own improvement, and out-dating previous iterations. If you look at a 6 megapixel digital image taken in 2005 and compare it to a wood cut print from the 14th century, at one scale the digital image looks much better than the print. But once you scale up the competitors, the wood block maintains its detail more like a vector image. The comparison may sound absurd when you’re thinking of your favorite portrait as a vector graphic rather than a pixel-based bitmap, but my point is proven in the ongoing arms race between camera producers. Prior to DSLR cameras, film manufacturers addressed the same issue of scalability. Kodachrome’s grainless texture allowed for larger scaling. But now people returning to 35mm or analog do so largely for the texture that was lost, intentionally. Predominantly, every three months we’re taunted by a new, larger pixel sensor that promises more realistic images at great sizes. There’s no comparable vector race. This is consumer relation to technology, and it’s irrational at worst and explicable only in that we believe the inferiority that manufacturers and advertiser are selling to us about our current state.

But I’m not simply critiquing consumerism of technology. There are consumer habits that aren’t subject to this irrationality. It’s also not specifically a capitalist issue, although many companies clearly rely on this irrational behavior; theoretically this religion, this dogma, could exist via state-sponsored technological advances. It could exist in communist arrangements. But in the capitalist, consumer context, this irrationality is often advocated by a disguise of rational comparisons, rather than sheer obsession as it would in a society without external parties who gain from our irrationality. Advertiser bombard us with presumably superior numbers that make older models look too small, too big, too slow or too fast. Last year was 10″, this year it’s 100″. While the rational comparison is overt–the numbers and measurements are clear and true–the irrational motivation is hidden but requisite.

But staying with consumer technologies: Rationality and Faith enter stage left.

The rupture of reason and rationality in this scenario of technology that it leads to the dogmatic behavior that is so similar to organized religious thought, when compared to science, that it makes me wonder not only whether ‘technology’ is our contemporary global religion, but whether dogmatic, irrational behavior is inherently human. Around the world people simultaneously identify the ills that a society ripe with consumers technologies issues but the attraction to it and recapitulation of it is pantomime. The places of the world that manufacture our consumer tech knows personally the dangers and destruction the production of this society entails; neighboring countries and towns tell the tales of landfills and toxic dumps. Barges of tech waste competes for open waters against barges carrying virtually the same techno trash inbound, only wrapped and in time for Black Friday.

 Macbook Pro HDD, 2011

Macbook Pro HDD, 2011

The odd behavior metastasizes into illogical when we hope that technology’s problems will be solved by more advanced technologies. (And this is it’s useful to think of technology in the broad sense, not just iterations of a technology and not just consumerism, but existing at least since the Greek’s termed ‘techne,’ referring to craft, art, or construction that follows techniques, i.e. a sequence of “technes” or principles of making. It’s a knowledge that is motivated toward something and built upon another, previous construction that includes principles and orders of operation.)  And here’s where I’m deviating from the Luddites of the 19th Century who warned basically the same: I’m not anti-knowledge or anti-any-single technological iteration, but the core questions for technology should be examined at the root of techne: What is the intention? And, if favoring rationality is important, at what means will that intention be achieved? What’s the cost of this technology? What’s the cost of a battery-powered battery-replacer? Electronic scissors? Ironically almost all “As Seen On TV” consumer goods can be summarized into the aesthete of the very technology on which it was advertised, whose audience championed the first time that the riches society was proportionally the least healthy, whose education collective journey to learn about the technological advancements that led to a longer life was cut shorter by while waiting for the paid program to resume after this commercial break.

Not only is a dogmatic faith in technological progress illogical, it leads to a contradiction. The argument is something like this: If technology is useful, that is it fulfills a use that is intended, then it’s a good thing. If technology creates some bad byproducts, like extinction, pollution or climate change, that are unintended, then it’s a bad thing. If the intended use of technology is to reverse the bad, unintended byproducts of another, prior technology, then the second technology is, at least in part, a good thing and the first technology was no more than a part a good thing. (So far, we’ve got the argument for “green technology” as well as Plato’s regress: a technology will always be fixed by a subsequent technology, ad infinitum.) If a technology is created that is irreversible and concludes in the extinction of human life, then it’s a bad thing. (This is the argument/concern for AI’s singularity: AI will infinitely evolve more intelligently and lead to human extinction). But if a technology isn’t created to reverse the negative, unintended byproducts of a technology, then the absence of that at least in part, a bad thing, which can be remediated only by a technology that is good, in part. Fin.

Not only is the faith in technology irrational and illogical, it clouds social and legal avenues to solutions for problems that are haunting our society. As Richard Levins mentions in Living the Eleventh Thesis, “The hundreds of environmental justice groups that noted that toxic waste dumps were concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods…insisting on the environmental causes of cancer and other infectious diseases while the university laboratories are looking for guilty genes.” (Tactical Biopolitics, da Costa and Philip, MIT 2008, p. 30). Levins essay is advocating for an ethically directed form of scientific research, which I agree is possible. In the passage I’m quoting he’s advocating taking the problem out of the genetic context and put it into the legal context. 

 Fossil of Oldest Bird, 2015

Fossil of Oldest Bird, 2015

Another example of how our techologism can baffle a simple solution is in the case of police body cameras. I had the privilege of listening to the debate between Data & Society’s danah boyd [sic] and Jay Stanley of the ACLU. boyd’s argument is the body cam surge is financially motivated, that camera footage can be doctored by police and/or police can learn to edit what’s in the frame by directing their camera and other tactics. In short, the promise of body camera’s isn’t the solution to end the social and legal injustices that are presumably vulnerable (i.e. police corruption, willful killing without judicial process). Stanley’s argument is that, with the right legal structure police body cameras could function a police watchmen. And in his defense, North Carolina did release footage that incriminated a police officer, but shortly thereafter created a law that made the footage unavailable without a court order. There are states that seem to follow this path, but unfortunately, what’s much more prevalent is the absence of Stanley’s dream legislation and a closer semblance to the prediction of boyd: body cameras aren’t society’s savior against illegal police action, they’re tools to support it at worst and evidence in absentia very too often. Furthering unjust legal barricades, states like North Carolina are making that footage accessible only in prosecution against offenders, although citizen tax dollars paid for the equipment. What’s more, is even with video footage, there are legal barricades that perpetuate injustice, regardless of video footage existing or being seen by the jury. We can look at the myriad of citizen footage that doesn’t conclude in due process, like the viral video of Eric Garner being strangled by a mob of NYPD; why would the (grand) jury care if the footage is from a police body camera or a citizen smart phone? But instead of dismantling these unethical legal obstacle courses, our society is in a frenzy to solve the problem with technology and each year American cities are spending tens of millions  of dollars on this techno-trash. Is it that of restructuring legal processes, community justice programs or community-oriented police training isn’t sexy enough?

 Mint Press, Bogotá, 2013

Mint Press, Bogotá, 2013

Technology. Consumerism. How about the illusion of progress? There are real, beneficial, rational, logical advances that we’ve made as a society. But that doesn’t conclude that every problem we have can be solved by trudging further down a road of microchipery. Sometimes it’s more rational to cut your loses, annotate failures and map a cul-de-sac as not a through road. How about just stopping? Take a nap. Rest. Wait it out.

We really believe that “technology” will solve all our problems, even and especially global warming. I’ve seen so many well intended grants that hope for the right idea to pilot. While noble, these idea-cultivators don’t address the origins, systematic or societal, that have led to the current problem: industrial productivity and continued consumption. How about a grant for someone to just stop buying shit for a year? What would be the cost to paying people not to buy a new phone for 24 months?

 Reed Reactor, 2010

Reed Reactor, 2010

If we stagger more closely to the society that’s being critiqued, we see irrational belief expresses itself differently but cogently irrational at different levels. Within the echelons of the technology industry there are funders who sponsor students and research scientist to answer questions vertically deemed relevant, aided by hardware and software designed by programmer or companies. At the apex of many of these industries individuals express their concern that what they are doing may have negative consequences. The esteem many of them have accrued touts the severity of the consequences described. The Future of Life Institute focuses on the threat of artificial intelligence, climate change, nuclear war and biotech. FLI attempts to self-regulate the scientific world, to offer an Ethics 101 course to the lab rats that may have missed out on the humanities while cramming for O Chem. The topics that FLI are espousing certainly things to worry about, yet within all of these preoccupations there’s a neglect for the historical trend of the applied sciences and the structural disenfranchisement of the social groups of people, a trend that’s been the mainstay of technology when taken outside of the institute and seen in daylight. The socioeconomic question, specifically that the consequences of technological “advancement” when reaching the work place almost always impacts women, racial and gendered minorities more than white males suggests that FLI might consider not only topics within science but ask how is “advancement” considered, measured, and dispersed. Is the industry of science, particularly as it interfaces with consumer technology, structured in a way that makes rational researchers deep in the scientific method output real world solutions that get distorted into irrational product trends?

