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

Chanel Mobile Art Container by Zaha Hadid Opens in Central Park

October 20, 2008

“Mobile Art”, a slick UFO-like exhibition space designed by architect Zaha Hadid and commissioned by Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, has arrived at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield (off Fifth Avenue and 69th Street). The traveling container for about 20 Chanel-inspired projects (very kindly misbilled as contemporary art installations — don’t be fooled: it’s corporate branding) by a rotating list of international producers will be open to the public from October 20 to November 9.

The promotional-spectacle-disguised-as-art container is on a two-year worldwide tour. Launched in Hong Kong in February 2008, it traveled to Tokyo before arriving in New York. In November, it continues onto London, then Moscow, and finally Paris in 2010. (These stops probably represent the fashion house’s most lucrative markets, yes?)

Adrian Benepe, NY’s Parks & Recreation Commissioner, is ever-eager to further the corporate takeover of public space, aka public-private partnerships:

Our partnership with Chanel continues the great tradition of bringing world class cultural offerings to New York City’s parks… Zaha Hadid’s traveling pavilion will place a futuristic work of architecture and outstanding works of contemporary art in an historic setting in the heart of Central Park. The contrast will be fantastic, melding the vision of one of the world’s most important fashion houses with the beauty of one of the world’s most significant works of landscape design.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s Fashion President, is ever-eager to equate the company’s products with art:

Mobile Art was conceived as a project that examines the relationship between contemporary art, fashion and architecture. The project pushes the boundaries of the Chanel aesthetic by joining these mediums and creating an innovative artistic experience. As envisioned by Karl Lagerfeld, the project explores the role fashion plays in the everyday life of women through symbolic evocations of the Chanel quilted handbag.

ACK. In the midst of today’s economy, this recalls Marie-Antoinette’s response when she was told that the French had no bread to eat: “Let Them Eat Cake!”


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.


Usher: Life for Sale on eBay Not Worth $2 Million

June 25, 2008

This past Sunday, heartbroken Ian Usher opened up an eBay auction for bids on his entire life’s property in Perth. In less than 24 hours, the bidding frenzy had raised the top price to over $2 Million (AU$1 = US$0.96). Interestingly, the next day, Usher decided to let common sense — not greed — rule. His property, it seems, isn’t worth THAT much. Good for him.

Realizing the eBay system was allowing non-registered bidders to place potentially fake bids, Usher issued a statement yesterday:

Apologies to all, but I guess there are a lot of bored idiots out there…

…after a long day on the computer, I have decided to pull all bids back as far as the first registered bidder, and the price is back to A$155,000 as I write this … we are back in the land of common sense and reality, so it’s over to you.

We’re happy to report that as of this posting, he now has 58 solid bids, with a top bid of over AU$383,000. We’re definitely rooting for Usher.

Which leads us to a thought-provoking NYT Op-Ed piece by Paul Krugman, posted coincidentally on the same day Usher put his home, his property all on eBay. Going against the grain, Krugman asks: Why is owning a home so integral to living the American Dream? Why is homeownership equated with having a “vital stake in the future of our country” (as the Bushites are pushing us to believe)?

Krugman writes about U.S. policies that historically favor homeowners. Non-homeowners are pretty much second-class citizens. But, he argues that we should recognize that homeownership has major risks. One of them being: Homeowners are rendered immobile by their homes. They can’t move around as much or as fast.

Which brings us back to Ian Usher. By the end of the auction, he will no longer be a homeowner. And he will have sold everything he owns. But he will have gained a fresh start. This is the future: letting go, feeling free.

Some might call it the audacity of hope. Go, Usher!


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.


India’s Female Feticide: Sexism Before Birth

June 21, 2008

As India grows into one of the world’s largest economies, it continues to exterminate one of its most crucial assets: women. BBC cites a report by a UK charity today:

…increasing numbers of female foetuses were being aborted and baby girls deliberately neglected and left to die.

Under “normal” circumstances, there should be about 950 girls for every 1,000 boys… but in three of the five [research] sites, that number was below 800.

Sadly, better technology may be a factor. Using ultrasound results, families are aborting female fetuses because females are considered economic burdens. This cultural preference for boys is so pervasive that adult women themselves consider the pre-selection “a rational choice”. Others are simply forced by family pressure.

Female feticide is banned in India. And the prejudice against women is certainly neither new nor unique to the country. But many hoped that better education, greater prosperity, and a stronger middle class would gradually shift this cultural bias. Not the case.

