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 WhitneyJune 24th, 2014
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
At the family’s request, a funeral home in New Orleans posed the body of Miriam Burbank for her service this month. Credit Percy McRay
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and FRANCES ROBLES
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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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
Through July, 20, 2014June 19th, 2014
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
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
Martin’s Beach as seen from a driveway overlooking the beach. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
NY Times Published: JUNE 15, 2014
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — The Pacific Ocean glistens in the distance, past the rolling bluffs that rise beyond the electric gate that blocks off Martin’s Beach Road. The road leads to Martin’s Beach, once a revered hideaway for surfers, fishers and beachgoers drawn by its isolation, dramatic cliffs and sweep of soft sand.
But these days, the future of this hidden beach on the San Francisco Peninsula is being fought in a courthouse 25 miles away, in a battle that has become the latest class-charged standoff involving a wealthy entrepreneur in this polarized part of California. Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, paid $37.5 million in 2008 for a 53-acre parcel of ocean land that includes the beach and the road — and proceeded to close the gate, posting armed guards and signaling that he was prepared to spend what it takes to keep the public off what he contends is private land.
“People are saying, ‘Talk about entitlement: Rich people think they can get away with anything,’ ” said Rob Caughlan, the former president of the Surfrider Foundation, the nonprofit organization that brought the suit. “All we want is to get Khosla to follow the same law as everyone else does.”
Mr. Khosla, who is best known as a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, declined a request for an interview. One of his lawyers, Jeffrey Essner, said the have-and-have-not argument had hijacked, at least in public perception, what he described as a cut-and-dried case about private property rights. “It’s being sensationalized in the media to focus on populist sentiments and the 1 percent,” he said.
California is a state with many beautiful beaches and almost as many millionaires who want their own beachfront homes, and this is hardly the first fight to be fought over an ocean view. But by every measure, this one has taken on added resonance, taking place against the backdrop of tensions in San Francisco caused by the influx of high-paid Silicon Valley executives and embodied by the Google buses that take them to work each day.
The lawsuit being fought at the San Mateo County Courthouse — a decision is expected in the summer — signals the latest stage in a five-year flurry of litigation, protests, civil disobedience, indignation and arrests, aimed at forcing Mr. Khosla, who does not live on the property, to let people back on the beach (which is variously called Martin’s Beach and Martins Beach). His opponents contend he is defying the State Constitution, state law and the mind-set of “the beach belongs to everyone” that is fundamental to many Californians.
Compelled by a judge to testify, Mr. Khosla said on the stand: “If you’re asking me why any gate is locked, it’s to restrict public access. That’s a general statement about gates.”
While the previous owner of Martin’s Beach gave people access to the beach for a fee, Mr. Khosla has put up a forbidding gate, albeit a low one that can be sidestepped. While a few surfers and bathers do trespass and use the beach, some have been arrested, the surfers say, though fewer recently as the dispute has heated up.
The fight has moved to Sacramento as well. Last month, the California Senate approved a bill that would permit the state to use the power of eminent domain to seize enough land to provide a public passageway to the beach. Next, the bill will be considered by the Assembly, where it faces an uncertain future. “The coast is protected, and when somebody does something that’s going to affect that, there’s going to be a reaction — and a strong one,” said the sponsor of the bill, Jerry Hill, a Democratic state senator from San Mateo.
An earlier court challenge to Mr. Khosla failed when a San Mateo judge ruled that the Constitution, which declares that all property below the mean tide line is public, and a 1976 law mandating that property owners provide access to these beaches were superseded by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty ended the Mexican-American War by requiring that the United States recognize Mexican land grants, including one that awarded rights to this plot well before the Constitution was adopted.
This latest case is in some ways more narrow: The Surfrider Foundation contends that under the Coastal Act of 1976, Mr. Khosla was required to obtain a permit from the California Coastal Commission before he blocked access to the beach.
“This is not a rocket-science case,” said Joe Cotchett, the lawyer representing the Surfrider Foundation. “This is a case all about arrogance. This is a case where a multibillionaire — not a millionaire, a billionaire — has just decided to build a castle on that beach, and the public is going to be barred.”
Mr. Khosla said at the trial that he did not have a plan in mind for the property. Dori L. Yob, another of his lawyers, called the case “a property right issue just like any other — just like you or I would want to protect our private property rights.” She added, “Just because where your house sits used to be a public beach doesn’t mean people can walk through your backyard while you are having breakfast.”
The presumption of opening the beach is powerful in California. About six miles up the road from the beach, the Ritz-Carlton, a lush complex of golf courses and high-end living overlooking the Pacific, provides free “coastal access” parking and a marked trail leading to the beach.
Down south in Malibu, outside Los Angeles, beach advocates fought successfully with David Geffen, the billionaire who owns a home on Broad Beach, to force him to open a gate leading down to the ocean. Jenny Price, one of the leaders of that coastal access battle, said, “It’s tricky, because I realize this is private property, but the Constitution requires that the public have access to the public beach.”
A walk down Martin’s Beach Road reveals about 40 or more weathered beach shacks nestled around the water, most of them leased through 2021, with names like Cozy Cabin and Casa Blanca. On a recent morning, there was not a person in sight on the beach.
“It’s a gem; it’s beyond compare,” said Pete McCloskey, a Republican former member of Congress who represented the area and is involved in the court battle.
Although Mr. McCloskey and others said they assumed that Mr. Khosla had bought the land intending to bulldoze the cottages and build something newer and grander, he testified that was not necessarily so. “I bought the beach, but I had no plan for the beach,” Mr. Khosla said.
To some, Mr. Khosla’s actions seem particularly surprising because he has been closely identified with advocating green technology.
“I thought Khosla was going to be a good guy,” said Mr. Caughlan of the Surfrider Foundation, who once posed with Mr. Khosla for a photograph in an environment issue of Vanity Fair with a group of men on the California coastline. “When he bought Martin’s Beach, I thought, ‘Oh great, an environmentalist bought that beach.’ And then he cut off access to everyone and we went, ‘What? Where did that come from?’ ”June 16th, 2014
June 15th, 2014
Cuadra San Cristobal, a residence and horse farm by Luis Barragan.
Photograph by Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times
By GUY TREBAY
NY Times Published: JUNE 13, 2014
Memory, in its random way, erased the reasons I stopped going to Mexico City.
Visits that began with family trips in childhood and continued throughout my adulthood — when I made regular trips to experience this phantasmagorical city’s art and food and architecture — abruptly ended at some vague point just after the turn of the century. Sometimes this happens when you love and stop loving something; the retrieval function shuts down. Particulars vanish the way screen data does at the stroke of an errant key.
But then I picked up a new book by a friend, the writer Francisco Goldman, and there it was, the tale:
Back in the late 1990s, when people in the Mexican capital were being routinely kidnapped by taxicab drivers, taken to an A.T.M. for a maximum-amount-withdrawal, a friend of Francisco’s had been victimized in a crime of particular sadism. Forced to kneel, face to the floor, by the driver’s accomplice in one of the green Volkswagens that, in those days, constituted the taxi fleet — vehicles that owed their surprising roominess to removal of front passenger seats — Frank’s friend “endured repeated knife jabs to his buttocks,” as he wrote. The bandits drove their bleeding captive around the city until just after midnight, when they withdrew the daily maximum limit all over again.
Coming upon this story in “The Interior Circuit,” I suddenly remembered the dinner in Mexico City at which Frank first related this story. And in the remembering I found myself awash in images of the complicated city I had long loved.
For almost as far back as I can recall, I have been drawn to the accreted material density of this chaotic capital of 21 million, a place whose successive warring cultures piled their monuments atop those of the vanquished; whose anthill tumult, against sense and logic, remains in some mysterious fashion orderly; whose public spaces often impart to pedestrians a distinct sense of processing across a vast stage set dressed with the architectural furniture of many ages. I loved that, at almost 8,000 feet, Mexico City feels like an elaborate altar laid under the sky.
In “Breath, Eyes, Memory,” the Haitian American novelist Edwidge Danticat speaks of people who are “given the sky to carry because they are strong.” That Mexicans carry the sky is never in question; the sky is the least of their burdens. Contemplating again the routine gorgeousness of the heavens above this high volcanic plateau, which perhaps provide spiritual sustenance to the inhabitants and whose baroque cloud architecture has always exerted a pull on me, I decided it was time to return.
I was well aware that in my time away, Mexico City had changed in both good and bad ways. It had become an island of relative safety in a sea of narcoterrorism. It had become a necessary stopping-off point for culinary adventurers. It had evolved into a newly lustrous destination for the internationalized contemporary art elite, drawn by a thriving gallery scene and newly opened museums.
Yet driven by memory I found myself eager to return to the haunts of a younger self; in particular to retrace the steps of a pilgrimage once made to the houses of the great Mexican architect Luis Barragán. While contemporary Mexican architects of my acquaintance — and cultured Mexicans of a certain kind — sometimes affect weariness when the name Barragán arises as the inevitable emblem of the country’s high culture, you have only to check the Pinterest pages devoted to him to become aware of how Barragán’s cult abroad has grown in the years since his death in 1988.
Some obvious reasons are deducible from the graphic elegance of his structures and their seductive saturated “Mexican” colors. Perhaps, though, new generations are also drawn by instinct to the deep humanism expressed in the work of this undervalued genius, a man who cited as his personal pole stars ideals like amazement, enchantment, serenity, silence and intimacy.
Barragán said so himself in the acceptance speech he wrote when in 1980 he was awarded the Pritzker Prize, typically referred to as architecture’s Nobel. Too weakened by Parkinson’s disease to travel to the United States to receive the award, he thanked the committee in writing for its generous summation of his work as architecture representing “a sublime act of poetic imagination,” while also modestly deflecting its praise.
“I am only a symbol for all those who have been touched by beauty,” Barragán wrote in a statement particularly notable for a humility all but vanished from the profession.
I had been to Barragán’s houses before, those you could get into, and intended always to repeat and expand on earlier trips. Learning from another friend, the Mexican hotelier Rafael Micha, that the city was safe again, I booked my flights and made my arrangements. Though the same could not be said for the country at large, Rafael told me last winter, in the Distrito Federal, as Mexico City is known, “Trouble won’t find you unless you go looking for it.”
The Casa Luis Barragán has been run for decades by a private foundation, which scrupulously maintains this important structure, whose blank exterior walls, consistent with adjacent houses in the once-gritty neighborhood of San Miguel de Chapultepec, give little clue to the wonders inside. Nowadays, the area around Barragán’s house centers on a booming contemporary art scene; then as now, cabdrivers were taxed to thread the maze of streets leading to No. 12-14 General Francisco Ramirez.
This insignificant little street, torn up then to prepare its transformation to a pedestrian-only thoroughfare, abuts a beltway road called the Anillo Periférico. As a taxi driver and I zigged and zagged and retraced our steps en route there — finally abandoning the useless GPS system in favor of local intelligence — it struck me that siting the house in this out-of-the-way place was perhaps a kind of mild Barragán mischief, of a piece with settling in a neighborhood where in those days members of the city’s elite would never be found.
