Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk at Columbia University Tonight

November 11, 2008

pamukFor people in New York:

Orhan Pamuk speaks with Andreas Huyssen at Rennert Auditorium, Kraft Center at Columbia University on Tuesday, 11/11/08 – 6:15pm. The event is free. Seating is on a first come, first served basis.

Pamuk was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. The first Turkish citizen to win a Nobel, he accepted with this speech, in Turkish.


Separate and Not Equal in America’s Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

November 4, 2008

prcoqAs Americans head to the voting polls today to decide who will be the 44th President of the United States, four million American citizens who are residents of Puerto Rico will be barred from casting their ballots.

A Spanish colony from 1493 to 1897, Puerto Rico was ceded to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris in December 1898, putting an end to the Spanish-American War. It marked the end of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and signaled the rise of U.S. colonialism.

In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship and in 1947, the right to democratically elect their own governor (previously an appointed post). In 1952, they drafted their own constitution which was ratified by Congress and approved by President Truman.

Today, Puerto Rico is officially an Estado Libre Asociado (which translates into “Free Associated State”) or Commonwealth: a self-governing territory — with its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches — that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty. It belongs to the U.S., but is not part of the U.S. It has limited (non-voting) representation in Congress. Its head of state is the President of the United States — who it can nominate in party primaries (as we saw on June 1st), but NOT vote for in presidential elections.

So, today Americans vote for President. And Puerto Ricans vote for Governor: not-quite-equal-citizens in a not-quite-independent, not-quite-common land for almost a century.

It’s definitely time for change. We’ve waited far too long. Here’s hoping today is the day change makes history. Vote OBAMA.


Life For Sale On eBay Posts New Sequel: Do We Care?

July 3, 2008

The eBay auction for Ian Usher’s entire life is officially over. The winning bid: AU$399,300 (US$380,286). Unfortunately for Usher, it’s about $100,000 less than what he’d expected. (I suppose everyone’s got recession worries.)

The question is, What’s Next? For starters: a sequel-website. Usher’s original website, http://www.alife4sale.com, now has a link to Part 2: http://www.100goals100weeks.com.

AAARRRGGGGHuhhh.

This move, of course, is part of a not-so-new trend of living one’s life in a collective time and space. We’re way beyond tv culture, and now wading deep into YouTube waters. Life no longer mimics tv content. It IS content — and it’s being documented and broadcasted (or slivercasted) in realtime.

I can’t help thinking about Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show“, a movie released in 1999. From the moment of birth, Truman Burbank’s life is broadcast 24/7 on live tv — without his knowledge or consent. Less than a decade later, we hear of thousands willingly auditioning for the chance to get on reality tv. A chance to live and tell all in public.

As technology allows us to record and archive ever-increasing hordes of data with minimal material costs, we’re seeing more and more of these representations. The itch to document one’s self, one’s loves, one’s property — every moment from every angle — is now getting scratched all the time.

The question becomes: what’s the point of so much information? Really, who cares?

There’s a difference between a photograph, a film, and a video. A photo captures a single frame. Film captures 24 frames per second. HD is at 60 frames per second. Not everything has to be recorded on HD! My point on this tangent being: Edit! Much ado about nothing is, well, boring.

Move on, Usher. Move on.


Chinese Investor Bids $2.1 Million For Lunch With Warren Buffett

June 30, 2008

This year, Forbes named Warren Buffett the richest human being in the world. At 77 years of age, this self-made Nebraskan’s published net worth is US$62 b-b-billion. (Remember, there are 1,000 millions in one billion.)

So, how much would you give to power lunch with Buffett?

Zhao Danyang, a Chinese investment fund manager for Hong Kong’s Pureheart China Growth Investment Fund, won this experience at an eBay auction on Friday. His bid: US$2,110,100. The LA Times called it the “most expensive charity auction ever held on eBay.”

He and seven of his friends will dine with Buffett at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York City on a mutually agreed-upon date.

It seems that Buffett’s value is the only thing going up nowadays. Last year’s power lunch auction brought in US$650,100 — less than a third of this year’s winning bid. The year before, it was US$351,100.

All proceeds will go to the Glide Foundation, which provides social services to the poor and homeless in San Francisco. With an operating budget of US$12 million, the foundation must be thrilled. Nothing like a nice philanthropic cycle of wealth redistribution every now and again.

Follow the money.


A Few Firsts: Gay Prides in India, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, and Havana

June 29, 2008

While NYC kicked off its 38th annual gay pride march yesterday, other cities were celebrating — or fighting for — their first. Another striking illustration of how uneven sociopolitical landscapes get across borders.

