painted maple wood and cast bronze
27-1/2 x 19 x 3 inches
Through June 20, 2015June 10th, 2015
The installation “Provincial Punk” contains over 50 works dating to 1981. Credit Stephen White
By FARAH NAYERI
NY Times Published: JUNE 3, 2015
MARGATE, England — A blond homemaker in heels and a skirt suit walks past a road sign that has been vandalized and marked with the words “bungalow depression.” Moments earlier at her suburban house, she waters the plants and dusts the television as Lou Reed sings “Walk on the Wild Side.”
The housewife in the video (“Bungalow Depression,” 1981) is played by Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing British artist who won the Turner Prize in 2003 for his outlandish ceramic pots and has since broadened his practice to an array of disciplines. The film is being screened in his new solo show, through Sept. 13, at Turner Contemporary, a gallery in the English sea resort of Margate.
Mr. Perry, 55, is known today as much more than a ceramicist. He’s a maker of etchings and tapestries satirizing Britain, a radio lecturer and author on the art world, and a presenter of award-winning sociological television programs in which he makes tapestries, pots and sculptures of individuals he meets. He has just designed a fairy-tale-like house in Essex (available as a vacation rental) that’s a shrine to an imaginary Essex woman.
Mr. Perry in 2011-12 curated an exhibition at the British Museum that included some of his own works (“Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman”), and has shows this year at the Pera Museum in Istanbul and at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney. His works can fetch as much as 450,000 pounds, or about $687,000, according to his dealers, the Victoria Miro Gallery. Yet Mr. Perry’s eclecticism has led some critics to assert that his talks, writings and public appearances are more interesting than his creative output. In a scathing review of the Margate show, for example, Jonathan Jones of The Guardian wrote, “Grayson Perry would be a very good artist if he never made any art.”
Wearing a T-shirt and paint-splattered trousers, Mr. Perry said in a recent interview at his studio in London that he never reads reviews of his exhibitions.
“I love the way it grates on some people,” he said. “They have a set of criteria that I don’t measure up against very well.”
Mr. Perry said his multipronged pursuits had much to do with “always having enjoyed interaction with the media.” When he started out, he said, it “was seen as vulgarizing, the idea that you would hanker after attention.”
“Now,” he added, “it’s the most valuable currency of all in the age of the Internet: clicks is what we’re all after.”
The Margate exhibition, which Mr. Perry has dubbed “Provincial Punk,” contains more than 50 works dating as far back as 1981.
The show’s curator, Fiona Parry, said, “We felt that this was a time to revisit the whole practice of an artist who is now an extremely well-known figure, and see where some of his ideas and interests come from.”
The gallery’s director, Victoria Pomery, said that Mr. Perry was a “perfect fit” because he was originally from Essex, an area close to Margate, and that his art was accessible. “A lot of our visitors have never been in a museum or gallery in their life,” she said.
The exhibition consists of roomfuls of Mr. Perry’s pots, etchings and wall-length tapestries. These are interspersed with his earliest creations: primitive vases and plates in muddy tones; wild painted sketchbooks, filled with motorcycles and nude women; and grainy films.
The pots touch on aspects of Mr. Perry’s youth in Essex. As he recalls in his 2006 autobiography, “Grayson Perry: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl,” he grew up in a family that was torn apart by his mother’s decision to leave his father for the milkman, literally. Young Grayson was forced to cohabit with a physically aggressive stepfather, and created a rich imaginary world to escape to.
One personal piece in the exhibition, a golden vase with delicate floral motifs, is titled “Football Stands for Everything I Hate” (1996). It features rows of soccer shirts bearing mordant messages such as “working class and proud,” “pub bores,” “cockney” and “my stepfather.”
“I was a lot angrier and more black-and-white then: I might not make that pot now,” Mr. Perry said with a loud chuckle. “It was just before I went into therapy.”
What about his stepfather?
“He’d still be on it now,” Mr. Perry deadpanned.