Not that the challenge of finding Barragán’s place ever truly hindered anyone, least of all the parade of world-class architects that routinely make the trek there to pay homage. Just days before my visit, Norman Foster had scrawled his name in the guest book, whose roster reads like a kind of architectural Who’s Who: Jean Nouvel, Robert A. M. Stern, Richard Meier, David Chipperfield, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, Zaha Hadid.
Many turn up more than once and with valid reason. “Barragán created these amazing, beautiful spiritual spaces,” Ricardo Scofidio had told me back in New York, characterizing his houses as “architectural sculptures” that for all their graphic appeal can only be fully appreciated in person.
And the urgency to experience them feels greater than ever. At least two of the most important Barragán houses are leaving the possession of the families that commissioned them; lacking official landmark protection, those and others among Barragán’s projects are potentially at risk.
When I stopped into the famous Cuadra San Cristóbal (also known as the Egerstrom House), now on the market for $12 million, its owners expressed genuine surprise that no one from among the population of Mexico’s new superrich, or its cadre of contemporary art collectors — people who think nothing of paying $20 million for a Jeff Koons — had come to see the place. The sole serious inquiry about a 7.5-acre equestrian estate the art historian Nicholas Fox Weber called “a treasure for all humanity” came from housing developers interested in the land.
Commissioned by the Swedish businessman Folke Egerstrom and built between 1966 and 1968, Cuadra San Cristóbal is the Barragán masterpiece. Besides deploying the key elements of his architectural idiom — flat planes, saturated colors, falling water, light and shadow manipulated with godlike ease — it also engaged his fascination with landscape design and lifelong love of horses.
Held in the Egerstrom family since it was constructed, the house had become a burden for its current owners, empty-nesters who now split their time between Mexico and Nashville, where Thomas Egerstrom directs North American operations for a Swedish energy company.
“I have 11 horses, eight cats, six dogs, a parrot and this house to look after,” said his wife, Mia Egerstrom, a fine-boned Swedish blonde with an easy laugh. “I’m looking forward to something small.”
With only the major-domo, Sergio Zepeda, to assist her Ms. Egerstrom maintains the celebrated house, its gardens and stables and also conducts near-daily tours by invitation for architectural pilgrims.
Take the hayloft, for instance. “David Chipperfield was totally fascinated by it,” Ms. Egerstrom said, as we took a detour behind the barn and a magenta screen wall to a rear service yard. “He said it was like a theater.”
It was true. The open-sided utilitarian space, its raised platform backed by a stark vertical cut through with a ventilation seam, resembled nothing so much as a proscenium from a de Chirico painting. It seemed so like Barragán to introduce elements of theater to a space trafficked mainly by barn hands wheeling barrows of manure and bales of hay. I was reminded once again of why I was drawn to the work of this important artist, whose designs for all their apparently mandarin intentions are invariably democratic and free of pretension.
I felt a pang of regret that those who know Barragán’s work only from the vivid flash cards tacked to virtual walls on Pinterest or Tumblr miss out on the experiential dimension of his architecture, its deep humanity.
I also felt a wave of concern for the fate of these structures and their contents. One after another, artworks and furniture commissioned by Barragán have filtered out of the houses and onto the market. Outlines on the floor in the stable office at Cuadra San Cristóbal indicated where large pieces of Barragán-designed furniture had stood since the house was designed. When I asked what had become of them, Mia Egerstrom replied that they’d been sent to New York. Excited by the prospect of a museum show about Barragán, I asked which institution had them. There was no museum exhibition, Ms. Egerstrom told me. The furniture had been shipped away to be sold.
Other objects by Barragán and his inspired collaborators, men like the underrated German-born Mexican artist and architect Mathias Goeritz or the antiquarian and painter Jesus “Chucho” Reyes have also quietly filtered out of Mexico in recent years. With each new transaction a vital piece of Mexico’s national heritage is lost.
“The Goeritz went to the Tate,” Eduardo Prieto López told me one bright spring morning. We were touring his family’s house in a smart neighborhood in the south of the city, built atop lava fields in a housing development called Jardines de Pedregal.
Commissioned from Barragán by Mr. Prieto’s grandparents, Casa Prieto López is larger than the architect’s own house, more monumental, and is set amid cloistral walled gardens for which enchanted is no empty adjective. Though lamentably little of substance is known about Luis Barragán, his sanitized and burnished legend zealously conserved by a core of devotees, it seems quite clear he was a man of faith. Barragán termed myth and religious experience the fountainhead of all acts of creation in his Pritzker prize address: “Without the desire for God our planet would be a sorry wasteland of ugliness.”
Sorry wastelands of ugliness are banished from mind when you step into Casa Prieto López (which may also be visited by appointment) or Barragán’s own house, with its elegant floating wood staircase; its sequence of sanctuary spaces created as if to accommodate the changeable emotional landscape of its occupant; its idiosyncratic chattels, which include the Mexican folk art he collected, along with a 4,000-volume library and a vinyl record collection in which the “Goldberg Variations” shares shelf space with discs of hipster bongo drums.
“The house has changed me so much,” Catalina Corcuera, the director of Casa Luis Barragán, said on my visit. “Working in this silent atmosphere and coming into contact with beauty every day makes you different somehow,” she added. “I walk into the living room sometimes and scream to the other staff members, “Come look at the light!”
The chromatic feats Barragán accomplished both anticipate by decades the work of light artists like James Turrell and also point up the importance of collaboration to Barragán’s work. It was Jesus Reyes, known as Chuco, who guided his close friend’s eye and taste to the rich chromatic dispersion of Mexican folk art, and while researching traditional dyeing compounds the two men arrived at the bluest indigo hues, the richest carmine reds, pink seldom seen in any place outside of Mexico.
“Barragán pink is not just any pink,” Chak Ceel Rah, a guide at Casa Luis Barragán, had told me. “It’s not just ‘Mexican’ pink.”
His observation haunted me as I browsed through an array of vividly colored textiles at a folk art shop that is an old favorite of mine, a place called Victor Artes Populares Mexicanas. Run by Pilar Fosado Vasquez and situated for years in a nondescript suite in an office building near the city center, Victor’s relocated in February to the second-floor of a 17th-century structure concealed from the street by immense carriage doors.
In typical Mexico City fashion, it is not easy to locate Victor’s. Yet the intrepid are as usual rewarded, in this case by an array of the amazing stuffs Ms. Fosado still manages somehow to scout from across the country, a choice selection of traditional handicrafts ranging from Oaxacan ceramic skulls to naïve plaster Nativity scenes to Huichol yarn pictures and elaborately embroidered huipils from the Chiapas highlands.
It was George Orwell who once remarked that “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” an aphorism with its own particular relevance where architecture is concerned. Given Barragán’s lifelong interest in vernacular structures and indigenous crafts, folk adornment both enriched the work and continued to serve as a lesson to take note of the mundane.
At Casa Prieto López, where wide windows frame a distant view of the volcano Popocapetepl, the primitive chairs are reminiscent of those Barragán would have known from the haciendas of his Guadalajara boyhood. The lamps were created by Oaxacan potters imported to the site. The tables of ahuahuete, or swamp cypress, are installed short end flush to the wall in a manner typical of rural ranches. The mirrored gazing balls Barragán routinely installed in his houses to amplify light are still a common sight in rural towns in parts of the country. The stone trough is filled with colored glass fishing floats like those that wash ashore on Mexico’s coast.
“He had them make the ceramics right here,” said Mr. Prieto, whose grandparents lobbied hard to persuade the diffident Barragán to build a house for them and their brood of children. As remarkable as Barragán’s agreement is the fact that the clients carried with them to their new home few of their old possessions.
“They moved in with just their suitcases,” Mr. Prieto added, as we toured a house said to have been sold to Cesar Cervantes, owner of a chain of taco restaurants and an art collector who it is hoped will continue to receive the inevitable pilgrims like myself.
It was not to one of Mr. Cervantes’s Taco Inns this hungry traveler took himself, however, but to a restaurant inspired, as fate would have it, by Luis Barragán. Opened in 2012 in a former medical supply shop on a corner in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Colonia Roma, Maximo Bistrot Local is snug and spare and increasingly renowned for the elegant fare turned out by the chef Eduardo García.
Briefly less famous for his food than inadvertently notorious for a scandal stirred up on social media when the bratty daughter of a government official had the restaurant shuttered for bogus violations after finding herself dissatisfied with her table, Maximo Bistrot has now settled down to its proper business, serving unbelievably delicious cuisine. So rich in unexpected textures and flavors was my first meal — a plate of white and green asparagus in a subtly tangy hollandaise sauce, topped with a perfectly poached egg that, when pierced, released a flow of bright orange yolk; snapper napped in a piquant salsa verde, the blanched flesh and green sauce echoing colors of the starter — I made an instant decision to return as often as I could.
So over a glass of brightly acidic local wine and a dip made from garlic, olive oil and both the flesh and charred skin of an eggplant, I sat talking with Mr. García, age 36, one Sunday afternoon at an outdoor table. “This job came to me,” he said of his career in the kitchen. “I was an immigrant to the U.S., picking fruits and vegetables. I started washing dishes, and then two years later I was a little rock star in a restaurant.”
Mr. García’s locavore culinary style pays homage to humble traditions. To the cornucopia of foodstuffs sourced at Mexico City’s astounding markets he adds exotic native ingredients like the seasonal corn fungus huitlacoche and also escamoles, or ant eggs, a springtime delicacy also known as Aztec caviar.
But as both Barragán and his close collaborators did before him, as artists always do, Mr. García elevates the mundane by cooking with a subtly international viewpoint: New World merging with the Old World on a plate. Before arriving at his unique architectural style, Luis Barragán too absorbed the lessons of ancient Moorish architecture in Spain, of formal 18th-century French parterres, of the European high modernism with which his work is often erroneously compared. Before opening Maximo Bistrot Local, Mr. García trained at the French-inflected, Michelin-starred Pujol in Mexico City. He cooked at the New York temple to haute cuisine, Le Bernardin.
“You know, eggplant is not that much used in Mexican cooking,” Mr. García said of the dip served at every meal, accompanied by one of the perfectly crusted baguettes that one often finds in Mexico City, a gustatory souvenir of the French occupation.
Yet if eggplant is somewhat anomalous in Mexican cooking, vegetable ashes are not. “My mother, when she made her salsa every day, just threw the tomatoes in the fire while she chopped her serrano chiles,” Mr. Garcia explained. “She didn’t bother to peel them; she just mashed it all up.”