In India, gay rights supporters came out in the streets of Calcutta, Bangalore and New Delhi. Some wore masks, fearing persecution and violence yet wanting to participate. Activists called for an end to discrimination, seeking the “right to love”.

According to IHT, the marches are happening just 3 days before the Delhi High Court is expected to hear arguments on overturning a law against homosexual sex that dates to the British colonial era.

While India does not explicitly outlaw homosexuality, the 1861 penal code enacted by the British colonial government rules that “carnal intercourse against the order of nature between any man, woman or animal” is punishable by imprisonment of 10 years to life.

The Guardian reports on these other firsts:

Czech Republic
A gay parade in the country’s second largest city, Brno, was delayed on Saturday when the marchers were attacked by a group of rightwing extremists, who were shouting abusive slogans and throwing eggs.

The march was delayed by about an hour and took an alternative, shorter route than had been planned, under police protection.

Bulgaria
Extremists throwing rocks, bottles and petrol bombs attacked Sofia’s first gay pride parade on Saturday. Police say that they blocked the extremists from harming the 150 or so people in the procession through the city. About 60 people were detained for harassing the participants. Bulgaria’s Orthodox church says the march should be banned as it undermines the country’s Christian traditions.

Havana
Cuba’s first gay pride parade was abruptly cancelled last Wednesday.

The unofficial march, organised with Florida’s Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba’s National Centre for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro.

Imagine that.

So, we continue to fight until everyone’s rights are equal. This is not a gay issue. It’s a human rights issue.


Gay Pride in New York City

June 29, 2008

So today we celebrate with great pride. LOTS to be thankful for. Lots more to fight for.

If you’re able: shut your computer down now and go support any one of three main events today (Sunday, June 29), organized by the folks at Heritage of Pride:

Rally at Bryant Park: 42nd St. and 6th Ave., 2 – 6pm

March: begins at 5th + 52nd and does runway down to Christopher + Greenwich St., noon till end; Governor Paterson becomes the first governor to kick off the march

Dance/Fireworks at Pier 54: 13th St. + Hudson River Park, 4 – 10:30pm

Cheers, Queers!

In memory of one of the best, who died of AIDS way too early. Music CAN change a world.


Disney/Pixar’s “WALL-E” Animates the Future and Mirrors the Present

June 24, 2008

Saw Pixar’s newest animated movie “WALL-E” at a MoMA preview on Sunday. Directed by Andrew Stanton (who won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, for “Finding Nemo” in 2003) and released by Disney, the animated narrative unfolds around two robots, WALL-E and EVE. It’s (shall we anthropomorphically call it…) a love story set in a dystopic and divided auto-consumerized future, which eventually becomes the ground for a new, more human, Earth.

Hands down: the animation is gorgeous. You know something’s picture-perfect when you don’t even think it’s an animated production. I still remember seeing-but-not-believing its first animated feature “Toy Story” back in 1995. “Wall-E” is Pixar 2008 and Disney 21st Century. Baudrillard might have called it a simulacrum so seamless you forget it’s a fiction. There are moments in the first part of the film when you really think there’s a crew filming WALL-E’s dust-ridden, junk-filled terrain.

WALL-E itself is a friendly garbage-collecting-robot that looks strikingly like Johnny 5 in “Short Circuit” (1986). It’s the last remaining robot on Earth. It’s been tirelessly doing its job for about 700 years. (Since the movie is set in the year 2700, we might assume that the writers are trying to tell us that WALL-E was probably created right about now.) It’s got a soft spot for old-fashioned romance musicals.

Suddenly, WALL-E encounters EVE, a futuristic cyborg/militarized automaton who has landed on Earth to look for sustainable life. WALL-E’s got it, in the form of a single plant. EVE, it turns out, is a probe from a spaceship in which the last remaining humans are consuming themselves into an overweight and immobile oblivion. The two robot-opposites attract and the rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe the future.

What do we expect from Disney? It’s a classic love story, along the lines of Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella. Set against an environmental catastrophe and “An Inconvenient Truth”. Disney sure knows how to tug at them heartstrings — a lot for a movie with minimal dialogue.

While I did honestly enjoy “WALL-E”, I also found myself asking how much it illuminates our current state of affairs: I’m watching a love story about two inanimate machines, who are somehow more human than humans. I’m looking at the effects of hyper-consumerism and technology-driven simulation — through a Disney/Pixar creation. And I’m facing a screen, blogging about this to a largely-unknown group of readers. We are living the foundations of this science fiction. WALL-E mirrors our time.