 Tricked Out Buddha, Hội An, 2015&nbsp;

Tricked Out Buddha, Hội An, 2015 

The structural discrimination of tech is particularly acute given that these forms of labor–often unskilled and uneducated movements of the body–are less easily replaced by the forms of computers and programming than those in socially-advantaged positions. The abacus, the surrogate mathematician, was created before the Industrial Revolution replaced the metal smith. In today’s context, lawyers and computer programmers should be the first replaced by algorithms. Law, when well written, is basically a set of algorithms and deviation from such is usually due a socioeconomic bias. Wouldn’t it be easier to program a program to program other programs rather than make a program that runs a robot that articulates the movements of sweeping a room? If this question is rephrased to fit into FoL’s topic committee it would be something like: Who will be the first to die in the fall of Ai? Will it be the programmer god or the underlings the employer must pay? Is there any end to this frenzy of computer science programs, jobs and applications, is it asymptotic or fated for creating its own collapse?

Consider this video in which vloggers are attempting to exploit the coming surrogate virtual vloggers in order to garner followers as the recursive conclusion to this argument.


Notes

Tactical Biopolitics,  Beatriz da Costa and Kativa Philip, MIT Press, 2008. pp 30
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/tactical-biopolitics

"Police Body-worn Cameras," Alexandra Mateescu, Rosenblat, and boyd, Data & Society Research Institute, February 2015
Accessed May 29, 2017
https://www.datasociety.net/pubs/dcr/PoliceBodyWornCameras.pdf

"Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win for All," Jay Stanley, ACLU, March 2105
Accessed May 29, 2017
https://www.aclu.org/other/police-body-mounted-cameras-right-policies-place-win-all

"In North Carolina, body camera footage is no longer public information," Jack Smith IV, Mic, October 3, 2016
Accessed May 29, 2017
https://mic.com/articles/155497/in-north-carolina-body-camera-footage-is-no-longer-public-information#.PyHJhIngz

"Justice Department to give $20 million to body cameras, " WHEC News, September 27, 2016
Accessed May 29, 2017
http://www.whec.com/news/justice-department-funding-body-cameras/4274867/

Future of Life Institute web page
Accessed May 29, 2017
http://futureoflife.org/

"Are Virtual Vloggers the End of YouTube?" Good Mythical Morning vlog, S11 E60, April 5, 107
Accessed May 29, 2017
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OjCPGeq6ZU

Trump Budget #1: A Critical Comparison for the NEA

Like many liberals, I’m chipping away on my home-study American political science degree; this chapter is on governmental budgets. The President introduces his “dream budget,” which can be summarized as the potentially most awkward elephant in the room, should Trump ever have to personally meet chairman Jane Chu or any other staff from the department that he zero-ed out. Trump’s using budget like a threat, a political surgical knife that reveals how deep he pierce a government, country and society, given he’s taken no Hippocratic Oath. 

So I visited arts.gov to see if the NEA was still around. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did a 404 error elude me, but a considerate pop-up windowed guided me to a FAQ page, answered all my questions and hearsay about the fallout of Trump’s nightmare budget. Here I share what I learned therein with you, kind reader, and include with it my thoughts, concerns and crass conclusions that comprise my first of many diatribes on how our miserly billionaire Warmonger in Chief plans to spend our monies.

The NEA’s FAQ page begins/began with “Is the NEA closed?”

Social media has been buzzing about everything Sunburnt Combover has been proposing, particularly cutting the arts, environmental protection agency and giving all the money to infrastructure, outfrastructure (wall), war, Mar-a-Lago and Trump International. People are concerned. Infuriated is a better word. And the coveted National Endowment for the Arts strikes a sore spot in those of us Americans who look to more peaceful countries and societies that not only fund arts but communicate to the creative class that they’re valuable for their imagination (not just how well they can make a smart phone app UI), and how enjoy creative culture, museums, the arts, et al. So how has the U.S. compared to other developed countries? This 2005 report may be dated but still sheds light and is regularly referenced in how each country fairs in terms of cultural funding.

But why communicate to the creative class that they’re valued? Uh, well, for one reason is that (according to the NEA) we are one the largest labor classes in the U.S. Filmmakers, actors, graphic designer, musicians, singers, artists, fashion designer, photographers--the arts sector in the United States more than 2 million worker, according to the NEA. And on this note, the value of the NEA is frequently weighed by its distribution of funds toward creativity, but the reports it generates are equally important, particularly in looking at how the marginal disutility of labor occurs within these informal industries. There reports are usefully predictive of how people are working, spending free time, applying their education, generating money (and taxes), and where this is happening. 

So where is this cut coming from? What’s the rationale? What’s the history of controversy in NEA funding? One long-held belief is that the arts serve one (small) percent of the population. Why should tax-payer money be used for the arts, which are appreciated along class lines? The NEA’s FAQ does a great job to clarify that one of its goals and achieved missions to deliver the arts to “underserved areas...especially rural and inner-city communities.” Cutting funding to the NEA will only increase the inequity of access to the arts.

If part of a larger historical fight against the NEA, Trump’s cut is more likely a function of (religious) Conservative dominance on Capital Hill. The NEA budget has steadily increased since it’s founding in 1966, with the exception of a 40% cut in 1995 that remained until 2001. The cause of the aberration: Newt Fucking Gingrich, leader of the Republican majority during the Clinton years, who tried to kill the NEA.  (This cut was reversed in 2001 by the GWB). The Gingrich cut was strongly supported and espoused by Republican of North Carolina, Jesse Helms, (whose been lobbying the Big Guy in the sky since 2008), who was the ideology of the Religious Right incarnate. His disgust for arts funding came from a gag reflex that linked the denigration of the Judeo-Christian god to a certain faction of artists: The NEA four: Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck and Holly Hughes--performance artists funded by the NEA, who had their support rejected by the agency chair, the conservative John Frohmayer (National Endowment for the Arts v. Karen Finley), plus Mapplethorpe and Andre Serrano. (Mapplethorpe’s depictions of the gay nude, shot in dramatic glorification of the body [referencing the classical Greek nude, recalling that phrase “more Greek than the Greeks”] and Andrés Serrano’s Piss Christ explain why the Religious Right believed the arts were against their beliefs: they were, but not just by artists; much of society doesn’t align with these religious interpretations of the law.) The case seized onto an aesthetic parallel in order to censor sacrilegious art works. The preamble to the case begins:

In 1989, controversial photographs that appeared in two NEA-funded exhibits prompted public outcry over the agency’s grant-making procedures. Congress reacted to the controversy by inserting an amendment into the NEA’s 1990 reauthorization bill. The amendment became §954(d)(1), which directs the Chairperson to ensure that “artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which [grant] applications are judged, taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.” 

Finley ultimately won the case and the NEA was forced disperse funds to the artists. The question was from the Left whether religious values, specifically Protestant Christian, were justifiably obstacles to tax dispersion to arts within a country that touts the separation of church and state and/or the Constitutional declaration that no religion will have governmental preference over another.  The NEA v. Finley said, ‘No.’ So rather than setting a criterion to which (Conservative) appointees could control what’s produced, they decided it was better just to cut it. That’s a summary of the culture wars, to which the left and mainstream media don't really talk about today, while the Conservative right, via hot hands Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter maintain as a placeholder for their fight against Liberals. Today, however, it’s not clear whether the Trump budget is a continuation of this religious faction against creative liberals necessarily, or just a psychopathic vendetta to build his wall, stroke his ego, or a combination of both. 

What’s strangely contradictory about Trump’s NEA budget cut is that he claims to be strong on military (offense and) defense, ostensibly to protect our country from attacks by Muslim extremists who seek to destroy our culture, i.e. Western culture, but Trump’s budget does their job for them. What’s consistent is his approach to freedom of the press, women’s rights and socially protected classes are equally contradictory. 