Something pleased me about Mr. García’s savvy adaptation of his mother’s crude culinary technique, his own kind of mash-up — a cultural one. I was struck by how offhandedly he described what is in truth a complex process of layering, as honest as it is sophisticated, and how reminiscent it was of Luis Barragán’s melding of high culture with the demotic, his linking of Old World to New. A current of deep cultural feeling seemed to join the two and at that moment me to each. I remembered clearly over lunch that day at Maximo Bistrot why it was I had long loved Mexico.June 15th, 2014
June 15th, 2014
Marsden Hartley, “The Warriors” (1913)
By ROBERTA SMITH
NY Times Published: JUNE 12, 2014
BERLIN — Before Jasper Johns or Jackson Pollock, there was Marsden Hartley, America’s first great modern painter of the 20th century. He achieved this distinction in Paris and most of all in Berlin between early 1912 and late 1915. There he produced a stream of paintings that synthesized Cubism and other European modernisms, mixed in non-Western motifs and mysterious symbols and culminated in his lusty, elegiac German Officer paintings.
These canvases are memorials to Karl von Freyburg, the young German officer — possibly the great love of Hartley’s life — who was killed in the first weeks of World War I. Festooned with colorful patchworks of bright banners, checkerboards and bits of military regalia and insignia on black backgrounds, the paintings give Cubism a new legibility and emotionality, softening but also bulking up its fragile geometries into something more tactile and muscular.
Hartley’s world-class status is confirmed by “Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings, 1913-1915,” an exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie here that should thrill and surprise even the most devoted Hartley fan. It presents 31 canvases in four small intersecting galleries with curved walls, an odd structure that concentrates the air of discovery and looks great on the vast ground floor of the museum’s austere Mies van der Rohe building. (Its footprint is based on an Iron Cross, like the one von Freyburg received and Hartley kept in his Berlin studio.)
The first museum exhibition of Hartley’s work in Europe in over 50 years, the show has been organized by Dieter Scholz, the Neue Nationalgalerie’s curator. It is also the first devoted to this brief, skittish period of creativity, which could only have happened amid the tumult — first exhilarating, then tragic — of this city.
As never before, this exhibition places Hartley squarely among the outlier mongrelizers of Cubism — like Chagall, Klee and Miró — who picked up early on Cubism, took only what was needed and repurposed it to an adamantly personal expression and local aesthetics. Hartley achieved this partly by incorporating forms of otherness, cultural and sexual.
The German Officer paintings in particular provide a kind of populist synthesis of Analytic Cubism and Cubist collage, fired by German Expressionism but also drawing on American still-life traditions, including the trompe l’oeil paintings of William Harnett and John Peto. The works also signal Hartley’s gayness and his love of military pomp: spheres that were closely aligned in pre-World War I Berlin, which had a thriving gay scene (despite laws against homosexuality) and where the German Army was highly visible, not the least in the constant parades that Hartley so loved. The overlap of these two spheres, fomented by their focus on the idealized man, is detailed by Bruce Robertson, one of the most illuminating of Hartley scholars, in the show’s excellent catalog.
By the time he reached Paris early in 1912, Hartley was a 35-year-old artist who loved the color and physicality of oil paint and had absorbed the lessons of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism in vertiginous mountainscapes of his native Maine. Seeing the paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder in 1908 had affirmed his own visionary predilections (and his love of a dark palette), and so had exposure to some of the arts and religions of Asia.
Extremely ambitious, Hartley had had two shows at Alfred Stieglitz’s forward-looking Gallery 291 in New York. In the gallery that Hartley memorably called “the biggest little room in America,” he encountered works by Picasso, Matisse and Cézanne and knew that Europe was the place to be. In addition, a kind of loneliness was already ingrained in him. It started with his mother’s death when he was 8 and intensified with the awareness of his homosexuality, as well as his social awkwardness and unease with his lanky, unathletic body. Often smitten with handsome young men, Hartley spent most of his life pining for a deep relationship.
Hartley loved Europe and quickly morphed into an early adapter of Cubism. In Paris, he joined Gertrude Stein’s circle, met most of the young modern painters and knew instantly that Picasso was the best of them. He also met two officers in the German Army: Arnold Rönnebeck, who was also a sculptor, and von Freyburg, Rönnebeck’s tall, blond cousin. They invited him to visit Berlin. Already enamored of German culture, he didn’t have to be asked twice. Berlin became his spiritual home away from home.
Hartley’s intoxication with Germany infuses this show. It first emerges in “Painting Number One” (1913), which he completed after meeting Kandinsky, the Russian avant-gardist, in Munich. Kandinsky’s visionary buoyancy took Hartley back to his beloved Maine mountains, albeit in disembodied form: a series of black, peaklike lines that climb the surface amid bursts of glowing color. As indebted to Kandinsky as the work may be, it is also more urgent and whole — and in its thin nervous brushwork more daring — than just about anything by the older artist.
The paintings that came after reflect a restlessly opportunistic artist working in a manner that would qualify today as rather multicultural. That the sources were often not quite assimilated contributes to the works’ invigorating rawness. “The Warriors” (1913) has a field of small mounted cavalry, seen from the back, that forms a Tantric pattern around a mandorla-like shape that shelters horsemen on lotus-shape clouds. In “Portrait of Berlin” (also 1913) the silhouette of Buddha crops up. (An example of a Buddha figure that Hartley owned is in the show.) His impatient paint handling uses no more paint than necessary and leaves bits of bare canvas peeking through. And although the brushwork is constantly adjusted, we never lose a sense of Hartley’s brusque, soulful touch.
He is at his most consummate and old masterish (and Spanish) in the German Officer paintings made in a burst of grief after von Freyburg’s death. With the expanses of black peeking through the bright color, these works hold abstraction and realism in a new tension, as confirmed by a display case with military regalia like von Freyburg’s. The paintings’ motifs can be matched to a tasseled, silver-threaded shoulder sash, the Iron Cross and the plumed helmet of von Freyburg’s regiment, among much else. Several paintings include the numbers 2 and 4 (von Freyburg’s age at death); the initials K (v. F; and a fancified letter E on an epaulet, which can stand both for Edmund (Hartley’s given name) and Queen Elisabeth of Greece, the regiment’s royal patron.
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These compositions intimate a figure or a body laid out in state, but they also hint at a certain intimacy (gleaming military buttons invite unbuttoning). Hartley also dashed off a series of flatter, more tersely painted canvases using motifs and scenes from American Indian cultures. He identified with the Indians’ nobility, but also thought the subject might appeal to German collectors. And throughout the Berlin years, he mixed vocabularies — mystical, military and Indian as well as folk art and Egyptian — in images with painted frames whose high colors suggest that they were painted over white.
After von Freyburg’s death, Hartley hung on in Berlin until the end of 1915, when it was becoming evident that the United States would probably enter World War I. It is fashionable to say that his work was never the same until the end of his life, when he once more returned to the mountains and shores of Maine and took up the figure for the first time and his work became more deeply expressive. Actually, he made outstanding works throughout his career, especially landscape paintings full of implicitly erotic forms and energy.
Why does this exhibition feel so fresh? Perhaps because Hartley embraced modernism with a joyful openness and experimental looseness that have few equals. And perhaps because American museums rarely accord American modernists like him the space given their Europeans counterparts and almost never show contemporaries from the two continents side by side in any depth. That may be why it was also electrifying to see four of Hartley’s German Officer pictures prominently displayed near works by Picabia and Malevich in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2012 exhibition “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925.” All were lent by other museums, suggesting another reason Hartley’s early greatness may not be so familiar: the Modern, guardian of the dominant modernist narrative, owns no example of his masterpieces from the Berlin years.
This exhibition will travel only to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in August, leaving New York and other cities in artistic flyover country. Especially in a time when same-sex marriage is becoming more the norm, Marsden Hartley’s first modern American paintings should be traveling to every state in the union.
Thanks to Matt ConnorsJune 14th, 2014
Opening Reception: June 18th, 7:00-9:00 pm
Through Sunday, September 7, 2014
Tony Greene: Room of Advances is a posthumous survey of works by the late Los Angeles-based artist, Tony Greene (1955–1990). Curated by artists Judie Bamber and Monica Majoli, the exhibition assembles the largest collection of Greene’s works since an exhibition at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in 1991, the year following the artist’s death from AIDS at age 35. Recent national exhibitions, including the Whitney Biennial 2014 and Made in L.A. 2014, upcoming at the Hammer Museum, have reestablished his oeuvre within the canon of queer art. Working at a time dominated by conceptual and activist practices, Greene affirmed and interrogated the queer experience and homoerotic desire through painting. The artist developed a visual language characterized by dark, jeweled tones and swirling impasto layered over tinted photographs to create works at once sensual, provocative and haunting.
Intimate in scale, Greene’s dreamlike paintings draw the viewer into the picture’s depth. The title for the show, Room of Advances, originates from a work comprised of 5 panels. The center panel is an image of a man’s nude torso with arms outstretched, flanked by a repeated image of a mid-century modern interior. The Schindler House—with its history of utopianism made manifest in actual domestic living—is ostensibly the modern domestic interior longed for in Greene’s work. The interplay between opacity and transparency, interior and exterior that infuses Greene’s paintings is echoed in R.M. Schindler’s architecture and makes for a particularly felicitous pairing.June 13th, 2014
By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: JUNE 12, 2014
How big a deal is the surprise primary defeat of Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader? Very. Movement conservatism, which dominated American politics from the election of Ronald Reagan to the election of Barack Obama — and which many pundits thought could make a comeback this year — is unraveling before our eyes.
I don’t mean that conservatism in general is dying. But what I and others mean by “movement conservatism,” a term I think I learned from the historian Rick Perlstein, is something more specific: an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda, meanwhile providing a support network for political and ideological loyalists.
By rejecting Mr. Cantor, the Republican base showed that it has gotten wise to the electoral bait and switch, and, by his fall, Mr. Cantor showed that the support network can no longer guarantee job security. For around three decades, the conservative fix was in; but no more.
To see what I mean by bait and switch, think about what happened in 2004. George W. Bush won re-election by posing as a champion of national security and traditional values — as I like to say, he ran as America’s defender against gay married terrorists — then turned immediately to his real priority: privatizing Social Security. It was the perfect illustration of the strategy famously described in Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” in which Republicans would mobilize voters with social issues, but invariably turn postelection to serving the interests of corporations and the 1 percent.
In return for this service, businesses and the wealthy provided both lavish financial support for right-minded (in both senses) politicians and a safety net — “wing-nut welfare” — for loyalists. In particular, there were always comfortable berths waiting for those who left office, voluntarily or otherwise. There were lobbying jobs; there were commentator spots at Fox News and elsewhere (two former Bush speechwriters are now Washington Post columnists); there were “research” positions (after losing his Senate seat, Rick Santorum became director of the “America’s Enemies” program at a think tank supported by the Koch brothers, among others).
The combination of a successful electoral strategy and the safety net made being a conservative loyalist a seemingly low-risk professional path. The cause was radical, but the people it recruited tended increasingly to be apparatchiks, motivated more by careerism than by conviction.