In short: good movie, good soundtrack, great animation. Go see it! Opens June 27.


A Life for Sale on eBay

June 23, 2008

Does everything have a price? Apparently so. Ian Usher, a 44-year-old Englishman living in Perth, Australia, has had enough of his life. So he’s selling what he feels has defined his life up to this point: 3-bedroom home (valued at AU$400-420,000) and all its contents in Perth, car, motorbike, jetski, kitesurfing gear. Introductions to his friends. His lifestyle. Even a trial stint at his job at a carpet store.

Usher has published the details on http://www.alifeforsale.com and is holding an eBay auction that ends this Sunday, June 29th. As of this posting, his eBay listing (which opened Sunday) already has 115 bids. The current bid is at AU$2.2 million (approximately US$2.1 million).

Why? Apparently, a broken heart. Usher says he married “the best girl in the world”, but was “blindsided…by a shocking and awful discovery.” He doesn’t specify. He does say this though:

I now live alone in a house that was being built for us to live in together…I am still surrounded by all the memorabilia of our years together… Everything in my home is a reminder of the wonderful past we shared.

So, after a year in this house I decided that it is time to sell it and move on.

What next?

Upon completion and settlement I will walk out of my home for the last time in just the clothes I am wearing, and carrying only my wallet and passport.

My current thoughts are to then head to the airport, and ask at the flight desk where the next flight with an available seat goes to, and to get on that and see where life takes me from there!

Considering that Usher expected to get just £185,000 (US$365,000) according to BBC, he’s not doing badly. Perhaps people facing foreclosure might adapt his strategy. Why just sell the house? Hey, throw in the whole deal. And the personal narrative too.


Benedict XVI Meets Bush In Realignment of Church and State

June 13, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, head of the Roman Catholic church, granted a special audience to U.S. President Bush on Vatican state grounds earlier today. This is their second official meeting in exactly three months. Photos of the seemingly casual encounter unambiguously articulate a new alignment and alliance between the two powerful leaders. Both men walk (or sit) side by side — as amiable colleagues, placing Western religion and Western politics on equal, albeit very precarious, footing.

bushpopeOn the surface, the two men appear diametrically opposed. Joseph Ratzinger consciously adapted his papal name from Benedict XV, known as the “peace pope” during World War I. While George W. Bush simply inherited an ancestral name then fell into (some say stole) a legacy of war.

So why the love fest?

We can only speculate. Both are heads of institutions whose global dominance and relevance are currently on the wane. Future growth and stability are dependent on cultures outside their historic territories. Do they simply need each other to survive into the next century?

The more important question for me is why Benedict XVI has positioned himself (and therefore his god, his church) so squarely on the side of a president who continues to wage a profoundly unjust war.

There are at least three answers — all of which, of course, just lead to more questions:

1. The pope condones war. Has Benedict XVI chosen to walk in the footsteps, NOT of Benedict XV, but of one of Benedict XV’s proteges: Pius XII, who was crowned pope on March 12, 1939, the eve of Adolf Hitler’s march into Prague? (Controversy over Pius’ papacy continues today because of his refusal to condemn the Nazi regime and his silence in face of the Jewish holocaust.)

2. The pope rejects war. Perhaps these meetings are subtle attempts to sway Bush from staying the course of war. The Vatican’s official line, of course, is that Benedict XVI rejects the war and is “skeptical of politics without reference to the Gospel.”

3. The pope rejects war but has to turn a blind eye in order to win his church’s larger battle — converting the entire world over to Christianity. In other words: the elimination of all other religions, including the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism and Islam.

It’s a new world. All roads no longer lead to Rome. Strangely, they now all lead to the Middle East.

Whichever the answer (and there are admittedly many more), both Benedict and Bush seem to be ideal counterparts. Not two men from different spheres, but two halves of a single neoconservative coin.

During his visit, Bush reportedly told Benedict: “This is fantastic up here… Thank you so much for showing me this.” The view of the gods must be spectacular. Caution: thunderbolts ahead.

Photo from Getty Images, as published in NYT’s lede story this morning.

Bill Moyers Fights Back, Sends Fox News’ O’Reilly Henchman Scurrying

June 8, 2008

Free Press is holding its 3-day National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis this weekend. Bill Moyers delivered the Saturday morning plenary to an audience of more than 3,500. (Closing remarks are later today, tbd.)

