Gaetano Pesce

​Gaetano Pesce, Vase with Hair, 2015, polyurethane resin, 11 x 13 3/8 x 12 3/16 in. (28 x 34 x 31 cm)

September 3 through November 27, 2016

Gaetano Pesce: Molds (Gelati Misti) present a selection of cast-resin objects made by internationally lauded Italian artist Gaetano Pesce, organized by MOCA Senior Curator Bennett Simpson. Focusing on Pesce’s well-known vases, with their colorful, pliable, body-like forms, the exhibition also includes a selection of chairs, lamps, and two-dimensional cast-resin reliefs that the designer calls “industrial skins.”

Organized by Simpson with noted Pesce collector and scholar John R. Geresi, the exhibition will highlight Pesce’s long involvement with resin, molds, and casting techniques, and will feature a group of the designer’s purpose-built wooden molds, as well as process drawings and video. For more than four decades, Pesce has produced work spanning architecture, exhibition, and industrial design. His vessels embody the playful eccentricities of his aesthetic and exemplify his chosen medium’s infinite variation of pigmentation, transparency, and plasticity.

​Though many of his vases (Amazonias, Twins, Rock, Spaghetti, Pompitou, Medusa, and Tre Piedi) have structural foundations that begin with the same bullet-shaped underpinnings, their final forms are anything but identical. Each bares the process of its own making, capturing gravity and the velocity of Pesce’s hand, which renders some things humorously anthropomorphic or blithe and painterly, and others unsettlingly corporeal.


August 20th, 2016
Growing Comb Jellies in the Lab Like Sea-Monkeys

A type of comb jelly, Bolinopsis infundibulum, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Researchers have recently devised methods to cultivate this species and other comb jellies under laboratory conditions. Credit Montery Bay Aquarium

NY Times Published: AUG. 11, 2016

Comb jellies, or ctenophores, are wildly different from humans and, in fact, most other animals. They’re not even in the same group as common jellyfish. These gelatinous, hermaphroditic sea creatures come in various shapes — eggs, ribbons and bells — and can be as short as a grain of rice or as long as a broomstick. They use their “combs,” rows of tiny paddlelike structures, to swim.

Despite how unusual they are, William Browne, a biology professor at the University of Miami and a research collaborator at the Smithsonian, thinks that comb jellies can teach biologists a great deal about other animals. So he and his colleagues at the Monterey Bay Aquarium have figured out how to grow comb jellies in large quantities in the lab. They are now authoring a paper to share their methods with other scientists and aquariums.

Depending on who you ask (it’s hotly debated), the ancestors of comb jellies may have been the first creatures to branch off the animal tree of life. That would mean that for about 600 million years, comb jellies have been on an evolutionary path that’s different from that of all other animals. In spite of this, they evolved common body traits, like muscles and a nervous system.

It’s precisely because comb jellies are so far removed from other animals that Dr. Browne wants to study them. They have all these features that are recognizable, but they seem to be “built from a different set of instructions,” he said.

He believes that understanding the comb jelly’s unique biology could one day help researchers find novel solutions to problems in fields like medicine and materials science.

So far, Dr. Browne and his collaborators have refined methods for culturing four comb jelly species, with more to come. Before this, researchers have struggled to keep comb jellies alive beyond a few months in the lab.

For one, they’re incredibly fragile. Many species won’t tolerate fluctuations in water quality, salinity or temperature, said Wyatt Patry, a senior aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Comb jellies also use huge amounts of energy relative to their size. They are the largest creatures to swim using tiny hairlike structures called cilia, billions of which beat in rhythm to drive the animals forward.

“Even though they appear to move slowly, you can think of them as being propelled by little fires, each one burning really bright — so they need a lot of fuel,” Dr. Browne said.

To solve these problems the researchers made two changes. First, they devised a special tank to allow for a constant exchange of clean water.

Second, they developed a new feeding technique for the comb jellies, which they realized feed continuously in the wild. Rather than large meals of tiny crustaceans two or three times a day, they started feeding comb jellies live larval fish throughout the day.

The changes helped the jellies spawn more babies that survived longer. “Instead of having 10 fertilized embryos, we had hundreds and hundreds,” said MacKenzie Bubel, an aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She and Mr. Patry have now kept a batch of comb jellies alive for a year and counting.

Culturing comb jellies en masse, combined with recent advances in gene editing, could have powerful implications for biomedical research. Instead of the usual suspects, like fruit flies, mice and human cell cultures, Dr. Browne is using comb jellies to study biological processes, like how certain proteins help stem cells proliferate and stay alive.

“Comb jellies are on the cusp of being an awesome genetic model system,” he said.

The ability to grow comb jellies could also yield insights into the evolutionary origin of certain anatomical traits, such as anuses. Biologists have long believed that digestive systems that run from a mouth to an anus, so-called through-guts, emerged after comb jellies split off from other animals. But in a study that will soon be published in Current Biology, Dr. Browne was able to show that comb jellies have through-guts — throwing a wrench in the traditional evolutionary timeline.

Sign Up for the Science Times Newsletter
Every week, we’ll bring you stories that capture the wonders of the human body, nature and the cosmos.

“There’s no way we could have done that study without being able to culture the animals,” he said.

There are other potential areas of research: using comb jellies to find the origins of bioluminescence, the process by which many sea creatures glow in the dark; examining the sticky cells in their tentacles to develop waterproof glues and studying their unusual nervous system to find treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

In aquariums, being able to cultivate comb jellies may lead to year-round displays, Ms. Bubel said. Many comb jellies produce a pulsing rainbow effect as their beating cilia diffract light. Some look like basketballs with two tentacles. Others resemble long strips of floating plastic. One deep-sea species, the bloodbelly comb jelly, has a fearful scarlet hue.

For all the interesting scientific developments linked to culturing comb jellies, the best news here may be that more people will get to marvel at these outlandish creatures in person. After all, who doesn’t love a biological light show?

August 12th, 2016
Trump Reflects White Male Fragility

Charles M. Blow
NY Times Published: AUG. 4, 2016

Reports of Donald Trump’s demise are an exaggeration, to paraphrase and repurpose Mark Twain.

Yes, he can’t stop shooting off his mouth and shooting himself in the foot, and there are reports that his messy campaign is nearing the point of mutiny.

Yes, he knows nearly nothing about world affairs and that becomes ever more apparent every time he stumbles through an interview. Sir, Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, the same year you filmed your last installment of your reality game show “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

Yes, his continued feud with the family of a fallen Muslim soldier may be the most ill advised and foolhardy folly in recent political memory (Trump keeps racking these up.) This is the same man who received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, one for “bone spurs in his heels” according to The New York Times. While throngs of his contemporaries were fighting — and dying – in battle, Trump was being featured on the front page of The Times after he and his father were sued by the Department of Justice for anti-black bias in their rental properties.

