ak_10516_MART_UntitledChris Martin, Untitled, 2008
Oil and spray paint, burlap and collage on canvas
43 x 52 inches
(132.1 x 109.2 cm)

JULY 02 – AUGUST 22, 2014


Anton Kern

Thanks to Bruce M. Sherman

July 23rd, 2014
christopher williams

Fachhochschule Aachen/Fachbereich Gestaltung/Studiengang: Visuelle Kommunikation/Fotolabor für Studenten/Boxgraben 100, Aachen/November 8, 2010. 2010. Pigmented inkjet print, paper: 24 x 20″

July 27–November 2, 2014


July 21st, 2014
Burt Shavitz, the World’s Most Famous Retired Beekeeper

Burt Shavitz, a founder of Burt’s Bees enjoys a life of seclusion on his property in northern Maine.
Credit Jody Shapiro

NY Times Published: JULY 16, 2014

In the new documentary “Burt’s Buzz,” Burt Shavitz, a founder of the cosmetics company Burt’s Bees, reveals himself to be the ultimate homebody.

“A good day is when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere,” he tells the camera, looking exactly like the drawing of the bearded old hippie that adorns the packages of lip balm and other natural beauty products. Another piece of hermit wisdom: “I’m less interested in the inside of whatever it is I own than on the outside of what it sits on.” Or, as he reiterates later, “Land is everything.”

The film traces Mr. Shavitz’s unlikely rise to cultural icon and, like its subject, is full of surprises. For instance, he worked for years as a photojournalist in New York City before moving to Maine and becoming a beekeeper. Also, he no longer has equity in the company that bears his name, having sold his portion shortly before Burt’s Bees was sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. (The company compensates him for the use of his image and employs him to be a brand ambassador, a living mascot.)

No matter. Mr. Shavitz, 79, maintains that he had “no desire to be an upper mobile rising yuppie,” and his living situation proves it: For decades he’s been in a string of modest houses, including his current one, in northern Maine, with no running hot water. He heats by wood stove. His companions are dogs.

He recently took time from his not-so-busy schedule to speak to a reporter. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)

Q. How did you wind up in Maine?

A. My folks had taken me to Maine at a relatively early age. We’d gone to a place called Sebago Lake. It was like the Garden of Eden. I had started swimming as a very young child. There were all these lakes, ponds and streams, and zero restrictions. I promised myself that one day I was going to come back. That’s what I did.

When I got here I had no place to live and not a great deal of money. But I had good neighbors and everybody had leftover lumber that was just lying around to build a camp. I had large windows that I got from the dump, from which I could watch the moon go across the sky at night. I had a horsehair mattress that I had brought from New York. If electricity went out, didn’t make a bit of difference. I had a candle. I was in a good place.

What’s your current setup?

I’ve got 40 acres. And it’s good and sufficient and it takes good care of me. There’s no noise. There’s no children screaming. There’s no people getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning and trying to start their car and raising hell. Everybody has their own idea of what a good place to be is, and this is mine.

You can afford the basic comforts of home, yet you don’t have running hot water and you heat by wood stove. Why?

It’s exceedingly cost-effective. Nobody’s doing anything for me and holding their hand out. I love it.

Do you have any domestic luxuries?

I’ve got a radio that occasionally I listen to. It’s portable. It’s got an antenna. I’ve put a piece of aluminum foil on it that gives me a little bit better reception. And a refrigerator.

Your life in Maine sounds very different from your time as a photojournalist in New York City.

Precisely. Being able to walk outdoors anytime I want to and go anywhere I want to, and only God knows what I’m going to meet in the woods and brambles. We had seven or eight fox puppies come out of the woods. They were only 20 feet away. I laid down on the ground and I called them like I would a puppy dog. And they came closer and closer. It was quite a rush.

Do you still keep bees?

No, I don’t. I’d still be keeping bees if I didn’t have a bad back. You can only punish your body so long before you’re stuck with a horrendous inability to do things you’d previously been able to do.

Still, you’re probably the world’s most famous retired beekeeper.

It was a godsend. Manna out of the heavens. The fact that there was a man who was patient, knowledgeable and even-tempered to teach me beekeeping was another plus. He told me to stand back and watch what he did. He showed me how to use the tools. I’ve been extremely fortunate for an entire lifetime — as long as I wasn’t in urban America.

July 18th, 2014
Who is taking California’s water?

Michael Hiltzik
Los Angeles Times
July 16, 2014

As California’s drought really starts to bite–the mandatory water use restrictions approved by the state Tuesday are just the beginning–questions are bound to be raised about the indescribably wasteful use of water to retail bottlers.

The sale of bottled water to most Americans, who have access to cheap and safe tap water from municipal systems, is a marketing scam, and environmentally devastating besides. As Peter H. Gleick of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute showed in 2007, it took the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bottles for American buyers in 2006. That would be enough to fuel 1 million American cars and light trucks for a year.

“Bottled water requires energy throughout its life cycle,” Gleick has written. “Energy is required to capture, treat, and send water to the bottling plant; fill, package, transport, and cool the bottled water; and recycle or dispose of the empty containers.”

Consider the unnecessary energy usage in shipping, say, Fiji Water to these shores from a Pacific island dictatorship 5,000 miles away, all to satisfy the marketing thirst of the product’s distributors, Lynda and Stewart Resnick of Beverly Hills. And while you’re cradling that shiny square bottle in your hands, keep in mind that 30% of Fiji’s 800,000 residents don’t have access to clean drinking water themselves.

The drought is bound to focus more attention on the extraction of water from California sources for retail sale. The Desert Sun of Palm Springs started that process this week, with an exhaustive look at the deal between the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and Nestle Waters North America, which draws water for its Arrowhead brand from sources on the reservation.

The piece was not as exhaustive as it could have been, because neither Nestle nor the Morongo are forthcoming about how much water is being drawn. The local water district says the tribe hasn’t updated its report of groundwater extractions since 2009.

That’s not surprising: state officials have been trying to revoke the Morongos’ rights to that water for more than 10 years, based on the argument that the rights lapsed once the water ceased to be used for irrigation.You can expect the issue to intensify, as residential growth continues in the area and available water supplies diminish.

Nestle’s drawing of water from the desert aquifer is a special concern, Gleick told the Desert Sun, “precisely because water is so scarce in the basin…. Surface water in the desert is exceedingly rare and has a much higher environmental value than the same amount of water somewhere else.”

The tribe’s response to questions thus far has been to cite its sovereign status. But times and conditions are changing. If the drought continues or gets worse, the retail shipment of water out of the region or state will become seen as an unsustainable anachronism. All water users–growers, factory owners, urban residents–are being forced to change their ways. Water bottlers can’t avoid the same reality.

July 18th, 2014
Addicted to Inflation

NY Times Published: JULY 17, 2014
By Paul Krugman

The first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. That goes for political movements as well as individuals. So I have some advice for so-called reform conservatives trying to rebuild the intellectual vitality of the right: You need to start by facing up to the fact that your movement is in the grip of some uncontrollable urges. In particular, it’s addicted to inflation — not the thing itself, but the claim that runaway inflation is either happening or about to happen.

To see what I’m talking about, consider a scene that played out the other day on CNBC.

Rick Santelli, one of the network’s stars, is best known for a rant against debt relief that arguably gave birth to the Tea Party. On this occasion, however, he was ranting about another of his favorite subjects, the allegedly inflationary policies of the Federal Reserve. And his colleague Steve Liesman had had enough. “It’s impossible for you to have been more wrong,” Mr. Liesman declared, and he went on to detail the wrong predictions: “The higher interest rates never came, the inability of the U.S. to sell bonds never happened, the dollar never crashed, Rick. There isn’t a single one that’s worked for you.”

You could say the same thing about many people. I’ve had conversations with investors bemused by the failure of the dollar to crash and inflation to soar, because “all the experts” said that was going to happen. And that is indeed what you might have imagined if your notion of expertise was what you saw on CNBC, on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, or in Forbes.

And this has been going on for a long time — at least since early 2009. Yet despite being consistently wrong for more than five years, these “experts” never consider the possibility that there might be something amiss with their economic framework, let alone that Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen or, for that matter, yours truly might have been right to dismiss their warnings.

At best, the inflation-is-coming crowd admits that it hasn’t happened yet, but attributes the delay to unforeseeable circumstances. Thus, in recent Congressional testimony, Lawrence Kudlow, also of CNBC, warned about “excess money and a devalued dollar.” However, “Miraculously, both actual and expected inflation indicators have stayed low.” It’s not something wrong with my model. It’s a miracle!

At worst, inflationistas resort to conspiracy theories: Inflation is already high, but the government is covering it up. The sources purporting to document this cover-up were thoroughly debunked years ago; among other things, private indicators of inflation like the Billion Prices Index (derived from Internet prices) basically confirm the official numbers. Furthermore, inflation conspiracy theorists have faced well-deserved ridicule even from fellow conservatives. Yet the conspiracy theory keeps resurfacing. It has, predictably, been rolled out to defend Mr. Santelli.

All of this is very frustrating to those reform conservatives. If you ask what new ideas they have to offer, they often mention “market monetarism,” which translates under current circumstances to the notion that the Fed should be doing more, not less.
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One member of the group, Josh Barro — who is now at The Times — has gone so far as to call market monetarism “the shining success of the conservative reform movement.” But this idea has achieved no traction at all with the rest of American conservatism, which is still obsessed with the phantom menace of runaway inflation.