Describing the media reform movement as “the most significant citizens’ movement to emerge in this new century”, Moyers’ address called on independent and alternative media producers to challenge “the stranglehold of mega-media corporations over our press” and deliver “information that people can trust”.

Moyers’ 39-minute speech on stage is inspiring, indelible, and hopefully viral. But here’s a 9-minute video that’s REALLY worth seeing. Moyers puts his words into live action.

Background: Moyers appears cornered by Porter Barry of Murdoch’s Fox News. Barry is on assignment, sent by Bill O’Reilly on a mission to drag Moyers into his nucyular waste dump of a show. Trained in O’Reilly’s draconian intimidation tactics, Barry badgers Moyers. Without blinking, Moyers proceeds to throw it right back.

Raw video captured by correspondent Noah Kunin of Uptake. Originally found on fearless Fark.

A blixity tip of the hat to Bill Moyers! A rare class act. Here’s to learning from a master of words and slowly turning the cameras back on big media. Support public broadcasting and the fight to sustain independent productions. To paraphrase Moyers, freedom of speech is the basis of all our freedoms.


Beijing Olympics: One World, One Dream, One Official Cheer

June 7, 2008

On Thursday, Reuters broke the unusual story about Beijing Olympics organizers releasing an official cheer or “chanting routine”. It’s for local Chinese spectators who “might be lacking in proper sports etiquette”. (And just in case they’ve gotten some ideas from European soccer fans.)

The UK Telegraph reported today that China has issued official instructions accompanied by cartoons and illustrations showing a young girl in “approved postures”:

In the first frame she is beginning to clap; in the second, doing a thumbs-up gesture; in the third, clapping again; and in the fourth, holding both arms up in the air.

In time, she also chants: “Aoyun! Jia You! Zhongguo! Jia You!” meaning “Olympics! Add petrol! China! Add petrol!

Reuters translates this chant much too literally as “add oil”. The Telegraph translates it into “add petrol” and offers a more contextual translation: “Go, Go!” Or, more fuel, more power, which makes a lot more sense.

Li Ning, president of the Beijing Etiquette Institute (!) teaches people that the chants are flexible and they can — should they be so moved — replace the words “Olympics” and “China” with names of individual athletes or other countries. Apparently this would demonstrate “open-mindedness”. It would also be “in line with general international principles for cheering.”

Wow. Since China is importing much of the world’s best creatives to showcase its growth and power, I wonder if they consulted with these choreographers first. Nothing beats tried and tested popular appeal.

And nothing beats democracy — which we hope gets smuggled in with the other imports. Happy Saturday!


Public Art In New York City: The Big Money Behind Waterfalls

June 3, 2008

NYT art critic Carol Vogel wrote yesterday about an ambitious public art project going up in New York waters this summer: 4 humanmade waterfalls by Berlin-based Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

eliasson waterOrganized by the Public Art Fund and the City of New York, the waterfall constructions range from 90-120 feet in height and will be on from June 26 to October 13, from 7am to 10pm. Locations: (1) Pier 35 north of the Manhattan Bridge, (2) eastern foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, (3) between Piers 4 and 5 near Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and (4) north shore of Governors Island.

According to Vogel, the project is

…the city’s biggest public art project since “The Gates”, the $20 million effort by the artists Christo and Jean-Claude in which 7,500 gates festooned with saffron-colored fabric panels were positioned along Central Park’s pathways for 16 days in 2005.

The Christos certainly proved that public art = mass entertainment = big money. Vogel reports that “The Gates” generated an estimated $254 million in economic activity for the city. Return on investment? A whopping 1,270%.

Eliasson’s waterfalls will cost $15 million (all reportedly from private sources). Using the same rate of return, that could bring in over $190 million to New York City. Even half of that would certainly help budget officials deal with sluggish revenues in a recessionary climate. No wonder Mayor Bloomberg’s office is “eager to be involved”. Projects like these turn the city itself into a commodity that can be marketed and consumed.

Already, hotels and tourist agencies are hawking special waterfall packages. The Circle Line Downtown is selling excursions, some with audio by the artist himself. And in a brilliant stroke of pre-event marketing: MoMA and P.S. 1 are currently exhibiting surveys of Eliasson’s work thru June 30. Art is big money.