Three years later, The Times profiled him with a backhanded compliment of the nouveau riche: “He rides around town in a chauffeured silver Cadillac with his initials, DJT, on the plates. He dates slinky fashion models, belongs to the most elegant clubs and, at only 30 years of age, estimates that he is worth ‘more than $200 million.’”

Yes, he doesn’t seem to know the difference between Tim Kaine, the Democratic Virginia senator whom Hillary Clinton tapped as her running mate, and Tom Kean, the Republican former governor of New Jersey who last held that office 26 years ago, the same year Trump boasted in his book “Surviving at the Top,” “I’ve never had any trouble in bed,” and counseled in Vanity Fair, “When a man leaves a woman, especially when it was perceived that he has left for a piece of ass — a good one! — there are 50 percent of the population who will love the woman who was left.”

Yes, yes, yes.

But Donald Trump is bigger than all of this, or shall I say, smaller.

He appeals to something deeper, something baser: Fear. His whole campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is in fact an inverted admission of loss — lost primacy, lost privilege, lost prestige.

And who feels that they have lost the most? White men.

As the New York Times’ Upshot pointed out in July, “According to our estimates, Mrs. Clinton is doing better among basically every group of voters except for white men without a degree.” Put another way: “Hillary Clinton is largely performing as well or better than Barack Obama did in 2012, except among white men without a degree.”

Indeed, a Monday report in The Times put it this way: “A New York Times/CBS News poll two weeks ago found that white men preferred her Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, to Mrs. Clinton almost two to one, 55 percent to 29 percent.”

These are the voters keeping Trump’s candidacy alive.

He appeals to a regressive, patriarchal American whiteness in which white men prospered, in part because racial and ethnic minorities, to say nothing of women as a whole, were undervalued and underpaid, if not excluded altogether.

White men reigned supreme in the idealized history, and all was good with the world. (It is curious that Trump never specifies a period when America was great in his view. Did it overlap with the women’s rights, civil rights or gay rights movements? For whom was it great?)

Trump’s wall is not practical, but it is metaphor. Trump’s Muslim ban is not feasible, but it is metaphor. Trump’s huge deportation plan isn’t workable, but it is metaphor.

There is a portion of the population that feels threatened by unrelenting change — immigration, globalization, terrorism, multiculturalism — and those people want someone to, metaphorically at least, build a wall around their cultural heritage, which they conflate in equal measure with American heritage.

In their minds, whether explicitly or implicitly, America is white, Christian, straight and male-dominated. If you support Trump, you are on some level supporting his bigotry and racism. You don’t get to have a puppy and not pick up the poop.

And acceptance of racism is an act of racism. You are convicted by your complicity.

I am not accustomed to dancing around an issue; I prefer to call it what it is. I prefer to shine a bright light on it until it withers. Supporting Trump is indefensible and it makes you as much of a pariah as he is.

As Toni Morrison once told Charlie Rose:

“Don’t you understand that the people who do this thing, who practice racism, are bereft? There is something distorted about the psyche. It’s a huge waste, and it’s a corruption, and a distortion. Its like it’s a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is.”

That stops here, today. For as long as racism and tribalism and xenophobia exist in this country, Trump’s foibles will not signal his ultimate failure. But let’s not let off the people who prop him up, claiming that they’re simply being party loyalists, or Hillary haters or having Supreme Court concerns.

Trump is a mirror. He is a reflection of — indeed a revealing of — the ugliness that you harbor, only it is possible that you may have gone your life expressing it in ways that were more coded and politic. Trump is an unfiltered primal scream of the fragility and fear consuming white male America.

August 5th, 2016
I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.

NY Times Published: AUG. 5, 2016

During a 33-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, I served presidents of both parties — three Republicans and three Democrats. I was at President George W. Bush’s side when we were attacked on Sept. 11; as deputy director of the agency, I was with President Obama when we killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

I am neither a registered Democrat nor a registered Republican. In my 40 years of voting, I have pulled the lever for candidates of both parties. As a government official, I have always been silent about my preference for president.

No longer. On Nov. 8, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. Between now and then, I will do everything I can to ensure that she is elected as our 45th president.

Two strongly held beliefs have brought me to this decision. First, Mrs. Clinton is highly qualified to be commander in chief. I trust she will deliver on the most important duty of a president — keeping our nation safe. Second, Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.

I spent four years working with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state, most often in the White House Situation Room. In these critically important meetings, I found her to be prepared, detail-oriented, thoughtful, inquisitive and willing to change her mind if presented with a compelling argument.

I also saw the secretary’s commitment to our nation’s security; her belief that America is an exceptional nation that must lead in the world for the country to remain secure and prosperous; her understanding that diplomacy can be effective only if the country is perceived as willing and able to use force if necessary; and, most important, her capacity to make the most difficult decision of all — whether to put young American women and men in harm’s way.

Mrs. Clinton was an early advocate of the raid that brought Bin Laden to justice, in opposition to some of her most important colleagues on the National Security Council. During the early debates about how we should respond to the Syrian civil war, she was a strong proponent of a more aggressive approach, one that might have prevented the Islamic State from gaining a foothold in Syria.

I never saw her bring politics into the Situation Room. In fact, I saw the opposite. When some wanted to delay the Bin Laden raid by one day because the White House Correspondents Dinner might be disrupted, she said, “Screw the White House Correspondents Dinner.”

In sharp contrast to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump has no experience on national security. Even more important, the character traits he has exhibited during the primary season suggest he would be a poor, even dangerous, commander in chief.

These traits include his obvious need for self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law.

The dangers that flow from Mr. Trump’s character are not just risks that would emerge if he became president. It is already damaging our national security.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.

Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.

Mr. Trump has also undermined security with his call for barring Muslims from entering the country. This position, which so clearly contradicts the foundational values of our nation, plays into the hands of the jihadist narrative that our fight against terrorism is a war between religions.

In fact, many Muslim Americans play critical roles in protecting our country, including the man, whom I cannot identify, who ran the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center for nearly a decade and who I believe is most responsible for keeping America safe since the Sept. 11 attacks.

My training as an intelligence officer taught me to call it as I see it. This is what I did for the C.I.A. This is what I am doing now. Our nation will be much safer with Hillary Clinton as president.

Michael J. Morell was the acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2010 to 2013.

August 5th, 2016
Health Secrets of the Amish

NY Times Published: AUG. 3, 2016

In recent decades, the prevalence of asthma and allergies has increased between two- and threefold in the United States. These days, one in 12 kids has asthma. More are allergic.

The uptick is often said to have started in the late 20th century. But the first hint of a population-wide affliction — the sneezing masses — came earlier, in the late 19th century, among the American and British upper classes. Hay fever so closely hewed to class lines, in fact, it was seen as a mark of civilization and refinement. Observers noted that farmers — the people who most often came in contact with pollens and animal dander — were the ones least likely to sneeze and wheeze.