On a social level, the real failure to society American society to make the arts correlate with the populace is two fold: one, a failure to broaden the appreciation of art and two the failure to educate toward those to find art appreciable. That is, not only do art practitioners--artists, curators, dealers, institutional functionaries--fail to make the arts accessible to the broader society, but the society to which we hope they would bring the arts is informationally impoverished. Yet, while the arts are perceived as an exclusive past time, more people have been studying contemporary arts since the mid-20th Century than ever before. Structurally, there is an educational lapse in formative public instruction, and we are all aware of it: The Arts are the first to be cut from public curricula in what seems to be the remnants a Space Age attitude that cherishes the sciences, mathematics and history. I’m not opposed to funding any educational study and I like science. But the quick-to-cut-the-arts is delusional in the presumption that the arts are superfluous. In the decades since art education in public schools began getting nixed, we’ve seen that the attraction to better schools and institutions always include and emphasize the arts. The solution is simple: don’t EVER cut educational funding. Any argument to get cut educating should be seen as the simple failure of the predecessors to educate the opponent of education, or a personality disorder. 

The arts are important for students as well as workers. Opponents to arts funding would do well to read the Harvard Business Review’s 2008 article, The MFA is the New MBA, if they hasn’t the haven’t the patience of reading through NEA reports. Rather than teaching kids to pass tests, how about teach them how to creatively problem solve? One results in life-long bullshit artist, the other results in flexible citizens who adapt to a changing world. 

The battle for the NEA funding is a short-sighted trench warfare in what should be a larger war on which department even exist in government. We need not only the NEA, but a Department of Culture. It’s the only rational approach to not only the arts but other quasi-departments that closely parallel economies (i.e. where there are educational, practitioners, and monetary generation) and should be a formalization, represented, and overseen. Anything else, like the current or “small government” mantra is just delusional in the global reality of today. The exportation of our culture and cultural products to the rest of the world is the equivalent to capital flight. If people are creating industry it requires oversight as a liaison between the corporate and business entity and the voting citizen who exists outside that economy. By extension, it requires a line on the budget whether for that oversight or for direct funding. 

The art world is ripe for oversight. We see behavior that would be considered insider-trading on Wall Street or outright neptocracy. Haunch of Venison, which closed in 2013, owned by Christie’s during its decade tenure in New York, showed perhaps the rarified cycle between a gallery that sold works and an auction house that could control the market value of the same works. The fabrication of the value of the works that went through this cycle are nothing short of alchemy. The Hauser & Wirth (previously Schimmel) space in L.A. aims to blend a cultural institution with a for-profit-gallery model like a vertically-oriented industry. How this will impact the exchange between culture cache and monetary value is yet to be seen. And they aren’t alone in devising new financial tools. Investors are open about including the arts in your portfolio; as a global phenomenon, Le Freeport makes buying, trading, and storing your artwork easy--you don’t even have to enter the country. Situated in Singapore’s duty-free airport zone, thus “no tax is due on the artwork for as long as it is stored in the facility, though applicable taxes are due in the respective location the work eventually ends up in for display or ownership. “ 

The abuse of the culture industry of unpaid interns is an exemplary cry for oversight. Around 2010, Obama and various State’s Department’s of Labor started cracking down on this abuse unpaid laborers whose employees interpreted “intern” as “anyone who would work for free,” regardless of whether that person’s time equated to credits from an educational institution or any kind of training; some galleries had (and still have) a perpetual place for an unpaid intern and give them little or no useful skills or experience. 

But I digress. To really understand whether the NEA funding cut is justified on the grounds that it serves a selection of our society or doesn’t generate (enough revenue), we should compare it other state-sponsored past-time, activities like professional sports. The divergences are shocking. Sports teams do not receive direct federal funding, but they do receive enormous local state tax subsidies. The Brookings Institute found that just Yankee Stadium received 1.7 billion in municipal bonds from New York. These bonds don’t have taxable interest, which means the Federal government lost $431 million from those bonds, and another $61 million from private high-income bond holders. That’s just to start. What’s even more troubling is where the money that’s generated goes, and how many people benefit from the activities in the stadium. Jeffrey Dorfman states, “Governments should never finance a stadium with public money as it is simply a subsidy to rich team owners and a few businesses that stand to benefit from the events held there.

Even after a stadium is built, the buck doesn’t stop there. There’s renovations, repairs and staying state-of-the-art. The tax-burden is ongoing, and ever more expensive, while the use value is decreasing: the dozen professional games and occasional concerts don’t warrant these enormous structures to be built over acres of city. These enormous tax-subsidies for rich team owners gets pushed through in aggressive threats to take the team to another state. It’s undemocratic, and as Richard Florida points out, really an inter-state problem that requires Federal regulation

The threat to take a team elsewhere is an indirect threat to take economic growth or activity elsewhere, but according to Stanford professor of economics, Roger Noll “NFL stadiums do not generate significant local economic growth, and the incremental tax revenue is not sufficient to cover any significant financial contribution by the city.” Sports subsidies are the equivalent of just putting money in the pocket of the very rich. It’s not for the fans, nor the city, nor the neighborhood. Dorfman counters the rebuttal that the businesses around the stadium will be spurred when sports attendees come with two points: one, how much of that spending goes toward taxes and two, the money spent there comes out of a budget that would have or could have been spent elsewhere, since these are services and goods, like food and drinks, that can or would have been accessed elsewhere. So it’s not generating business, it’s concentrating business and spending, which is the same rationale to give tax subsidies to the stadium in the first place: concentrate spending on one (rich) entity. Then there’s the question of job creation as a form or economic stimulus. The occasional “gig” at a stadium, from an employee’s perspective is particularly dire; it’s unstable, temporary and deskilled and low-paying. While stadiums largely employ temporary workers, cultural institutions employ workers year round. Even when exploiting internships, the interns are a small percent of the employees at cultural institutions. 

In contrast to funding stadiums, cultural zones, workers, and institutions have been well known to revitalize areas, not only economically but socially. While the urban area around stadiums are often dead zones most of the year, cultural institutions and organizations become thriving places that attract people to live and work. Urban planners know this as the “Bilbao Effect,” referencing Frank Gehry’s revitalization of the Basque industrial city. The museum and works cost €120 million in 1997, but has attracted 19 million visitors, 70% from outside Spain. Today, the Guggenheim Bilbao now generates about €400 million every year. 

Some view the influx of creatives to a neighborhood as unmitigated gentrification, which may have a true negative impact in some situations. But between creatives who raise rent, allegedly start hipster cafes, brunch spots and bars or a stadium that draws herds of drunken tourist, gridlocking traffic, blockaded streets and gives basically nothing to the locals, a neighborhood’s choice is obvious. 

 Tashiro Kaplan, 2004

Tashiro Kaplan, 2004

In Seattle these two case studies are in close proximity. The Tashiro Kaplan building, which offers artists live/work spaces at affordable prices, revitalized the Pioneer Square area that borders the International  District. The ground floor hosts commercial, not-for-profit and artist run spaces, cafes and restaurants. It reminds me of a smaller version of New York’s Westbeth. Four blocks from the TK Building is CenturyLink Field. One of two and a half structures that replaced the dilapidating Kingdome (the Supersonics temporarily played there). CenturyLink Field, née Qwest Field, houses Microsoft founder & billionaire, Paul Allen’s Seahawks. The new field cost the public $300 million. Behind CenturyLink is Safeco Field, home of the Mariners, majority owned by John W. Stanton, a modest billionaire. Safeco cost $384.5 million dollars, levied by a food and beverage tax. That is, a tax was placed on citizens so fans could buy a $10 hotdog on picnic benches from a billionaire. Why two structures were extracted from one multi-purpose building is an inexplicable, unjustifiable boondoggle. On a city the size of Seattle, the onerous detour of funds from the plebeians to the rich is even worse than in larger cities like New York. In the 1960s the federal government tried to address this robbing the hood use of monies for stadia, but the result was today’s municipal bonds tax loop. But rather than inhibiting owners to threaten taking their teams to shinier shores, cities are forced to foot the bill or forego the prestige of having a Costco-size, plein air, sports channel TV with overpriced food and beverage for people who may otherwise just watch at home. 

 

Today, the two stadia function like centurion guards overlooking a post-apocalyptic scene from Dario Argento film, an urban waste land that halts the flow of the Pioneer Square knick-knacks couture shoppers, the TK artists and gallery hoppers and I-district restaurants from mingling with Georgetown artisans south of the stadia. The Berlin wall was slightly more effective in blockading human capital than the weave of freeway ramps, and the parking lots in and around the complexes. Only around Olympic constructions is less life found on Earth. Seattle missed a rare opportunity when the the Kingdome was disintegrating in the 1990s: They should have learned from Rome. Let the owners take the teams, who needs the teams? People could harvest the useful materials from the building and would exists as a tourist attraction for centuries, a testament for an outdated, cruel and mythical practices in which emperors were bated against slaves. 