That’s certainly the impression Mr. Cantor conveyed. I’ve never heard him described as inspiring. His political rhetoric was nasty but low-energy, and often amazingly tone-deaf. You may recall, for example, that in 2012 he chose to celebrate Labor Day with a Twitter post honoring business owners. But he was evidently very good at playing the inside game.
It turns out, however, that this is no longer enough. We don’t know exactly why he lost his primary, but it seems clear that Republican base voters didn’t trust him to serve their priorities as opposed to those of corporate interests (and they were probably right). And the specific issue that loomed largest, immigration, also happens to be one on which the divergence between the base and the party elite is wide. It’s not just that the elite believes that it must find a way to reach Hispanics, whom the base loathes. There’s also an inherent conflict between the base’s nativism and the corporate desire for abundant, cheap labor.
And while Mr. Cantor won’t go hungry — he’ll surely find a comfortable niche on K Street — the humiliation of his fall is a warning that becoming a conservative apparatchik isn’t the safe career choice it once seemed.
So whither movement conservatism? Before the Virginia upset, there was a widespread media narrative to the effect that the Republican establishment was regaining control from the Tea Party, which was really a claim that good old-fashioned movement conservatism was on its way back. In reality, however, establishment figures who won primaries did so only by reinventing themselves as extremists. And Mr. Cantor’s defeat shows that lip service to extremism isn’t enough; the base needs to believe that you really mean it.
In the long run — which probably begins in 2016 — this will be bad news for the G.O.P., because the party is moving right on social issues at a time when the country at large is moving left. (Think about how quickly the ground has shifted on gay marriage.) Meanwhile, however, what we’re looking at is a party that will be even more extreme, even less interested in participating in normal governance, than it has been since 2008. An ugly political scene is about to get even uglier.June 13th, 2014
Magdalena Suarez Frimkess and Michael Frimkess
Throwing Standing-Up Teapot
c. 1972, Glazed stoneware. 8 x 8 in. (20.32 x 20.32 cm). Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Joshua White.
Opens June 15, 2014June 11th, 2014
By DAVID EPSTEIN
NY Times Published: JUNE 10, 2014
THE national furor over concussions misses the primary scourge that is harming kids and damaging youth sports in America.
The heightened pressure on child athletes to be, essentially, adult athletes has fostered an epidemic of hyperspecialization that is both dangerous and counterproductive.
One New York City soccer club proudly advertises its development pipeline for kids under age 6, known as U6. The coach-picked stars, “poised for elite level soccer,” graduate to the U7 “pre-travel” program. Parents, visions of scholarships dancing in their heads, enable this by paying for private coaching and year-round travel.
Children are playing sports in too structured a manner too early in life on adult-size fields — i.e., too large for optimal skill development — and spending too much time in one sport. It can lead to serious injuries and, a growing body of sports science shows, a lesser ultimate level of athletic success.
We should urge kids to avoid hyperspecialization and instead sample a variety of sports through at least age 12.
Nearly a third of youth athletes in a three-year longitudinal study led by Neeru Jayanthi, director of primary care sports medicine at Loyola University in Chicago, were highly specialized — they had quit multiple sports in order to focus on one for more than eight months a year — and another third weren’t far behind. Even controlling for age and the total number of weekly hours in sports, kids in the study who were highly specialized had a 36 percent increased risk of suffering a serious overuse injury. Dr. Jayanthi saw kids with stress fractures in their backs, arms or legs; damage to elbow ligaments; and cracks in the cartilage in their joints.
Because families with greater financial resources were better able to facilitate the travel and private coaching that specialization requires, socioeconomic status turned up as a positive predictor of serious injury. Some young athletes now face surgeries befitting their grandparents. Young hockey goaltenders repeatedly practice butterfly style — which stresses the developing hip joint when the legs are splayed to block the bottom of the goal. The sports surgeon Marc Philippon, based in Vail, Colo., saw a 25-year-old goalie who already needed a hip replacement.
In the Loyola study, sport diversification had a protective effect. But in case health risks alone aren’t reason enough for parents to ignore the siren call of specialization, diversification also provides performance benefits.
Kids who play multiple “attacking” sports, like basketball or field hockey, transfer learned motor and anticipatory skills — the unconscious ability to read bodies and game situations — to other sports. They take less time to master the sport they ultimately choose.
Several studies on skill acquisition now show that elite athletes generally practiced their sport less through their early teenage years and specialized only in the mid-to-late teenage years, while so-called sub-elites — those who never quite cracked the highest ranks — homed in on a single sport much sooner.
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Data presented at the April meeting of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine showed that varsity athletes at U.C.L.A. — many with full scholarships — specialized on average at age 15.4, whereas U.C.L.A. undergrads who played sports in high school, but did not make the intercollegiate level, specialized at 14.2.
We may prize the story of Tiger Woods, who demonstrated his swing at age 2 for Bob Hope. But the path of the two-time N.B.A. M.V.P. Steve Nash (who grew up playing soccer and didn’t own a basketball until age 13) or the tennis star Roger Federer (whose parents encouraged him to play badminton, basketball and soccer) is actually the norm.
A Swedish study of sub-elite and elite tennis players — including five who ranked among the top 15 in the world — found that those who topped out at as sub-elites dropped all other sports by age 11. Eventual elites developed in a “harmonious club environment without greater demands for success,” and played multiple sports until age 14.
The sports science data support a “sampling period” through at least age 12. Mike Joyner, a Mayo Clinic physician and human performance expert, would add general physical literacy-building to the youth sports menu: perhaps using padded gymnastics gyms for parkour, which is essentially running, climbing or vaulting on any obstacle one can find.
In addition to athletic diversity, kids’ sports should be kid-size.
In Brazil, host of this month’s World Cup, kids are weaned on “futsal,” a lightly structured and miniaturized form of soccer. Futsal is played on tiny patches of grass or concrete or on indoor courts and typically by teams of five players.
Players touch the ball up to five times as frequently as they do in traditional soccer, and the tighter playing area forces children to develop foot and decision-making skills under pressure.
A futsalization of youth sports generally would serve engagement, skill development and health.
USA Hockey (which has barred checking in youth games) recently invited adults to play on a 310-by-130-foot ice rink to show them what it’s like for an 8-year-old to play on a regulation rink. The grown-ups’ assessments: “too much time between the action”; “it’s hard to communicate because everyone is spread out so far”; “you end up spending a lot of time in open space.”
Futsal, basketball and … padded parkour? Sounds like a strange three-sport athlete, and a perfect model for kids.June 11th, 2014
Fired and painted clay
3 x 3 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches
Through June 21, 2014June 10th, 2014
By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: JUNE 8, 2014
There are three things we know about man-made global warming. First, the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action to limit carbon emissions. Second, in pure economic terms the required action shouldn’t be hard to take: emission controls, done right, would probably slow economic growth, but not by much. Third, the politics of action are nonetheless very difficult.
But why is it so hard to act? Is it the power of vested interests?
I’ve been looking into that issue and have come to the somewhat surprising conclusion that it’s not mainly about the vested interests. They do, of course, exist and play an important role; funding from fossil-fuel interests has played a crucial role in sustaining the illusion that climate science is less settled than it is. But the monetary stakes aren’t nearly as big as you might think. What makes rational action on climate so hard is something else — a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism.
Before I get to that, however, an aside on the economics.
I’ve noted in earlier columns that every even halfway serious study of the economic impact of carbon reductions — including the recent study paid for by the anti-environmental U.S. Chamber of Commerce — finds at most modest costs. Practical experience points in the same direction. Back in the 1980s conservatives claimed that any attempt to limit acid rain would have devastating economic effects; in reality, the cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide was highly successful at minimal cost. The Northeastern states have had a cap-and-trade arrangement for carbon since 2009, and so far have seen emissions drop sharply while their economies grew faster than the rest of the country. Environmentalism is not the enemy of economic growth.
But wouldn’t protecting the environment nonetheless impose costs on some sectors and regions? Yes, it would — but not as much as you think.
Consider, in particular, the much-hyped “war on coal.” It’s true that getting serious about global warming means, above all, cutting back on (and eventually eliminating) coal-fired power, which would hurt regions of the country that depend on coal-mining jobs. What’s rarely pointed out is how few such jobs still exist.
Once upon a time King Coal was indeed a major employer: At the end of the 1970s there were more than 250,000 coal miners in America. Since then, however, coal employment has fallen by two-thirds, not because output is down — it’s up, substantially — but because most coal now comes from strip mines that require very few workers. At this point, coal mining accounts for only one-sixteenth of 1 percent of overall U.S. employment; shutting down the whole industry would eliminate fewer jobs than America lost in an average week during the Great Recession of 2007-9.
Or put it this way: The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost.
The owners of coal mines and coal-fired power plants do have a financial interest in blocking environmental policy, but even there the special interests don’t look all that big. So why is the opposition to climate policy so intense?
Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.
And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.
The fact that climate concerns rest on scientific consensus makes things even worse, because it plays into the anti-intellectualism that has always been a powerful force in American life, mainly on the right. It’s not really surprising that so many right-wing politicians and pundits quickly turned to conspiracy theories, to accusations that thousands of researchers around the world were colluding in a gigantic hoax whose real purpose was to justify a big-government power grab. After all, right-wingers never liked or trusted scientists in the first place.
So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.June 10th, 2014
6 3/4 x 3 3/4 x 3/ 3/4 inches
Through Jun 15, 2014
Thanks to Bruce M. ShermanJune 9th, 2014
Untitled (Galerie Mezzanin, Vienna, Austria, 2014), 2014
145 x 195 cm
The Production Line of Happiness
Through June 17, 2014
Chester Nez, who was the last surviving original Navajo code talker, in 2011. Credit Dean Hanson/Albuquerque, via Associated Press
By MARGALIT FOX
NY Times Published: JUNE 5, 2014
To the end of his life, Chester Nez recalled the first message he sent over the radio while serving at Guadalcanal: “Enemy machine gun nest on your right. Destroy.”
Receiving the message, American forces eliminated the threat.
Mr. Nez, a former United States Marine who died on Wednesday at 93, had sent the message not in English but rather in a code he had helped create. It originally went much like this: “Anaai (Enemy) naatsosi (Japanese) beeldooh alhaa dildoni (machine gun) nishnaajigo nahdikadgo (on your right flank). Diiltaah (Destroy).”
The code was fashioned from Navajo, the language that Mr. Nez grew up speaking, was later barred from speaking and still later helped craft into a military code so impervious that it helped the United States secure victory in the Pacific in the summer of 1945.
Mr. Nez was the last surviving member of the 29 original Navajo code talkers, who at the urgent behest of the federal government devised an encrypted version of their language for wartime use. They and the hundreds of Navajos who followed them into battle used that code, with unparalleled success, throughout the Pacific theater.
Not fully declassified until 1968, the Navajo code remains the only oral military code that has never been broken.