This phenomenon was rediscovered in the 1990s in Switzerland. Children who grew up on small farms were between one-half and one-third less likely to have hay fever and asthma, compared with non-farming children living in the same rural areas. European scientists identified livestock, particularly dairy cows, fermented feed and raw milk consumption as protective in what they eventually called the “farm effect.” Many scientists argued that the abundant microbes of the cowshed stimulated children’s immune systems in a way that prevented allergic disease.

Then, a few years ago, researchers found an American example of the phenomenon: the Amish. Children from an Amish community in Indiana had an even lower prevalence of allergies than European farmers, making them among the least allergic subgroup ever measured in the developed world.

Now a study released on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine advances the research. The authors did something new and important: They found a suitable comparison group for the Amish in another farming community, the Hutterites. The two groups share genetic ancestry. Both descend from German-speaking stock. But unlike the Amish, the Hutterites, who live in the upper Midwest, are as allergic as your average American.

Why doesn’t farming protect the Hutterites?

A likely reason is that while the Amish have small farms, with cowsheds located right next to their homes, the communal-living Hutterites house their livestock miles away. The Amish probably bring more microbes into their homes — and some may waft in directly — resulting in a microbial load nearly six times higher than that found in Hutterite houses, the scientists discovered.


In addition, primarily adult men work with the cows in Hutterite communities, while Amish children play in the cowsheds, and Amish women, including pregnant ones, presumably have frequent contact with the cowshed microbes. In Europe, women exposed to these microbes while pregnant have been found to have the least allergic kids of all. Microbial stimulation of the maternal immune system may preprogram the unborn child against allergy — an effect that’s reproducible in rodents. So while both communities farm, the Hutterites seem to lack the right exposures at the right time.

About 5 percent of the Amish children in the study have asthma, while 21 percent of the Hutterites do. And the immune systems of these two genetically similar communities look remarkably different. Hutterite children have more white blood cells involved in allergy, called eosinophils, while another cell type, called neutrophils — which specializes in repelling microbes — predominates in Amish children. Perhaps more important, Amish white blood cells have a different profile of gene expression than Hutterite, one that signals restraint rather than aggression. This ability to not overreact to pollens and danders is, scientists think, important for avoiding asthma and allergies.

The scientists also sought to reproduce these immunological profiles in animals by treating mice with microbe-laden dust from both Amish and Hutterite homes. The two dusts had drastically different effects when the mice inhaled them through their noses every few days for over a month. Amish dust prevented symptoms of asthma; Hutterite dust encouraged them.

Broadly speaking, the immune system has two arms: the adaptive immune system, which learns and remembers; and the innate immune system, which operates like a sensory organ, recognizing ancient patterns in the microbial world. When the scientists genetically hobbled the animals’ innate immune systems, the Amish dust lost its protective effect, and the animals began to have trouble breathing. The implication is that stimulation of the innate immune system is critical to preventing asthma.

The study has some shortcomings. It’s small — just 30 children from each community. The scientists didn’t identify the specific microbes that might be important. Nor do they know if those microbes take up residence in the gut microbiome or elsewhere in the body. Martin Blaser, director of the Human Microbiome Program at New York University, also points out that the scientists didn’t control for antibiotic use or C-section rate, both of which may, by disturbing the gut microbiota, alter asthma risk.

But the fact that they could so faithfully reproduce in mice what they saw in people using only dust suggests that they’ve identified an important component of the farm effect. And the simplicity of the mechanism — microbes that stimulate the innate immune system — is heartening. “That is precisely why we’re so excited,” Donata Vercelli, a researcher at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a senior author on the study, told me. “This seems to be a manageable situation,” she said, one that could lead to a plausible intervention, like a preventive medication based on Amish microbes.

The findings also reiterate the theme that genes aren’t destiny. Disease emerges from the dance between genes and environment. The asthma epidemic may stem, at least in part, from the decline of what Graham Rook, an immunologist at University College London, years ago called our “old friends” — the organisms our immune systems expect to be present in the environment. The newly sneezing upper classes in the 19th century may have been the first to find themselves without these old friends. Now most of the developed world has lost them. The task at hand is to figure out how to get them back. One answer may come from the Amish cowshed.

August 3rd, 2016
Piston Head 2

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 10.20.34 AM
Peter Shire, 2016

Katherine Bernhardt | Will Boone | César | Keith Haring | Matthew Day Jackson | Olivier Mosset | Richard Prince | Sterling Ruby | Kenny Scharf | Peter Shire | Lawrence Weiner | Jonas Wood

Opening Today, Saturday, July 30, 5 – 8 PM
July 30 – September 5, 2016

Piston Head II, an exhibition which explores the relationship and parallels between art and the automobile, featuring new works in which the car is considered as both a cultural icon and sculptural form.

Venus Over Los Angeles

July 30th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 11.49.11 PM
The Enlightenment philosopher’s attack on cosmopolitan élites now seems prophetic.

By Pankaj Mishra
The New Yorker Published: August 1, 2016

“I love the poorly educated,” Donald Trump said during a victory speech in February, and he has repeatedly taken aim at America’s élites and their “false song of globalism.” Voters in Britain, heeding Brexit campaigners’ calls to “take back control” of a country ostensibly threatened by uncontrolled immigration, “unelected élites,” and “experts,” have reversed fifty years of European integration. Other countries across Western Europe, as well as Israel, Russia, Poland, and Hungary, seethe with demagogic assertions of ethnic, religious, and national identity. In India, Hindu supremacists have adopted Rush Limbaugh’s favorite epithet “libtard” to channel righteous fury against liberal and secular élites. The great eighteenth-century venture of a universal civilization harmonized by rational self-interest, commerce, luxury, arts, and science—the Enlightenment forged by Voltaire, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, and others—seems to have reached a turbulent anticlimax in a worldwide revolt against cosmopolitan modernity.

No Enlightenment thinker observing our current predicament from the afterlife would be able to say “I told you so” as confidently as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an awkward and prickly autodidact from Geneva, who was memorably described by Isaiah Berlin as the “greatest militant lowbrow in history.” In his major writings, beginning in the seventeen-fifties, Rousseau thrived on his loathing of metropolitan vanity, his distrust of technocrats and of international trade, and his advocacy of traditional mores.

Voltaire, with whom Rousseau shared a long and violent animosity, caricatured him as a “tramp who would like to see the rich robbed by the poor, the better to establish the fraternal unity of man.” During the Cold War, critics such as Berlin and Jacob Talmon presented Rousseau as a prophet of totalitarianism. Now, as large middle classes in the West stagnate and billions elsewhere move out of poverty while harboring unrealizable dreams of prosperity, Rousseau’s obsession with the psychic consequences of inequality seems even more prophetic and disturbing.