 Seattle Sentries, 2004

Seattle Sentries, 2004

From a tax perspective, arts funding can be seen in direct, honest relationship between citizens, organizations, cities and states that are supported federally. Stadia represent citizen millionaires billionaires who pay municipal bonds working in conjunction with city officials to essentially find tax-loops to avoid paying federal taxes. The complexes are profitable for few and seldom even used. I expect that only one (proposed) structure will be a greater waste of money with even less people enjoying it than sports stadia, and that’s Trump’s Wall. 

The NEA reports have shown that artists usually earn an income that is less than the national average. Funding for the arts makes a big impact not only on the audience that can access the arts, but on some of poorer, laboring and productive members of society. By contrast sports team owners, are the country's wealthiest individuals. Time and again, studies have shown giving tax subsidies to the wealthiest does not generate revenue, it just puts money in the pocket of the rich. The attack on NEA funding is a regressive assault on the multitudes of struggling creatives while stadia subsidies mock basic socioeconomic justice.

 

 

Notes

Frequently Asked Questions, National Endowment for the Arts, 2017
https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/NEA-FAQ-March2017-rev.pdf
Accessed April 20, 2017
 

“Comparison of Arts Funding in Selected Countries,” Canada Council for the Arts, 2005
http://intranet.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/Comparisonsofartsfunding27Oct2005_0.pdf
Accessed April 20, 2017

Artist in the Workforce 1990-2005, National Endowment for the Arts, p iii
https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/ArtistsInWorkforce.pdf
Accessed April 20, 2017

“National Endowment for the Arts Appropriations History,” National Endowment for the Arts
https://www.arts.gov/open-government/national-endowment-arts-appropriations-history
Accessed April 20, 2017

“YEAR IN REVIEW: 1995: The Arts: Reports of NEA’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated (Yes--Listen Up, Newt),” Diane Haithman, Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1995
http://articles.latimes.com/1995-12-31/entertainment/ca-19460_1_nea-funding
Accessed April 20, 2017

“National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley (97-371) U.S. Supreme Court, decided June 25, 1998
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/97-371.ZS.html
Accessed April 20, 2017

“5 Major Differences Between Public and Private Schools,” Blythe Grossberg, Thought Co, January 23, 2017
https://www.thoughtco.com/major-differences-between-public-and-private-2773898
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The MFA is the New MBA,” Katherine Bell, Harvard Business Review, April 14, 2008
https://hbr.org/2008/04/the-mfa-is-the-new-mba
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Haunch of Venison Will Close Chelsea Gallery, No Longer Deal New Work, “Dan Duray, Observer, February 1, 2013
http://observer.com/2013/02/haunch-of-venison-will-close-chelsea-gallery/
Accessed April 20, 2017

Le Freeport.com

“Will New York Get Its Own Freeport for Art? ARCIS Plans a Tax Haven in Harlem,” Eileen Kinsella, Artnews, March 2, 2017
https://news.artnet.com/art-world/will-new-york-get-its-own-freeport-for-art-arcis-plans-a-tax-haven-in-harlem-878165
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are A Game That Taxpayers Lose,” Jeffrey Dorfman, Forbes, January 31, 2015
https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffreydorfman/2015/01/31/publicly-financed-sports-stadiums-are-a-game-that-taxpayers-lose/#5e625af44f07
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The Never Ending Stadium Boondoggle,” Richard Florida, CityLab, September 10, 2015. 
http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/09/the-never-ending-stadium-boondoggle/403666/
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Sports Stadiums Do Not Generate Significant Local Economic Growth, Stanford  Export Says,” Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News, July 30, 2015
http://news.stanford.edu/2015/07/30/stadium-economics-noll-073015/
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The Bilbao effect: How 20 years of Gehry’s Guggenheim transformed the city,” William Cook, BBC, January 12, 2017
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1HL3drXNNWQVq7tpC6pMRsJ/the-bilbao-effect-how-20-years-of-gehrys-guggenheim-transformed-the-city
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts mark 10 years of creative space,” Katharine Schwab, The Seattle Times, July 31, 2014
http://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/tashiro-kaplan-artist-lofts-mark-10-years-of-creative-space/
Access April 20, 2017

“The World’s Billionaires: 840 John Stanton,” Forbes, March 8, 2007
https://www.forbes.com/lists/2007/10/07billionaires_John-Stanton_WGEH.html
Accessed April 20, 2017

Banned, Ban Suspended, Rebanned: Immigration & Politics After a Generation

One of the benefits of propinquity are the encounters with the detritus of your neighbors and the capacity of these objects to take your focus away from what’s been preoccupying your mind. ADHD as urban design. The other day a modest pile of 1990s Playboys came into my possession after a routine trip to the laundry room. For me the decade marked my sexual awakening: Pamela Anderson Baywatch, the patience of a Buddhist for dial-up Internet, Adam & Eve mail-order catalogues that tattooed the postal delivery schedule into my mind, and of course those bunny ear head dresses. How could I not delve, at least for an afternoon, into my physiological nostalgia?

For the most part, I got exactly what I expected: monotonous dated texts, consumer electronic ads, Columbia House artist listings, cigarette promos, and busty girls with bad hair. But two issues stood out: May 1991 and June 1992.

May 1991 is the Tweed sisters issue: two long-legged, smiling women whose skin perfectly matches the pantone A7 studio backdrop. It’s a few shades from cosmic latte, giving one the impression that we as banana jerkers are either in a super closeup on the perfect skin of these goddesses or we’re at an intergalactic vantage point of how the solar system is structured: Tweeds all the way down. Competing with the Tweeds for your attention is a Steinbrenner interview, in which he attest his hatred for baseball. But at page 83 a dapper, two dimensional air brushed Asian gangster pinching a cigarette accompanies the title “big TROUBLE IN LITTLE SAIGON” (title capitalization [it was the 90s]) passes the finish line for the most intriguing time capsule of Americana found therein. Jim Goad’s two-and-a-half page article recounts the crime and depravity that has bubbled up in the Vietnamese refugee community in Orange County since the war.

The article opens into a video surveillance tape of a drive-by shooting at a restaurant and the subsequent denial of the event by the restaurant owner, from whom the police investigators are trying to garner evidence. The reader has just walked into a cul-de-sac of American good intentions, bordered by the baggage of distrust for authority that the refugee victims checked on the tarmac following the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Remember, in this era, anyone who’s roughly ethnic and partakes in violence with his friends is in a gang. The “gang members” are comprised of young men imagined as roving Asian outlaws on motor-horse back, drunk on the freedom that they’ve only recently acquired. Why do these men turn violence rather than express their gratitude for our saving them? Well, obviously, they lost their family following the war, they are alone, unloved and worst of all, bored. Goad’s narrative fits nicely into the Conservative explanation for all urban violence: the demolition of family values due to broken homes, single moms, welfare checks, urban plight and probably rap music in video games are accounted for in the following article. (Flip page to more nudie girls or…read on!)

Goad brings the article to life by following one gangster, Randy, whose biography oscillates between intra-national crime sprees and imprisonment. Randy echoes the broken home being…broken …broke, like his wallet, he explains his love for this free country; to Goad it’s freedom that he’s abusing through crime. Goad [phrases it, “Spoiled by freedom, they come off like suburban brats on a joy ride.” Okay, it’s like Clueless but instead of the incest, pink convertibles, and Valley Girl upspeak it’s bummed out tattooed skin merging with couch upholstery until violence forces the financial hand. Got it. 

But all of this is in Randy’s rear view mirror. He’s no longer dragged down by his broken home. He’s served his final time in prison; now he’s an honest working American, he’s found the light; the sanctity of freedom, its hallowed delicate fibers have calmed the salvage; Randy is born, again. The article ends with the same topic with which it began: the problematic distrust for authority from newcomers from a primitive world. Succinctly, Goad writes “many Vietnamese are puzzled by the U.S. justice system. When they see gangster back on the street hours after being arrested, they figure that payoffs, not bail, are at work. Fearing reprisal, they clam up.” Our justice system, like our freedom, is simply too complex for these simplistic fisherman to comprehend, is what Goad is trying to say. (Wait, in the 1991, would someone arrested for armed robbery or a drive-by shooting be let out on bail? If you’re paying 10% of the bond of 30,000-50,000, taking inflation into account, SCV Bail bonds and I are guessing the people being let out on bail aren’t the violent, gangsters that Goad’s article is covering.) Again, it’s the 90s and there’s the whiff of “getting tough on crime,” three strikes you’re out and getting down on those gun-loving, drug smoking inner-city gangs throughout this article. But all in all, it’s the end to a saga that started a decade earlier and has resolved as the American Dream. 