After art school, he took up ceramics and soon turned what was an archaic medium into a vehicle for raw self-expression. By then, he was a cross-dresser, and today he still appears as Claire, his female alter ego, at receptions and openings, where he is sometimes accompanied by his wife, Philippa Perry, a psychotherapist, and their daughter, Flo, now 22.
Contradictions abound in Mr. Perry’s art, too. The array of vases in the exhibition’s opening room, displayed in individual vitrines, look like delicate antiques from afar. But up close, they’re contemporary and crude, juxtaposing, for example, prim catalog ads for ladies’ waistcoats with graphic depictions of women in bondage. Some of the other pots in the room look more humdrum, perhaps because there are nearly two dozen of them. Much more absorbing are the prints and tapestries in the next sections: products of Mr. Perry’s draftsmanship.
Charles Saumarez Smith, secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the 247-year-old artist-run institution to which Mr. Perry was elected in 2011, said he viewed Mr. Perry “more as a graphic artist than as a potter,” describing him as “a first-rate printmaker of extraordinary invention and imagination, with a great deal of intelligent social commentary.”
The etching “Map of Nowhere” (2008), on view in the show, is a self-portrait where Mr. Perry hovers, God-like, over a meticulously drawn medieval landscape. At his heart are patches of territory marked “despair” and “doubt.” Elsewhere on the map of his body, philosophical landmarks such as “mortality” and “the limits of reason” sit near prosaic ones like “kidults,” “Internet dating” and “trendy wine bar.”
Mr. Perry’s graphic skills are further showcased in his giant tapestries, which he draws on a computer and then has woven. “The Walthamstow Tapestry” (2009) shows a man’s trajectory from cradle to grave past a cornucopia of brands: from Woolworth’s, Coca-Cola, Mercedes and Chanel to Prada, easyJet, Ikea, and Marks & Spencer.
Is the work an indictment of modern-day consumer society?
“Not in such a clear, progressive, public-service” way, Mr. Perry said.
The angry and provocative denunciations of Mr. Perry’s youth have given way to milder forms of satire, exemplified by his witty new book on the art world, “Playing to the Gallery.”
Mr. Saumarez Smith said Mr. Perry ultimately represented “that very anarchic streak of independent-mindedness” characteristic of British art, describing him as “this generation’s Hogarth.” He was referring to William Hogarth, the 18th-century painter, printmaker and satirist, who was viewed in his day “as a slightly oddball artist, but of huge contemporary significance.”June 6th, 2015
The state of California sued Linda Conder in March, seeking $120,000 her mother held in a bank account when she died in 2010. Medi-Cal had paid that amount to cover her mother’s care between 1999 and 2003. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)
By STUART PFEIFER
Los Angeles Times Published: June 5, 2015
The state’s Medi-Cal program has long looked to the estates and heirs of deceased Californians to recoup public money spent on their healthcare in the last years of life.
But the practice — including suing survivors and filing liens against the homes of poor families — is coming under attack in Sacramento.
On Thursday, the state Senate approved, 33 to 0, a bill by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) to order major changes in the Medi-Cal recovery program. It now goes to the Assembly.
If signed into law, Senate Bill 33 would limit the state’s ability to go after homes “of modest value,” allowing survivors hardship exemptions for homes with fair market value of 50% or less of the county average. It would also prohibit seeking money from the estates of surviving spouses.
The bill targets California-specific provisions of the recovery program, which are more aggressive than required by federal Medicaid regulations.
Hernandez took interest after learning that many poor families were reluctant to sign up for Medi-Cal because they didn’t want the state collecting after they died. Taking from estates and heirs “needlessly prolongs poverty,” he said Thursday.
“Californians shouldn’t be forced to put their house on the line in order to receive basic healthcare services,” he said.
Since 1993, California has recovered more than $1 billion from Medi-Cal recipients’ estates — and that number could swell as thousands more low-income people sign up for Medi-Cal as part of the Affordable Care Act. Almost a third of all Californians get some kind of assistance from Medi-Cal.
