Monday, March 31, 2014

Observations on Art 3.31

"Art is anything you can get away with" is a quote widely attributed to Andy Warhol that says all you need to know about his theory of art. I say the quote is attributed to Warhol because, while I'm sure he said it and just as sure he lived it, the quote is actually by a Canadian media philosopher, Marshall McLuhan.

It doesn't really matter who said it because the quote isn't the topic of this post. It just makes a perfect opening for a Warhol story I heard last week that I hadn't heard in some time.

On April 21, 1964 Eleanor Ward's Stable Gallery* held one of the first major exhibitions of Andy Warhol's work. The Stable exhibition was the first time the world saw Warhol's Brillo Boxes. Among those attending the show was James Harvey who had originally designed the box for the Brillo Manufacturing Company. Harvey and a friend had wandered into the Stable to see a show by a than still minor artist, Warhol. Upon seeing the stack of  boxes Harvey supposedly said to his friend "oh my god, I designed those."

Art critic Arthur Danto once asked, "What distinguishes Warhol’s Brillo Box from the Brillo boxes in which Brillo comes?" That's literally a million dollar question because on that day in 1964 Warhol's Brillo boxes were selling for hundreds of dollars and have since sold at auction for as much $5 million. For all practical purposes Harvey's Brillo boxes were worthless.

James Harvey died of cancer less than a year after the Stable Gallery show. One of the only remaining examples of Harvey's Brillo box is owned by Art Historian Irving Sandler. He keeps the box, an autographed gift from Harvey, in a case in his apartment not far from what was once the site of the Stable Gallery.

* trivia, the Stable Gallery was so named because it was originally housed in an unused livery stable on West 58th Street in New York.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Observations 3.13

If you're just a fan HBO's Game of Thrones it would be a dream job. Throw in being a fan of Annie Leibovitz, or just a fan of photography, or just a photographer and it becomes simply a dream. The cover story of the April issue of Vanity Fairavailable March 13th, is a GOT preview called "The Gathering Storm" and the cover was shot by Leibovitz in Northern Ireland.

One bit of trivia in the article is that President Obama, always known to be a GOT fan, receives early screenings of the show. In an e-mail to Vanity Fair the creators of the show replied, "One perk of being the most powerful man in the world: yes, you get to see episodes early."

Above the Leibovitz video is a link to a fourteen minute trailer for Season 4 of Game of Thrones which premiers April 6th on HBO.

Game of Thrones Season 4: Ice and Fire, A Foreshadowing


Published on Mar 10, 2014
Watch Annie Leibovitz photograph the cast in Northern Ireland.
Subscribe to the all-new Vanity Fair channel here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Observations on Sochi 2.9

Andy Wong, Associated Press
I haven't written in some time but I'm not going to get into that. I'll just say I've been busy with other things and leave it at that for now. It isn't surprising that a combination of two of my loves, sports and photography, snapped me out of that non-posting funk.

What I want to share is quite possibly the coolest thing ever. With the start of the Olympics in Sochi The New York Times launched what they call The Firehouse. It's a real time live stream that streams still photos instead of video. The stream includes photos from the Times along with the Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images, Agence France Presse, and the European Pressphoto Agency. The name derives from the fact that the photos can stream by quickly and they have no caption or description other than the photographer's name and agency.

I have no idea if it's a one event trial or if the Times will use it for other things. Either way it's pretty damn awesome.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Observations 2014

This is the start of my fifth year writing this blog, a fact I find rather mind boggling. For various reasons I haven't been posting much lately and I'm not sure when that will change. Too many projects and too little time is one of the reasons, increasingly writing in 140 character bytes is another.

A major reason for that recent lack of posts is that I haven't felt like writing about politics lately. Actually I haven't been paying as much attention to national politics as I normally do. Fair and balanced was once just a joke on Fox News but increasingly it could be used on the political reporting of the MSM in general.

It's hard to find a news source, televised or otherwise, that doesn't cater to a certain segment of the population. While many Republicans are rightly criticized for talking exclusively to their base more and more everybody is talking to somebody and nobody is just reporting the news. Than there is the ratings game where reporting has taken a backseat to profit. Watch one of the network evening news shows sometime. If it can't be reported in apocalyptic tones in all likelihood it isn't going to be reported at all.

Don't get me wrong, opinion has its place and is necessary, it's just that today it's hard to find political news that isn't partially political opinion. Panel shows have become the worst because it's like the talking heads are just talking to the heads on the other side of the table. Being a talking head, no matter what the politics, has become a very profitable career choice and they need to protect it. I suppose the problem is that the heads and other reporters are as much trapped in the bubble as the politicians they accuse of being trapped in the very same bubble. I still have my favorites, I'll always love Rachel, but I don't watch them as religiously as I once did.