Mr. Nez’s death, at his home in Albuquerque, was confirmed by Judith Schiess Avila, the co-author of his memoir, “Code Talker,” published in 2011.
For Mr. Nez and his fellows, World War II was quite literally a war of words. Their work, and the safety of tens of thousands of American servicemen, depended crucially on the code that they had created during 13 fevered weeks in 1942, as the prospect of Allied victory in the Pacific seemed increasingly uncertain.
Members of other Native American tribes, including the Comanche, Choctaw and Winnebago, using codes based on their languages, were also recruited for the war effort, serving in Europe and North Africa. But the Navajo, who served in the Pacific, furnished the war’s single largest contingent of code talkers.
About 400 Navajos followed the original 29 to war; of that later group, about 35 are still living, The Navajo Times, a tribal newspaper, reported this week.
Serving on the front lines in the Pacific’s key battles, Mr. Nez and other members of the Marine Corps’s 382nd Platoon — made up entirely of Navajos recruited for their fluency in the language — used the code to relay movements of American and enemy troops, casualty reports, coordinates of strategic targets and other vital intelligence to Marines in the field.
“There were no machines or other devices that could scramble voice communications that could be used on the front lines,” David A. Hatch, the National Security Agency’s historian, said in an interview on Thursday. “What the code talkers did was to provide absolute security for the information we transmitted on the radios, denying to the enemy vital information that we were picking up from their communications.”
In 2001, Mr. Nez and the 28 other creators of the code were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, most posthumously, by President George W. Bush.
The men of the 382nd have been commemorated in a string of recent books; a Hollywood film, “Windtalkers” (2002), starring Nicolas Cage and Adam Beach; and even an action figure, Navajo Code Talker G.I. Joe.
What remains less well known is what took place before they went off to war, when the 29 present at the code’s creation built a covert communications system whose crystalline simplicity belied its linguistic impenetrability.
Nor did every account of the code talkers’ work focus on what happened when they returned to the United States. There, for Mr. Nez and others, hardships included post-traumatic stress disorder and marginalization by the very country they had served.
Chester Nez was born on Jan. 23, 1921, in Chichiltah, N.M., known in English as Two Wells, and reared on the Navajo reservation nearby. His mother died when he was very young.
His Navajo given name has been lost to time; his surname, pronounced “nezz,” means “very tall” in the language.
The Nez family had been fairly prosperous, and Chester grew up herding its large flock of sheep. But in the 1930s, responding to what it deemed overgrazing in the region, the federal government slaughtered tens of thousands of Navajo sheep, including the Nez family’s. They were reduced to subsistence farming.
At 8, Chester entered the first of a series of Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools that he would attend in New Mexico and Arizona. Assimilation into white society was the goal of such schools, and he was assigned the name Chester, after President Chester A. Arthur.
Students were forbidden to speak Navajo. The penalty for doing so, Mr. Nez recalled, was a beating, or having one’s mouth washed out with “a bitter, brown soap.”
In 1942, when Mr. Nez was a high school student, a Marine Corps recruiter visited his school. The Marines were looking for young men who were bilingual in English and Navajo. He enlisted in May.
“When joining the Marine Corps, I thought about how my people were mistreated,” Mr. Nez said in a 2005 interview. “But then I thought this would be my chance to do something for my country.”
After boot camp in California, he and the initial Navajo cohort were sent to Camp Elliott, in San Diego, and told to come up with a code based on Navajo.
The plan was the brainchild of a World War I veteran named Philip Johnston. The son of missionaries, he had been reared among the Navajo and spoke the language fluently.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Johnston persuaded the Marine Corps that Navajo — whose syntax and tonal contours differ vastly from those of English — would be the perfect vehicle for encoding spoken communication. Charged with creating a code that was fast, accurate, memorizable and uncrackable, the 29 Navajos set to work in the spring of 1942.
The code they conceived used two layers of encryption. The first layer was the Navajo language itself, known to be understood by only a handful of non-Navajos, none of them Japanese.
But what the men developed that spring went far beyond ordinary Navajo, and that was where the second layer of encryption came in.
First, they created a glossary of hundreds of words used in battlefield communication. While some were simply Navajo translations of their English counterparts, many others were poetic circumlocutions.
For “America,” for instance, they substituted “ne-he-mah” (“our mother”). “Lieutenant colonel” became che-chil-be-tah-besh-legai (“silver oak leaf”). “Battleship” was “lo-tso” (“whale”), “submarine” was “besh-lo” (“iron fish”) and “destroyer” was “ca-lo” (“shark”).
The men also developed an encrypted alphabet that could spell any English word. For each letter of the Roman alphabet, they substituted one or more Navajo words; the words’ English translations began with the encoded letter.
To indicate “A,” a code talker would say “wol-la-chee” (“ant”), “be-la-sana” (“apple”) or “tse-nill” (“ax”); B was “na-hash-chid” (“badger”), “shush” (“bear”) or “toish-jeh” (“barrel”), and so on.
The result was a system that sounded nothing like Navajo yet could be employed with great facility by those trained in its use.
Handed a written English message, a code talker took to his radio, relaying that message, encoded, to a compatriot at the front. The Navajo on the receiving end, having memorized the entire code, rendered the message back into English and passed it on. The written English copies were destroyed immediately.
“We acted as coding machines, transmitting messages that would have taken a couple of hours in just a couple of minutes,” Mr. Nez said in a 2012 interview with the website ArmchairGeneral.com. “We could never make a mistake, because many communications involved bombing coordinates.”
After Guadalcanal, Mr. Nez was sent to the battles of Bougainville, in Papua New Guinea; Guam; and the islands Peleliu and Angaur.
It was no soft service. On Angaur, an American service member mistook Mr. Nez for Japanese and put a gun to his head before a superior intervened.
The code talkers were considered so indispensable that they were given little respite, often working 35 hours straight without food or rest, hunkered down in foxholes or dodging bullets.
“We would land on the beaches, which were littered with dead Japanese bodies,” Mr. Nez told The Arizona Republic in 2011. “My faith told me not to walk among the dead, to stay away from the dead. But which soldier could avoid such? This was war. War is death. I walked among them.”
About a dozen code talkers were killed in action.
Mr. Nez returned home from the war to less than ideal conditions. He was unable to vote: New Mexico did not grant suffrage to American Indians until 1948.
When, in uniform, he went to the Federal Building in Gallup, N.M., to register for the identity card that Indians were then required to carry, a white civil servant told him, “You’re not a full citizen of the United States, you know.”
Prohibited, like all the men of the 382nd, from discussing his service, Mr. Nez was plagued by nightmares and spent more than five months in a San Francisco military hospital.
“My condition was so severe I went psycho,” he said in a 2005 lecture. “I lost my mind.”
Yet of the returned code talkers, he considered himself among the lucky ones. “Some turned to drinking or just gave up,” Mr. Nez said in an interview last year. His father came to his rescue, explaining that his nightmares were caused by the spirits of dead Japanese. Mr. Nez underwent a traditional healing ceremony, and the dreams largely ceased.
He studied art at the University of Kansas, but left before graduating when his money from the G.I. Bill ran out. (The university awarded him a degree in 2012.)
After serving stateside in the Korean War, Mr. Nez worked for many years as a painter and muralist at what is now the Veterans Affairs hospital in Albuquerque.
Mr. Nez’s marriage to Ethel Pearl Catron ended in divorce. His survivors include two sons, Michael and Tyah; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. Four other children died before he did.
A few years ago, Mr. Nez lost both legs to diabetes, long epidemic among Native Americans.
In his many interviews and public appearances, Mr. Nez expressed unmistakable pride in his wartime work. But the irony of what that work entailed was far from lost on him.
“All those years, telling you not to speak Navajo, and then to turn around and ask us for help with that same language,” he told USA Today in 2002. “It still kind of bothers me.”June 6th, 2014
June 06th 2014 -
August 23th 2014
Opening reception on
Friday, June 6th 2014
By Emily Greenhouse
The New Yorker: June 3, 2014
In September, 2012, Stephanie Wilson, a twenty-eight-year-old Australian who lives in West Harlem, bought a pair of Hunter rain boots from Saks Fifth Avenue. She was digging for her receipt in the paper shopping bag when she discovered a letter inside that, in its urgency, started higher than the ruled paper’s printed lines. “HELP! HELP! HELP!!” a man had written, in blue ink on white paper. He opened, “Hello!! I’m Njong Emmanuel Tohnain, Cameroonian of nationality.”
The writer explained that he had made the bag while captive in a Chinese prison factory, where he was being held after an arrest on accusations of fraud. He wrote, “I’ve been molested and tortured physically, morally, psychologically and spiritually for all the while without any given chance to contact my family and friends. We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory. Please help to contact the United Nations Human Rights Department or if possible Samuel Eto’o and let them know my sad story. I’m Eto’o’s fan club manager in the University.” He signed off, politely, “Thanks and sorry to bother you.”
Wilson contacted the Laogai Research Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group established by a survivor of a Chinese slave-labor camp (or laogai) named Harry Wu. Over the following months, the foundation’s legal arm and Serena Solomon, a reporter from the local-news Web site DNAinfo, located Njong’s attorney and his newly activated Facebook account. (He was released from prison last year.) Together, they were able to contact Njong and verify that he had written the letter and determined—based on their investigations online and in China—that the details of his account checked out. (They are also consistent with other accounts of prison labor, Cole Goodrich, the legal consultant at the Laogai Foundation, told me.) The Laogai Foundation identified the company that exported Njong’s shopping bags to the U.S. as Elegant PrinPac. That firm touts its work for Calvin Klein and Polo, its “environmentally friendly products,” and its “quality management system.” (Elegant PrinPac has not replied to requests for comment.)
Solomon published a story about Njong’s letter in April. I contacted Saks and its owner, Hudson’s Bay Company, to ask about the letter and Saks’s supply chain. A spokeswoman named Tiffany Bourré replied that the company has “investigated the matter” but was unable to determine whether Njong’s letter was authentic and accurate, owing to “the lack of information and significant time delay between the discovery of the letter by the customer and notification to Saks more than a year later.” Bourré said that the company prohibits slave labor and has measures in place to avoid its use in Saks’s supply chain, such as audits, which are sometimes unannounced, and a requirement that international venders and suppliers follow laws barring forced labor. I asked whether Saks had changed its practices in response to Njong’s letter, and she answered that it hadn’t, though it was modifying some policies as part of its integration into Hudson’s Bay, which acquired it last year.
Recently, I spoke to Njong myself. He is thirty-four and lives in Dubai, and has an animated and intelligent manner by phone. Njong was raised in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, and learned both English and French while growing up. He said that, in May, 2011, he had been teaching English in Shenzhen, China, when he was arrested on accusations of fraud, which he said he never committed, and held in a detention center for ten months. Later, he was moved to Qingdao, in the eastern Shandong province, for a three-year prison sentence. He had picked up Chinese while teaching, and so he translated while locked up, whenever the prison authorities tapped him. Most of the time, he sewed clothes, assembled electronics, and made bags. “It was tiring and boring at the same time,” he said of the work. Eventually, he and another African prisoner grew so desperate that they decided they’d rather be killed than continue. “If I have to die, I don’t care now,” he told the guards. “I prefer not to get back to the world.”