And the roots of inflation addiction run deep. Reformers like to minimize the influence of libertarian fantasies — fantasies that invariably involve the notion that inflationary disaster looms unless we return to gold — on today’s conservative leaders. But to do that, you have to dismiss what these leaders have actually said. If, for example, people accuse Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, of believing that he’s living in an Ayn Rand novel, that’s because in 2009 he said that we are “living in an Ayn Rand novel.”

More generally, modern American conservatism is deeply opposed to any form of government activism, and while monetary policy is sometimes treated as a technocratic affair, the truth is that printing dollars to fight a slump, or even to stabilize some broader definition of the money supply, is indeed an activist policy.

The point, then, is that inflation addiction is telling us something about the intellectual state of one side of our great national divide. The right’s obsessive focus on a problem we don’t have, its refusal to reconsider its premises despite overwhelming practical failure, tells you that we aren’t actually having any kind of rational debate. And that, in turn, bodes ill not just for would-be reformers, but for the nation.

July 18th, 2014
frances stark


Closing Reception Saturday July 19 4:00-6:00 PM

Marc Foxx

July 17th, 2014
Biennial’s Bright Young Things, Ages 77 and 84

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 5.44.20 PM
“Condorito Vase (Greek),” a 2004 work by the Frimkesses. Credit Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

NY Times Published: JULY 15, 2014

LOS ANGELES — Prominent artists like Cindy Sherman and Mark Grotjahn have bought the work. Galleries on both coasts are beginning to promote it. Now the expressive, comics-inspired pottery of the husband-and-wife team Michael Frimkess and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess (he’s 77 and she’s 84) has become a sleeper hit of the Hammer Museum’s biennial, thanks to a younger generation of local artists who have been bringing it to light.

“I think they are a real discovery for people here,” said Michael Ned Holte, a co-curator of the biennial. “I’m seeing a lot of artists not just interested in this work but obsessed with it.”

The Hammer biennial, called “Made in L.A.,” is considered the West Coast’s answer to the Whitney Biennial: a snapshot of current trends from 35 artists billed as new or underrecognized. Underrecognized, of course, is rather subjective. While one gallery features small, elegant bronzes by Ricky Swallow, 39, a closely watched sculptor with major galleries on his résumé, another showcases the colorful pots by the Frimkesses, who struggled for decades to land an occasional gallery show, with long dry spells in between.

In his review of the biennial, Christopher Knight, art critic for The Los Angeles Times, said the Frimkesses “have been making compelling art for a few decades more than most of the others have been alive.”

But the fine print of museum labels reveals a connection across the generations: A handful of the couple’s pieces are on loan from collections of Los Angeles-area artists. One of the most striking pots in the show — a classic, Greek-style vase painted with lively scenes of the popular Chilean comic book character Condorito — comes from Mr. Swallow and his wife, the painter Lesley Vance.

“I’m a deep fan,” Mr. Swallow said during a recent visit with the couple to the show, which runs through Sept. 7. “Once you see their work, it’s impossible to walk away from it.”

Mr. Swallow first learned about it two years ago from Karin Gulbran, a Los Angeles painter-ceramicist who helped Ms. Frimkess land a solo show with White Columns in New York this spring. Mr. Swallow included their work in a 2013 group show at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles and introduced them to the “Made in L.A.” curators. The Frimkesses currently show their work through the men’s wear shop South Willard, where their prices now range from $600 to $14,000.

One afternoon last week, Mr. Frimkess, who has multiple sclerosis and is recovering from a broken femur, rolled his wheelchair closer to a display table filled with their artwork. “Ricky is our savior,” he said of Mr. Swallow. “We’ve been kicked to the side for 30 years.”

Ms. Frimkess was more sanguine when asked about the recent attention. “Better late than never,” she said, smiling.

The Hammer is showing 19 examples of their work spanning the last two decades. For most, the pair used a tag-team sort of collaboration: Mr. Frimkess throws the pots — without input from his wife. Then she paints the surfaces — without consulting him.

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Most of their pots have classical forms, nodding to Chinese temple vases or, in the case of the piece lent by Mr. Swallow, a Greek wine jug known as a volute krater for its looping handles. Mr. Frimkess achieved the thin walls of this pot — and its beveled neck — through an unusual technique: throwing the pot dry by using very hard clay without adding water.

The surface features vivid paintings of Condorito, a bohemian birdlike character given to clownish mishaps.

“He’s my philosopher — Condorito has answers for everything,” said Ms. Frimkess, who has described her own life as a soap opera. She was born in 1929 in Venezuela and was living in Chile with her first husband and two teenage children when she moved to New York in 1963 on a fellowship to the Clay Art Center, in Westchester County, N.Y., where Mr. Frimkess was an intern. The two moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and later married.

Mr. Frimkess, a Los Angeles native, had studied in the 1950s with Peter Voulkos, the California master who boosted the reputation of ceramics as an art form. (Mr. Frimkess once described Mr. Voulkos as both a “mentor” and “tormentor.”) But it was a bit later, during Mr. Frimkess’s time on the East Coast, that he learned the ancient dry-throwing method, using it to copy Greek vases from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This technique — and, he said, his devotion to creating a superfast-firing kiln — were radical enough to challenge the ceramics establishment and to sideline his career. (Others say that multiple sclerosis, diagnosed some 40 years ago, had limited his productivity.)

Mr. Frimkess saves his toughest criticism for himself. “There’s nothing here that I would call a masterpiece,” he said of the forms on display. “They are all attempts.” He pointed to a handsome vessel only to note “its neck should be taller.”

Mr. Swallow shook his head. “That’s something that I admire about Michael, even if it drives me crazy: Works that I find successful, he sees as failures,” he said. “Michael is one of the most stubborn people I know in setting strict parameters for quality.”

Mr. Swallow went on to praise Ms. Frimkess’s “postmodern or punk-rock” narrative flair — the way she brings together images from art history and pop culture, war and family life, Chilean and American landscapes, into collage-style compositions. One vessel, “Guernica Pot,” reconfigures images from Picasso’s nightmarish vision of the Spanish Civil War; another, “Deaf Bertha,” is her take on Berthe, a deaf woman painted by Toulouse-Lautrec. “Michael says I never listen to him, so I found a model that Toulouse-Lautrec painted,” Ms. Frimkess explained.

The Hammer is also showing “Mickey Mouse Circus,” a lumpy-looking jar with a rather homely Minnie Mouse on top, like a slumped wedding cake figurine. The Frimkesses say they are aware that Disney takes its intellectual property rights seriously. That hasn’t stopped them from making versions of its characters.

“Nobody’s put a gun in my back not to do it,” Ms. Frimkess said.

The Mickey Mouse pot is an example of one of Ms. Frimkess’s solo creations, for which she shaped the clay as well as painted it. While Mr. Frimkess is less active and throwing fewer vessels these days, she has picked up the pace by making and showing more of her own works, typically smaller pieces like tortilla plates and tiles.

Does she have any interest in throwing on a wheel? “Not really,” she said. “That’s Michael’s work. I don’t compete with the master.”

July 15th, 2014
We Are Our Bacteria

NY Times Published: JULY 14, 2014

We may think of ourselves as just human, but we’re really a mass of microorganisms housed in a human shell. Every person alive is host to about 100 trillion bacterial cells. They outnumber human cells 10 to one and account for 99.9 percent of the unique genes in the body.

Katrina Ray, a senior editor of Nature Reviews, recently suggested that the vast number of microbes in the gut could be considered a “human microbial ‘organ’” and asked, “Are we more microbe than man?”

Our collection of microbiota, known as the microbiome, is the human equivalent of an environmental ecosystem. Although the bacteria together weigh a mere three pounds, their composition determines much about how the body functions and, alas, sometimes malfunctions.

Like ecosystems the world over, the human microbiome is losing its diversity, to the potential detriment of the health of those it inhabits.

Dr. Martin J. Blaser, a specialist in infectious diseases at the New York University School of Medicine and the director of the Human Microbiome Program, has studied the role of bacteria in disease for more than three decades. His research extends well beyond infectious diseases to autoimmune conditions and other ailments that have been increasing sharply worldwide.

In his new book, “Missing Microbes,” Dr. Blaser links the declining variety within the microbiome to our increased susceptibility to serious, often chronic conditions, from allergies and celiac disease to Type 1 diabetes and obesity. He and others primarily blame antibiotics for the connection.

The damaging effect of antibiotics on microbial diversity starts early, Dr. Blaser said. The average American child is given nearly three courses of antibiotics in the first two years of life, and eight more during the next eight years. Even a short course of antibiotics like the widely prescribed Z-pack (azithromycin, taken for five days), can result in long-term shifts in the body’s microbial environment.

But antibiotics are not the only way the balance within us can be disrupted. Cesarean deliveries, which have soared in recent decades, encourage the growth of microbes from the mother’s skin, instead of from the birth canal, in the baby’s gut, Dr. Blaser said in an interview.

This change in microbiota can reshape an infant’s metabolism and immune system. A recent review of 15 studies involving 163,796 births found that, compared with babies delivered vaginally, those born by cesarean section were 26 percent more likely to be overweight and 22 percent more likely to be obese as adults.

The placenta has a microbiome of its own, researchers have discovered, which may also contribute to the infant’s gut health and help mitigate the microbial losses caused by cesarean sections.