In a CBC article from 2004:

The opposite seems to be happening. The rate of girls to boys is lowest in the wealthiest states and neighbourhoods. In the Punjab, one of the richest states in India, there are only 793 young girls for every 1,000 boys.

The BBC article today has bleaker statistics: in one research site in Punjab, there are just 300 girls to every 1,000 boys among higher caste families.

inda childrenWhich goes to show: more money and more education aren’t always the solutions.

Equality — not wealth — is a basic human right that we need locally and globally. As Jacques Ranciere taught: equality is not a goal to be attained. It is our starting point, the very axiomatic point of departure.

Photo: New Delhi family by Trey Ratcliff or stuckincustoms on flickr

Man Arrested for Hiding in Woman’s Couch

June 20, 2008

Last month in Fukuoka, Japan, a 58-year-old woman was arrested for living in a 57-year-old man’s closet. This evening in Newburgh, NY, NYT reports that a 27-year-old man was arrested for hiding in a 22-year-old woman’s couch.

The trespasser, David Joe Limones, had cut a hole in the couch, hid in the carved-out space, and waited. When the woman came home, she sat on the couch, felt a bump, and jumped up.

Luckily, the woman had telephoned a friend who stayed on the line as she entered the apartment. Apparently, she had filed a complaint against Limones earlier and was worried he might be there. What do they say about a woman’s intuition.

The friend called the cops and Limones now faces burglary and other charges. Creepy. Is this a trend?


Same-Sex Weddings See First Light of Day in California

June 17, 2008

ringsLast month, California’s Supreme Court issued a landmark decision to overturn state laws that restricted marriage to unions between a man and a woman. Today, county clerks in 58 counties across the state began issuing official marriage licenses to hundreds of same-sex couples. YES!

It’s an historic day and the media has been running incredible photos and stories of newlyweds. The first marriage was performed by San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom, for a couple in their 80s. The couple had married in 2004, only to have this right stripped away, and their license invalidated.

This points to the still-precarious legal status of same-sex weddings in California and the rest of the United States. In November, voters in California decide whether to rescind the Supreme Court’s decision through a ballot measure that could revert the definition of marriage back to heterosexual unions.

Exclusionary efforts are underway. In a condescending statement quoted in NYT, a Florida-based group called Liberty Counsel said the ceremonies “make a mockery of marriage.” An Arizona-based group called Alliance Defense Fund is inciting discrimination and succeeded in getting one county clerk to cancel all same-sex weddings.

LA Times reports that very protesters showed up physically today because they are focusing on the ballot measure later this year. Another conservative group, protectmarriage.com, emailed supporters that they will fight in November and cautioned against protesting Tuesday’s ceremonies. The group warned: “Media outlets would love to see us engage in fierce protests and hostile demonstrations of outrage. … We must not fall into this trap.” Already, the group has submitted 1.1 million signatures earlier this year for the ballot measure to amend the state constitution. Now THAT’s a mockery of human rights.

Today, California opened a window to a new day in America. But the fight for equal rights for all is not over. Keep that window open! We need lots more happy days like today.

Here are just a couple groups that could certainly use your support: Human Rights Campaign and in New York, Empire State Pride Agenda. Feel free to add in comments.


California: Same-Sex Weddings Could Boost Economy (no kidding)

June 11, 2008

Yesterday: forced marriages in Iran. Today: same sex marriages in California. It’s June after all.

Businessweek reports on a new study released by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. It reads in part:

Same-sex weddings could create hundreds of new jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into California’s economy…

Gay couples are projected to spend $684 million on flowers, cakes, hotels, photographers and other wedding services over the next three years… The nuptial rush is expected to create some 2,200 jobs.

…Over the next three years, gay weddings will generate $64 million in additional tax revenue for the state, and another $9 million in marriage license fees for counties.

gaymarriageProjections were based on the economic impact of gay marriage in Massachusetts and in states such as Vermont, which currently allow civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

While it’s great to have the Williams Institute officially articulate how same-sex weddings could produce significant economic benefits, I’m not exactly sure whether the study tells us anything new.

Weddings ARE big business! It’s common knowledge: each coupling gets a nice chunk of capital flowing regardless of how large or small the affair. Why should same sex weddings be any different? Weddings generate wealth — regardless.

(Of course, the boost from same sex weddings is still theoretical. California may not see the extra revenue if voters approve a ballot initiative to overturn the court’s ruling allowing the weddings. See previous post.)

