The Yes Men’s New York Times Edition: Iraq War Ends

November 12, 2008

yesmen_nytThe Yes Men deliver another fake! BBC reports that the interventionist art/activist group distributed 1.2 million free copies of a fake New York Times edition in New York and Los Angeles. The headlines: Iraq War Ends. The date: July 4, 2009. Replacing the NYT’s venerable “All The News That’s Fit To Print”: All The News We Hope To Print.

70 years ago, Orson Welles’ radio broadcast “War of the Worlds” sparked mayhem because listeners mistook scripted fiction for real-time fact. Today, The Yes Men are taking this a step further by simply turning the dates forward.

Is this a fake NYTimes, as the BBC describes the action? Or is it prophetic? Is this a fake-real paper or a real-fake paper?

Certainly, my fingers are crossed that come July 4th, 2009, the NYTimes WILL, in fact, read: Iraq War Ends.

Ah… art. One small step for The Yes Men, a big leap for humankind. Nothing like putting something out into the universe I’m told.


The Glaring Absence of a U.S. Department of Culture

November 7, 2008

200px-ussealThere’s been much excitement and speculation about how Obama will staff his Executive Office. With Joe Biden Jr. as VP (link to the Senate) and Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff (link to the House), the search is on for 15 new Cabinet members*: Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health/Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing/Urban Dev’t, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General.

What missing? Secretary of Culture.

Call me biased, but pretty much all the most powerful nations in the world have one. There are Ministers or Secretaries of Culture in France, England, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Spain, Italy. And so on and so on.

It’s the 21st Century: America needs one.

Obama’s victorious campaign itself proves that images, words, beliefs, attitudes, narratives, and aspirations can bind us together, powerfully, as a nation (and tear us apart — as Dubya’s violent legacy proves).

Culture — the ideas, practices, and ideals people share — is a dynamic and critical apparatus of any nation-state. Mightier than steel, as Obama wisely put in his acceptance speech. More primal than religion, if I may add.

In these dark, fractious days, the strength of American Culture/s (or at least, the belief in it) just might be that magical something, that je ne sais quoi, that pulls us through to a new and better era.

So, I’m putting this out into the blogosphere: Secretary of Culture, Please!

(Cultural Council would be cool too.)

*For posterity, here’s a pdf of Dubya’s Cabinet.

A New President, But the Same Old Homophobia: Proposition 8 Wins in California

November 6, 2008

The sun seemed to shine a whole lot brighter yesterday morning after America voted to get Barack Obama into the White House by an overwhelming margin. The NYTimes headlined: “Racial Barrier Falls as Voters Embrace Call for Change”. Just as Germany tore down the Berlin Wall, we cast our votes to overcome this conveniently-exclusionary thing called Race. We are Making History.

So, what the hell were the states of California, Florida, and Arizona thinking when they simultaneously voted to BAN same-sex marriages? Let’s stop discrimination but only with regards to Race? Hey, go right ahead with those barriers against same-sex couples? Yes, we are Making History indeed. Who ordered the Rain on Our Parade.

According to the NYTimes yesterday afternoon: In California, 52% voted for a ban on same-sex marriages (already deemed legal by the California Supreme Court back in May). Homophobes in Florida and Arizona won by even bigger margins. Arkansas passed a measure that bars gay men and lesbians from adopting children.

THIRTY states have now passed bans on same-sex marriage. Only Massachusetts and Connecticut consider same-sex marriages legal. Rhode Island and New York recognize marriages performed elsewhere.

Why do religious fundamentalists consider marriages between same-sex partners such a profound and urgent threat to the traditional family unit headed by a male/female partnership? Aren’t the cultural trends towards divorce and single-parenthood even bigger (more logical) threats? And speaking of race, why do so many black and Latino votes support the bans on same-sex marriages?

It seems to me: If you want to fix the family, fix the FAMILY. Don’t blame other people. Don’t exclude alternate lifestyles. Really, Stop The Hate Now.

These bans are crimes against humanity. As Obama’s win unleashes a “Flood of Hope” worldwide, we need to direct some of that energy against the bigots that hide behind the dark cloud of religious fundamentalism.

Yes We Can. Let the Sunshine In.


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.


Right to Humor Trumps Sarkozy’s Lack of Humor

October 29, 2008

Today, a French court rejected President Nicolas Sarkozy’s demand for a ban on a Sarkozy voodoo doll released by French company K&B earlier this month. According to BBC, the Paris judge ruled that the doll was “within the authorized limits of free expression and the right to humour”.

The voodoo kit includes a manual, a doll emblazoned with some of the president’s more memorable quotes (including “Get Lost You Pathetic Asshole” and “Work More To Earn More”), and pins for users to stick into the doll.

Sarkozy’s lawyer had argued that like any French person, Sarkozy owned the right to his own image, which was violated by the sale of the doll. According to the Guardian, the highly litigious president has been ridiculed by his critics for launching the legal action — his sixth lawsuit since his election. The doll has become a must-have.