Rousseau described the quintessential inner experience of modernity: being an outsider. When he arrived in Paris, in the seventeen-forties, at the age of thirty, he was a deracinated looker-on, struggling with complex feelings of envy, fascination, revulsion, and rejection provoked by a self-absorbed élite. Mocked by his peers in France, he found keen readers across Europe. Young German provincials such as the philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Johann Gottfried von Herder—the fathers, respectively, of economic and cultural nationalism—simmered with resentment toward cosmopolitan universalists. Many small-town revolutionaries, beginning with Robespierre, have been inspired by Rousseau’s hope—outlined in his book “The Social Contract” (1762)—that a new political structure could cure the ills of an unequal and commercial society.

In the past decade, a number of books have asserted Rousseau’s centrality and uniqueness. Leo Damrosch’s biography, “Restless Genius” (2005), identified Rousseau as “the most original genius of his age—so original that most people at the time could not begin to appreciate how powerful his thinking was.” Last year, István Hont, in “Politics in Commercial Society,” a comparative study of Rousseau and Adam Smith, argued that we have not moved much beyond Rousseau’s fears and concerns: that a society built around self-interested individuals will necessarily lack a common morality. Heinrich Meier, in his new book, “On the Happiness of the Philosophic Life” (Chicago), offers an overview of Rousseau’s thought through a reading of his last, unfinished book, “Reveries of a Solitary Walker,” which he began in 1776, two years before his death. In “Reveries,” Rousseau moved away from political prescriptions and cultivated his belief that “liberty is not inherent in any form of government, it is in the heart of the free man.”

If Rousseau seems like the central protagonist in the anti-élitist revolt currently reconfiguring our politics, it is because he was present during the creation of the value system—the Enlightenment belief in what he called “the sciences, the arts, luxury, commerce, laws,” which changed the character of Western culture and eventually that of the world at large. The new dispensation generally benefitted men of letters. Rousseau, however, became one of its rare critics, at least partly because the Paris salon, the focal point of the French Enlightenment, was a milieu in which he had no real place.

Rousseau had little formal education, but he accumulated plenty of experience during a largely unsupervised childhood and adolescence. Born in Geneva in 1712, to a struggling watchmaker and a mother who died shortly after giving birth, he was only ten years old when his father deposited him with indifferent relatives and left town. At the age of fifteen, he ran away and found his way to Savoy, where he quickly became the boy toy of a Swiss-French noblewoman. She turned out to be the great love of his life, introducing him to books and music. Rousseau, always seeking substitutes for his mother, called her Maman.

By the time he arrived in Paris, he had already worked in various subordinate capacities throughout Europe: as an apprentice engraver in Geneva, a footman in Turin, a tutor in Lyons, a secretary in Venice. These experiences, Damrosch writes, “gave him the authority to analyze inequality as he did.” Soon after his move to Paris, he took up with a near-illiterate laundress, who bore him five children, and made his first tentative forays into salon society. One of his earliest acquaintances there was Denis Diderot, a fellow-provincial who was committed to making the most of that decade’s relatively free intellectual climate. In 1751, Diderot launched his “Encyclopédie,” which synthesized key insights of the French Enlightenment, such as those of Buffon’s “Natural History” (1749) and Montesquieu’s hugely influential “The Spirit of the Laws” (1748). The encyclopedia cemented the movement’s main claim: that knowledge of the human world, and the identification of its fundamental principles, would pave the path of progress. As a prolific contributor to the “Encyclopédie,” publishing nearly four hundred articles, many of them on politics and music, Rousseau appeared to have joined in a collective endeavor to establish the primacy of reason and, as Diderot wrote, to “give back to the arts and the sciences the liberty that is so precious to them.”

But his views were changing. One afternoon in October, 1749, Rousseau travelled to a fortress outside Paris, where Diderot, who had tested the limits of free expression with a tract that challenged the existence of God, was serving a few months in prison. Reading a newspaper on the way, Rousseau noticed an advertisement for an essay competition. The topic was “Has the progress of the sciences and arts done more to corrupt morals or improve them?” In his “Confessions,” published in 1782, and arguably the first modern autobiography, Rousseau described how “the moment I read this I beheld another universe and became another man.” He claims that he sat down by the roadside and spent the next hour in a trance, drenching his coat in tears, overcome by the insight that progress, contrary to what Enlightenment philosophes said about its civilizing and liberating effects, was leading to new forms of enslavement.

Rousseau is unlikely to have received his epiphany so histrionically; he may have already started formulating his heresies. In any case, his prize-winning entry in the contest, published in 1750 as his first philosophical work, “A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences,” abounded in dramatic claims. The arts and sciences, he wrote, were “garlands of flowers over the chains which weigh [men] down,” and “our minds have been corrupted in proportion” as human knowledge has increased. By the mid-eighteenth century, Paris’s intellectuals had erected a standard of civilization for others to follow. In Rousseau’s view, the newly emergent intellectual and technocratic class did little more than provide literary and moral cover for the powerful and the unjust.

Diderot was happy to indulge Rousseau’s polemic, and did not initially realize that it amounted to a declaration of war on his own project. Most of his peers saw science and culture as liberating humankind from Christianity, Judaism, and other vestiges of what they saw as barbarous superstition. They commended the emerging bourgeois class, and placed much stock in its instincts for self-preservation and self-interest, and in its scientific, meritocratic spirit. Adam Smith envisaged an open global system of trade powered by envy and admiration of the rich along with mimetic desires for their power and privileges. Smith argued that the human instinct for emulation of others could be turned into a positive moral and social force. Montesquieu thought that commerce, which renders “superfluous things useful and useful ones necessary,” would “cure destructive prejudices” and promote “communication among peoples.”

Voltaire’s poem “Le Mondain” depicts its author as the owner of fine tapestries and silverware and an ornate carriage, revelling in Europe’s luxurious present and scorning its religious past. Voltaire was typical of the self-interested commoner who promoted commerce and liberty as an antidote to arbitrary authority and hierarchy. In the seventeen-twenties, he speculated lucratively in London and hailed its stock exchange as a temple of secular modernity, where “Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt.”

Exhorting the pursuit of luxury together with the freedom of speech, Voltaire and the others had articulated and embodied a mode of life in which individual freedom was achieved through increased wealth and intellectual sophistication. Against this moral and intellectual revolution, which came after centuries of submission before throne and altar, Rousseau launched a counterrevolution. The word “finance,” he said, is “a slave’s word,” and the secret workings of financial systems are a “means of making pilferers and traitors, and of putting freedom and the public good upon the auction block.” Anticipating today’s Brexiters, he claimed that despite England’s political and economic might, the country offered its citizens only a bogus liberty: “The English people thinks it is free. It greatly deceives itself; it is free only during the election of members of Parliament. As soon as they are elected, the people are enslaved and count for nothing.”