Other studies have found major differences in the microorganisms living in the guts of normal-weight and obese individuals. Although such studies cannot tell which came first — the weight problem or the changed microbiota — studies indicate obese mice have gut bacteria that are better able to extract calories from food.

Further evidence of a link to obesity comes from farm animals. About three-fourths of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used in livestock. These antibiotics change the animals’ microbiota, hastening their growth.

When mice are given the same antibiotics used on livestock, the metabolism of their liver changes, stimulating an increase in body fat, Dr. Blaser said.

Even more serious is the increasing number of serious disorders now linked to a distortion in the microbial balance in the human gut. They include several that are becoming more common in developed countries: gastrointestinal ailments like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease; cardiovascular disease; nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; digestive disorders like chronic reflux; autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis; and asthma and allergies.

Some researchers have even speculated that disruptions of gut microbiota play a role in celiac disease and the resulting explosion in demand for gluten-free foods even among people without this disease. In a mouse model of Type 1 diabetes, treating the animals with antibiotics accelerates the development of the disease, Dr. Blaser said.

He and other researchers, including a team from Switzerland and Germany, have also linked the serious rise in asthma rates to the “rapid disappearance of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterial pathogen that persistently colonizes the human stomach, from Western societies.” Once, virtually everyone harbored this microbe, which European researchers have shown protected mice from developing hallmarks of allergic asthma.

H. pylori colonization in early life encourages production of regulatory T-cells in the blood, which Dr. Blaser said are needed to tamp down allergic responses. Although certain strains of H. pylori are linked to the development of peptic ulcer and stomach cancer, other strains are protective, his studies indicate.

Research by Dr. Blaser and his colleagues further suggests that H. pylori in the stomach protects against gastroesophageal reflux disease, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

Still, it is not always possible for researchers to tell whether disruptions in gut microbiota occur before or after people become ill. However, studies in laboratory animals often suggest the bacterial disturbances come first.

Dr. Blaser, among many others, cautions against the overuse of antibiotics, especially the broad-spectrum drugs now commonly prescribed. He emphasized in particular the importance of using fewer antibiotics in children.

“In Sweden, antibiotic use is 40 percent of ours at any age, with no increase in disease,” he said. “We need to educate physicians and parents that antibiotics have costs. We need improved diagnostics. Is the infection caused by a virus or bacteria, and if bacteria, which one?

“Then we need narrow-spectrum antibiotics designed to knock out the pathogenic bacteria without disrupting the health-promoting ones,” Dr. Blaser added. “This will make it possible to treat serious infections with less collateral effect.”

July 14th, 2014
Contort Yourself


Sue Tompkins, Jim Lambie, Luke Fowler, and Jonnie Wilkes

July 12 August 30, 2014
Opening Reception July 12, 7-9PM
Peformance by Sue Tomkins at 8pm

Curated by The Modern Institute

Kayne Griffin Corcoran

July 12th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 2.13.39 PM
Brie Ruais
Spread Out, 132 lbs, 2014
Glazed ceramic, hardware
61 1/2 x 60 x 2 inches

July 12 – August 9, 2014

Marc Selwyn

July 12th, 2014
Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists


Friday July 11, 7 PM – 9 PM
Sue Tompkins performance

Saturday July 12, 4 PM – 7 PM
Alexis Taylor solo concert with visuals by Oliver Payne

Sunday July 13, 8 PM – 11 PM
Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists screening
introduced by Ricky Swallow

356 Mission

July 9th, 2014
In reshaping LACMA, Michael Govan sets his sights on a new L.A.

By Mike Boehm
Los Angeles Times Published: July 9, 2014

Michael Govan’s field of dreams stretches far beyond the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which he wants to radically remake over the coming nine years.

In a visit to the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, the museum director outlined what he and LACMA’s board aim to accomplish, how it might be done, and what some of the obstacles might be as they pursue plans to tear down four of the museum’s seven buildings and replace them with one massive new one, an innovative one-level structure elevated by what Govan called five “legs of glass.”

Raising a 410,000-square-foot landmark building to propel LACMA through the 21st century would require an unprecedented new level of cultural commitment for Los Angeles — an estimated $750 million to $1 billion. Govan said about half the sum would be needed for construction and the rest to secure LACMA’s future financial security.

Pulling it off, he suggested, would not just add a striking museum to the cityscape, but would signal a new sense of confidence and accomplishment as a creative center for the city as a whole.

“I think if we could do this project it would change what’s possible in L.A.,” he said of the broader implications for the city’s cultural maturation.

LACMA aims for a 2023 opening of the building, designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and timed to coincide with the opening of a subway beneath Wilshire Boulevard that will have a stop at the museum.

The opening would come 20 years after the 2003 arrival of the $284-million Walt Disney Concert Hall. Govan said LACMA would be continuing the “movement” that the acclaimed concert hall launched. The new LACMA would show that L.A. was, in effect, not a one-hit wonder, but a city capable of charting an ambitious, ongoing course of increasing and revitalizing its cultural offerings.

The building would not drastically increase the space LACMA has for showing art — “it’s a replacement with a modest expansion” totaling about 50,000 square feet, Govan said — but he thinks a building with one floor will be more inviting than the three high-rises (plus a theater) that will be torn down.

“It’s a giant opportunity to reconsider what museums are and how they function,” including exploring whether to dispense with traditional written labels on walls and in display cases, he said, and go whole-hog with smartphone technology.

The building’s shape aims to avoid massive facades that have a standoffish effect, Govan said, and take a cue from storefront retailers by giving passersby a glimpse inside. He said the goal is to create “a non-hierarchical space for culture.”

Among the selling points Govan laid out were thrift: He said studies show it would cost $317 million just to repair the existing buildings, which are starting to suffer major malfunctions such as leaks in gallery ceilings. He cast it as a good deal for the county government, which owns the targeted old buildings and would likewise own the new one.

The museum director’s wide-ranging discussion with Times cultural writers and editors was the latest step along the uncommonly open path he and the LACMA board are taking with the Zumthor plan. Cultural institutions typically unveil such plans only when they’ve already secured much of the funding and can make success seem inevitable as they roll out a big capital campaign, hoping to generate a bandwagon effect.

LACMA itself took that approach in 2005, the year before Govan’s arrival, when it announced a three-phase “transformation” campaign, with $156 million to fully fund the first phase already in hand. The recession stopped the campaign about $100 million short of the announced $450-million goal.

The museum’s current approach, which included unveiling Zumthor’s initial design in an exhibition last year, essentially means that the project will grow up in public, or fail in public.

“I have a great belief that if you put something big and beautiful out there people will support it. You don’t have to do it in secret,” Govan said. “L.A.’s a big, beautiful place with so many people who can contribute.”

LACMA will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Wilshire next spring. Govan said its board has decided to mark the milestone by raising $100 million — not for the Zumthor project, but for the museum’s existing needs.

Since becoming LACMA’s director in 2006, Govan said, one of his priorities has been “building a cohesive board that could climb the small mountains and now try to climb the big mountain.”

Money isn’t the only challenge facing LACMA’s hopes for a makeover. Zumthor has already redone his plan in response to complaints that it would impinge upon the neighboring La Brea Tar Pits.

Zumthor’s new plan slides the building away from the tar pits, aiming to achieve the same amount of gallery space by having it span Wilshire Boulevard with a combination walkway and gallery, with galleries and possibly a new theater on the opposite side from the main campus.

Govan put a positive spin on the forced revision, echoing the old show biz adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: getting unstuck from a potential conflict with the tar pits at least got people talking about LACMA’s big plans.

Among those talking is Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who has criticized the bridge idea and suggested that a smaller building on the existing campus would be better.

Govan said the bridge meets his plan of keeping the gallery space unchanged and avoiding high-rise buildings that would defeat his aim of an open campus with broad sight lines. He said the cost of putting galleries underground would be too high.

In any case, Govan said, the museum board seems gung-ho on the bridge. “The board was unanimous, and they were more excited to give money” for the revised plan.

One of the project’s biggest hurdles would be securing public funding to cover a share of the cost, which Govan thinks is only fair because the new building would be owned by Los Angeles County. He said it also would get the county “off the hook” from potentially mounting repair costs for the older buildings.

He suggested a ratio of one dollar in government construction funds for every four privately-generated dollars spent — about $100 million from taxpayers toward a $500-million building.

Another issue could be the name game: three of the four buildings to be torn down under the Zumthor plan are named for their keystone donors: the Hammer and Ahmanson gallery buildings and the Bing Center, which houses the museum’s 600-seat theater. Govan acknowledged that this could be a sensitive matter.

“The names will not disappear,” he said. They’ll be reassigned to some of the new building’s features. His message to the potentially displaced honorees, he said, has been “we can do it even better.”

“I’m not going to say everyone’s going to be happy,” he added. “It’s a conundrum” facing many institutions that replace old buildings with new ones.

Historic preservation could be an obstacle as well if fans of architect William Pereira’s three original 1965 buildings and the mid-1980s Art of the Americas building try to block their destruction with arguments that they’re historically significant. “Of course I’m worried about it,” Govan said. “People can make a case and hold us up. I hope they don’t.”

His counter-argument is that there’s nothing all that historic to preserve, because the site has been altered so much over the years, including the paving over of distinctive reflecting pools with fountains that had leakage problems.

July 9th, 2014
Rethinking a Spurned Landmark

The Brutalist-style Orange County Government Center in Goshen, N.Y., closed since 2011, and designed by Paul Rudolph, may get a shot at preservation. Credit Randy Harris for The New York Times

NY Times Published: JULY 6, 2014

As an architect, Gene Kaufman doesn’t typically save buildings; he designs them.