Photo: cpj97 on flickr

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.


Australian Authorities Drop Sex Crime Charges Against Artist… and Bust 42 Queenslanders

June 6, 2008

On Cafe Philos this morning: Australian police have decided NOT to prosecute artist Bill Henson and his gallery Roslyn Oxley9 on charges of pornography. They were following the advice of Nicholas Cowdery, NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, who felt there was no reasonable prospect of conviction, particularly in this complex and “notoriously difficult” area involving law and art.

In smh, Assistant Commissioner Catherine Burn said the police jumped into action after receiving THREE complaints, adding that they “would respond if there was one complaint from the public… It is the role of the police to respond to community concerns and investigate complaints.” Burn did not explain how or why one complaint constitutes a public. Three complaints must have felt like a national movement.

Playing politics, Social Conservative Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has both backed down and not backed down from his condemnation of Henson’s work (previously described as “revolting”). In the same smh report:

I said what my views are as a parent, I don’t budge from that. But I’m not about to go around and start dictating to the legal authorities what they should or should not do… Organisations like that are at arm’s length from politicians…

Meanwhile, in northeastern Australia, police have arrested 42 Queenslanders in one the nation’s biggest pedophile busts. The Daily Telegraph reports that Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson expects to charge 70 to 80 more people over the next fortnight as part of state and federal efforts to bust a global child pornography network.

A 59-year-old teacher charged over the bust has committed suicide. A second teacher, 48, is recovering after a failed suicide attempt. A parliamentarian declared that society would be better off if pedophiles committed suicide before they abused children.

These two near-simultaneous events in Australia (Henson’s liberation and the Queensland arrests) are fueling the fires of highly-combustible debates about rights and responsibilities in an increasingly technological, globalized, and some say (sadly) post-human, civilization.

Our societies are collective works in progress. And our individual humanities are all we have. It is absolutely crucial that we continue to negotiate both — without wishing death or violence on anyone. Life is not a zero-sum game.

See blixity’s previous post on Bill Henson’s case.


Censoring Bill Henson: Government, God, and Gallery

June 2, 2008

Australian authorities took down Bill Henson’s purportedly pornographic photographs from his gallery, Roslyn Oxley9, on May 22, and the battle between public good and private expression continues.

On the right: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd leading the charge with: “I think [the photographs] are revolting… kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected.” On the left: the arts community, led by playwright Michael Gow and writer Alison Croggon, armed with an open letter asking politicians to rethink their positions. (Apparently novelist John Coetzee and actress Cate Blanchett are now among the signatories.)

Taking a broader perspective, Richard Phillips wrote in wsws last Friday about the scapegoating of Bill Henson and the ensuing witch hunt:

Rudd and the rest of the Labor leadership have seized on the Henson issue as a diversion from mounting social tensions resulting from the rapid rise in the cost of living and growing hostility—just six months after its election—to the Labor government… Rudd Labor is trying to develop a political constituency among the extreme right, Christian fundamentalists and other disoriented layers to use as a means of intimidating and suppressing critical thought…

Another perspective to consider is the gallery’s role in supporting their artists. The owners, Roslyn and Tony Oxley, have largely complied with authorities. Following the police raid, this “Media Statement” went up on their website, essentially acknowledging self-censorship.

rosoxleyweb

I cannot claim to know their full position on this. And I understand they are facing death threats and criminal charges — sincerely, who can blame them for compliance.

But I am disappointed and confused about Roslyn Oxley9’s silence. As of this writing, their website’s “NEWS” section still has NOTHING about the debates unfolding around Henson — a story that could become the Australian counterpart to the Robert Mapplethorpe controversy (to name just one) in American art.

Ironically, this is in their website’s “About The Gallery” section:

Since 1982, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery has been committed to the advancement of the most serious and innovative forms of contemporary art.

Through its exhibition program the gallery has supported work that is challenging and at the forefront of contemporary art practice.

The gallery’s silence suggests there are limits to such commitment and support. The obvious gap between what they say and what they do is troubling. This is NOT an attempt to prescribe. This is an attempt to raise a broader question: What role should a private gallery (i.e., no public funding) play in advocating for critical thought and expression — particularly in an increasingly conservative sociopolitical climate?

(See blixity’s previous post on this.)


Woman Caught Living In Man’s Closet For A Year

May 31, 2008

Top story in Odd News: A 58-year old woman was arrested by officials in Fukuoka, Japan yesterday. The charge: trespassing. She had been living in the closet of a 57-year-old man’s apartment — undetected — for ONE YEAR.