I read the article from the vicarious position of a Vietnam veteran’s perspective of experience: Enroll, train, ship off, eat MREs, get jungle boot, shoot at Charlie, take psychodelics, try to maintain a semblance of ethics with the village people by stopping that psychopath in the platoon who tries to kill them and wear their ears as a necklace, go home and suffer PTSD and now this. Ungrateful little brats. Why can’t I just enjoy my Playboy? Ok, good. I’m glad the kid worked it out; now the nudies.

June 1992′s cover advertises the Playmate of the Year, a bleach-blonde with almond-shaped face, glossy blue-green eyes messed with 80′s hairband-permanent, dressed in what looks to be a Martha Stewart semi-transparent white linen summer dress knotted at her abdomen, provocatively plucking the flower petals from a daisy next to the text statement of an interview with Ralph Nader. The PMOY is trash; Nader is golden. He’s laying out all the political complexities that have been batted during this last election and gives a brief historical overview of what he’s been up to since the late 50s. But what’s even more interesting and relevant to this topic of refugees is “Styled in Seattle,” a pictorial subtitled “once a refugee from vietnam, hairdresser angela melini is putting down roots on this side of the pacific” (subtitle capitalization). The paragraph of text that accompanies the half dozen images of Angela in silk sheets of a dusty mahogany living room of anywhere U.S.A. ca. 1970 focuses on the determination and level-headed attitude of the industrious hairdresser. She’s practical, hard working and smart. Her abridged biography is as a child of an Italian soldier who died in the war, she and her mother fled Vietnam in 1974, immigrating to North Carolina where she “began a typically suburban American childhood of bike riding, rollerskating an hanging out at the mall, i.e.“Americanized.” This process, identity, and the historical conflict is the subtext of the pictorial. There’s about 2.5 paragraphs of text. 

Ms. Melini embodies the American Dream. A disadvantaged immigrant struggles to make a life for herself in this Great Country and gets lucky by/after being “discovered.” Fame, fortune, national appreciation by heterosexual subscribers to the periodical. Freedom. Her big hair is nearly a stargate to travel back to the era when a dangerous majority of American women wore such style, the sheer volume being demonstrative of the greatness of the country. The sprinkles of quotes from the hairdresser clear her of any communist residue or foreign sympathies: “’There are plenty of pretty girls,’ she muses. ‘You have to be more than that.’“ Indeed.

Thirteen months apart, “Styled in Seattle” and “Big Trouble in Little Saigon” create a complementary image of how and whom this country accepts, what was expected by Americans accepting immigrant refugees, and how that’s changed over the last 50 years. In these two Playboy issues, this sociopolitical question is removed from a press conference or protest route and placed within the context of a men’s entertainment magazine. That is, these two stories, and the myriad of stories we hear or read about when policy confronts personal experience, really makes us realize how human these decisions can be and how human something like waiting in line at an airport or looking at a magazine is. We can read graphs and look at statistics, but the human story is what will resonate; the story of fear for Randy, or the story of making it ‘big’ for Angela.  These two individuals’ lives were disrupted by the war and then made examples of either side of a systematic concern for who comes to the U.S. and how they exist here; it’s the question that, today, is divisive as ever, it’s the battle over immigration reform, security v. civil rights, either side trying to stake claim to what is “American” and what is “unAmerican.”

One thing we don’t know as “American” is the Vietnam War, known by the Vietnamese as the War of American Aggression. From both perspectives it was a violent, traumatizing experience in longer tradition of military conflict, for both parties. Uniquely for both parties it resulted in the Indochina refugee crisis when 2.5 million people of the 56 million escaped Vietnam to other countries. That doesn’t include the thousands that fled in 1975. As a humanitarian crisis, the Vietnamese diaspora sets the dinner table for the subsequent refugee crises due to war, but only in terms of what’s televised and subsequently collectively feared across a continent that’s glued to dinnertime news. There’s been war refugees since the dawn of war. This fact shouldn’t soften our empathy meter when thinking about the millions of people who are annually put into the most inconvenient position of leaving a place where they can speak a language that’s understood, have their social valuation, and retain some semblance of dignity. Rather this fact of refugees as a constant in our world history should make us realize how inhumane and uncivil our civilization has been and continues to be.

American Dream

The last day of my trip to Viet Nam in 2015, I was finishing the construction of a vo be, a traditional Vietnamese (and found throughout Southeast Asia) fishing apparatus. The man who was aiding in my learning of how to do this, made the wonderful decision to order two crates of beer to celebrate. And he invited the neighbors there in Cu Chi. We gathered in the shed behind his house, a sort of mother-in-law tin-roof structure that had the unexpected amenities of a full kitchen, lieu and eating area. Exactly one person of that group of 10 spoke a basic level of English, but, just as my prior visit, that was no barrier for hospitality. Hand signals, giggles, nods. I understood the drinking ritual, the ching ching, the food sharing. I understood when solicited mouse as a delicacy to try sauteed that I should accept, as it was a sign that they knew the limits to my own culinary culture and wanted to give me the experience. 

 Host &amp; teacher, Sơn,&nbsp;testing the vó&nbsp;bè. The party shack in the background. Nephew (Phức Nguyên) in the foreground.

Host & teacher, Sơn, testing the vó bè. The party shack in the background. Nephew (Phức Nguyên) in the foreground.

As we ate and drank, it started to rain, heavily, The earth eroded around the structure and no person’s voice could be distinguished by the pounding above. Only laughter was evident and precise. Somewhere before I reached the point that I must stop in order to responsibly mount the motorcycle to take me to the airport, I realized that, while this moment was absolutely unforgettable, it was also unjustly unique for me. The beauty of this simple gathering was, most likely, not out of the ordinary in Cu Chi. The totality of the environment, food and company was quotidian to my hosts. A deep sense of being on one side of a bridge that had to be intentionally constructed by me, a returning for discovering, came over me. I thought of how many other children of refugees would have to make their own journey back across the war-scarred roads healed over. At that moment, the Refugee Crisis as it had come to be called (as if it was and were to be the only such crisis), was at full boil in Europe. Families broken. Children raised in new lands. A generation without a knowledge of their own culture. I knew certainly about the uncertainty others who would return must experience, abridged by distance but separated by language and culture throughout the visit. A visit it was and would be. And then the rain stopped and I balanced on the back of a bike, holding down the mouse as my driver took me back to Ho Chi Minh. Returning, leaving, waiting in line at the airport. Drinking beers. These are human things. Even dreaming is human. 

 

The "Hell Or High Water" Narrative @gainst the (Oscar) Establishment

  Sunrise from a Getaway Car , 2005

Sunrise from a Getaway Car, 2005

During the entire experience of watching Hell or High Water I couldn’t help but suspect that this is probably how Trump supporters view the world. To a liberal New Yorker, it’s almost a horror story, or the footnote explanation for the current political climate...renegade outlaws, Robin Hood tale in which the big bad banks finally bow down to the people they serve. Well, sort of. 

The writer of Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan, has made a career out of cop shows and movies, which, in the context of this story--which is empathetic to the criminal as much as law enforcement--makes me realize how the genre of cop shows is parasitically dependent not on good guys and bad guys, but on gun rights. This film suggests that justice can be attained through armed robbery but also that order can be maintained by citizen police.  In a parallel reality in which Clinton would have won and Trump lost, this film would be read as a question of gun rights and bank wrongs, not about a power structure that overlooked the potential of the poetic justice found in the robbers' scheme. Sheridan, an actor turned screenwriter, started out on such sets as Walk, Texas Ranger and Sons of Anarchy.  A born and raised Texan, his films tout the rugged individual and duality of good and evil. Sicario (2015), Hell or High Water (2016) and the forthcoming Wind River (2017) all center on law enforcement stories that glorify the pursuit of justice. Although the films are regionally specific, their characters and world views are ubiquitous to the rural experience. In Hell or High Water that world view is necessarily short sighted--focusing on a single bank as an ersatz surrogate of financialization of the housing market.  