But when he heard of plans to change Paul Rudolph’s celebrated but shuttered government building in Goshen, N.Y., as part of a renovation plan, he decided to step in.

“To lose a building like this would be a tragedy,” said Mr. Kaufman, a partner at Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman Architects in New York City.

He has offered to buy and restore the 1967 building, which architecture experts hail as a prime example of raw Brutalist style and others consider an eyesore in a town known for its historic harness-racing track and Greek Revival, Federal and Victorian houses.

Under Mr. Kaufman’s plan, the government building designed by Rudolph and owned by Orange County, would be turned into a center for artists, exhibitions and community meetings. He has also offered to design a new government center on the land that is now the building’s parking lot.

Mr. Kaufman is not proposing a cash purchase, but suggests the county can afford to renovate the existing building and build a new one with the money it will save from, among other things, his discounted consulting fees and the elimination of its demolition costs.

It is unclear if county officials will go for Mr. Kaufman’s plan. But they have decided to entertain the possibility of jettisoning their existing renovation plan in favor of building a new government center. A request for design proposals for a new building went out last week.

The rethinking comes just as the planned overhaul of the Rudolph building was to have begun. The State Legislature had already approved $74 million in bonding for the project, which entailed renovating some sections and reconstructing others. But then the county learned that because of the building’s architectural significance — it has been deemed eligible for landmark designation — the renovation plans required state and federal historic preservation review, a process that could take more than a year.

Dain Pascocello, a spokesman for the Orange County executive, Steven M. Neuhaus, said the decision to consider selling the government center, and building a new one, came in response to concerns that the renovation plan would not survive that review. It was not a response to Mr. Kaufman’s proposal, he said.

The fate of the government center has hung in the balance since it was closed because of storm damage in 2011. Edward A. Diana, then the county executive, argued for demolishing the building, which caused a national outcry among preservationists. One of America’s leading architects in the 1950s and ’60s, Rudolph was known for his rough-hewed Brutalist style and use of concrete, most famously in Yale’s 1963 Art and Architecture Building.

Some Goshen officials say Rudolph’s complex, which features protruding cubes and a corrugated concrete facade resembling corduroy, isn’t worth preserving, that it should be sold and a new government center constructed elsewhere.

“I don’t consider it an historic building,” said Leigh J. Benton, an Orange County legislator. “I just consider it to be a cluster of concrete slabs.”

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“I’d love to have a new building,” Mr. Benton added. “We should start completely over.”

Those who have championed the Rudolph building’s preservation say they welcome Mr. Kaufman’s proposal. “It could be a really good jolt for economic development in Goshen,” said Vincent Ferri, a preservation advocate.

Mr. Kaufman’s firm has a history with Rudolph, having restored his building at Yale in 2008. Mr. Kaufman, who designed hotels for the New York City developer Sam Chang, purchased a majority stake in Gwathmey Siegel & Associates in 2011, adding his name to the firm.

He called the government center possibly the most important building architecturally in all of Orange County. “Unfortunately, Paul Rudolph has relatively few monumental public buildings that he created,” Mr. Kaufman said.

“It could sustain itself and be a contributing element to the community,” he added. “It’s an excellent building for artists to use. We all know the arts have been the first wave of rejuvenation in many neighborhoods.”

He pointed to artist studios developed by Ted and Marianne Hovivian, Brooklyn furniture executives, in a warehouse at 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick. Mr. Kaufman has been working with the Hovivians on possible development of the Goshen site, as well as with local architects, like Francis C. Wickham, who used to work for I. M. Pei.

“It would put some new life into the Village of Goshen,” Mr. Wickham said, “and the county would be out of dealing with this Paul Rudolph building they don’t quite know what to do with.”

In an interview last week, Mr. Kaufman said he would preserve “all the major elements of the building,” but might alter certain aspects of the interior, like removing some partitions.

Mr. Kaufman said his plan would save the county an estimated $10 million. He offered to do the design work on both buildings for $7.9 million, or $5 million less than the $12.9 million consulting fee allocated by the county for the renovation.

In addition, he said the county would, among other things, save $3 million in estimated demolition costs and would qualify for federal funds that the current renovation plan does not, because the proposed changes were so extensive. He has also pledged to cover any overruns in design costs.

Sean Khorsandi, co-director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation, said of Mr. Kaufman’s plan, “We do support the premise that to date, this is the only proposal to promote no demolition of the Rudolph work.”

Should another preservation-minded proposal ultimately prevail over Mr. Kaufman’s, he said he would be fine with that. “I’m not doing this with the idea of making money,” he said. “If somebody else gets to save the building, I’ll feel very good because the objectives have been achieved.”

July 7th, 2014
Fine Perfumes of the Animal World

NY Times Published: JULY 5, 2014
One of the odder things about perfumes is how much they have depended over the centuries on the scent of other animals — for instance, ambergris, a fatty excretion of the sperm whale, or the musk from the anal sacs of a civet. In concentration, some of these scents are unpleasant, even noxious. One component of civet is skatole, literally the smell of animal feces. Why not just make up a cologne called “Hyraceum — the Ultimate Code of Seduction,” advertised in a suitably libidinous whisper? The fine print would reveal that Hyraceum comes from the petrified excrement of the Cape hyrax. (Oh, but it turns out Hyraceum actually exists, at a very reasonable $60 an ounce.)

We are by no means the only species trying to smell like something (anything) other than ourselves. The caterpillar of South Africa’s Zulu Blue butterfly, for instance, mimics the chemical scent that the ants use to recognize their own brood. So the gullible ants carry the caterpillar into their nest, and don’t seem to notice when it proceeds to devour the very ant brood it has been mimicking.

Orchids are also wicked olfactory deceivers. They need to attract wasps, bees and other insects to spread their pollen. So some orchid species have evolved the shape and coloration of specific female insects — and also release chemicals that duplicate the come-hither perfume of the females they mimic. (It’s interspecies cross-dressing — and, wait, do I hear a Broadway musical?)

The duped males respond at first with clumsy groping and then quickly proceed to copulation, sometimes to the point of ejaculation. It gets more interesting: Some male wasps actually seem to prefer the scent of make-believe females. They will break away from a real female to have sex with a flower.

This effect of inducing others to drop everything and pay attention to me-me-me is apparently what we hope for with our own perfumes and colognes, at least to judge by the advertising. But scientists and perfumers seem to know remarkably little about which scent compounds — noxious or otherwise — produce particular effects, or why. We don’t seem to respond like those species in which a specific scent automatically elicits a fixed behavioral response, said Pamela Dalton, a scent researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

Or at least we’re not aware if something like that is happening. A 2003 study at Monell found that scent samples from human males caused a neuroendocrine response in women, changing the length and timing of the menstrual cycle. Male scent also made the women less tense and more relaxed, at least when they didn’t know that what they were smelling was a man. (More predictably, a study this year reported that the scent of male, but not female, experimenters left lab rats feeling a stress level roughly equivalent to being restrained in a tube for 15 minutes.)

Ms. Dalton theorized that early perfumers might have adapted the sometimes unpleasant odors of other species as a way of taking on their power. Something like that certainly happens in the animal world.

For instance, some squirrels chew on the shed skins of rattlesnakes, their ancient enemies, then lick the smell onto their own bodies. Concentrating the scent around the tail may mask the strong odor of the anal glands and thus reduce the likelihood of detection. Or the squirrels may just be trying to trick rattlesnakes into thinking they have entered the territory of another snake. Shaking the tail or lifting the snake-scented hairs on their backs may be an effective way to disperse the warning scent.

Similarly, our beloved pet dogs are notorious for rolling in rotted fish, excrement, smelly seaweed or just about any other foul substance they can find.

The dog sniffer and scholar Stanley Coren argues that this dismaying behavior is about disguise: In the wild, canines are predators, and smelling like dogs, jackals or wolves would provide advance warning to their usual antelope prey. Perfuming themselves with antelope dung or carrion, on the other hand, might make it easier for them to sneak undetected within attacking distance.

Mr. Coren cannot help himself, though, from offering an alternative explanation with considerable appeal but “no scientific merit whatsoever.” Your whimsical, sensation-craving dog may roll in filth simply as “an expression of the same misbegotten sense of aesthetics that causes human beings to wear overly loud and colorful Hawaiian shirts.” Or maybe Axe cologne.

My own theory is a little different, and it has to do with the stinky behavior of spotted hyenas. They seem to roll in carrion and other horrible animal-based smells mainly because it wins them lots of curious sniffing and grooming from other hyenas. In effect, smelling that way makes them more popular. Noxious odors are a way of attracting attention, and perhaps they function the same way in our own perfumes and colognes.

Perfumers would no doubt vehemently argue otherwise. What a civet or skatole does is “nothing short of magic,” one of them writes. It transforms everything it touches “to produce a pleasant and singularly attractive scent.” But what if those scents actually linger there subliminally, unchanged, below our ability to be aware of what we are smelling?

A study in the journal Science early this year reported that humans can in theory distinguish a trillion different scents, and it’s hardly surprising to think that we could detect even trace amounts of the natural odors of mammalian bodies. In perfume, maybe that just wakes up our jaded nostrils and makes us pay attention to those gorgeous floral notes the perfumers like to go on about. Maybe, as Yeats suggested, fair really does need foul, and the baser elements in a perfume or cologne are essential to its erotic appeal.