Njong says that he was permitted no outside contact, and was allowed pen and paper only to record productivity. His family figured he was dead. Although he was constantly monitored, Njong resolved to reach the outside, to put a trace of himself into the products he fabricated “that were going to be exported to other countries like the U.K. and the U.S. and Australia and Germany.” He figured, “If someone could ever hear me somewhere, maybe somebody, in the course of using, could come to the letter and come to my rescue.” The letter that Wilson found was one of five—in either French or English—that he stuffed into bags during his imprisonment. He crawled under his bed covers to scribble.
April marked the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than eleven hundred garment workers—the worst industrial accident in the modern garment industry. The disaster led to an uptick in social concern about manufacturing. It also led to changes: more frequent inspections, new regulations, investigations by news outlets into the history of our clothes, plus nifty new consumer-responsibility apps. But forced labor like what Njong says he endured has gotten far less attention.
Unfree labor has, of course, existed throughout history. In 1957, the International Labour Organization adopted a formal resolution abolishing forced labor worldwide. Today, the organization estimates that at least 12.3 million people, globally, are victims of compulsory labor. China’s system of prison facilities, established in the early fifties by Mao Zedong, is particularly massive. Chinese camps, tethered to a notion that criminality springs from ignorance, stress moral instruction and reëducation through labor. According to a tally of industries on the U.S. Department of Labor Web site, the Chinese industries that use forced labor include those making artificial flowers, bricks, Christmas decorations, coal, cotton, electronics, fireworks, footwear, garments, nails, textiles, and toys.
Kevin Slaten, the program coordinator at the human-rights organization China Labor Watch, told me that a number of letters like Njong’s have surfaced in recent years. Last June, the Times reported on one, folded into a pack of Halloween decorations bought at an Oregon Kmart, which read, “Sir: If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization.” At the time, a spokesman for Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart, told the reporter, Andrew Jacobs, that “an internal investigation prompted by the discovery of the letter uncovered no violations of company rules that bar the use of forced labor.” Slaten argues that American corporations, to meet their profit goals, have developed a convoluted system of contracting and subcontracting that is designed “in a way that allows them to plead ignorance” about labor problems. The U.S. Tariff Act of 1930 bars the inflow of goods made with forced labor—but the law contains a “consumptive demand” exception, which allows goods, even if they are made by forced laborers, to be imported if the demand from consumers can somehow not be met otherwise.
There have been some efforts to reduce forced labor. Kenneth Kennedy, a senior policy adviser on forced-labor programs for the Department of Homeland Security, told me by phone that the U.S. and China have an unusual memorandum of understanding on prison labor. Signed under President George H. W. Bush in 1992, before China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, the agreement prohibited the importation of goods made by Chinese prison labor, and set terms for reports on and investigations of “companies, enterprises or units suspected of violating relevant regulations and laws” made “upon the request of one Party.” The Clinton Administration, in 1994, elaborated on the agreement, requiring the Chinese government to respond within ninety days to a U.S. government request to visit a factory (and vice versa).
“Those two documents are fairly unique,” Kennedy explained. “We don’t have them with other countries.” The United States cannot enforce its own labor laws overseas, but if commodities coming into the United States are found to be produced by prison, forced, or indentured labor, it can impose various penalties—financial and criminal—on the companies importing the commodities. (In 2001, the Allied International Manufacturing (Nanjing) Stationery Company Ltd. pleaded guilty to federal charges of forced prison labor, becoming the first Chinese company in the U.S. so convicted. Kennedy told me that the stationery firm faced financial penalties.) But China, Kennedy explained in an e-mail, cannot be penalized directly for the production of such products. Kennedy didn’t know of any instances in which the U.S. government sent investigators to factories in China and found evidence of forced or prison labor. He declined to comment on Saks because the government considers the case open. (When I asked for clarification, Justin Cole, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who had helped arrange my conversations with Kennedy, said that he “will not be able to comment any further on the case.”)
There’s also change on the other side of the supply chain. Late last year, China’s Parliament voted to end its fifty-five-year-old system of “Reëducation Through Labor” camps. But these camps already regularly break the law—for instance by practicing torture—so human-rights groups remain skeptical. Amnesty International believes that extrajudicial jails and drug-rehabilitation centers are the new sites of punishment for political and religious dissidents. It still falls to courageous individuals like Njong to risk abuse and violence, Solomon Northup-like, in trying to make themselves heard.
Njong told me that he was discharged from prison last December, escorted to Beijing, and put on a plane to Cameroon. He got a two-month tourist visa to go to the United Arab Emirates—renewable once—after borrowing five thousand dollars from a cousin. Over the phone, I asked Njong why he didn’t stay in Cameroon after his return from China. He explained that he left in the first place because of his home country’s swelling corruption. “Dubai was the place I could obtain a visa as fast as possible,” he said.
Njong found work at a cleaning company in Abu Dhabi. “We get up so early, four o’clock,” he told me. “The company acts like brokers: they get workers and send us to locations. My location is a veterinary hospital. We go in the morning and we clean—the animal waste.”
He doesn’t talk often with his family. “Making calls from here is expensive,” he said. “And I’m still waiting for my first salary. I never want to tell them when things are rough. I’m just struggling with my life to see that anything good can come from life.”
I asked about whether he might be compensated for his troubles. Doesn’t China owe him? Don’t any of the others along the supply chain that brought the bag into Stephanie Wilson’s hands? “I don’t think the hours are worth it, seeking compensation,” he said. “It’s not easy. It’s not something anybody can just do.”
Thanks to Diego hadisJune 6th, 2014
Opening Reception June 12, 2014, 6:30PM
A TRAVELING ARCHIVE showcases sketches, pictures, notes, letters and faxes, as well as a selection of the most important creations designed by Vico Magistretti (Milan, 1920-2006) . During his lifetime, the architect and designer received some of the most important awards in the field of design, including the Compasso d’Oro and the First Prize of the Triennale of Milan. The exhibition at the IIC also “recreates” his studio in Milan, where Vico Magistretti worked during his entire career: the walls are covered by samples of his favorite paper materials, sketches drawn on newspaper pages, drawings made for him by his grandchildren, letters, correspondence with friends and colleagues, and family photographs.
This tribute to the legendary designer, curated by Rosanna Pavoni (Director of the Fondazione studio museo Vico Magistretti), and on-site curator Ilaria Mazzoleni (Architect, IM Studio MI/LA, SCI-Arc), is accompanied by a 40-minute interview where Vico Magistretti explains his theory on design (in Italian with English subtitles.)June 4th, 2014
By Jeremy Rifkin
The Huffington Post: 06/02/2014
The White House today released its national climate plan for reducing CO2 emissions, warning that climate change is adversely affecting every region of the United States, with dire consequences for the economy. Unfortunately, the new initiatives by the US government to ward off rising temperatures are weak at best. What’s sorely missing from the climate change debate is a new economic vision that can quickly transition the US and global economy out of carbon based energy and into renewable energies, while simultaneously increasing productivity and reducing the amount of the earth’s resources used in the economic process, ensuring a more prosperous and sustainable society. That vision is now taking hold.
A powerful new technology revolution is evolving that will allow enterprises and prosumers to make and share their own green electricity, and an increasing array of sustainable physical products and services, at near zero marginal cost, just as billions of prosumers now do with information goods. (Marginal cost is the cost of producing an additional unit of a good or service after the fixed costs have been absorbed). The Communication Internet is converging with a fledgling Energy Internet and nascent automated Transport and Logistics Internet, creating a new technological infrastructure for society–a Third Industrial Revolution–that could fundamentally alter the global economy and usher in an ecological civilization in the first half of the 21st century. Billions of sensors are being attached to resource flows, warehouses, road systems, factory production lines, the electricity transmission grid, offices, homes, stores, and vehicles, continually monitoring their status and performance and feeding big data back to the Internet of Things. By 2030, it is estimated there will be more than 100 trillion sensors connecting the human and natural environment in a global distributed intelligent network.
Enterprises and prosumers will be able to connect to the Internet of Things (IoT) and use Big Data and analytics to develop predictive algorithms that can speed efficiency, increase productivity, reduce the use of natural resources, and lower the marginal cost of producing renewable energy and manufactured products to near zero. They will be able to share what they’ve made with others on an emerging Collaborative Commons that is beginning to flourish alongside the conventional capitalist marketplace.
Zero Marginal Cost Renewable Energy
For example, the bulk of the energy we use to heat our homes and run our appliances, power our businesses, drive our vehicles, and operate every part of the global economy will be generated at near zero marginal cost and be nearly free in the coming decades. That’s already the case for several million early adopters who have transformed their homes and businesses into micro-power plants to harvest renewable energy on-site. Even before the fixed costs for the installation of solar and wind are paid back–often as little as 2 to 8 years–the marginal cost of the harvested energy is nearly free. Unlike fossil fuels and uranium for nuclear power, in which the commodity itself always costs something, the sun collected on rooftops and the wind travelling up the side of buildings are nearly free. The Internet of Things will enable prosumers to monitor their electricity usage in their buildings, optimize their energy efficiency, and share surplus green electricity with others on the Energy Internet.
The same exponential curves that drove the marginal cost of generating and distributing communication to near zero has touched off a similar revolution in the field of renewable energy. Richard Swanson, the founder of SunPower Corporation, observed the same doubling phenomena in solar that IT companies observed in computer chips. Swanson’s law holds that the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells tends to drop by 20 percent for every doubling of industry capacity. Crystalline silicon photovoltaic cell prices have fallen dramatically, from $60 a watt in 1976 to $0.66 a watt in 2013.
Solar cells are capturing more solar energy that strikes them while reducing the cost of harvesting the energy. Solar efficiencies for triple junction solar cells in the laboratory have reached 41 percent. Thin film has hit 20 percent efficiency in the laboratory. If this trend continues at the current pace–and most studies actually show an acceleration in exponentiality–solar energy will be as cheap as the current average retail price of electricity today by 2020 and half the price of coal electricity today by 2030.
The impact on society of near zero marginal cost solar energy is all the more pronounced when we consider the vast potential of these energy sources. The sun beams 470 exajoules of energy to Earth every 88 minutes–equaling the amount of energy human beings use in a year. If we could grab hold of one-tenth of 1 percent of the sun’s energy that reaches Earth, it would give us six times the energy we now use across the global economy.