In the course of nearly twenty books, Rousseau amplified his objections to intellectuals and their rich patrons, who presumed to tell other people how to live. Rousseau did share a crucial assumption with his adversaries: that the age of clerical tyranny and divinely sanctioned monarchy was being replaced by an era of escalating egalitarianism. But he warned that the bourgeois values of wealth, vanity, and ostentation would impede rather than advance the growth of equality, morality, dignity, freedom, and compassion. He believed that a society based on envy and the power of money, though it might promise progress, would actually impose psychologically debilitating change on its citizens.

Rousseau refused to believe that the interplay of individual interests, meant to advance the new civilization, could produce any natural harmony. The obstacle, as he defined it, existed in the souls of sociable men or wannabe bourgeois: it was the insatiable craving to secure recognition for one’s person from others, which leads “each individual to make more of himself than of any other.” The “thirst” to improve “their respective fortunes, not so much from real want as from the desire to surpass others,” would lead people to try to subordinate others. Even the lucky few at the top of the new hierarchy would remain insecure, exposed to the envy and malice of those below, albeit hidden behind a show of deference and civility. In a society in which “everyone pretends to be working for the other’s profit or reputation, while only seeking to raise his own above them and at their expense,” violence, deceit, and betrayal become inevitable. In Rousseau’s bleak world view, “sincere friendship, real esteem and perfect confidence are banished from among men. Jealousy, suspicion, fear, coldness, reserve, hate, and fraud lie constantly concealed.” This pathological inner life was a devastating “contradiction” at the heart of modern society.

According to Rousseau, modern civilization’s tendency to make people seek the approval of those they hate deformed something valuable in “natural” man: simple contentment and unself-conscious self-love. True freedom in these circumstances could be reached only by overcoming the hypocritical, painfully divided bourgeois within us. Rousseau thought that he had made this effort; he separated himself with a showy fastidiousness from the upwardly mobile man, “the sort who acts the part of the Freethinker.” In his “Dissertation on the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind,” he wrote, “In the midst of so much philosophy, humanity, and civilization, and of such sublime codes of morality, we have nothing to show for ourselves but a frivolous and deceitful appearance, honor without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.”

Rousseau’s denunciations of intellectuals may have acquired an extra edge from the fact that Voltaire exposed him, in an anonymous pamphlet, as a hypocritical proponent of family values: someone who consigned all five of his children to a foundling hospital. Rousseau’s life manifested many such gaps between theory and practice, to put it mildly. A connoisseur of fine sentiments, he was prone to hide in dark alleyways and expose himself to women. More commonly, he was given to compulsive masturbation while sternly advising against it in his writings.

Like many who moralize against the rich, Rousseau was not much interested in the conditions of the poor. He simply assumed that his own experience of social disadvantage and poverty—though he was rarely truly poor and had a knack for finding wealthy patrons—sufficed to make his arguments superior to those of people who lived more privileged lives. Like many self-perceived victims, he was convinced that no one really tried to feel his pain. Meier, in his dense but precise and enthralling analysis, points out that the epigraph of Rousseau’s last book is the same as that of his first: “Here I am the barbarian, because I am not understood by anyone.” It is actually the least jarring of the many melodramatic notes he struck during an intellectual career driven by self-pity and recrimination.

Yet, because Rousseau derived his ideas from intimate experiences of fear, confusion, loneliness, and loss, he connected easily with people who felt excluded. Periwigged men in Paris salons, Tocqueville once lamented, were “almost totally removed from practical life” and worked “by the light of reason alone.” Rousseau, on the other hand, found a responsive echo among people making the traumatic transition from traditional to modern society—from rural to urban life. His books, especially the romance novel “Julie,” vastly outsold those of his peers. The story of a nobleman’s daughter who falls in love with an impecunious young tutor, “Julie” was the best-selling novel of the eighteenth century. As Damrosch notes, it dealt with characters whose “rural obscurity gave them a greater integrity than city sophisticates had.” The characters’ hard-won wisdom, a theme throughout Rousseau’s novels and other works, made them as popular with Kant, in Königsberg, as with quietly desperate provincials throughout Europe.

Rousseau could have followed the professional trajectory of the many philosophes who, as Robert Darnton has written, were “pensioned, petted, and completely integrated in high society.” But he turned down opportunities to enhance his wealth, refusing royal patronage. As he grew older and more famous, he also became more paranoid. He quarrelled with most of his friends and well-wishers, including Hume and Diderot, and many people derided him as a madman. His bitterest disagreements were with Voltaire. Yet, during the French Revolution, the two men, who both died in 1778, were disinterred from country graves and lodged opposite each other in the Panthéon. Their posthumous proximity, which enlisted them jointly into the patriotic mythology of the Revolution, would have horrified them.

Rousseau was infuriated by the callousness of wealthy socialites like Voltaire. The rich, he wrote, have a duty “never to make people conscious of inequalities of wealth.” Whereas Voltaire’s biggest foe was the Catholic Church, and religious faith in general, Rousseau, though critical of clerical authority, saw religion as safeguarding everyday morality and making the life of the poor tolerable. He claimed that secular intellectuals were “very imperious dogmatists,” contemptuous of the simple feelings of ordinary people, and as “cruel” in their “intolerance” as Catholic priests.

And, unlike Voltaire, a top-down modernizer who saw despotic monarchs as likely allies of enlightened people, Rousseau looked forward to a world without them. Rousseau’s ideal society was Sparta. Small, austere, self-sufficient, fiercely patriotic, and defiantly un-cosmopolitan, it was as much an idealized vision of an ancient political community as the Islamic State caliphate is to radical Islamists today. As Rousseau saw it, the corrupting urge to promote oneself over others had been sublimated in Sparta into civic pride and patriotism. There was obviously no place in such a society for the universalist egghead who loves distant peoples “so as to be spared having to love his neighbors.”

Rousseau’s rejoinders to cosmopolitan commercialism have constituted the basic stock-in-trade of cultural and economic nationalists worldwide. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, which is busy purging pro-E.U. “liberal élites” from national institutions and mainstreaming homophobia and anti-Semitism, would be thrilled by Rousseau’s warnings about the “cosmopolitans who go on distant bookish quests for the duties which they disdain to fulfill in their own surroundings.” Pitilessly ostracizing Mexicans and Muslims, Donald Trump may find much philosophical backup in “Émile; or, On Education.” “Every patriot is severe with strangers,” Rousseau wrote. “They are nothing in his eyes.” Trump, in his tussle with Megyn Kelly of Fox News, and with womankind in general, might also draw comfort from Rousseau’s view of “woman” as “specially made to please man,” who “must make herself agreeable to man rather than provoke him.”

Many such proclamations of varying harshness helped to create the commonplace perception of Rousseau as the spiritual godfather of Fascism. But there is much more evidence that he extolled the collective only insofar as it was compatible with the inner freedom of its members—freedom of the heart. As he wrote in “Reveries,” “I had never thought the liberty of man consists in doing what he wishes, but rather in not doing that which he does not wish.” This basic distrust of external constraints on individual autonomy naturally slid into a suspicion of the great and opaque forces of international trade—the crucial difference, according to István Hont, between Rousseau and Adam Smith.