  Unintended Scorched Earth Policy,  2007

Unintended Scorched Earth Policy, 2007

Although having been nominated for four Academy Awards–Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Original Screenplay and Best Achievement in Film Editing–it won none of them. The productions that dominated the awards this year were La La Land and Moonlight.  It's 2016 and not only is the culture industry politically activated, but there's a President in the White House who's adamant about returning fire.  At the awards ceremony, as well as the theater, the specter of the Trump Presidency shades the interpretation of films we watch and the speeches we hear at the winners podium. Thus, I couldn’t help accusing the bandit Howard brothers of Hell or High Water as Turmp voters. This is who they are, what they look like, the values they have–not simply to break the law, but a sense of justice that is resolutely immediate, applicable on the individual scale and in a landscape that is essentially empty. Rural America. In this light, the film’s potential as a lasting historical document is more compelling as a dying view of the world partially explicated by the story it puts forward, than its status as a well made film or well written script. The way of life is dying because the manner of living in isolation is losing against an increasingly urban lifestyle that is growing not only in population, but also leveraging the rural lives through the very debt against which the brother bandits fight. To put it bluntly, the fiction put forward is that the rugged individual can solve macro economic problems by singularly addressing the problem with direct, (maybe illegal maybe gun maybe violent) action. This is Rambo but on Wallstreet.

The roles of pro- and antagonist are blurred by the two pairs of hetero-white dudes who understand ethical behavior through tribal dynamics: the obligation to moral imperatives where natural laws must be exercised over legislated conditions. This both begins the film and ends the film: the first robbery is framed over the deathbed of the brother’s mother for whom they seek to right wrong; the final farewell is bookended with each survivor of the competing duos agreeing to duel to the death. What better way to characterize the individual than to kill his partner and debase his existence down to his singular obligation of vengeance? I just hope there's no sequel. 

The heroism of the film, if there is any, is located in the inception of the ingenuity of the Robin Hood scheme, rather than a critique of the housing subprime loan crisis borne of (neo)liberal capitalism, which is better addressed in Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Rob who’s robbing you, pay them back and make them your servant. That's essentially the plan. Get your family out of generational poverty, even if it kills you. Okay, that's fatherly. Hell or High Water follows two rebel brothers, Tanner and Toby Howard, who’ve targeted a local banking institution to methodologically rob. But they don’t just want the money, they seek justice. The brothers’ intend to steal the enough money from the bank to pay off their deceased mother’s property, which is in foreclosure from the same bank. The scheme really seems like a story told in the 1990s about gangs, when America was struggling to be both more politically correct and tougher on crime, but this story is with Texan ne'er-do-wells. One brother's an ex-con, the other a failed father. But Hell or High Water tries to be recall bandit classics like Bonnie and ClydeNatural Born Killers and Badlands, and it's with these comparisons that are more fruitful. All three comparative films were innovative for American filmmaking. Bonnie and Clyde promised the American equivalent of the French New Wave style of Goddard and Truffaut. French New Wave was stylistically aberrant because of the sociopolitical slant of the producers; anti-Hollywood, anti-big production, Truffaut and Goddard deeply influenced Bonnie and Clyde. American cinema was stagnant, in crisis, formulaic and more interested in filling theater seats than expanding the medium. Released in 1967, the influence of admixture of youth culture and French cinema proved successful for writers David Newman and Robert Benton.(1) Comparing just the demographics that were attracted to Bonnie and Clyde and those represented in the Trump contingent via Hell or High Water, we see basically the opposite part of the American populace. Americans 25 and under overwhelming supported Sanders and later Clinton. 55% of young voters preferred Clinton; 37% preferred Trump. (2) Natural Born Killers (1994), the murder satire aptly critiques the media's irresponsible action, aggrandizement and perpetuation of violence. Itself a prodigy of Bonnie and Clyde and cinema violence, Stone was forced to address the real world scenarios of his film when copycat killers took off across the country. In defense of the film, Stone stated his purpose was critique of media, not suggesting of a solution. (3) (Ironically, the news coverage of the copycat killings paralleled the exact role Stone claimed the media played.) The message of Natural Born Killers is categorically opposite to that of Hell or High Water. One critiques the frenzy of violence on the screen while the other promises violence to be saving grace. 

Contrasting Terrence Malik’s picturesque landscapes in Badlands–which was woven together from three directors of photography: Brian Proby, Tak Fujimoto and Steven Larner–that seems to stretch almost as wide as 70mmfootage, Giles Nuttgen, Hell or High Water’s director of photography continually degrades the rural Texas landscape with decrepit fences, broken down homes and rusting industrial equipment. Although the aspect ratio of Badlands is less rectangular than Hell or High Water,1.85:1 and 2.20:1 respectively, the latter feels crowded and claustrophobic in the landscape frames. While in Badlands, the landscape appears as an idea stretching to the hard line horizon, Nuttgen’s images are all too present, upfront, in the foreground, a place that is hopelessly inhabited and stretching outward. In keeping with the repetition of billboards targeted at the indebted society, the images we see depict the slow implosion of the pioneer lifestyle–that final fart of westward expansion, the actual footprints of settlers in the legislated colonization of North American West.

Tolerated racism pervades the film through Marcus Hamilton, the cop on the verge of retirement, played by Jeff Bridges, who constantly reminds his partner of his ethnicity. The all too familiar rapport found in small towns, one in which the personal proximity of someone you know fairly well confronts your maintained ideological stereotype, forcing you to both express the stereotype and excuse the recipient as the exception to the alleged rule, Hamilton’s racism toward his partner, Alberto Parker, is complicated by his “natural” duty to avenge the latter’s murder. Hamilton’s obligation can be juxtaposed with Tanner’s insulting of the Native American in the first casino scene, in which the brother blankly concludes that the Native American is his eternal enemy. Two forms of natural law: one that binds, and one that makes boundaries.

Intentionally stoking the racial tension of the Big Star State, the sociopolitical transformation can be summarized in abridged history uttered by the sheriff’s deputy, who’s of Native American and Latino descent: “150 years ago, all this was my ancestors’ land. Everything you can see. Everything you saw yesterday. ‘Til the grandparents of these folks took it. And now it’s been taken from them. ‘Cept it ain’t no army doin’ it. It’s those sonsuvabitches right there [pointing to the bank].” In this sociological model, the conquest of peoples first with guns over those without, then the domination of those with guns by those with contracts is subverted by the well-intending rebel with a gun. Should this story have taken place 160 years ago, the only required change to the script would be the mode of transportation for the getaway.

Perhaps the biggest fantasy of Hell or High Water is the alleged victimization of the rural poor white man in the 2010 American housing crisis. The reality is that urban blacks, not rural whites, were disproportionately affected by predatory subprime lending practices. Blacks were three times more likely to be given a predatory loan as a reasonable loan; Hispanics twice as likely; whites had about a 50/50 chance to get either a good or bad loan.(4) With this in mind, the scheme to rob Texas Midland bank to save mom's house and get the kids new shoes and a college degree makes Hell or High Water less a Robin Hood film and more just a robbery film that hopes to stroke our conditioned distaste for the banking industry.

  Sunset on Rural America , 2005

Sunset on Rural America, 2005


Notes

  1.  "Riding the New Wave," Elaine Lennon, Senses of Cinema, February 2006 khttp://sensesofcinema.com/2006/feature-articles/bonnie_and_clyde/
  2. "Behind Trump's Victory: Divisions of race, gender, education," Alec Tyson and Shiva Maniam, 
     Pew Research Center, November 9, 2016
    http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/
  3. "The business of murder," Tim Lawrence, The Independent, October 1994
    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/film-the-business-of-murder-oliver-stones-satire-natural-born-killers-has-spawned-a-mini-industry-of-1445214.html
  4. "Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis," Jacob Rugh and Douglass Massey, American Sociological Review,  October, 2010
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4193596/

Week 2 of Drumpf: Believe Me: The Last Thing We Need is Trump to Drop Dead from Natural Causes

Typically the Republican Party, the GOP, the Conservatives of this country propound the preservation and importance of religion. This last election was unique in that both parties–the religious right and liberal (sometime secular) left perceived the candidates on the poles of good and evil. Thus, the failure of the Democratic party and many Clinton supporters was not just an election, but the victory of evil over good. The question of civil society and civil rights is the domain of the liberal left, but why is the fight against Trump being framed as a right/wrong, good/bad concern? 

What are the dangers of viewing politics on a good/evil axis? I think it’s useful to look at two dissenting voices from the left of center and right of center to see how nimble the debate around Trump policies can be, whether seeing them as ethical or judicious makes sense strategically. 