Like solar radiation, wind is ubiquitous and blows everywhere in the world–although its strength and frequency varies. A Stanford University study on global wind capacity concluded that if 20 percent of the world’s available wind was harvested, it would generate seven times more electricity than we currently use to run the entire global economy. Wind capacity has been growing exponentially since the early 1990s and has already reached parity with conventionally generated electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear power in many regions of the world. In the past quarter century, wind-turbine productivity increased 100-fold and the average capacity per turbine grew by more than 1,000 percent. Increased performance and productivity has significantly reduced the cost of production, installation, and maintenance, leading to a growth rate of more than 30 percent per year between 1998 and 2007, or a doubling of capacity every two and a half years. Industry analysts forecast that the harvesting technology for solar and small wind power will be as cheap as cell phones and laptops within fifteen years.
Local, regional, and national governments around the world have instituted feed-in tariffs in the past few years, guaranteeing a premium price for renewable energy above the market value of other energies for a set period of usually 15 to 20 years to encourage early adopters to invest in the installation of wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and small hydro renewable energy generation and feed the new green electricity back to the transmission grid. Today, millions of business and homeowners in Europe are taking advantage of feed in tariffs and investing their own capital to install renewable energy harvesting technologies on site. While the up-front capital investment is significant, they are beginning to receive low-interest-rate green loans from banks and credit unions. The banks are more than willing to lend money at reduced interest rates because the premium price of the green energy being produced virtually ensures the loan will be honored.
Sixty-five countries have instituted feed-in tariffs, and over half of them are in the developing world. Feed-in tariffs have proven to be a powerful policy instrument in moving renewable energy online. Nearly two-thirds of the global wind and 87 percent of global photovoltaic capacity has been spurred by feed-in tariffs. Unfortunately, in the United States, only California, Vermont, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Rhode Island have implemented even cursory feed-in tariffs.
Naysayers argue that subsidies for green energy, in the form of feed-in tariffs, are too costly for society. The reality is that they merely speed up adoption and scale, encourage competition, and spur innovation, which further increases the efficiency of renewable energy harvesting technologies and lowers the cost of production and installation. In country after country, solar and wind energy is nearing parity or at parity with conventional fossil-fuel and nuclear power, allowing the government to begin phasing out tariffs. Meanwhile, the older fossil-fuel energies and nuclear power, although mature and well past their prime, continue to be subsidized at levels that far exceed the subsidies extended to renewable energy. Instituting robust feed in tariffs in all 50 states is a much more effective commercial incentive than carbon trading schemes to quickly usher in a post-carbon society.
Already, 27 percent of the electricity in Germany is being generated by renewable energy – mostly solar and wind–at near zero marginal cost and the percentage of green electricity is expected to exceed 35% by 2020. On Sunday, May 11th 2014, 75% of Germany’s electricity demand was generated by renewable energy, a milestone for the world’s most robust industrial economy per capita. So much near zero marginal cost electricity was being fed into the nation’s power grid that electricity prices plunged into the negative category for much of the day. While the cost of subsidizing the new renewable energies places a relatively small short term burden on businesses and homeowners, in the mid- to long-term, Germany and other countries will enjoy near zero marginal cost energy and a dramatic increase in efficiency and productivity across the economy, resulting in sustainable economic growth far into the future.
It is particularly interesting to note that in Germany, which is setting the pace for transitioning into green electricity in Europe, the big traditional power and utility companies–E.ON, RWE, EnBW, Vattenfall Europe–owned only 7 percent of the renewable-energy capacity installed by the end of 2011. Individuals, however, “owned 40 percent of the renewable energy capacity, energy niche players 14 percent, farmers 11 percent, various energy-intensive industrial companies 9 percent, and financial companies 11 percent. Small regional utilities and international utilities owned another 7 percent.” Nearly half of the German wind turbines are owned by residents of the regions. In other EU countries, the pattern is the same. Consumers are becoming prosumers and generating their own green electricity.
Gérard Mestrallet, CEO of GDF Suez–the French gas utility–says that just ten years ago the European energy market was dominated almost exclusively by a handful of regional monopolies. “Those days are gone forever,” says Mestrallet, now that “some consumers have become producers.” Peter Terium, CEO of RWE, the German-based energy company, acknowledges the massive shift taking place in Europe from centralized to distributed power, and says that the bigger power and utility companies “have to adjust to the fact that, in the longer term, earning capacity in conventional electricity generation will be markedly below what we’ve seen in recent years.”
Had anyone suggested ten years ago that the big power and utility companies of Europe would begin to crumble as millions of small, distributed, renewable-energy micropower players began to generate their own green electricity for the grid, it would have been dismissed as fantasy by the powers that be. Not now. “It is a real revolution,” says Mestrallet.
Nor is Europe alone. In December of 2013, the Chinese government leapt ahead of other countries, announcing that it is dedicating an initial $82 billion to establish a Third Industrial Revolution distributed “Energy Internet” that will serve as the centerpiece of an Internet of Things technology platform and infrastructure. Under the plan, millions of people in neighborhoods and communities across the country, as well as hundreds of thousands of businesses, will be able to produce their own solar- and wind-generated green electricity locally at near zero marginal cost, and share it on a national Energy Internet.
The Energy Internet, embedded in an Internet of Things platform will change the way power is generated and distributed in society. Already, millions of homeowners, businesses, and neighborhood producer and consumer cooperatives are harvesting clean renewable energy at near zero marginal cost. In the coming era, hundreds of millions of people will produce their own green electricity and share it at near zero marginal cost with each other on an Energy Internet, just as we now generate and share information online. When Internet communications manages green energy, every human being on Earth becomes his or her own source of power, both literally and figuratively. Zero marginal cost energy is “power to the people.”
The Democratization of Manufacturing
While millions of people are now producing and sharing their own green electricity on an emerging Energy Internet, hundreds of thousands of hobbyists and thousands of startup companies are already printing out their own manufactured products using free software, and cheap recycled plastic, paper, and other locally available feedstock at near zero marginal cost. The additive manufacturing process, powered by electricity generated from renewable energy, uses one tenth of the materials of traditional factory production, resulting in a dramatic reduction in CO2 emissions and the use of the earth’s resources. By 2020, prosumers will be able to share their 3D printed products with others on the Collaborative Commons by transporting them in driverless electric and fuel cell vehicles, powered by near zero marginal cost renewable energy, facilitated by an automated Logistics and Transport Internet.
China is setting the pace in the development of 3D printing. Beihang University is using 3D printing to manufacture sophisticated parts used in rockets and satellites. WinSun, another Chinese company, built ten small houses in less than 24 hours in 2014, using cheap recycled materials. The construction of the houses required very little human labor, and cost less than $5000 a piece to construct, making possible the production of millions of cheap homes at low or near zero marginal cost in China and other developing countries. Tiertime, China’s largest producer of desktop 3D printers for use in small businesses and households, unveiled its newest model UP! in 2014. The company is competing head to head with America’s leading producers of 3D printers, in the hopes of capturing much of the global market in the years ahead.
While Great Britain sparked the First Industrial Revolution, and the United States led the world into the Second Industrial Revolution, China has set its sights on leading the world into the Third Industrial Revolution by being the first superpower to build out an Internet of Things infrastructure and accompanying Collaborative Commons. In 2010, China seized the initiative over other countries, announcing its intention to erect an Internet of Things, focusing on the smart Energy Internet and an automated Logistics and Transport Internet, with the goal of meshing them with the Communication Internet to create the infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution. The Chinese government expects to invest $800 million on the initial build-out of the Internet of Things by 2015. The Chinese Ministry of Information and Technology forecasts that the IoT market will exceed $80 billion by 2015 and $166 billion by 2020.
The efficiency and productivity gains of the Third Industrial Revolution are likely to far outstrip those of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions. Several billion people and millions of organizations connected to the Internet of Things allows the human race to share their economic lives in a global Collaborative Commons, in ways previously unimaginable. This turning point in connectivity potentially exceeds even the integration of economic activity wrought by electrification and the accompanying spread of the telephone, radio and television in the 20th century. Cisco systems forecasts that by 2022, the Internet of Things will generate $14.4 trillion in cost efficiency savings and revenue. A General Electric study published in November 2012 concludes that the efficiency gains and productivity advances made possible by a smart industrial Internet could resound across virtually every economic sector by 2025, impacting “approximately one half of the global economy.”
The Sharing Economy on the Collaborative Commons
Forty percent of the US population is already actively engaged in the sharing economy on the Collaborative Commons. 800,000 individuals in the US are now using car sharing services. In car sharing services, once the fixed costs are absorbed, the marginal cost of sharing the vehicle moves to near zero with each additional user.
Global transport currently accounts for fifteen percent of global warming emissions. Each car share vehicle eliminates 15 personally owned cars, resulting in a dramatic reduction in both CO2 emissions and the massive amount of material resources, energy, and labor that goes into manufacturing each automobile. In a recent study focused on the city of Ann Harbor, Michigan, Lawrence D. Burns, formerly the corporate vice president of research, development, and planning at General Motors, found that “about 80% fewer shared, coordinated vehicles would be needed than personally owned vehicles to provide the same level of mobility, with less investment.” If we were to extrapolate Burns’ study on a global scale, it is possible to envision car sharing services eliminating upwards of 800 million of the 1 billion privately owned cars now on the road, for a dramatic reduction in both CO2 emissions and the massive amount of material resources, energy, and labor that goes into manufacturing each automobile. If the remaining 200 million vehicles were powered by green electricity transmitted across the Energy Internet, carbon emissions in the transport sector would be reduced to near zero.
Buildings are another major contributor to climate change, accounting for approximately one third of global warming emissions. A significant percentage of these emissions come from hotels and resorts. (The travel and tourism sector is one of the largest industries in the world and represents nine percent of global GDP.) Now, millions of homeowners are sharing their apartments and houses with travelers via global online services like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, bypassing commercial hotels. For homeowners and apartment dwellers, whose fixed costs have already been absorbed, the marginal cost of opening up their homes to travelers is near zero. The big brick-and-mortar hotel chains, with their huge operating costs, simply can’t compete with cheap short-term rentals or even free accommodations whose marginal costs of operation approach zero. In New York alone, Airbnb’s 416,000 guests who stayed in apartments and houses between mid-2012 and mid-2013 cost the New York hotel industry 1 million lost room nights. As millions of homeowners open up their apartments and houses to travelers, we can expect a significant decline in the use of hotels and a corresponding decrease in CO2 emissions.
Millions of people are also redistributing their used clothing on the Collaborative Commons via online networks like ThredUP. The global textile industry is a major contributor to global warming, accounting for 10 percent of the total carbon impact. ThredUPs 385,000 visitors per month shared over 350,000 items in 2012, and orders are growing by a whopping 51% a month. More people sharing fewer clothes reduces the amount of new clothes purchased, resulting in fewer global warming gas emissions.
A younger generation is also sharing their tools, their children’s toys, and countless other items on the Collaborative Commons. Freecycle, a redistribution network, gifted and passed along 700 million pounds of used items in the past year. If those items were stacked in garbage trucks, they would extend “the equivalent of over thirteen times the height of Mt. Everest.”