The triumphs of capitalist imperialism in the nineteenth century, and of economic globalization after the Cold War, fulfilled on a grand scale the Enlightenment dream of a worldwide materialist civilization knit together by rational self-interest. Voltaire proved to be, as Nietzsche presciently wrote, the “representative of the victorious, ruling classes and their valuations,” while Rousseau looked like a sore loser. Against today’s backdrop of political rage, however, Rousseau seems to have grasped, and embodied, better than anyone the incendiary appeal of victimhood in societies built around the pursuit of wealth and power.

Rousseau was the first to make politics intensely personal. He could never feel secure, despite his great success, in the existing social pyramid, and his abraded sensibility registered keenly the appeal of a political ideal of equally empowered and virtuous citizens. Tocqueville pointed out that the passion for equality can swell to “the height of fury” and help boost authoritarian figures and movements to power. But it was the socially maladjusted Genevan, whose writings Tocqueville claimed to read every day, who first attacked modernity for the unjust way in which power accrues to a networked élite.

The recent explosions of ressentiment against writers and journalists as well as against politicians, technocrats, businessmen, and bankers reveal how Rousseau’s history of the human heart is still playing itself out among the disaffected. The Jacobins and the German Romantics may have been Rousseau’s most famous and influential disciples, but Rousseau’s claim that the metropolis was a den of vice and that virtue resided in ordinary people makes for a perpetually renewable challenge—from the right and the left—to our imperfect political and economic arrangements. It is uprooted people with Rousseau’s complex wounds who have periodically made and unmade the modern world with their demands for radical equality and cravings for stability. There will be many more of them, it is safe to say, as billions of young people in Asia and Africa negotiate the maelstrom of progress. ♦

July 28th, 2016

July 28th, 2016
Charles Curtis


Saturday, July 30, Doors at 6:30pm

Schindler House
835 North Kings Road
West Hollywood 90069

The Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound (SASSAS) and the MAK Center are proud to present internationally renowned cellist Charles Curtis at the Schindler House. Hailed by Artforum as “one of the great cellists… spellbinding and minimal,” Curtis will perform the Los Angeles premiere of a new work by Tashi Wada, along with J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 2 in D minor and more.

July 27th, 2016

Installation view, entry, Gordon Wagner, Mojave Freight Yard, 1963, wood, nails, glass, 54 x 19 x 18 inches




Richard Telles

July 26th, 2016
Is Donald Trump a Racist?

Donald Trump and his father, Fred, in 1973 at Trump Village in Queens. Credit Barton Silverman/The New York Times

By Nicholas Kristof
NY Times Published: JULY 23, 2016

HAS the party of Lincoln just nominated a racist to be president? We shouldn’t toss around such accusations lightly, so I’ve looked back over more than 40 years of Donald Trump’s career to see what the record says.

One early red flag arose in 1973, when President Richard Nixon’s Justice Department — not exactly the radicals of the day — sued Trump and his father, Fred Trump, for systematically discriminating against blacks in housing rentals.

I’ve waded through 1,021 pages of documents from that legal battle, and they are devastating. Donald Trump was then president of the family real estate firm, and the government amassed overwhelming evidence that the company had a policy of discriminating against blacks, including those serving in the military.

To prove the discrimination, blacks were repeatedly dispatched as testers to Trump apartment buildings to inquire about vacancies, and white testers were sent soon after. Repeatedly, the black person was told that nothing was available, while the white tester was shown apartments for immediate rental.

A former building superintendent working for the Trumps explained that he was told to code any application by a black person with the letter C, for colored, apparently so the office would know to reject it. A Trump rental agent said the Trumps wanted to rent only to “Jews and executives,” and discouraged renting to blacks.

Donald Trump furiously fought the civil rights suit in the courts and the media, but the Trumps eventually settled on terms that were widely regarded as a victory for the government. Three years later, the government sued the Trumps again, for continuing to discriminate.

In fairness, those suits date from long ago, and the discriminatory policies were probably put in place not by Donald Trump but by his father. Fred Trump appears to have been arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1927; Woody Guthrie, who lived in a Trump property in the 1950s, lambasted Fred Trump in recently discovered papers for stirring racial hatred.

Yet even if Donald Trump inherited his firm’s discriminatory policies, he allied himself decisively in the 1970s housing battle against the civil rights movement.

Another revealing moment came in 1989, when New York City was convulsed by the “Central Park jogger” case, a rape and beating of a young white woman. Five black and Latino teenagers were arrested.

Trump stepped in, denounced Mayor Ed Koch’s call for peace and bought full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty. The five teenagers spent years in prison before being exonerated. In retrospect, they suffered a modern version of a lynching, and Trump played a part in whipping up the crowds.

As Trump moved into casinos, discrimination followed. In the 1980s, according to a former Trump casino worker, Kip Brown, who was quoted by The New Yorker: “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor. … They put us all in the back.”

In 1991, a book by John O’Donnell, who had been president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, quoted Trump as criticizing a black accountant and saying: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” O’Donnell wrote that for months afterward, Trump pressed him to fire the black accountant, until the man resigned of his own accord.

Trump eventually denied making those comments. But in 1997 in a Playboy interview, he conceded “the stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”

The recent record may be more familiar: Trump’s suggestions that President Obama was born in Kenya; his insinuations that Obama was admitted to Ivy League schools only because of affirmative action; his denunciations of Mexican immigrants as, “in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists”; his calls for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States; his dismissal of an American-born judge of Mexican ancestry as a Mexican who cannot fairly hear his case; his reluctance to distance himself from the Ku Klux Klan in a television interview; his retweet of a graphic suggesting that 81 percent of white murder victims are killed by blacks (the actual figure is about 15 percent); and so on.

Trump has also retweeted messages from white supremacists or Nazi sympathizers, including two from an account called @WhiteGenocideTM with a photo of the American Nazi Party’s founder.

Trump repeatedly and vehemently denies any racism, and he has deleted some offensive tweets. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi racist website that has endorsed Trump, sees that as going “full-wink-wink-wink.”

And yet.

Here we have a man who for more than four decades has been repeatedly associated with racial discrimination or bigoted comments about minorities, some of them made on television for all to see. While any one episode may be ambiguous, what emerges over more than four decades is a narrative arc, a consistent pattern — and I don’t see what else to call it but racism.