The $1 billion seized came from the estates of Medi-Cal recipients who died leaving behind assets, often their homes. If heirs do not voluntarily pay off the Medi-Cal debt, or win hardship exemptions, California officials file lawsuits to collect the debt in court.
The state’s recovery efforts take many survivors by surprise. Linda Conder, a 67-year-old Whittier woman, said she had no idea she could have taken steps to protect her mother’s assets from collection.
The state sued her in March, seeking $120,000 her mother held in a bank account when she died in 2010. Medi-Cal had paid that amount to cover her mother’s care between 1999 and 2003.
“If you’re wealthy enough, you can set it up in a certain way” to avoid collection, she said. “We didn’t know that. We don’t have attorneys working for us. That’s not the way everyday America works.”
Proponents of national collection efforts note that Medicaid (called Medi-Cal in California) was intended as a last resort for people with no means to pay for healthcare — not a way to preserve assets they hope to pass down to heirs.
“Medicaid has been and should be the program of last resort for people who really have nowhere else to go,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Assn. of Medicaid Directors. “For people who do have options, for people who do have means, you really shouldn’t be relying on Medicaid for long-term care coverage.”
This year, the state also sued the five children of Trinidad and Maria Acosta to collect the $160,000 that Medi-Cal paid for the couple’s nursing home stays before they died. The Acostas left behind one asset, their home in the Cypress Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The immigrants from Guadalajara, Mexico, had worked hard to reach that goal — Trinidad as a welder, Maria a seamstress. One day, they thought, the two-bedroom home would be passed down to their five children: Maria, Juan, Rigoberto, Francisco and Gabriela.
But after the Acostas died, the state Department of Health Care Services sued their children, seeking more than $160,000, money that could come from only one place: the 1,056-square-foot home in which they were raised.
Federal law requires states to recover from the estates of deceased people who received Medicaid assistance for long-term medical care, including nursing homes. But California takes it one step further, collecting for nearly all medical services for people 55 and older covered by Medi-Cal.
There are exceptions. The state doesn’t collect if the person who died has a child under age 21, or a child who’s disabled. If there’s a surviving spouse, the state holds off until that spouse dies.
When Trinidad Acosta died in 2000, the state didn’t collect the $72,000 that Medi-Cal had spent to cover his stay in a nursing home because his wife was still alive. But after Maria Acosta died in 2011, the state put in a $162,000 claim against her estate — for the $90,000 Medi-Cal spent on her health coverage, plus the money it had spent on her husband.
The couple’s daughter Maria Villegas said the only way they can pay that bill is to sell their parents’ home on Arvia Street. It’s a shame, she said, because her parents had worked hard to pay off the home.
“I saw my parents struggle to buy that home and pride they had in keeping that house,” Villegas said. “It was a legacy they left to us.”
Selling the home to pay the Medi-Cal collectors would not be easy; two of her brothers live in the home and are unemployed, she said.
“God willing, they have a lot of years ahead of them. Where will they go? They’ll be homeless,” she said.
Margaret Hoffeditz, chief of the recovery branch of the state Department of Health Care Services, said the state will not evict heirs from a home. Rather, the state would place a lien on the property and collect only when the home is sold — even if it’s decades later.
“We’ve never forced the sale of a home…. We’re not in the business of tossing people out onto the street,” Hoffeditz said.
The department also allows heirs to make hardship claims and will, in some cases, reduce or forgive Medi-Cal debts, she said. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the department granted more than 100 hardship claims, agreeing to reduce or eliminate the debt.
The state’s compassionate collection efforts are of little comfort to Anne-Louise Vernon, a 60-year-old unemployed woman who said she was forced to choose Medi-Cal when she signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act because she did not make enough money to be eligible for other policies.
Now, the premiums that Medi-Cal pays for her policy with Kaiser Permanente — about $600 a month — are accumulating as a bill that will be collectible from her estate, which would include a home in Campbell, near San Jose.