In a zero marginal cost society, extreme productivity decreases the amount of information, energy, material resources, labor and logistics costs, necessary to produce and distribute economic goods and services, once fixed costs are absorbed. And the goods and services that are produced at near zero marginal cost are redistributed and shared over and over again on the Collaborative Commons, dramatically reducing the number of things sold, meaning fewer resources are used up and less global warming gases are emitted into the earth’s atmosphere.
The nations of the world are far more likely to make commitments to CO2 reductions if pegged to the vast economic benefits that come from erecting an Internet of Things platform that can unleash extreme productivity, reduce the marginal cost of producing and distributing renewable energy, 3D printed goods, and services to near zero, and give rise to a sharing circular economy on the Collaborative Commons. If the Third Industrial Revolution becomes the centerpiece of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2015 in Paris, rather than a sideshow, humanity might yet snatch victory from defeat, turn the corner on climate change, and restore the planet to health.
Jeremy Rifkin is the author The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism. Mr. Rifkin is a principal architect of the European Union’s long-term Third Industrial Revolution economic development plan, and an advisor on sustainable development to heads of state around the world. He is the president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC.
Thanks to David FeltsJune 4th, 2014
Lisa Lapinski, “Untitled,” 2013, Wax, blind, resin, epoxy, show, 20 x 23 x 1 inches
Curated by Kristina Kite
Through June 16, 2014
Thanks to Basil KatzJune 2nd, 2014
By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: JUNE 1, 2014
A while back I published an article titled “The Rich, the Right, and the Facts,” in which I described politically motivated efforts to deny the obvious — the sharp rise in U.S. inequality, especially at the very top of the income scale. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I found a lot of statistical malpractice in high places.
Nor will it surprise you to learn that nothing much has changed. Not only do the usual suspects continue to deny the obvious, but they keep rolling out the same discredited arguments: Inequality isn’t really rising; O.K., it’s rising, but it doesn’t matter because we have so much social mobility; anyway, it’s a good thing, and anyone who suggests that it’s a problem is a Marxist.
What may surprise you is the year in which I published that article: 1992.
Which brings me to the latest intellectual scuffle, set off by an article by Chris Giles, the economics editor of The Financial Times, attacking the credibility of Thomas Piketty’s best-selling “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” Mr. Giles claimed that Mr. Piketty’s work made “a series of errors that skew his findings,” and that there is in fact no clear evidence of rising concentration of wealth. And like just about everyone who has followed such controversies over the years, I thought, “Here we go again.”
Sure enough, the subsequent discussion has not gone well for Mr. Giles. The alleged errors were actually the kinds of data adjustments that are normal in any research that relies on a variety of sources. And the crucial assertion that there is no clear trend toward increased concentration of wealth rested on a known fallacy, an apples-to-oranges comparison that experts have long warned about — and that I identified in that 1992 article.
At the risk of giving too much information, here’s the issue. We have two sources of evidence on both income and wealth: surveys, in which people are asked about their finances, and tax data. Survey data, while useful for tracking the poor and the middle class, notoriously understate top incomes and wealth — loosely speaking, because it’s hard to interview enough billionaires. So studies of the 1 percent, the 0.1 percent, and so on rely mainly on tax data. The Financial Times critique, however, compared older estimates of wealth concentration based on tax data with more recent estimates based on surveys; this produced an automatic bias against finding an upward trend.
In short, this latest attempt to debunk the notion that we’ve become a vastly more unequal society has itself been debunked. And you should have expected that. There are so many independent indicators pointing to sharply rising inequality, from the soaring prices of high-end real estate to the booming markets for luxury goods, that any claim that inequality isn’t rising almost has to be based on faulty data analysis.
Yet inequality denial persists, for pretty much the same reasons that climate change denial persists: there are powerful groups with a strong interest in rejecting the facts, or at least creating a fog of doubt. Indeed, you can be sure that the claim “The Piketty numbers are all wrong” will be endlessly repeated even though that claim quickly collapsed under scrutiny.
By the way, I’m not accusing Mr. Giles of being a hired gun for the plutocracy, although there are some self-proclaimed experts who fit that description. And nobody’s work should be considered above criticism. But on politically charged issues, critics of the consensus need to be self-aware; they need to ask whether they’re really seeking intellectual honesty, or are effectively acting as concern trolls, professional debunkers of liberal pieties. (Strange to say, there are no trolls on the right debunking conservative pieties. Funny how that works.)
So here’s what you need to know: Yes, the concentration of both income and wealth in the hands of a few people has increased greatly over the past few decades. No, the people receiving that income and owning that wealth aren’t an ever-shifting group: People move fairly often from the bottom of the 1 percent to the top of the next percentile and vice versa, but both rags to riches and riches to rags stories are rare — inequality in average incomes over multiple years isn’t much less than inequality in a given year. No, taxes and benefits don’t greatly change the picture — in fact, since the 1970s big tax cuts at the top have caused after-tax inequality to rise faster than inequality before taxes.
This picture makes some people uncomfortable, because it plays into populist demands for higher taxes on the rich. But good ideas don’t need to be sold on false pretenses. If the argument against populism rests on bogus claims about inequality, you should consider the possibility that the populists are right.June 2nd, 2014
June 2nd, 2014
Billy Al Bengston, Busby, 1963
Oil, polymer and sprayed lacquer on masonite, 80 X 60 inches
BASIN THEOLOGY/2C-T-XX, 2013
9 May – 25 July 2014June 1st, 2014
A late-19th-century family taking a stroll down a set of railroad tracks. Credit Vintage Images/Getty Images
By JON GRINSPAN
NY Times Published: MAY 31, 2014
PHILADELPHIA — DINNER with your children in 19th-century America often required some self-control. Berry stains in your daughter’s hair? Good for her. Raccoon bites running up your boy’s arms? Bet he had an interesting day.
As this year’s summer vacation begins, many parents contemplate how to rein in their kids. But there was a time when Americans pushed in the opposite direction, preserved in Mark Twain’s cat-swinging scamps. Parents back then encouraged kids to get some wildness out of their system, to express the republic’s revolutionary values.
American children of the 19th century had a reputation. Returning British visitors reported on American kids who showed no respect, who swore and fought, who appeared — at age 10 — “calling for liquor at the bar, or puffing a cigar in the streets,” as one wrote. There were really no children in 19th-century America, travelers often claimed, only “small stuck-up caricatures of men and women.”
This was not a “carefree” nation, too rough-hewed to teach proper manners; adults deliberately chose to express new values by raising “go-ahead” boys and girls. The result mixed democracy and mob rule, assertiveness and cruelty, sudden freedom and strict boundaries.
Visitors noted how American fathers would brag that their disobedient children were actually “young republicans,” liberated from old hierarchies. Children were still expected to be deferential to elders, but many were trained to embody their nation’s revolutionary virtues. “The theory of the equality” was present at the ballot box, according to one sympathetic Englishman, but “rampant in the nursery.”
Boys, in particular, spent their childhoods in a rowdy outdoor subculture. After age 5 or so they needed little attention from their mothers, but were not big enough to help their fathers work. So until age 10 or 12 they spent much of their time playing or fighting.
The writer William Dean Howells recalled his ordinary, violent Ohio childhood, immersed in his loose gang of pals, rarely catching a “glimpse of life much higher than the middle of a man.” Howells’s peers were “always stoning something,” whether friends, rivals or stray dogs. They left a trail of maimed animals behind them, often hurt in sloppy attempts to domesticate wild pets.
And though we envision innocents playing with a hoop and a stick, many preferred “mumbletypeg” — a game where two players competed to see who could throw a knife closer to his own foot. Stabbing yourself meant a win by default.
Left to their own devices, boys learned an assertive style that shaped their futures. The story of every 19th-century empire builder — Carnegie, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt — seems to begin with a striving 10-year-old. “Boy culture” offered training for the challenges of American manhood and a reprieve before a life of labor.
But these unsupervised boys also formed gangs that harassed the mentally ill, the handicapped and racial and ethnic minorities. Boys played an outsize role in the anti-Irish pogroms in 1840s Philadelphia, the brutal New York City draft riots targeting African-Americans during the Civil War and attacks on Chinese laborers in Gilded Age
Their sisters followed a different path. Girls were usually assigned more of their mothers’ tasks. An 8-year-old girl would be expected to help with the wash or other physically demanding tasks, while her brother might simply be too small, too slow or too annoying to drive the plow with his father. But despite their drudgery, 19th-century American girls still found time for tree climbing, bonfire building and waterfall-jumping antics. There were few pretty pink princesses in 19th-century America: Girls were too rowdy and too republican for that.
So how did we get from “democratic sucklings” to helicopter parents? Though many point to a rise of parental worrying after the 1970s, this was an incremental change in a movement that began a hundred years earlier.
Continue reading the main story
In the last quarter of the 19th century, middle-class parents launched a self-conscious project to protect children. Urban professionals began to focus on children’s vulnerabilities. Well-to-do worriers no longer needed to raise tough dairymaids or cunning newsboys; the changing economy demanded careful managers of businesses or households, and restrained company men, capable of navigating big institutions.
Demographics played a role as well: By 1900 American women had half as many children as they did in 1800, and those children were twice as likely to live through infancy as they were in 1850. Ironically, as their children faced fewer dangers, parents worried more about their protection.
Instead of seeing boys and girls as capable, clever, knockabout scamps, many reconceived children as vulnerable, weak and naïve. Reformers introduced child labor laws, divided kids by age in school and monitored their play. Jane Addams particularly worked to fit children into the new industrial order, condemning “this stupid experiment of organizing work and failing to organize play.”
There was good reason to tame the boys and girls of the 19th century, if only for stray cats’ sake. But somewhere between Jane Addams and Nancy Grace, Americans lost track of their larger goal. Earlier parents raised their kids to express values their society trumpeted.
“Precocious” 19th-century troublemakers asserted their parents’ democratic beliefs and fit into an economy that had little use for 8-year-olds but idealized striving, self-made men. Reformers designed their Boy Scouts to meet the demands of the 20th century, teaching organization and rebalancing the relationship between play and work. Both movements agreed, in their didactic ways, that playtime shaped future citizens.
Does the overprotected child articulate values we are proud of in 2014? Nothing is easier than judging other peoples’ parenting, but there is a side of contemporary American culture — fearful, litigious, controlling — that we do not brag about but that we reveal in our child rearing, and that runs contrary to our self-image as an open, optimistic nation. Maybe this is why sheltering parents come in for so much easy criticism: A visit to the playground exposes traits we would rather not recognize.
There is, however, a saving grace that parents will notice this summer. Kids are harder to guide and shape, as William Dean Howells put it, “than grown people are apt to think.” It is as true today as it was two centuries ago: “Everywhere and always the world of boys is outside of the laws that govern grown-up communities.” Somehow, they’ll manage to go their own way.June 1st, 2014