A recent email exchange between Noam Chomsky and Sam Harris can serve as an example of how framing something in the context of good and bad (via good and evil, see Nietzsche “Beyond Good & Evil) can predetermine the sorts of answers that appear to force a concession of one moral value for another. (I didn’t follow the entire stunt of email bating/debating with Chomsky, but the entire discussion seemed to inappropriately concede to Harris’ desired framework, which is a binary between Western values and “non-Western values.” I should stipulate that I actually haven’t read any of the books, in their entirety, that these two authors have produced pertaining to politics. On one hand the dispute between them is an exchange of both referring the other to a book the former wrote, on the other hand the exchange comes off as a PR stunt on behalf of Harris to garner more attention to his platform from Chomsky fans and/but on a third, prosthetic hand that forces the hands of both of the other hands, and on which I’m qualifying my admitted lack of reading either of their books, both have an excess of non-literate media sharing their political perspectives, media that has communicated in the very least that it isn’t necessary to read their books because, if this media is purposeful, effective, and functional, it (the media–interviews, podcasts, speeches, et al.) can disseminate their political perspectives at least as sufficiently as their books. )

A Generalization of Chomsky & Harris Perspectives on American Foreign Policy as It Pertains to the Point of Trump Dropping Dead by Natural Causes

Noam Chomsky’s critique of American foreign policy is that it’s imperialistic. We uproot dissent in foreign countries through covert CIA and/or overt military operations for the goals of imperialist domination and subsequently economic benefit. The banner under which the U.S. government declares its violence against other people–Terrorism, Freedom, Democracy–as part of the manufacturing of the domestic population’s consent, may change but the motivation is constant. The inaccurate rhetoric of American foreign policy is found not only in the inconsistency of how these banner themes are applied across the globe–i.e. some Muslim countries being our enemies while other being our allies–but also in how our own country does not adhere to its own rallying dogma. While U.S. politicians wage war in the name of Democracy, the same politicians may be countering democratic processes at home. Chomsky’s repeated references abroad are to the CIA interventions in Nicaraguamilitary support of the genocide of East Timor by Indonesia, the invasion of Iraq under the guise of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and World War II. 

Sam Harris’ stance on U.S. foreign policy is that it’s the U.S.’s duty to police the world, to protect civil society and this can and may and at times must be done through militarization and tough love (i.e. secret missions, assassinations, et al.). To secure civil society, we must fight against those who oppose it, e.g. Putin. Because there are regimes that do not recognize human rights, its the duty of HR proponents to fight against the tyranny of the opposition in order to affirm women’s rights, create secular governance and end dictatorships. In the debate with Chomsky he emphasizes the “good intention” of the American foreign policy. His references abroad are much narrower than Noam’s, focusing on the Middle East and Russia since the Cold War until the present. 

Harris’ argument is pretty close to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” which was the popular framework around the 9/11, Iraq War. It’s a world picture that appealed to George W. Bush. We, the West (Western Europe & North America), are culturally incompatible with the non-West, but really they mean Islam. Asia’s fine. They make our stuff. This clarification is the first of many. It’s not just Islam, but Middle East, and just Middle Eat but Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Egypt at times…who else…Yemen? Ok, it’s ad hoc. They could have said, “They’re in our way to drive to Kazakstan and must be destroyed,” and it would have been more accurate. You’ll notice, this is the basic road map for Trump’s “Muslim travel ban,” and it’s echoed by many European nationalists. But before I get to how this doesn’t float as a logical argument, I want to return to the fantasy of some good grace shining upon North America, just below the 48th parallel. 

Trump & the Grim Reaper

Ok, so with the context of these two interpretations–Chomsky & Harris–‘twer Trump to drop dead, flat out on the floor of the oval office, not resting but stone dead, deceased of natural causes the entire opposition, the rational center, the apprehensive Michiganders that cast no Presidential vote, the Left and Ultraleft would have no other alternative but to revive the idea and belief of Divine Intervention. There would be no room for secular belief. It would simply not be tenable to have the electoral college hand to leave this flaming paper bag on our doorstep and then, suddenly, not have to deal with it. It would be none other than “miraculous.” Thus, both the right and left in the U.S. would collide in religious fervor. The discord of U.S. politics since the mid 20th Century would simply evaporate, having reached a boiling point with in an orange burst of 5th Avenue egocentricity of smoke and mirrors. You think I’m kidding, but there would be no protection for civil society through/on the grounds of secular or non-belief; there would be only “believers.” Civil society would equate to Christian society in the U.S. The conservative right would simply continue their born-againing, and the left, well, they would born again also. The illogic would be…illogical. Here’s how. 

 "The Prepared Burglar," 2004

"The Prepared Burglar," 2004

The claim that defending Muslims or Islam in America or the rest of the world by the liberal left while aspiring to secularism, human rights and equality, or at least separation of church and state, is contradictory, according to Harris. (More than Chomsky Harris engages in debate with the religious and spiritual communities as part of the New Atheist movement.) But first and foremost, this is a stereotype about any religious society, not just Islam. What about Buddhists? Are Confucians ‘ok’? Second, to view a society solely by their religious makeup is anti-intellectual, as it discards any other valuable assets of that society. I watched the first Sean Hannity interview with Trump, you know, the one where Sean basically tricks the old fart into agreeing to pardon some people he knows, and what’s more interesting than any of that hour rehearsed interview is that a youtube commercial by the Islamic society directly followed the video. It correctly explained the many contributions to the world that Islam has made. For example, the idea of zero. Where would be without zeros? But the point is that any society, regardless of their origin stories, afterlife beliefs or distinctions between “science” and “religion” (this is a Western distinction, BTW. See ‘China’) have great contributions to the world, knowledge, food, history, language. Third, can you secure secularism while securing a freedom of religion? *(And I should clarify that I’m an atheist, more over secular). The answer is ‘yes,’ and it’s possible only through example, at probably through law, which is what most of these countries that are worried about Muslims already have. They have a higher standard of living which sets the example for people in poorer countries to say, hey, maybe it would be a good idea to go there, or, ‘wait, no one is getting killed there, that’s an example of my kind of neighborhood.’ As for laws, you vote on them. It’s democracy. For those of us who cling to secular society just because we believe it’s superior than sharia law, well that’s is just as dogmatic as those who cling to another belief system. 

Having given the Harris-teria a few nods, it’s important to return to Islamophia directly, because it’s pertinent in not just the U.S. What is actually going on here? That is, what’s really at stake right now: is there an overtaking by Islam, or an ebb of civil rights? I’d say, ‘no.’ There is no coordinated effort for Islam to finish the job of the Crusades. In real numbers, no European country crosses 11% of Muslims.  What’s the bigger danger, some head garb or fascism turning against the civilian population. Fascism is alive and well in the U.S. and Europe. Why is this a bigger concern? Well, discriminating against 100% of society because you have 10% you don’t like is sad math. 

As pointed out during the Weapons of Mass Destruction campaign and Bush: Deux, Islam isn’t the enemy, as we have allies in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco…actually, most of them, at some time. If you’re worried about Islam, go make a friend who’s Muslim and you’ll be happier. If you’re worried about extremist–whether black, brown, or white–the answer is to improve their standard of living. In fact, for you Europeans who are thinking of protecting your country against the influence of refugees, just know that that’s exactly what George W. Bush would have said. You hated that guy. So did I. Don’t fall for him. You’re better than that. Use your creativity and innovation to deal with this in an un-Bush-ly manner. 

And when compared to our current and recent allies, the Clash of Civilizations model simply doesn’t hold water. I didn’t buy the rhetoric during Bush Deux and I don’t buy it via S. Harris. Reagan didn’t buy it either, as he sent weapons to Afghanistan to fight the clash with the other spectre: Communism. Not even Trump really buys it. Actually, most of the countries we are fighting in, have been fighting in, funding military conflict, or have special operations aren’t Muslim, they’re Christian. As of 2014, the U.S. had around 134 countries that SOCOM, SOF, training of foreign militaries that was going on. Central & South America. Southeast Asia. Pacific Islands. 

 Christian countries by percentage

Christian countries by percentage

Apart from their selective cartographic interpretation, they (Bush, Harris, Huntington, but not CIA) also completely omit the civil rights issue pertaining to discriminating against Muslim Americans, which can be traced back to Civil Rights movement, Louis Farrakhan, Malcom X, et al. Discrimination against Muslims is not only illegal under Constitutional right to  the Freedom of Religion, but it savagely and disproportionately effects people of color. If Harris preferred a logical, historical continuity, the lines of discrimination are much more ardent than the clash between civilizations in this country and others. And so, calling it the BS that it is catalyzes the liberal left’s defense of Islam: that it’s a false pretense. 