In any case, it reminds us — reassuringly, I think — that we are animals. So by all means, lay on the perfume and cologne. Wear it in confidence, knowing that you and your dubiously anointed dog share one very special thing in common.

July 7th, 2014
Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess


Magdalena Suarez Frimkess
Minnie Mouse, 2014
stoneware and glaze
9 X 3 inches

July 5 through August 1, 2014

South Willard Shop Exhibit

July 2nd, 2014
A Grope and a Shrug

by Frank Bruni
NY Times Published: JUNE 30, 2014

It was fully a decade ago that Dov Charney, the founder and (at that point) chief executive of American Apparel, decided that the right way to behave in front of a female journalist doing a profile of him was to masturbate. Not once, mind you. “Eight or so times,” according to the story, in Jane magazine, which is no longer around.

A year or so later a string of sexual harassment lawsuits against him began, and in a deposition released in 2006, he defended a sexist slur as “an endearing term,” saying, “There are some of us that love sluts.” Onward he marched as the company’s C.E.O.

He survived revelations that he liked to strut around the office in his underwear, an image that “Saturday Night Live” spoofed in a 2008 skit. He survived public references to women as “chicks” with big or small breasts.

He even survived a determination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2010 that American Apparel had discriminated against women “by subjecting them to sexual harassment.”

It wasn’t until two weeks ago that the company’s board of directors finally gave him the boot. To review his record is to be floored and outraged that it took so long.

But that’s different from being surprised.

Charney’s story provides a familiar example of how, at least with men, we fail to distinguish sexual peccadilloes from sexual predation, lechery from hostility, chalking up the latter as the former and seeing all of it in one big, forgiving blur of testosterone.

His ouster at American Apparel happened, interestingly, around the same time that the photographer Terry Richardson came under fresh scrutiny for accusations of sexual abuse and intimidation that go back many years and were brushed aside as his edgy legend in the fashion world flourished.

The two cases are reminders and alarms. Across a spectrum of occupations, there has often been an acceptance of the most driven and dynamic men as the messiest ones, possessing unwieldy appetites, pockets of madness, streaks of cruelty or all of the above. Boys will be boys and great men will be monsters, including to women. Too readily, we shrug.

Or we figure that a certain macho bravado is the key to their accomplishments and that certain lusts come with it — and won’t always be prudently channeled.

That was many Americans’ spoken or unspoken attitude toward Bill Clinton, whose sexual behavior persistently threatened to be, or was, disruptive. His interest in seduction, prized in the political arena, couldn’t be switched off when he retreated behind closed doors. It was part of the charismatic bargain.

Under the constant gaze of a twitchy media, politicians have at least tried to be more careful since. And following the Clarence Thomas and Bob Packwood hearings in the 1990s, there are clearer formal rules about how men should and shouldn’t engage women in the workplace.

But it’s astonishing how blind they can still be. I know male journalists who covered the humiliation and downfall of politicians like Packwood and nonetheless proceeded to crack lewd jokes or make crude remarks to female colleagues. When some other guy does that, he’s a creep. When you do it, it’s fun, flirty and maybe even appreciated. The male ego is a wondrous instrument of self-delusion.

Charney’s in particular. A video of him prancing around naked that appeared on the Internet two months ago suggests just how besotted with every last inch of himself he is.

For as long as he was making oodles of money, business associates were besotted with him, too, no matter his misdeeds, which they saw — sickeningly — as part of some erotically charged mystique.

“That Jane article put him on the map,” Ilse Metchek, the president of the California Fashion Association, told Laura Holson of The Times back in 2011. “What is American Apparel without sex?”

A year earlier, a profile of Charney in a Canadian newspaper noted that he had been “so colorful and infuriating that those qualities alone seem to have elevated the company’s profile.” Future masters of the universe, take note. You can masturbate your way to the top. Onanism is a career strategy.

Sure, certain professions are more tolerant of acting out. But I fear that not just in fashion, art and entertainment but in Silicon Valley and other precincts, there’s a conflation of artistry and eccentricity — and of eccentricity and abuse — that sometimes excuses inexcusable conduct.

Does the premium that we place on boldness and boundary-flouting provocateurs create a tension between our entrepreneurial and moral cultures? It needn’t and shouldn’t, not if we’re honest and vigilant about lines that are nonnegotiable.

Charney crossed them, and when American Apparel looked golden, his associates looked the other way. Only when its luster dimmed and his genius was called into question did they see him for what he’d always been.

July 2nd, 2014
josh mannis

JM14 68
Song of the Self
Ink on paper
25 x 22.5

through July 12, 2014

Thomas Solomon

July 1st, 2014
a nuetra and a maltzan



Buy one get one free


June 30th, 2014
martine bedin



Through August 17


June 30th, 2014

el pinon
The East L.A. tree known as “El Pino Famoso,” which was featured in Taylor Hackford’s 1993 gang film “Blood In Blood Out,” has gained a cult following, with visitors from around the world. (Jabin Botsford, Los Angeles Times)

By Hector Becerra
The Los Angeles Times Published: June 30, 2104

After traveling to Los Angeles from a small town in Hungary, Richard Hellenbort could have shadowed the Brentwood Country Mart, the Chateau Marmont or the Ivy hoping to catch a glimpse of stars such as Kobe, Brad or Angelina.

But the celebrity he was looking for was a tall, dark and scruffy one named Araucaria bidwillii, whose last (and only) role was more than 20 years ago in “Blood In Blood Out,” a cult movie about gangs and family and betrayal on the Eastside. Luckily, this star never gets around town: Hellenbort found the Australian conifer where it always is: up the hill from a carnitas shop in East Los Angeles.

Taking a video selfie in front of the tree, Hellenbort spread the fingers of his left hand into the sign of a gang that exists only in the film and, doing his best East L.A. accent, intoned: “Vatos Locos forever.”

Hellenbort, 34, said that on his list of places to see, the tree was up there with N.W.A. rapper Eazy-E’s grave in Rose Hills.

“I know some people dream about visiting the Eiffel Tower or the big wall in China. But that was my dream,” he said of visiting the towering tree — which, perhaps fittingly, has needles like little switchblades.

Plenty of places in Los Angeles have gotten their close-ups with the camera over the years, including the Griffith Observatory in “Rebel Without a Cause,” City Hall in “Dragnet,” the Silver Lake stairs where Laurel and Hardy tried to deliver a piano in “Music Box” and the solitary Bunker Hill bench in “(500) Days of Summer.”

But the strangest slice of celebrity might belong to El Pino Famoso. In a case of Hollywood fiction becoming reality, an anonymous tree in an unremarkable neighborhood of stucco homes is cast as a landmark — and becomes one.

The tree doesn’t appear on any tour bus routes or maps of Hollywood stars’ homes. But neighbors say people of all races have made pilgrimages from as far away as China and as close as Boyle Heights.

“They come over here and chill, looking at the tree,” said Daniel Gomez, 18, a gang member who grew up in the neighborhood. “It’s nothing new to me. It’s just a tree. The pino. The famous pino.”

The vaguely peacock feather-shaped tree was portrayed in director Taylor Hackford’s “Blood In Blood Out” as a touchstone to the characters, a place that cousins Miklo, Paco and Cruz — who became a prison gang boss, an artist and a cop, respectively — kept returning to. In perhaps the best-known scene starring the tree, Miklo stares at it longingly and says, “That tree is East Los to me. It’s good to be home.”


But the tree wasn’t well-known before the movie. It’s atop a twisty, hilly neighborhood that isn’t easy to get to. And El Pino Famoso, botanically speaking, isn’t even a pine tree.

Hackford, whose better-known works include “Ray” and “An Officer and a Gentleman,” said he wanted to find “some kind of a rallying point” for the film. He was eating at Los 5 Puntos, a restaurant on what was then Brooklyn Avenue, when he spotted the tree.

“I’m eating a tamale and I look up there and there’s this very interesting tree. A really big tree, up on a hill,” Hackford recalled. “It was a perfect place for these guys to get together. I started asking around and people didn’t really have a sense of it. I’m not saying people in the community didn’t know about the tree. But there didn’t seem to be a story about the tree, or a legend about it.”

So he created one.

“I wanted an ethos, a landmark, a kind of epic place that would signify East Los Angeles for them in the future, because they kept coming back to El Pino,” Hackford said. “It was just a cinematic creation.”

Tell that to the tree’s fans.

One writer on the blog for the show “East Los High” wrote that Morrissey, the former frontman for the English band the Smiths who has a fanatical Mexican American following in L.A., was said to have been spotted visiting the tree. While to some that may seem as likely as the famously sensitive Morrissey singing thrash metal, it adds to the tree’s legend.

While doing a tour in Iraq, the writer said his friend was chatting with Australian soldiers who beamed when they heard he was from East L.A.

“Do you know El Pino?” they asked, according to the blogger.

Though the action was set in the 1970s and ’80s, the film came out in the early 1990s, when L.A. was going through a bloody period of gang warfare. The movie, which featured Benjamin Bratt and Billy Bob Thornton, was not a hit, but as Hackford would later learn, it had an unusually broad following.

Hackford said that while he was speaking to a class of high school students in southern England a few years ago, he rattled off the films he had made. When he mentioned “Blood In Blood Out,” the reaction was surprising.