It's just hard to find anybody to believe that isn't already telling you what you already believe and therein lies the catch 22. In the end you just have to believe yourself. Traditionally I don't believe in New Year's resolutions because I think they are doomed to fail but I may make an exception this year. I think I'll try to read a better mix of things this year and believe myself more without subconsciously looking for somebody to tell me what I want to hear. It might be a good New Year's resolution for the nation as a whole.

Happy New Year people.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Observations from the Window 12.12

This is just an update to my post on International Human Rights Day which you can read here. On Wednesday, the day after International Human Rights Day, the Supreme Court of India threw out a four year old ruling by a lower court, the Delhi High Court, which had decriminalized gay sex. Section 377 of India's penal code bans "sex against the order of nature" and dates to the 19th century. The Supreme Court said the lower court had no authority in the matter and that only the Indian government could change the law.

The ruling stunned even the federal government. Several ministers openly criticized the court's verdict and the home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said they would propose a new law that would negate the court ruling. Also the United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay said today that the ruling violates international law.

After the ruling was announced protests erupted in various cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. Activists have threatened to continue the protests until the judgment is overrules either by further court review or through a new law in parliament.

But for now my list of countries in which homosexuality is crime now includes India.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Observations from the Window 12.10.2

Today was International Human Rights Day which marks the 1948 signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A sign of how far we have come is the little noted use of three words in President Obama's remarks at today's memorial for Nelson Mandela:

"Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love."

"It always seems impossible until it is done," Nelson Mandela.

Observations from the Window 12.10.1

Today was International Human Rights Day which marks the 1948 signing of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A measure of how far the world has to go in one category is the fact that homosexuality is still illegal in 76 countries:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, São Tomé and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

In addition to that, in five countries, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, being queer can get you executed.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


"It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones."

Nelson Mandela who died today in his Johannesburg home, he was 95.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Observations from the Road 12.1

Something happened a few days ago that I found so funny I had to share the even if it says way too much about today's world and not in a good way. If you don't know I'm originally from a smallish town in Pennsylvania. I was at the final Penn State home game last weekend and due to the weather forecast decided to just go to my dad's afterwords, there was nothing I needed to do that I couldn't do from there. To understand why I found this story so funny you have to try and imagine it happening in a small town, one with a large elderly population, and in an area not exactly known as a hotbed of a liberal agenda. On top of that it happened the day before Thanksgiving.

I was driving through town when I saw three county sheriffs in riot gear standing outside a one chair barber shop. There is a small apartment above the barber and the black clad sheriffs seemed to be pointing up at it. My one uncle works in law enforcement so I texted him to see if he knew what was going on.

This is the quick version of the story I got by text over the next hour as I laughed hysterically. Apparently the sheriffs had shown up to serve a warrant to the man who lives in the apartment. He didn't answer the door and the sheriffs thought they heard a shotgun being loaded so they called for support. My uncle informed me the county rapid response team, read that SWAT team, was staging on a parking lot a block from the barber shop. This is where I couldn't stop laughing because all I could imagine is the scene in Home Alone where Macaulay Culkin  uses the TV for sound effects. As my uncle said, waste all that money, storm the building, and all they find is an empty apartment with a TV blaring what I hoped was Scarface (warning, clip is not approved for all audiences). On my way home I drove a back way to avoid the bedlam but at the last minute swung into town because I just had to see, only there was nothing to see but the original sheriffs. Apparently the long deceased suspect had been found before the team could fully assemble and the coroner had been called but hadn't yet arrived. However the event did make all the local news shows.

I can only imagine the conversations around the town's dinner tables the following day.

note - If you didn't understand what I meant by this little episode saying something about today's world it's this. Police departments, down to the smallest town it seems, are way too well armed and they look for any excuse to use their toys. Imagine what could have happened had the suspect simply been passed out drunk as the 'rapid response team' stormed his apartment.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Observations 11.21

I have to be very careful what I say here because I don't want to take anything away from what I said a few days ago. Florida Congressman Trey Radel is a hypocrite, of that there is no doubt, I stand by everything I wrote. While watching a video of Radel's press conference I found myself feeling compassion for a man who seems to have, or had, little of the same for people in his own condition. Sometimes in life events hit a little too close to home, for him and for myself. I don't need to get into my story, suffice to say I know how it feels. If you need to know that's what tags are for, you can find it, it's all in here somewhere.