Thanks to Jonathan Maghen

July 23rd, 2016
Magdalena Suarez Frimkess | New Work

Betty Boop, 2016
stoneware and glaze
10 X 4 inches

July 23 through September 1, 2016

South Willard Shop Exhibit

July 21st, 2016

Surfer Magazine Published: July 20, 2016

December of 2014 brought four rainstorms to San Diego County, ringing in the monthly precipitation total to almost 4 inches—more than double the average. These storms were accompanied by a stretch of large surf. Intermittent sunny days coincided with prime wind conditions. So, despite a general, county-wide warning to avoid ocean contact for 72 hours after a rain event, surfers all along the coast paddled out. Among them was 71-year-old Barry Ault, a Sunset Cliffs local and former competitor who was known for being extraordinarily fit and passionate about surfing despite his age. In fact, Ault had been surfing throughout December’s patch of wet weather. His wife, Sally, said, “He was having a hard time being 71; he felt 30 years old inside and was surfing circles around guys half his age.”

Ault’s favorite break was located along the south cliffs, which required a longish walk but boasted incredible scenery for a spot that existed at the edge of a Southern California metropolis. The open hills of chaparral may have reassured others who paddled out as well, as “The Cliffs” can appear semi-rural and removed from famous sources of pollution like the Tijuana and San Diego rivers. The conditions for Ault’s session one Saturday during the wet spell were the best of the week, with large waves, clear skies, and calm winds. At home that evening, however, Ault began to experience flu-like symptoms. Sally was out of town, but her husband described his symptoms during a phone conversation. She didn’t push Ault to seek medical attention at that time, she said later, because she didn’t believe he would have made an appointment for what appeared to be a mere seasonal virus. But on Sunday the illness gained strength. Ault experienced vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors. Further, according to Sally, he began to suspect that the illness had something to do with his heart, as 10 months earlier he had a valve replaced to correct a genetic flaw, a condition he’d known about for a couple of decades. The replacement had been incredibly successful until then, and Ault had been in peak physical condition. But now he was concerned. Ault put in a call to his physician, and at noon on Monday, his daughter rushed him to the hospital.

Soon it emerged that other, much younger surfers who shared Ault’s surf session had become stricken by pathogens they’d picked up in the water. One of these was reported to the Centers for Disease Control as vibriosis—a member of the family of bacteria commonly known to cause cholera.

One of the charms of surfing several San Diego breaks is that high bluffs or tracts of open space contribute to an illusion that one isn’t surfing off of California’s second-largest coastal city. This aspect draws a lot of surfers to Sunset Cliffs, but along with the visual pleasures comes a hidden set of perils. Just over the rise from Point Loma, San Diego Bay has suffered a century of heavy industry, large-scale military presence, and toxic shipyards. The city’s Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant processes 175 million gallons of wastewater per day and uses a pipe to dump the resulting effluent in an underwater canyon four and a half miles offshore. This waste receives what is termed “primary” treatment—which involves little more than the removal of solids and the use of chlorine. The City of San Diego is the last in the nation to upgrade to the “secondary” level of treatment mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, since 1995 the city has successfully lobbied for waivers that allow it to postpone upgrades. Aside from the actual processing and dumping of effluent, however, a separate problem is the state of infrastructure dedicated to simply transporting wastewater. It’s aged and there is no fail-safe method to detect damage. By some estimates, sewage leaks are a daily occurrence. One result is that the San Diego River, which empties directly into some of the most reliable breaks in the city, has suffered decades of contamination—and surfers have suffered right along with it.

Complicating the sources of pollution that one can easily point to and name, there is another, more insidious, emitter of bacteria, viruses, toxins, heavy metals, petroleum products, and pesticides, and this is the surface of America’s finest city itself.

“Runoff is the big one,” said Travis Pritchard of San Diego Coastkeeper, an organization devoted to the problem. “The pathogens that make surfers sick are coming from runoff.”

Contamination obeys gravity—traveling down the watershed along curbs, in storm drains, washes, creeks, rivers, and discharge pipes—until it is released into the ocean. Nearly every outflow of water from land in San Diego County corresponds with surf spots just offshore; think of Del Mar, Cardiff Reef, Ponto. Until recently, the singular goal of runoff management in Southern California has been focused on flood control, in getting water off the city surface and into the ocean as fast as possible. “It’s direct,” said Pritchard. “There is nothing between the street and the ocean besides drains and pipes.”

Zach Plopper, of the conservation organization WildCoast, put it another way: “Basically, we have the same technology for managing runoff that the Romans had.”

The City of San Diego is the last in the nation to upgrade to the “secondary” level of treatment mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, since 1995 the city has successfully lobbied for waivers that allow it to postpone upgrades.

Because most pollutants and pathogens are entering the ocean at shared locations near surf breaks, and contact with these contaminants can yield dozens, if not hundreds, of diseases, and testing for the specific viruses or bacteria is either difficult or unavailable, surfers are unlikely to be able to name the exact thing that made them sick, or its specific source. Further, the toxic cocktail that results from heavy runoff creates opportunities for pathogens to collaborate and complicate illness. Vibrio bacteria (of which there are multiple types) occur in the ocean naturally and are associated with warm ocean environments. Staphylococcal bacteria exist naturally on human skin. But infections caused by both are correlated with contaminated water. Vibrio infection and staph infection can occur in the same patient simultaneously. According to a study published by The American Society of Microbiology, in which testing for pathogenic vibrios occurred at Doheny State Beach and Avalon Harbor, surfers showed “a 2-order-of-magnitude” higher exposure rate than average swimmers, meaning they are 100 times more likely to be exposed.

Few of the things that make surfers sick can be seen by the naked eye. Still, rightly or wrongly, surfers often believe they can detect something afoul. After Adam Traubman and his teenaged son Niko went surfing south of Cardiff Reef in the fall of 2015, Traubman said he’d noticed an unnatural-looking brownish-greenish tint to the water. There was a film on the sand. Traubman noticed some kind of dredging project proceeding in the lagoon just east of the beach, too. “I saw the water color,” he said, but they paddled out anyway. “Maybe I’m a bad dad, but we’re water people. That’s what we do.”

Thinking of water pollution, Traubman reasoned that it hadn’t rained in a long time. There’s no real industry in the area either. He attributes what followed to a small insect bite Niko reported on his butt cheek, and something “jacked up” in the water.

They had a fun session that day, and for the next week or so, if Traubman thought about water quality at all, it was in the context of wet weather forecast for later in the fall. Niko noticed something wrong pretty quickly, but he was embarrassed by it; there was a strange boil rising on his butt cheek. The reveal occurred during another father-and-son session along the same stretch of beach. Traubman watched Niko catch a wave, and then on the inside, the teen launched into the air. He came unglued from his board and disappeared behind a wave. Traubman then heard Niko scream in pain. The father paddled in. Niko was on his feet, but he was obviously hurting. Once he pulled his wetsuit down, they could see the boil Niko had been trying to keep to himself. It had burst on impact after that air attempt. The Traubmans drove to the hospital. In the ER, the wound was diagnosed as a staph infection and Niko was rushed into surgery. Traubman watched an attendant extract infected material from his son with what looked like a “melon-ball scooper.”