“One of the kids just lit up. He could quote lines, and he asked me about El Pino,” Hackford said. “He said that if he ever went to Los Angeles, he was going to visit El Pino.”


Eusebio Ortega, who has lived on the Folsom Street property with El Pino Famoso since the 1980s, says he was paid the then-princely sum of $12,000 for permission to use his property as a base for the film.

Ortega, a 75-year-old immigrant from the Mexican state of Sinaloa who bears an uncanny resemblance to the late American filmmaker John Huston, said that once, back when he drank more, he got really drunk at a nearby cantina down the hill. When he walked back onto the sidewalk, he realized he didn’t know how to get back home. He asked someone how to get to Folsom Street, and the man pointed in the right direction.

“He said, ‘OK, señor, do you see that big tree?’” Ortega said, letting out a bellowing laugh.

Ortega’s wife, Amalia Vargas, said that when a strong earthquake struck, everyone fled the house, fearing the tree would come crashing down. She said a tenant, Catalina Campos, 88, an immigrant from Puebla, Mexico, has planted several saplings from the tree’s seeds. Campos showed off several of the potted baby trees. Recently she sold two of them to visitors from Arizona for $20 each.

“They came to see the tree and take photos of it. I’ve even had pictures taken with the tree when people ask me to pose,” Campos said. “I tell them I’m not the owner, and they say, ‘Yes you are, you’re here, just stand there.’”

On the other side of the street, on a cul-de-sac overlooking the Eastside, Fernando Trejo said the filmmakers paid him $100 for permission to have the fictional Vatos Locos tag scrawled on one of his walls. Trejo said hardly a day goes by without at least one car driving up with visitors, from tourists to guys in lowriders.

“Blacks, Armenians, Native Americans, Japanese,” he said. “One Chinese guy came to see the tree. I guess he saw the movie over there.”

On a recent weekday, Paul Aranda, 57, a former gang member from the Elysian Valley’s Frogtown neighborhood, said that like many, he grew up knowing the tree simply as a highly visible reference point — nothing more.

“It was just a location, to figure out where we were at,” Aranda said. “It was like a landmark. It was easy to recognize.”

Now he was in the neighborhood, visiting the tree after more than two decades, snapping photos to show to his girlfriend.

Folsom Street has no shortage of trees. But none loom like El Pino Famoso. Otherwise, the neighborhood is like many on the Eastside — calmer than it used to be but still pocked by gang graffiti.

Hellenbort, the Hungarian tourist, said that was just what he was looking for when he came to L.A. He was 21 when he got a pirated copy of “Blood In Blood Out.” It had a running time of almost three hours, and he ended up missing work.

Many of the film’s locations beckoned him, including Los 5 Puntos, but none like El Pino Famoso. When he finally made it to Los Angeles and stood under the tree, Hellenbort said it was surreal.

“I felt like I was in the movie,” he said. “After 20 years, the tree is still there!”

June 30th, 2014
The Incompetence Dogma

By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: June 26, 2014

Have you been following the news about Obamacare? The Affordable Care Act has receded from the front page, but information about how it’s going keeps coming in — and almost all the news is good. Indeed, health reform has been on a roll ever since March, when it became clear that enrollment would surpass expectations despite the teething problems of the federal website.

What’s interesting about this success story is that it has been accompanied at every step by cries of impending disaster. At this point, by my reckoning, the enemies of health reform are 0 for 6. That is, they made at least six distinct predictions about how Obamacare would fail — every one of which turned out to be wrong.

“To err is human,” wrote Seneca. “To persist is diabolical.” Everyone makes incorrect predictions. But to be that consistently, grossly wrong takes special effort. So what’s this all about?

Many readers won’t be surprised by the answer: It’s about politics and ideology, not analysis. But while this observation isn’t particularly startling, it’s worth pointing out just how completely ideology has trumped evidence in the health policy debate.

And I’m not just talking about the politicians; I’m talking about the wonks. It’s remarkable how many supposed experts on health care made claims about Obamacare that were clearly unsupportable. For example, remember “rate shock”? Last fall, when we got our first information about insurance premiums, conservative health care analysts raced to claim that consumers were facing a huge increase in their expenses. It was obvious, even at the time, that these claims were misleading; we now know that the great majority of Americans buying insurance through the new exchanges are getting coverage quite cheaply.

Or remember claims that young people wouldn’t sign up, so that Obamacare would experience a “death spiral” of surging costs and shrinking enrollment? It’s not happening: a new survey by Gallup finds both that a lot of people have gained insurance through the program and that the age mix of the new enrollees looks pretty good.

What was especially odd about the incessant predictions of health-reform disaster was that we already knew, or should have known, that a program along the lines of the Affordable Care Act was likely to work. Obamacare was closely modeled on Romneycare, which has been working in Massachusetts since 2006, and it bears a strong family resemblance to successful systems abroad, for example in Switzerland. Why should the system have been unworkable for America?

But a firm conviction that the government can’t do anything useful — a dogmatic belief in public-sector incompetence — is now a central part of American conservatism, and the incompetence dogma has evidently made rational analysis of policy issues impossible.

It wasn’t always thus. If you go back two decades, to the last great fight over health reform, conservatives seem to have been relatively clearheaded about the policy prospects, albeit deeply cynical. For example, William Kristol’s famous 1993 memo urging Republicans to kill the Clinton health plan warned explicitly that Clintoncare, if implemented, might well be perceived as successful, which would, in turn, “strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.” So it was crucial to make sure that reform never happened. In effect, Mr. Kristol was telling insiders that tales of government incompetence are something you peddle to voters to get them to support tax cuts and deregulation, not something you necessarily believe yourself.

But that was before conservatives had fully retreated into their own intellectual universe. Fox News didn’t exist yet; policy analysts at right-wing think tanks had often begun their careers in relatively nonpolitical jobs. It was still possible to entertain the notion that reality wasn’t what you wanted it to be.

It’s different now. It’s hard to think of anyone on the American right who even considered the possibility that Obamacare might work, or at any rate who was willing to admit that possibility in public. Instead, even the supposed experts kept peddling improbable tales of looming disaster long after their chance of actually stopping health reform was past, and they peddled these tales not just to the rubes but to each other.

And let’s be clear: While it has been funny watching the right-wing cling to its delusions about health reform, it’s also scary. After all, these people retain considerable ability to engage in policy mischief, and one of these days they may regain the White House. And you really, really don’t want people who reject facts they don’t like in that position. I mean, they might do unthinkable things, like starting a war for no good reason. Oh, wait.

June 27th, 2014

Thanks to Jonathan Maghen


June 27th, 2014
john altoon


Through September 14, 2014


June 26th, 2014
LACMA alters plans to protect La Brea tar Pits

Screen shot 2014-06-24 at 4.49.34 PM
A diagram of the proposed building site depicts the original plan in dotted lines and the new version in solid lines. The building will stretch across Wilshire Boulevard, away from the tar pits. Credit Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner

NY Times Published: JUNE 24, 2014

LOS ANGELES — The Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has modified his grand plans to transform the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, altering the shape of his building to stretch across bustling Wilshire Boulevard and away from the neighboring La Brea Tar Pits, according to renderings provided by the museum on Tuesday. Critics of the original design had raised environmental concerns, saying it would have cast a shadow over tar pits rich with Ice Age fossils.

The proposed exhibition hall, which would replace four aging buildings if approved by Los Angeles County, has been compared to a water lily, an ink stain and a Jean Arp sculpture for its free-form, organic shape. Now it is acting more amoebalike, squeezing into a new space across Wilshire that is now a parking lot.

Visitors inside the museum could walk over Wilshire Boulevard and glance down at an expanse of the road, while drivers in cars below could look up into the perimeter of the glass-walled museum. As before, the plan calls for the entire building to be perched about 30 feet above the ground on glass cylinders.

When the museum unveiled massive models for the original Zumthor design last year, with an estimated cost of $650 million, leaders of the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits asserted that the proposed structure would block the light and rainfall available to the tar pits, a site still being excavated by paleontologists.

“The original design would have severely impacted six of the nine active tar pits,” said Jane Pisano, director of the Natural History Museum, which runs the Page. Last week, her board unanimously voted to support the revamped art museum plan. “We are so pleased,” Ms. Pisano said. “I do believe this design direction preserves and protects the tar pits.”

Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, called the new design “a case of ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ ” It “doesn’t change our basic vision and has the added benefit of lightening the mass in the park,” he added, referring to the campus north of Wilshire. He said the building’s 400,000 square feet remain about the same as Mr. Zumthor’s first models.

Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said he supported the new design, noting that it fit his vision for making better use of the city’s vast paved landscape. “I think this is a bridge in many ways,” he said. “It opens up the fortress that is Lacma to the world” and allows “pedestrian and car cultures to coexist in an exciting new way.”

Mr. Zumthor, a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, presented the new design to museum trustees during a visit this month. “From the start, this was meant to be an organic form that can change and react,” he said. “I think it’s even more beautiful now.”

Yet its proximity to the tar pits is just one of many obstacles facing this project, which has been compared in its ambition to the creation of the $1 billion Getty Center atop a Los Angeles hill in 1997. Only the county art museum has much less money in the bank and many more constituents to please.

The museum receives about a third of its $70 million annual operating budget from Los Angeles County and uses county buildings on county land. The City of Los Angeles must approve construction within its limits and air rights above Wilshire Boulevard. Mayor Garcetti and county supervisors were among the first apprised of the design change, suggesting how much this project depends on the support of politicians and governmental agencies.