Homeless, “with nowhere to live”, the woman told police she had sneaked into the apartment a year ago when the man left it unlocked. Over the past few months, the man began noticing that food was suspiciously disappearing from his kitchen. He set up hidden security cameras, which transmitted pictures to his mobile phone while he was out. These led to the woman’s arrest.

According to reports, she had secreted a small mattress into the closet and had even been taking showers in the man’s home. She was described as “neat and clean”. I would say simply “desperate”.

How large was this apartment? The closet? Wow. In a country where real estate is prime commodity, this must have been quite a space.


Police Shut Down Exhibition, Accuse Artist of Child Pornography

May 25, 2008

roslynoxley

Police raided Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney, Australia last Thursday, just hours before the opening of an exhibition featuring new works by acclaimed contemporary artist Bill Henson. Australian news media report that 21 photographs of a naked 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy have been seized from the gallery. 41 images have been removed from its web site. Indecency and obscenity charges will be brought under state and federal laws.

We know the art-vs.-pornography, censorship-vs.-free-speech drill. Political and sociocultural authorities are now locking horns in fury. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has weighed in, calling Henson’s photographs “revolting” and “devoid of artistic merit”. (Rudd was described as being “out of touch with everyday Australia” by opposition leader Brendan Nelson.) The art community is outraged and prominent arts figures have accused the Prime Minister of hypocrisy. Child protection advocates, determined to be offended, are calling for Henson’s criminalization.

I don’t know where I stand on this issue — particularly as it involves children and art whose status continues to be subservient to political ideology. But I do hope it opens up a serious and heated debate (not another theatrical cockfight) about what it means to be a citizen of a certain civilized state. As capital globalizes and we morph into “one world, one dream”, it is important to ask what it means to be an Australian vs. American vs. Chinese vs. Danish vs. Dominican. Citizenship has distinct rights and privileges, as well as moral standards and social responsibilities. What should we be able to see in public and in private?

Michel Foucault famously theorized that what exists has been allowed to exist. Jacques Ranciere writes about the “distribution of the sensible”, loosely defined as the system of divisions and boundaries that define what we as a society can perceive through our senses. As a New Yorker, I’ve grown accustomed to the post-9/11 police strategies of “If You See Something, Say Something”. It’s time we also say something about that which we do NOT see, what we collectively elect to leave out, eliminate, mutilate, conceal, or render extinct. The works we take down and the silences we administer define our humanity just as powerfully as the paintings we leave up and the speeches we amplify.

LEFT – “Amor Vincit Omnia” (translated as Love Conquers All), 1601, Caravaggio; RIGHT – One of Bill Henson’s seized photographs. (Black bar added by Australian news site.)

henson


Pirates, Pirates, Everywhere

May 24, 2008

pirates

Yesterday, BBC News reported on the growing threat of piracy, noting a 10% increase in pirate attacks and calling attention to the continuing tensions along The Malacca Straits (a prime shipping channel off Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore that has been most vulnerable).

Yes, piracy is on the rise. But NOT in areas historically considered hotspots — contrary to the BBC News report. The Economist last month presented a more revealing and useful picture. Attacks along the notorious Malacca Straits have actually dropped considerably: from 38 in 2004 to 7 in 2007. Indonesian waters have witnessed a drop from 94 in 2004 to less than half: 43 in 2007. The Americas in general have declined as well, from 45 in 2004 to 21 in 2007. Overall, attacks on sea have decreased from 329 in 2004 to 263 in 2007. That’s a 25% drop.

What HAS grown exponentially in the past three years are attacks in African waters and areas that have been lumped together into a category called “rest of the world”. Somalia, for example, reported 31 attacks in 2007 compared to 2 in 2004. Oil-rich Nigeria reported 42 in 2007 compared to 28 in 2004. “Rest of the world” saw 25 attacks in 2007 vs. 14 three years prior. Stark contrast to what’s happening along the Malacca Straits.

Then there are acts of piracy and policing on the high seas of the internet, of course — but that’s a hugely complicated debate for another day.

The shifting patterns of sea piracy (and corresponding multinational interventions) are important to track accurately and specifically. Globalization and neoliberalism are dramatically rearranging the balances of power and distributions of wealth (and scarcities of wealth) around the world. We cannot keep looking at the same old places. We need to locate these issues in particular geographies and times.

Photo: willposh on flickr