Earlier this year, Sarkozy and wife Carla Bruni won a case against Ryanair for using their image in a Paris newspaper ad without permission. Sarkozy has also launched a legal case against another company that produces novelty T-shirts bearing his name and a target sign, saying “Sarkozy Tolerance Zero”.

Whatever happened to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ?

Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty images

Disappointing Sale of Freud Painting Signals Deepening Crisis

October 19, 2008

Lucian Freud’s unfinished portrait (1956-7) of his friend Francis Bacon had many in the global art market holding their breaths. Up for auction tonight at Christie’s in London, the painting was expected to fetch £7 million. Bloomberg reports that it sold for much less: £5.4 million.

After lower-than-expected contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s, Frieze, and now Christie’s, dealers consider the Freud sale to be a sign of a stalling global market and a deepening financial crisis.

The Independent on Sunday reports great apprehension:

The global art market is all but dead already, except for buyers of ‘trophy art’ whose fortunes have previously seemed unassailable. If they stop bidding, prices will plummet.

Freud’s portrait was considered a harbinger for super-rich spending. The fact that it sold for less than expected (although still above the presale low estimate of £5 million) indicates that even trophy buyers are cutting back.

Fasten your seatbelts. Turbulence ahead.


Kings and Kingmakers at Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner

October 19, 2008

NYT’s top cultural chronicler Bill Cunningham ran the lead photo above for his “Evening Hours” page this Sunday. From left: Cardinal Edward M. Egan, Alfred E. Smith IV (great grandson of Smith), Nan Smith, and Senator Barack Obama at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner held on October 16th at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

The dinner reportedly raised $4 million for underprivileged children. Which is (undeniably) well and good. It also brought together — in royal white tie — the city’s (arguably, the nation’s) political, cultural, and media elite: both presidential hopefuls, both state senators, the city’s 3rd-term-seeking mayor, a Catholic archbishop, news anchors, and so on and so forth.

Power. With a capital-P. I can’t help but think how much of our futures were shaped that night.

No surprise to anyone that politicians must pal around with the ruling dynasties of wealth and religion in order to get work done. But I am curious about whether and how Obama’s promise of change will weather these dominant regimes with which he is ostensibly at odds.

Certainly, there is no choice. Obama MUST/WILL become the next American president. There is much at stake. One hopes his presidency radically alters photographs such as this.


Church Blesses Weapons of Violence

October 7, 2008

The NYTimes ran this as one of their top photos yesterday. The caption:

A Roman Catholic priest followed by military officials blessed 50 new machine guns in Kauswagan, a town on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, to help the military in its operation against rebels belonging to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The question: Should a priest be blessing machine guns? Should the church be deciding who is worthy of life?

Father, Father: Make love not war.

Photo: Agence France-Presse – Getty Images


Panic in America

October 6, 2008

Last week’s bailout, aka America-rescues-Main-Street-package, seems to have ignited some bad-ass bad-energy—contrary to expectations. The house WAS on fire. Now it seems the entire street, neighborhood, zip code IS on fire.

OOOPS! America’s surge against the recession is NOT working! Oh-kay.

I can only count the days till this vacationing-in-TX-president—with the help of big media and two glaringly unqualified presidential hopefuls—announces the next rescue plan for the current didn’t-quite-rescue-the-economy plan.

Sort of like the next surge in Iraq to fix the last surge, which I think was intended to help the last last surge, and the last last last one, and so on and so on, ummm, five years ago. Same (strategy or tactic). Whichever. Whatever. Same old, same old: we’re screwed. Good thing we’ve got tax breaks for wooden arrows for children. Nothing like training them young.

We fell for this after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Bush declared an endless war and a state of exception that has now become the rule of (non)law. Last week, we seem to have fallen for it again. We’ve now got a multi-billion dollar bailout/rescue plan that’s resulted in a market nose-dive. This sucks—globally.

Bush sure knows how to hit that panic button. And America jumps, with increasingly grave consequences. Fight or flight. That’s all we seem to know. We seem to have forgotten how to take the time to consider our options, to debate strategies and formulate comprehensive tactics, to work towards a short-, mid-, and long-term. It’s all about the here and now, isn’t it?

We’ve got to get a grip, collectively. Time to hit the pause button. Hell can wait.

Photo: Niffty/Neal on flickr


Decapitation on a Canadian Greyhound Bus

July 31, 2008

A friend just told me about this insane act of violence. BBC News reports that a 40-year-old man traveling on a Greyhound bus with a large hunting knife stabbed a fellow passenger 50+ times, severed the victim’s head, and gutted him.

The bus had 37 other passengers and was traveling from Edmonton, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. It seems that when the attack began, the driver pulled over, allowing others to exit and brace the door to keep the killer inside.

The still-unidentified killer was apprehended by police after a confrontation that lasted several hours. He has not been charged.

According to BBC, the attack appeared unprovoked. The victim was a 20-year-old who had been listening to music through headphones.