Architects have expressed doubts about that $650 million cost estimate (based on $1,000 per square foot and a new endowment) for the elevated glass-and-concrete building, noting that the cost could run as high as $1 billion. Mr. Govan, who questions the $1 billion figure, said the museum was working on more precise cost projections as part of the feasibility studies.

These studies will address environmental and seismic issues and details about the roof, intended to provide all of the museum’s energy through solar panels. The museum expects to complete its analysis by the end of spring 2015, around its 50th anniversary and the start of a capital campaign for the building.

Before seeing this month’s modifications, some critics described Mr. Zumthor’s overall vision as “powerful” and “original” for flattening Beaux-Arts hierarchies with a horizontal building that lacks a front or a back, instead providing several entrances. But others wondered whether in execution it would be too dark — “monolithic” or “cavelike” — for a city as sunny as Los Angeles.

Frank Gehry, who saw the original plans last summer, said he hoped that Mr. Zumthor would change the black color, “which connects it too much to the tar pits,” he said. But he added that he liked the design’s see-in, see-out glass perimeter and dismissed many of the early criticisms as “sniping” from architects here, “who probably feel a little hurt” that the museum chose an architect from Switzerland.

The art museum site is a mishmash of old and new buildings in different styles. To the west are recent Renzo Piano structures, and to the east are three 1965 William Pereira buildings, a 1986 addition by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer and a 1988 Pavilion for Japanese Art by Bruce Goff. All are north of Wilshire Boulevard.

The Zumthor design would eliminate the Pereira buildings and the 1986 addition. Mr. Gehry, who has designed art exhibitions in these buildings, said simply, “They are not worth saving.” Mr. Govan has maintained that keeping these older buildings would require structural and mechanical upgrades running over $350 million. “Last week we had to close four giant galleries because there were skylights falling in,” he said.

Still, a small Facebook campaign was organized last summer to restore, not raze, the older buildings, gathering 420 signatures for a petition and some news media coverage. The campaign is fueled by nostalgia, Mr. Zumthor said. “We all get used to things that are ugly.”

Mr. Zumthor has taken concerns about the dark, or “cavelike,” feel of his design seriously by making one more change: carving out open-air courtyards in the center of the five glass cylinders that would support the main building.

“I have been working to make a grand, luxurious, light and easygoing building,” he said. And with a nod to the Brazilian architect who is also known for a sensual sort of modernism, Mr. Zumthor said, “I’ve tried to make a building where Oscar Niemeyer from heaven would say, ‘Not bad.’ ”

June 24th, 2014
painting on paper

Raoul De Keyser, Untitled, 1999. Watercolor on paper, 9 1/8 x 12 inches

June 26 – August 15, 2014

James Bishop, Ilse D’Hollander, Raoul De Keyser, Suzan Frecon, Mary Heilmann, Paulo Monteiro, Rebecca Morris, Ad Reinhardt, Al Taylor, and Stanley Whitney

David Zwirner

June 24th, 2014
The Big Green Test

By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: JUNE 22, 2014

On Sunday Henry Paulson, the former Treasury secretary and a lifelong Republican, had an Op-Ed article about climate policy in The New York Times. In the article, he declared that man-made climate change is “the challenge of our time,” and called for a national tax on carbon emissions to encourage conservation and the adoption of green technologies. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within today’s G.O.P., and the absolute opposition to any kind of tax increase, this was a brave stand to take.

But not nearly brave enough. Emissions taxes are the Economics 101 solution to pollution problems; every economist I know would start cheering wildly if Congress voted in a clean, across-the-board carbon tax. But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. A carbon tax may be the best thing we could do, but we won’t actually do it.

Yet there are a number of second-best things (in the technical sense, as I’ll explain shortly) that we’re either doing already or might do soon. And the question for Mr. Paulson and other conservatives who consider themselves environmentalists is whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers, and in particular whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers implemented by the other party. If they aren’t, their supposed environmentalism is an empty gesture.

Let me give some examples of what I’m talking about.

First, consider rules like fuel efficiency standards, or “net metering” mandates requiring that utilities buy back the electricity generated by homeowners’ solar panels. Any economics student can tell you that such rules are inefficient compared with the clean incentives provided by an emissions tax. But we don’t have an emissions tax, and fuel efficiency rules and net metering reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So a question for conservative environmentalists: Do you support the continuation of such mandates, or are you with the business groups (spearheaded by the Koch brothers) campaigning to eliminate them and impose fees on home solar installations?

Second, consider government support for clean energy via subsidies and loan guarantees. Again, if we had an appropriately high emissions tax such support might not be necessary (there would be a case for investment promotion even then, but never mind). But we don’t have such a tax. So the question is, Are you O.K. with things like loan guarantees for solar plants, even though we know that some loans will go bad, Solyndra-style?

Finally, what about the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal that it use its regulatory authority to impose large reductions in emissions from power plants? The agency is eager to pursue market-friendly solutions to the extent it can — basically by imposing emissions limits on states, while encouraging states or groups of states to create cap-and-trade systems that effectively put a price on carbon. But this will nonetheless be a partial approach that addresses only one source of greenhouse gas emissions. Are you willing to support this partial approach?

By the way: Readers well versed in economics will recognize that I’m talking about what is technically known as the “theory of the second best.” According to this theory, distortions in one market — in this case, the fact that there are large social costs to carbon emissions, but individuals and firms don’t pay a price for emitting carbon — can justify government intervention in other, related markets. Second-best arguments have a dubious reputation in economics, because the right policy is always to eliminate the primary distortion, if you can. But sometimes you can’t, and this is one of those times.

Which brings me back to Mr. Paulson. In his Op-Ed he likens the climate crisis to the financial crisis he helped confront in 2008. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good analogy: In the financial crisis he could credibly argue that disaster was only days away, while the climate catastrophe will unfold over many decades.

So let me suggest a different analogy, one that he probably won’t like. In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job.

Did I mention that health reform is clearly working, despite its flaws?

The question for Mr. Paulson and those of similar views is whether they’re willing to go along with that kind of imperfection. If they are, welcome aboard.

June 23rd, 2014
Rite of the Sitting Dead: Funeral Poses Mimic Life

FUNERAL-master675-1At the family’s request, a funeral home in New Orleans posed the body of Miriam Burbank for her service this month. Credit Percy McRay

NY Times Published: JUNE 21, 2014

NEW ORLEANS — All last week, people were calling Louis Charbonnet to find out how they might avoid lying down at their funerals. Funeral directors have called; so have people with their own requests, such as the woman who wanted to be seen for the last time standing over her cooking pot.

The calls started coming in to the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home during its June 12 viewing for Miriam Burbank, who died at 53 and spent her service sitting at a table amid miniature New Orleans Saints helmets, with a can of Busch beer at one hand and a menthol cigarette between her fingers, just as she had spent a good number of her living days.

Word of the arrangement began to spread, hundreds showed up, the news spread online, and now here was Mr. Charbonnet getting a call from a funeral director in Australia.

Ms. Burbank’s service was the second of its kind that Mr. Charbonnet had arranged, and the third in New Orleans in two years. But there have been others elsewhere, most notably in San Juan, P.R. Viewings there in recent years have included a paramedic displayed behind the wheel of his ambulance and, in 2011, a man dressed for his wake like Che Guevara, cigar in hand and seated Indian style.

“I never said it was the first,” said Mr. Charbonnet, who mentioned the 1984 funeral of Willie Stokes Jr., a Chicago gambler known as the Wimp, who sat through his funeral services behind the wheel of a coffin made to look like a Cadillac Seville.

New Orleans, which has long boasted of its ability to put the “fun” in funeral, seems like the place where this kind of thing would catch on, and Mr. Charbonnet boasts that his 132-year-old funeral home is well known for its funeral parades.

“Couple weeks ago we even had a mariachi band in here,” he said, while checking text messages from people he referred to almost gleefully as his “haters” — apparently other funeral directors. They were criticizing such viewings as improper or even sacrilegious, a concern Mr. Charbonnet admitted was shared by his wife. But he said that he had gotten the O.K. from a local priest and that, besides, he was honoring family wishes.

The phenomenon first appeared in Puerto Rico in 2008, four years before the first such funeral in New Orleans, with a 24-year-old murder victim whose viewing took place in his family’s living room, the body tethered against a wall. Angel Luis Pantojas’s funeral — called “muerto parao,” dead man standing — became an instant sensation.

Another murder victim, on a motorcycle, followed, along with the paramedic and the man dressed like Guevara. This year, a boxer’s body was arranged standing in a ring, and an elderly woman was propped up in her rocking chair.

The same funeral director, of the Marín Funeral Home in San Juan, arranged all of these.

“It’s been a real boom in Puerto Rico,” said Elsie Rodríguez, vice president of the funeral home. “People have requested every type of funeral that could possibly come to mind. We have only done six so far, because the people who have requested the funerals have not died yet.”
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Continue reading the main story

Ms. Rodríguez said the idea had come from Mr. Pantojas himself. His family has said that ever since he attended his father’s funeral at age 6, Mr. Pantojas had told relatives that he wanted to be viewed on his feet.

“This is not a fun or funny event; the family is going through a lot of pain,” Ms. Rodríguez said. With these kinds of arrangements, “the family literally suffers less, because they see their loved one in a way that would have made them happy — they see them in a way in which they still look alive.”