So, support New York this summer. Go chase some waterfalls! (Did anyone say environmental impact report? Maybe we’ll see that in a few years…)


Cyclist Killed As Drunk Driver Plows Into Bike Race

June 3, 2008

monterrey

AP released this real-yet-surreal photo of a car plowing viciously into a crowd of cyclists on a highway in Monterrey, a city in Northern Mexico that borders Texas in the U.S. The impact sent bodies and bikes up in the air, leaving one cyclist dead and 10 others injured. One can almost hear the collisions.

The right side of this insane photo also seems to show a police car moving along the same highway at the same time the crash was happening. An eerie stillness compared to the disarming chaos captured on the left side of the photo.

The driver is a 28-year-old American citizen living across the border in Brownsville, Texas. Police investigators say he was drunk and had fallen asleep at the wheel. The accident happened just 15 minutes into the bike race.

The U.S. Consulate has not confirmed the driver’s citizenship. Had the positions been switched (driver Mexican and cyclists American), I wonder if we’d be seeing any difference in coverage.


Fashion King Yves Saint Laurent Died Last Night

June 2, 2008

French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent died of a brain tumor in Paris last night at the age of 71. Born in Algeria in 1936 (when it was still a French colony), Saint Laurent got his big break when he began designing for the house of Dior, then was appointed head designer when Christian Dior died of a stroke in 1957. Because Dior was responsible for almost 50% of France’s fashion exports at the time, then 21-year-old Saint Laurent’s success became crucial for the economy. He would play a pivotal role in making Paris the capital of an international fashion industry.

Saint Laurent opened his own couture house in 1961 after leaving Dior to complete his military service. Over the course of his 50-year career, he revolutionized women’s clothing by breaking down the distinction between masculine and feminine.

Perhaps best known for introducing the “Le Smoking”, a tuxedo for women, in 1966, Saint Laurent considered himself an advocate for women’s power. In 1968, this caused a scandal in Manhattan when New York socialite Nan Kempner wore the tuxedo to dinner at La Cote Basque restaurant. The maitre d’ told her she couldn’t dine in a pair of trousers and Kempner promptly dropped the pants and proceeded to dine in the jacket, which had instantly become a very short dress.

He would later open his pret-a-porter or ready-to-wear line which brought pantsuits and gender-neutral jackets and pants to everyday lives of women. This major shift in fashion coincided significantly with the changing socioeconomic role of women as millions began entering the workforce in the late 1960s and 70s. The change was so revolutionary that most women in Western cultures today don’t even think twice about wearing jackets and pants.

yslA full retrospective of his work opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts just last Thursday. It will be on view through September 28.

A farewell tip of the hat to a magical man.


Mixed Martial Arts: Elite XC Live Fighting on CBS

June 1, 2008

In late February, Yahoo News reported that ProElite’s Elite XC fight division and CBS television network had signed a multi-year agreement to bring Mixed Martial Arts to broadcast tv. CBS agreed to air four live fights per year as primetime Saturday night specials.

Kelly Kahl, senior EVP of CBS Primetime, talked about the agreement in February:

Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and a wildly popular entertainment vehicle for upscale, young adult audiences [i.e., 18-35 year old males].

Showtime network, part owner of Elite XC, began airing the live fights to cable audiences in 2007. Since both Showtime and CBS are owned by CBS Corp., the expansion into broadcast makes sense. But just last month, Reuters reported that Sumner Redstone, CBS Corp.’s CEO, disagrees with the deal, saying it

…probably was a mistake, not because CBS won’t turn a profit from it but because it is not “socially responsible” to air the typically bloody bouts on free, broadcast TV… I’m a lover not a fighter. I don’t like the sport.

In the same report, Ed Goren, Fox Sports president, echoed this sentiment saying “We don’t need money that badly.”

extreme

I have to agree with these network heads. Extreme fighting is one of the bloodiest, most violent spectator sports since gladiator fights were conceived as mass entertainment in Rome. Two fighters wearing little more than fingerless padded gloves enter a ring and proceed to knock each other out with a combination of boxing, kickboxing, and martial arts such as jujitsu. Fighters can use their arms, hands, legs, and feet. Based on last night’s broadcast from Newark, many fighters leave very bruised and very hurt. The spectacle is nauseating.

This is CBS’ attempt to increase ratings on Saturday nights when network viewership has declined significantly. I have to ask: why is this kind of violence drawing increasing numbers of viewers in? As much as the majority of Americans now seem to want to stop the war in Iraq, this type of programming begs the question: are we really built for peace? We seem to salivate so much at the sight of bloody warriors.

Photo: Dusten Cook for The Daily Texan Online. The photo shows Matt Thompson taking down Steve Jimenez in an extreme fighting match in 2006.