“Remember, now it’s against the law not to get health insurance,” Vernon said. “To be forced into a debt against your will, it’s ugly.”
Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill from Hernandez last year, citing financial considerations. Limiting Medi-Cal estate collection could cost the state about $25 million a year, by some estimates.
Hernandez said he is optimistic about the bill’s chances this year. “Gov. Brown has the power to stop estate recovery,” he said Thursday, “either through the budget or by signing this bill. I trust that he will make the right choice this year.”June 5th, 2015
A field of drought-stricken almond trees in the Central Valley await the chipper. Scarcity of water has always been an issue in the valley, which gets only about 10 inches of rain a year. Credit Chad Ress for The New York Times
By MATT RICHTEL
NY Times Published: JUNE 5, 2015
Early one morning in late April, Parvinder Hundal stood beside a hole in the ground at the edge of his almond farm near Tulare in the Central Valley of California. The hole, which was about the size of a volleyball and was encased in a shallow block of concrete, was the opening of a well, one that went hundreds of feet into the earth. He had paid $100,000 to have it drilled, but it wasn’t producing water. Mr. Hundal was hoping that if he cleaned out the well, the water would start flowing again.
On the nearby trees, some leaves had turned yellow and the almond husks appeared smaller than usual. In February, Mr. Hundal received emails from various water districts, informing him that, because of a historic drought that has left reservoirs nearly dry, he would most likely get no surface water to irrigate his 4,000 acres of crops this summer. Not one drop.
Mr. Hundal watched as his nephew, his right-hand man, prepared to lower pipe into the hole. “We’ll have water by the end of the day, I hope,” Mr. Hundal said.
Mr. Hundal is an optimist. An immigrant from Punjab in northwest India, he arrived in California in 1986 with little money and, through a combination of borrowing and shrewdness, he managed to make a small fortune through farming. But he’s also a pragmatist. Since he can’t count on the virtually unlimited surface water he’s been allotted in the past, he’s been looking for water underground. This year, Mr. Hundal spent $300,000 to hire a contractor to dig three new wells, including the one in Tulare. Those didn’t pan out. So he wired $670,000 to a broker in Texas to buy his own used drill. No water, no problem. Mr. Hundal will drill when he wants.
There’s a well-drilling boom in the Central Valley, and it’s a water grab as intense as any land grab before it. Drilling contractors are so swamped with requests that there is a wait of four to six months for a new well. Drilling permits are soaring. In Tulare County, home to several of Mr. Hundal’s almond farms, 660 permits for new irrigation wells were taken out by the end of this April, up from 383 during the same period last year and just 60 five years ago — a figure rising “exponentially,” said Tammie Weyker, spokeswoman for Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency.
The new drill that Mr. Hundal ordered from Texas should be up and running in a few weeks. He says it can push 2,500 feet into the ground, tapping new aquifers and making way for wells that can produce thousands of gallons of water a minute. He plans to drill at least six new wells on his various farms across the Central Valley: Four of them are in Tulare, and two are on property 100 miles north.
“It’s about survival,” he said. “Everybody is pulling water out of the ground.”
“Nobody is bothered,” he added. “The neighbors aren’t bothered. Everybody is doing what they’ve got to do.”
It turns out, though, that some people are bothered — very bothered — and are growing hostile. That’s because the drilling has serious side effects. Rampant drilling causes underground water levels to fall. When shallow farm and domestic wells that serve residences dry up, the underground bounty goes to those who can afford to dig deeper.
When it comes to drilling for water, there are few rules and no boundaries. Generally, farmers who follow a set of modest regulations can drill on their own land.
California passed stronger regulations last year that are intended to govern underground drilling. Details of the rules are still being worked out. But even then, the rules won’t have any real effect for 25 years or more, says Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“You drill a well on your property, you draw it out, even if it means you draw from under your neighbor’s property,” he says. “You’re drawing water from every direction.”