What instigates such extreme yet seemingly random acts of violence, leading not only to death, but to disfiguration of another living being? When does one cross the line of civilization into madness? And what will society choose to inflict as punishment? How deeply sad for all involved.


eBay Fined 38.6 Million Euros for Allowing Fake Vuitton Sales

July 1, 2008

In The Guardian: A French court has ordered online auction site eBay to pay luxury goods giant LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) a whopping €38.6 million euros in damages for negligence. eBay is charged with allowing independent retailers to use its site to sell fake products.

eBay is to pay €19.28 million to Louis Vuitton Malletier and €17.3 million to Christian Dior Couture for “damage to their brand images and causing moral harm.” Another €3.25 million goes to four LVMH perfume brands for “sales in violation of its authorized network.”

Can someone explain how sales of fake goods cause “moral harm”? Another bout of corporate ridiculousness.

eBay has appealed the ruling, arguing that LVMH is using the specific issue of counterfeits to attack the general trend towards e-commerce and to maintain (declining) control over the brands’ primary sales channels.

Other brands are hovering like vultures: Hermes, Tiffany & Co., and L’Oreal are all suing eBay for similar damages.

Luxury brands that cater to privileged elites (or the wanna-be-privileged elites) don’t mix very well with e-commerce or web platforms, which are largely driven by the mass populace. While the former relies on exclusivity, uniqueness, and tradition, the latter thrives on access, ubiquity, and change. The former would like to keep the latter out — unless of course the commoners are buying directly.

This seems to be what eBay is being punished for: providing an open marketplace for the populace to transact their own goods and services, on their own terms. I’d say it’s the best real-time representation yet of market supply/demand, property valuation, as well as socio-cultural trends.

Policing eBay in favor of corporate property is unfair. Fining eBay for what individuals own and are willing to buy and sell on the site is ludicrous (particularly since we are talking about handbags — not handguns or drugs or porno). How about policing corporate activities to protect individual rights for a change?

Keep our common markets free. Will we ever evolve from the Dark Ages of Extreme Luxury and Corporate Greed?


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.


Supreme Court Justice Blames Al Gore for 2000 Election Mess

June 27, 2008

Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia led a 5 – 4 vote to lift a ban on handguns in D.C. — a decision welcomed by many Republicans but criticized by many law enforcement officials around the country. Today, the conservative, originalist judge is spouting nonsense again.

The UK’s Telegraph reports that Scalia blames Al Gore for the outcome of the 2000 presidential elections. Apparently, Gore should have conceded without resorting to the courts, without pushing it up to the Supreme Court. Just like the honorable Republican president Richard Nixon.

In an interview about his book “Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges”, Scalia told the Telegraph:

Richard Nixon, when he lost to [John F.] Kennedy thought that the election had been stolen in Chicago, which was very likely true with the system at the time…

But he did not even think about bringing a court challenge. That was his prerogative. So you know if you don’t like it, don’t blame it on me.

I didn’t bring it into the courts. Mr Gore brought it into the courts.

So if you don’t like the courts getting involved talk to Mr Gore.

Nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, Scalia is one of the leading conservative justices on the Supreme Court. He insists that the controversial 5 – 4 decision to stop the Florida recount was “absolutely right”. Because of these 5 justices, Bush prevailed in Florida by just 537 votes.

I can’t help thinking where we might be today had just one justice changed his or her mind. I guess Scalia’s new book on how to speak and write persuasive arguments will come in handy next time.

(Here’s an interesting video interview with Scalia on CBS News back in April 2008.)


Supreme Court Lifts Ban on Guns, Upholds Right to Bear Arms

June 26, 2008

An historic and controversial ruling this afternoon in Washington D.C.: a 5-4 vote by Supreme Court justices has lifted a ban on individual ownership of handguns by D.C. residents. This is the first time the court has ruled on the issue since 1939.

Seeking to clarify the ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment, the majority ruled that the Constitution protects an individual’s — not just the state militias’ — right to own guns for self-defense and declared the ban unconstitutional.

The Second Amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

The decision to lift the ban was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. He was joined by the most consistently conservative justices — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Each was nominated by either Reagan, Bush Sr., or Bush Jr. Not surprisingly, the current administration and the NRA are thrilled.

The dissenting votes were cast by the most consistently liberal justices: John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Each was nominated to the bench, respectively, by the following presidents: Ford, Bush, Clinton, Clinton.

The ideological divide stresses, in no uncertain terms, the importance of the next U.S. president — who may be in the crucial position to nominate 2 or even 3 new justices.

McCain, presumptive Republican nominee, makes his position clear:

I applaud this decision as well as the overturning of the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns and limitations on the ability to use firearms for self-defense.

Obama, presumptive Democratic nominee, takes a more nuanced position:

I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures.

The NYT reports that this case has clearly “generated emotional as well as intellectual sparks at the court”. Apparently, Justice Scalia looked at “various state constitutions and the use of language in the 18th and 19th centuries to support his view…”

I wonder if he might also have looked at 21st century videogames (for starters). Since the founding “fathers” penned these inalienable rights, the media and cultural landscape have changed significantly. The impact of one individual’s actions has grown exponentially as well due to technological advances. These need to be considered seriously, particularly with regards to objects created with the exclusive function of inflicting harm or death.