My problems with Radel begin with his vote to require food stamp recipients be drug tested. To what end? Would he deny or revoke someone's food stamps if they tested positive for a substance? Maybe if they didn't seek some sort of Congressional mandated treatment because we know Radel thinks government should stay out of people lives. But wait, food stamp recipients are obviously poor, probably have no health insurance, and Radel is against the Affordable Care Act. Who is going to pay for tests or treatment? It's a stunningly crafted catch 22 for the poor.

Trey Radel stood in front of the cameras, the slightest hint of tears in his eyes, and asked for redemption and forgiveness. As he exited his press conference a reporter either began to ask a question or simply made a statement by saying " you voted to drug test people who have food stamps." The words hung in the air as Radel walked out and never looked back.

He asked for the very things he isn't willing to give the poor and I have a problem with that.

notes - Radel began rehabilitation in Florida Thursday afternoon, he has never raised the idea of resigning, and plans to take a leave of absence from Congress until just the end of  the year. He faces a maximum 160 days in jail for misdemeanor cocaine possession.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also from Florida, told the Washington Post, "I don’t presume what is best for him. Other members have gotten in trouble. There but for the grace of God go all of us, perfect only God. I’m careful not to cast stones, because I live in a glass house as all of us do." Obviously this too doesn't include the poor.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Observations 11.20

Hypocrite, according to the Urban Dictionary, a person who engages in the same behaviors he condemns others for.

This morning Republican Rep. Trey Radel of Florida pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine. Radel, a freshman congressman, had been arrested in Washington earlier this month as he purchased cocaine from an undercover agent and also had cocaine in his apartment. Radel will enter in-patient treatment in Florida and has already been seeing a drug counselor in Washington. In court today Radel’s lawyer, David Schertler, said the congressman has been in treatment at the Executive Addiction Disease Program.

As the Pope said, who am I to judge, unless ....

Last month Radel voted in favor of the House version of the farm bill which included a provision that would require food stamp recipients be drug tested.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.19

Last week I started a post about our broken political system, which turned into a vent about Obamacare, and I wanted to get back to that. Yes the system is broken, it's not really a question open to debate, but what is startling is how much of it has nothing to do with the times or the economy but is by pure Republican design. There is a very good article in the latest issue of Rolling Stone that explains it all very clearly and is worth reading. Rather than get into it I'm posting some highlights of "How Republicans Rig the Game" and hoping that's enough to get you to read the entire article.

Illustration by Victor Juhasz for Rolling Stone
Something to keep in mind, yes gerrymandering  has gone on forever but not in the nationally planned, calculated, well funded, and computerized way it was after the last census.

"National Republicans have waged an unrelenting campaign to exploit every weakness and anachronism in our electoral system. Through a combination of hyperpartisan redistricting of the House, unprecedented obstructionism in the Senate and racist voter suppression in the states, today's GOP has locked in political power that it could never have secured on a level playing field.

"Explicit racial gerrymandering is illegal under the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. So Hofeller used a proxy for race, redrawing boundaries by identifying the wards where President Obama received the highest returns in 2008. According to court documents, this approach 'allowed black voters to be carved apart from their white neighbors and friends, on a block-by-block basis.'

"Pennsylvanians cast 83,000 more votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates but elected a 13-5 Republican majority to represent them in Washington; Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress. In Wisconsin Republicans prevailed by a five-to-three margin in House seats despite losing the popular vote by more than 43,000. In Ohio, only 52 percent of voters cast ballots for Republicans, but thanks to maps drawn in a Columbus-area Doubletree Hotel, referred to by GOP operatives in court documents as "the bunker," John Boehner's home-state delegation swings 12-4 for the GOP.

But gerrymandering only effects the House, the problems of the Senate are Republican made with the aid of the founding fathers. When the Constitution was written the largest state, Virginia, had 10 times the population of the smallest, Delaware, while today California has 65 times the population of Wyoming.

"Half of the U.S. population now resides in just nine states. Which is to say that the other 50 percent of Americans control 82 votes in the U.S. Senate.

"In today's Senate, 41 small-state Republicans can mount a filibuster on behalf of 28 percent of the country. And the departure from historical practice is shocking: LBJ faced one filibuster as Senate majority leader. Harry Reid, the current majority leader, has faced more than 430. Nearly half the filibusters of executive-branch nominations in the nation's history – 16 of 36 – have occurred under Obama."