“I saw the hole in Niko’s butt cheek,” Traubman said. “Whatever was in that water, it ate away at his flesh.”

Niko’s recovery was difficult. The surgery left a “racquetball-sized” hole in his leg. The infection threatened to turn septic. There were return trips to have infected tissue removed and the wound repacked. Niko missed a lot of school and a lot of waves. But the Traubmans can’t finger the specific source of the pathogen, or its route to the ocean.

Staph infections tend to stay with victims throughout their lives, and victims need to take special care of their health. But if the Traubmans want to keep surfing, all they can do to protect themselves going forward is to rely on the old standby—to wait 72 hours after a rain event to go surfing—even though, as Traubman indicated, it hadn’t been raining in this instance. “However you cut it,” he said, “the water is dirty, and it’s affecting lives.”

“The City of San Diego has always been 30 years behind the curve in storm-water control,” said former California state lifeguard Greg Abbott. He has worked on water-quality issues since the 1970s, when lifeguards at Border Field State Park suffered a rash of illnesses due to contamination conveyed by the Tijuana River. At that time, the city didn’t test for bacteria levels in the summer (current test results in the Tijuana River are so high that different methods are required to get an accurate count). So Abbott went to the Regional Water Quality Control Board for data. “We found a correlation between illnesses and periods of high bacteria,” he said. Abbott called in a reporter from The Los Angeles Times. After that reporting came out, the state permanently shut down lifeguard service at Border Field State Park. But this was no consolation, as dozens of swimmers have drowned in the area since then. Even though an international wastewater-treatment facility was built to process sewage and runoff that originates in Tijuana, because of overflows, the Tijuana River mouth and Imperial Beach are still among the most contaminated coastal zones in the state. The beaches are closed due to contamination more than a third of the year, and illnesses continue to occur. During an “epic” session in November 2006, surfer Chris Schumacher contracted a sinus infection in the waters off Imperial Beach. The infection was so potent that removal of flesh from his sinuses, in order to fight its advance, actually threatened Schumacher’s eyesight. And the young surfer remained in the hospital for three months.

After his lifeguarding career, Abbott took a position as a park ecologist at Border Field State Park. One of the successes in ecological restoration there was a “sediment basin”—essentially a pond used to capture toxic overflow before it reaches the ocean—constructed by the state in order to control contaminated runoff that flows into the United States from Tijuana’s unplanned neighborhoods. Indicating the basin, Abbott pointed out that we have more tools in fighting pollution than beach closures and waiting periods. Healthy wetlands are one. Capturing water in place—at homes in rain barrels, for example—is another. But there is also an array of infrastructure technologies that cities can install. And these ideas are not new. “The City of San Francisco began processing runoff through their sewage system in the 1960s,” Abbott said.

In fact, several municipalities across the country have been engaged in rethinking how they deal with runoff and storm water. The City of Philadelphia is spending $1.2 billion on projects that are collectively called “green infrastructure.” Their initiative is comprised of thousands of small projects that aim to capture storm water in place and to filter it using processes that mimic nature—for example, rain gardens and bioswales, which use vegetation to safely absorb runoff. Washington, D.C., and New York are also on board. Portland is perhaps the most advanced.

Illnesses continue to occur. During an “epic” session in November 2006, surfer Chris Schumacher contracted a sinus infection in the waters off Imperial Beach. The infection was so potent that removal of flesh from his sinuses, in order to fight its advance, actually threatened Schumacher’s eyesight. The young surfer remained in the hospital for three months.

But the fixes are not confined to municipalities with big budgets. An organization called The Watershed Center in Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan, has worked with stakeholders to create an admirable network of green-infrastructure projects aimed at keeping their 277-square-mile bay on Lake Michigan as clean as possible. There are underground filters that separate sediment, oil, and bacteria from storm water. “Green roofs” capture rain on large buildings, like hospitals. Infiltration trenches capture water and allow it to soak back into the water table. Most of these projects go unseen, or actually beautify neighborhoods. “People around here understand that the bay is the driving force for everything we do,” said The Watershed Center’s Karlyn Haas. “We drink from it, we play in it; it is the driver of our economy, and we need to protect it.”

Grand Traverse Bay boasts 132 miles of coastline. San Diego County includes just 70 miles. California’s sandy beaches alone are estimated to generate $10 billion in tourism annually. The entire tourism economy of the Grand Traverse Bay area pulls in $1.18 billion.

This is not to say that municipalities in San Diego County have done nothing in the way of green infrastructure. One beachfront park in La Jolla is partly covered with permeable pavers instead of asphalt so that water can soak into the ground. New rules for developers require them to capture storm water in place; this has resulted in a smattering of bioswales, which look like small landscaped areas in parking lots. “It’s baby steps at this point,” said San Diego Coastkeeper’s Travis Pritchard. “I think that’s just due to the way storm-water managers have historically viewed runoff control,” which is to get runoff into the ocean as efficiently as possible.

Viewed in the context of our current drought, sidelining the potential for storm water to be captured and reused may be far more costly than is realized. Even polluted runoff can be recycled into drinking water far more easily and cheaply than recycling sewage. “[Storm water] is a resource,” said Abbott, “and we’re wasting it, wasting money, and contaminating the ocean.”

Without any set plans to update San Diego’s antiquated runoff and wastewater-management systems, breaks from Imperial Beach to Oceanside (pictured here) remain threatened by noxious bacteria and viruses. Photo: Glaser
According to Sally Ault, a vibrio infection weakened her husband Barry’s immune system and allowed staph to get to his 10-month-old artificial heart valve. Many complications ensued. By Wednesday, four days after his final surf session, a CAT scan revealed that large portions of his brain were already gone.
“We went with his wishes and let him go,” Sally said. “Even a strong, tough old guy like him can’t fight these things.”

Since Barry’s passing, Sally has become an advocate among the Sunset Cliffs community, urging avid surfers to wait for the ocean to dilute whatever pathogens rains might wash into it. “There’ll be another wave,” she said. “You won’t get other lives.”

Meanwhile, coastal users will continue to pay the price. Developments such as the Poseidon desalination plant in Carlsbad, California, and proposed aquaculture installations off San Diego show an increased desire to move drinking water and food production into the areas affected by pollution and waste. It may be that all coastal dwellers will be impacted by mismanagement of storm water, but it’s likely that surfers are affected first and deepest. “If it’s pumping, it’s hard to say no [to paddling out],” said Adam Traubman. “We are the guinea pigs.”

July 21st, 2016
ruby neri

Untitled (double girl with braid), 2016, ceramic, 20 3/4 x 28 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches

Opening reception: Saturday, July 23, 2016, 6:00-8:00pm
Through August 27, 2016

David Kordansky

July 21st, 2016
Patrick Jackson


Drawings and Reliefs

Through July 30, 2016


July 19th, 2016
· Next