At first, some in Puerto Rico were against the services — which start around $1,700 — an opposition that Ms. Rodríguez attributed to “professional jealousy.” The Puerto Rico Legislature held hearings in which the Department of Health and other funeral directors weighed in.

“I thought it would propagate competitions for the most exotic funeral,” said Jorge Lugo, president of the Puerto Rico Funeral Home Association. “These people — not all of them, but some of these people who had these funerals — belonged to the underworld and had a life of fast money. It seemed to me that with these kinds of people doing this, there could be negative consequences.”

As it happened, Mr. Lugo said, the only other time a funeral home tried something unusual — the wake of a dog — it was a fiasco, as the dog had not been embalmed. A law passed in 2012 officially made the wakes with posed cadavers legal, “as long as the position is not immoral,” Mr. Lugo said.

Such funerals are still quite rare in the United States, though not unheard-of: This year, a deceased biker in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, was towed to a cemetery in a homemade plexiglass coffin, his body astride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. There, in accordance with his longstanding request, he was buried, motorcycle and all.

The services began in New Orleans in 2012 with the death of Lionel Batiste, a brass band leader and dapper man about town. Mr. Batiste had said he did not want to have people looking down at him at his funeral, so at his service, here at Mr. Charbonnet’s funeral home, Mr. Batiste stood with his hands on his walking cane, derby tipped rakishly to one side.

Then in April of this year, there was the service for Mickey Easterling, a socialite and proficient party hostess.

“What my mother said to me some years ago was, ‘I want to be at my own funeral having a glass of Champagne in one hand and a cigarette in the other,’ ” said Ms. Easterling’s daughter, Nanci. And so she was, greeting her funeral guests from an elegant bench in the lobby of a historic downtown theater.

Then this month, Zymora Kimball came to the Charbonnet funeral home to ask about arrangements for Ms. Burbank, who had raised Ms. Kimball like a daughter. Ms. Burbank had been neither wealthy nor widely known outside the neighborhood over which she presided from a table on her front porch.

Ms. Kimball wanted something “out of the box,” said Lyelle Bellard, the intern funeral director, and when he suggested his plan, she thought it brilliantly captured Ms. Burbank’s style. Mr. Bellard said it did not end up costing much more than a typical funeral.

Despite the recent interest, organizations representing funeral home directors say this kind of viewing is still rare, and just about everyone, including Ms. Kimball, acknowledges that it is not for everyone.

Even Ms. Rodríguez in San Juan said she has had to refuse a few suggestions that she found distasteful or that “made no sense.” She will not, for example, do a wake with someone in a swimsuit, she said.

June 21st, 2014
Supports/ Surfaces

Screen shot 2014-06-19 at 8.19.36 PM

Through July, 20, 2014


June 19th, 2014
The Gall of Dick Cheney

By: Charles M. Blow
NY Times Published: JUNE 18, 2014

The situation in Iraq is truly worrisome, as militants threaten to tear the country asunder and disrupt the fragile, short-lived period absent all-out war there.

We have strategic interests in preventing Iraq from unraveling, not least of which is that we don’t need the country to become a haven for terrorists, particularly those who might see America as a target.

And of course, there is the uneasy subject of oil: Volatility in the region has already sent global oil prices soaring. On Wednesday, militants were said to have taken control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery.

We have to tread carefully here. There are no saints to be seen in this situation. Everyone’s hands are bloody. And, we don’t want to again get mired in a conflict in a country from which we have only recently extricated ourselves.

As we weigh our response, one of the last people who should say anything on the subject is a man who is partly responsible for the problem.

But former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in the administration that deceived us into a nine-year war in Iraq, just can’t seem to keep his peace.

In an Op-Ed published with his daughter, Liz, in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, the Cheneys write:

“Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

This, from the man who helped lead us into this trumped-up war, searching for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, a war in which some 4,500 members of the American military were killed, many thousands more injured, and that is running a tab of trillions of dollars.

During the lead-up to the war, Mr. Cheney said to Tim Russert: “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.” Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Even if it were indeed rare to be “so wrong,” as Mr. Cheney puts it, he was vice president in an administration that was much more tragically wrong. His whole legacy is wrapped in wrong.

At one point in the article, the Cheneys state:

“Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change. Terrorists take control of more territory and resources than ever before in history, and he goes golfing.”

Mr. Cheney must think that we have all forgotten the scene from “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Michael Moore’s 2004 documentary, in which President George W. Bush, brandishing a club on a golf course, looks into the camera and says,

“I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you.”

That is quickly followed by, “Now, watch this drive,” and a shot of Bush swinging at the ball.

In fact, on one of the rare occasions that Mr. Cheney was actually right, in 1994, he warned about the problems that would be created by deposing Saddam Hussein:

“Once you got to Iraq and took it over, and took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq you can easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have to the west. Part of eastern Iraq, the Iranians would like to claim, fought over for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire.”

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That was quite prescient. And yet, the Bush administration pushed us into the Iraq war anyway, and the quagmire we now confront.

That’s why it’s so galling to read Mr. Cheney chastising this administration for its handling of the disaster that Mr. Cheney himself foresaw, but ignored.

I know that we as Americans have short attention spans, but most of us don’t suffer from amnesia. The Bush administration created this mess, and the Obama administration now has to clean it up.

The Cheneys wrote: “This president is willfully blind to the impact of his policies,” Mr. Cheney seemingly oblivious to the irony.

George W. Bush may well have been a disaster of a president (in a 2010 Siena College Research Institute survey, 238 presidential scholars ranked Bush among the five “worst ever” presidents in American history), but at least he has the dignity and grace — or shame and humility — to recede from public life with his family and his painting, and not chide and meddle with the current administration as it tries to right his wrong.

Mr. Cheney, meanwhile, is still trying to bend history toward an exoneration of his guilt and an expunging of his record. But history, on this, is stiff, and his record is written in blood.

June 19th, 2014
Parasites, Killing Their Host

NY Times Published: JUNE 17, 2014
By Mark Bittman

You can buy food from farmers — directly, through markets, any way you can find — and I hope you do. But unless you’re radically different from most of us, much of what you eat comes from corporations that process, market, deliver and sell “food,” a majority of which is processed beyond recognition.

The problem is that real food isn’t real profitable. “It’s hard to market fruit and vegetables without adding value,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “If you turn a potato into a potato chip you not only make more money — you create a product with a long shelf life.” Potatoes into chips and frozen fries; wheat into soft, “enriched” bread; soybeans into oil and meat; corn into meat and a staggering variety of junk.

How do we break this cycle? You can’t blame corporations for trying to profit by any means necessary, even immoral ones: It’s their nature.

You can possibly blame them for stupidity: Even a mindless parasite knows that if it kills its host the party’s over, and by pushing products that promote “illth” — the opposite of health — Big Food is unwittingly destroying its own market. Diet-related Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease disable and kill people, and undoubtedly we’ll be hearing more about nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, an increasingly prevalent fatty liver disease that’s brought on by diet and may lead to liver failure.

Food companies are well aware of the health crisis their products cause, and recognize that the situation is unsustainable. But one theory has it that as long as even one of the big food companies remains cynical and uncaring about its market, they all must remain so.

Chief among the hopeful arguments is one that goes something like this: The first big food outfit to recognize that its future lies in creating a market for healthy and even environmentally neutral food (let’s throw in justice for workers and animal welfare while we’re at it!) may show the way to the future of healthy food as a sound business model. Some profitable corporations nibble at the edges of this already, but — as a piece in the current Harvard Business Review points out — American capitalists have become poor innovators.

Only the naïve, however, would believe that Big Food is generally working toward this. As Nestle and Michele Simon, author of “Appetite for Profit,” have been saying for years, these organizations represent not the public interest but the corporate one, and since they haven’t devised a way to improve or even maintain their bottom lines selling real food, they have to appear to be selling “better” food.

But the key remains selling. A new paper in the journal Social Currents by Ivy Ken, an associate professor of sociology at George Washington University, discusses Big Food’s strategy of “working together” with communities to fight the obesity crisis. The goal is threefold, according to Ken: Corporations want us to focus on the importance of their role in “solving” childhood obesity and presenting themselves as part of the solution. “Their part of working together is re-engineering their products; our part of working together is to buy more and more of this food that’s not real,” Ken said to me.

The food industry also wants us to ignore its use of that strategy to increase its market share and profits; and it wants to maintain legitimacy at a time when community groups and public health officials are, writes Ken, “demanding limits to their involvement” in supplying food to children.

Our efforts to demand limits on the sale of junk to children are a threat to Big Food. If we succeed, it fails, or at least suffers. But if industry succeeds, whether in selling blatant junk or re-engineered versions that are low in fat or sodium or gluten- or sugar-free or reduced-calorie or high fiber or whatever — companies can create any frankenfood they feel will sell — we will continue to suffer. (Nestle often says, “A slightly-better-for-you junk food is still junk food.”) Our health will decline further, the environment will be further degraded, and our health care system (and therefore economy) will spend an increasingly disproportionate amount of money on diet-generated chronic disease.

If the most profitable scenario means that most food choices are essentially toxic — in the sense that overconsumption will cause illness — that’s a failure of the market, not of individual choice. And government’s rightful role is not to form partnerships with industry so that the latter can voluntarily “solve” the problem, but to oversee and regulate industry. Its mandate is to protect public health, and one good step toward fulfilling that right now would be to regulate the marketing of junk to children. Anything short of that is a failure.

June 18th, 2014
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