The scariest idea of all may be the Republican one that would restructure the electoral system which decides presidential elections. Personally I think the entire system is outdated in the extreme and should just go but the Republicans have an idea of their own. Electoral votes would be divided among a state's congressional districts instead of on a state by state winner take all basis. Due to the above mentioned extreme gerrymandering under that system we would have a President Romney today.

But, frustrating as this rigged political system has become, there is always hope as the final lines of the article show.

"The GOP may have postponed its day of reckoning at the hands of a younger, browner, queerer electorate, 'They're holding back the tides,' says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, but sooner or later, they're going to get swamped."

Read the article than vote whenever you can.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Observations 11.17

Even though I've been told Halloween doesn't count the holiday season is fast approaching. You can tell by the damn store displays which only means the music can't be far behind. Actually I don't mind Christmas music, I have about a thousand songs on my iTunes but I only listen to them in the month of December, sometimes July. But this is all besides the point because I didn't bring up the holidays to talk about music, I have something in ways in rather extraordinary to report. Due to holiday commitments I needed a dress, yesterday I went dress shopping, I bought two dresses because my shopping partner and I couldn't agree and I wasn't about to go a second time.  One dress is black while the other is slightly longer and black, enough on the matter. That should be enough dresses to last me the rest of my life but now I may need shoes.

It being Sunday I should stay away from politics but this in a way combines sports and politics. The Washington football team should just change their name now before they are forced to do so. Longtime owner Dan Snyder says he never will change the name but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might soon have other ideas. The reasons given for not changing the name include tradition, as if it always having been called the 'Redskins' makes it right, and the team losing money. The latter reason is laughable because of all the new name merchandise the team could sell.

While I'm picking on Washington football I'll mention their quarterback Robert Griffin III, known to the world as RG3. Until he learns how to play football and wins something please just call him Robert. Robert is like the second coming of Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo, another whom the world anointed savior and one the greats but Romo has yet to win anything that matters. Romo has won just one playoff game in his ten year NFL career and is probably better known for dating Jessica Simpson a few years ago.

Joe D. Horse Capture, currently Associate Curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, had a novel idea. Instead of changing Washington's name change its emblem, to a red potato.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 11.15

The system is broken, so totally broken that at times I have been shying away from politics. That's not completely true because I can only shy away for a short time before I'm right back in it but it says something that even I just want to run away sometimes. When you watch any main stream news everything has to be reported in apocalyptic tones while on the panel shows they endlessly debate the same thing, usually the wrong thing. Obamacare is just the current example.

The talking heads endlessly debated a broken website when in fact there was no debate, it didn't work very well. Anybody who has ever worked on the web knows that a large website never works well at first, remember Twitter's ever present fail whale? Now the debate has moved to people who have gotten cancellation notices from their insurers, also no debate here because they did. What nobody mentions is that in many cases the notices come from greedy insurance companies looking to make a fast profit and blame Obamacare because, you know, everything is Obamacare's fault. The people totally lost in the debate are the tens of millions who have no health insurance at all.

Politicians and talking heads making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year have the best insurance policies their or their employers money can buy. They don't have to worry about not going for care because they don't have insurance. They don't have to worry about not going to a doctor because they spend so much for their insurance they don't have the money for a co-pay. They don't have to worry about anything at all.

One thing to remember when discussing healthcare is that Republicans have no plan of their own other than the good old way. They don't want to fix Obamacare, they don't want to adjust it, they don't want to use it as a starting point, they want it gone. The good old way is to have the most expensive system in the world, spend more per capita than any other nation on Earth, and as a reward for all that spending have the 39th longest life expectancy. That puts the U.S. behind every European country, Canada, Japan, and South Korea. All those countries with the hated socialized medicine. Also ahead of the U.S. are Hong Kong, Israel, Chile and Cuba.

I think whenever there is a debate or discussion about healthcare at least one person involved in the discussion should be somebody with no health insurance at all. That way maybe, just maybe, we could have an honest discussion about this mess.

note - This wasn't meant to be an Obamacare vent, it just ended up that way. I was going to write about the broken system because I just read a good article on why the system is the way it is, because that was the Republican plan all along. I'll get to that later.

update - Just a small update and not of the good kind because my life expectancy number was off a bit. The number I used was a five year average. Yesterday afternoon I saw a tweet from Mother Jones' David Corn that included a link to the CIA's World Fact Book. The CIA estimates that in 2013 the U.S. will finish 51st in life expectancy, worse than the number I had used and putting among others Jordan, Greece, and the European Union (as a whole ahead) of us. I think a well done is called for.