The contradiction of Harris, and much of what’s come to be the Nationalist movement across many European countries, that declare the inhumane treatment of outsiders (refugees, immigrants, even citizens of other cultures), is quickly shown outlined in the uncivil actions necessary to maintain the alleged civil society. (But then, is it still civil? Was it ever?) Logically, it’s congruent to the camp that believes the death penalty is necessary to ensure that killers don’t kill in a society where killing isn’t allow or you have to bomb to get peace. What’s curious about Harris and Nationalists who advocate violence to ensure peaceful society is that they never advocate for greater support of non-military organizations whose missions more acutely align with these proposed ideals: Amnesty International, for example, works for human rights not only abroad but also within these “civil societies.” They are just one of the many organizations, non-military organizations, that work to do exactly what this contradictory camp suggests, though without contradiction.

T-Minus 0 Days : Misinformation Age

In the fallout all of the scapegoats for Trumpaggedon are taking turns in the spotlight. Lately, “fake news” has been getting the finger. The historical importance of this moment is that social media being requested by government and society to mitigate fake news, effectively being held to higher journalistic standards than entities that actually call themselves news sources. I was particularly inspired by an interview between Anderson Cooper and fake news writer, Paul Horner, which made me wonder exactly what is journalism and what is satire and how they may relate to news media and “the information age.”

In the 5 minute plus interview, Cooper tries to pinpoint Horner as deliberately “spreading false information.” It’s a witch hunt. Cooper is trying to discredit the Horner, but really Horner is exempt from the truth/false axis because he’s a writing fiction. Cooper then tries to further discredit Horner by saying that Horner’s motivation is to make money, and Horner replies by saying what news media won’t admit, which is that they spread false (or one sided) information for revenue. Touché. It’s true in the case of CNN, DemocracyNow, Fox News, The Daily Show, Brietbart; it’s true based on the cartographic limits of what can actually be covered in any day’s coverage; it’s true based on the funding structure of news media; it’s true in the context of how Horner makes money via pay per clicks, just as news sites host advertisements for money, ads of which have information that aren’t fact checked, many of which are totally false; it’s true by all levels–theoretical, local, specific, dire–that news media spreads misinformation, half truths, mediated and intended. Anderson Cooper refutes that, not just because he can’t agree, but because he doesn’t want to have a conversation, in spite of the format of the program, which is two people’s heads being placed next to each other and the appearance of a dialogue, i.e. one person speaks and another addresses the information enclosed in that speech. (Pause for a moment on the fact that Cooper has no idea what an Internet Troll is, 7:15) Horner says something and Cooper moves on to the next point (gotta get that next point in for the silent audience) before the commercial break. This is satire masquerading as news. 

The two men spar at what is true and what is factual for far too short of a minute, but really the point is that news media is in a crisis, not only financially but its mode of dissemination and territory. (Just the fact that “real” news has to address “fake” news, i.e. Internet news, shows there’s a crisis. Anyone remember Tosh.0? , the show where a guy on cable TV talks about what’s interesting on the Internet until you, the viewer, turn your head 13 degrees to the right to see your dusty old Dell desktop, portal to the Internet with that and other hilarious videos, awaiting and then that 13 degrees is reversed and you say, 'to hell with this guy,' turn off the TV, waddle over to the Dell, fire it up and cruise through Internet Explorer like a real Viking. Yeah, that 13 degrees killed TV and news media is trying to cut the umbilical cord it has to the broadcast mama whose in even more trouble than they are.)

Writers like Horner are using the appeal and aesthetics of journalism to propagate misinformation. And it’s too easy. The fact that journalism has a “voice” makes it a target for being mocked and impersonated, lifted and utilized for whatever purpose the writer wants. News media want you to believe that their journalists and information is better, but what’s really at stake is the power of news media, and its subsequent monetary gains and people who invested time, money and talent to get into an industry only to learn that their voice is weighed against an impersonator. 

Journalism is in a crisis as well and has been for decades. It’s in crisis in how it has to deal with alternative information sources (be they fake news or wholehearted conspiracy theories [my favorite is Richard C. Hoagland]); just look at how the journalists deals with Horner: every reference to him is a link to another news media source. They can’t even link to an actual article he wrote. We can’t fact check these journalists (a conspiracy theorist may think he is even an invention of news media), but also his writings and ideas are also in forums or sites that propagate information differently than the more static news media sites; this is an intrinsic difference not only between print and online media, but between forms of information sharing online. How can we compare a news "feed" with a news site? One can be deleted or edited while the other apologies for mistakes in the footer of the article...should you return to that article after the information is corrected.

The format of the discipline is only part of the problem with journalism. The educational structure of journalism has been in crisis for over four decades. Journalists often study “journalism,” which covers what one would expect from a functionary in any industry: ethics, style, what's relevant...spell checking. But why are they reporting on anything other than journalism? My stab is directed at a well know discursive turn in the formation of journalists: Prior to that transition in the 1970s to j-school, a journalist would be an expert on a topic and then do a post-graduate program for the skills of journalism. A classic critique of j-school is Michael Lewis’s “J-school At My Brain,” (1993). But not only does Lewis mention the formation of journalism school which had been in a  response to the "'black sheep' of the profession," i.e. those who weren't professional enough, those we may align with mis-informers in today's age, he talks about how much of a farce j-school really is. It's to be balked in what it teaches, instills and doesn't connect with what is considered "industry success" afterward. Advancement, he claims, is not due to what one garners in a masters of science in journalism, but in the connections one has...how does Anderson Coopper son of Gloria Vanderbilt look now? 

News media is in crisis. You can look at the last three years at its disbanding print publication tactics, but also its invasion into social media, like Twitter. At first, news moving to social platforms really helped it, even providing an advantage that its previous forms lacked, such as new reaches to audiences around the world (e.g. Al Jazeera having a North American viewership). It has become the platform that it now decries; it's competition for audience and truth has become its sole life saver. And in recent years the platform has been turned against not only news media as a check on executive power but on liberation movements previously propelled by facts; instead they’re being employed and curtailed by surveillance and oppressive regimes. Evgeny Morozov writes about this in The Net Delusion (ironic, I know, that I link to a news site). Social media and potentially the Internet more generally can be used for emancipating people’s oppression but it’s also able to be even more oppressive because it can be applied in mass, owned by few and disseminated quickly. And the information may be, uh, misinformation. Even on journalists' accounts.

News media was in crisis before the digital migration to websites and social media; we were worried about the monopolistic nature of companies like News Corp. Whatever happened to making fun of Fox News? Wasn’t ostracizing viewers for being misinformed useful? Remember the comparison of how many Fox News viewers still believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction compared to NPR listeners? NewsCorp’s overtly political and social agenda seemed to contrast independent news sources to such an extent that even satire like John Stewart’s The Daily Show were juxtaposed as beacons of truth and hope in an otherwise dark period called the Bush Junior era. Wait, satire? John Stewart is going around giving talks like an expert on American Democracy, for being a satirist, while Cooper is trying to lynch Horner. Is the messenger or message being hung here? Is the medium the message?

Why are we even watching news at all? Well, if trends toward wanting to know what’s “really” going on in the world rather than just what you already agree with, i.e. echo chambers (a recent distinction between pre- and current social media eras for information acquisition) suggest anything it's that at least at one point it was presumed we watched it for true knowledge. But I’m not so sure. If news media is expanded from the topic of politics that I've implied throughout this article to say, a nice neutral topic like news, it doesn’t get any clearer, but more confusing. Why is there a weather channel ? Is that news? Why does my uncle in San Diego watch the weather channel when the weather is basically the same year round, save a few fires? Why does he care if the Northeast is having some weather event? Does news really just want you to keep watching the news? Is that too easy of a diagnosis? Do they ever say: “Look, this horrible thing is going on and your citizen duty is to get out there and stop it.” No. It’s always, “Stay tuned in,” to various degrees. Keep watching. Subscribe. Stay updated.  

This short article makes the argument that there has always been some form of transferring knowledge of events from one point on Earth to another where a human wanted the information. If we concede that that’s really what news is, i.e. a phenomenon and not an industry, then it seems the Internet bares a closer resemblance to Julius Caeser getting news of what’s hip in Greece than Anderson Cooper 360 (degrees). Personally, I’d guess that the form of news media, how it’s instrumentalized both by stakeholders and by forming beliefs of a literate public, has its origins in the colonial era, in which one part of the world needed to know about certain parts of the world and didn’t care about the rest of the world, which may explain why, aside from the occasional natural disaster, different countries get different news, differently even today. Now quit reading this and go save the world. But this is only a conjecture, not a truth statement or real news.