Underground water supply isn’t fenced or restricted; it is moisture held in the soil, rocks and clay, and drawn through wells like soda through a straw.
In a normal year, Mr. Famiglietti says, 33 percent of California’s water comes from underground, but this year it is expected to approach 75 percent. Since 2011, he says, the state has lost eight trillion gallons from its overall water reserves, two-thirds of that from its underground aquifers.
“We can’t keep doing this,” Mr. Famiglietti says.
The draining of the aquifers creates another hazard aboveground. As water is pulled from the spongy layers below, the ground above collapses, creating what is known as subsidence. Where subsidence is the worst, the land can sink as much as a foot each year.
Water scarcity and buckling land have neighboring farmers eyeing one another warily. Relations are fraying, with the drilling threatening to revive tensions that have been subdued for half a century or more, when farmers last relied so heavily on groundwater, says Gary Sawyers, a prominent lawyer on water rights in the region. But now, with the expansion of agriculture in the Central Valley and the planting of thirsty, year-round crops like almonds, the demand for water is much greater.
“It’s the same situation as 60 or 70 years ago,” Mr. Sawyers says, “but squared, or on steroids.”
Worth More Than Gold
On Aug. 18, 1962, President John F. Kennedy landed in a helicopter near an enormous dusty bowl in the northern Central Valley. He had come for a groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of the San Luis Reservoir, which would eventually store hundreds of billions of gallons of the water from the Sierra Nevada to the north.
Speaking from beneath an ornate tent to hundreds of sunbaked listeners, President Kennedy said that coming to the area, he could see “the greenest and richest earth producing the greatest and richest crops in the country, and then a mile away see the same earth and see it brown and dusty and useless — all because there’s water in one place and there isn’t in another.”
The construction in 1963 of the California Aqueduct system changed all that. Before it was built, farmers had relied on wells for their water, which led to the land collapsing. The surface water irrigation meant less pumping and led to “widespread groundwater recoveries, and subsidence essentially ceased in many areas,” notes Michelle Sneed, a senior scientist at the United States Geological Survey.
Continue reading the main story
Scarcity of water has always been an issue in the Central Valley, which gets only about 10 inches of rain a year. A German immigrant named Henry Miller, who was a pioneer in the region in the latter half of the 1800s, developed a system of canals and founded the region’s first irrigation company for farmers. A legend, he was called the Cattle King of California, and he “realized early on that water was ultimately of higher value than gold in California,” according to a biography edited by the German Historical Institute.
The value of water has become acutely real to Mr. Miller’s great-great-great-grandson Cannon Michael, who is the president of the Bowles Farming Company.
Tall and well spoken, Mr. Michael is the product of an elite boarding school and the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in English. After 15 years working at Bowles — which has $25 million in annual sales, about 15 percent of that profit — he became president of the family enterprise just last year.
It wasn’t the easiest time to take charge.
Sitting at a conference table in his ranch-style offices, Mr. Michael displayed a Google Earth map on a large monitor on the wall. The map showed the area in and around his 10,500-acre farm, not far from the San Luis Reservoir, in the northern part of the Central Valley — much closer to Silicon Valley than to Los Angeles.
On the map, some areas were yellow, others red. Yellow areas, he said, had suffered moderate subsidence. Red meant real trouble — in some of those red areas, the land had been dropping nearly a foot a year, on average, since 2008.
“That’s our diversion point,” Mr. Michael told me.
Sack Dam is the place on the San Joaquin River where surface water finishes its long journey from the north and is diverted onto the farms of Mr. Michael and his neighbors. Because Mr. Michael’s farm is a parcel from the Miller farm, established in 1858, he has high-priority access to surface water. That is particularly important now, because in times of scarcity, these senior water rights holders — generally, farms established before 1914 — get their water allotment before farms with lower-priority rights, like those owned by Mr. Hundal.
But now there’s a problem for all the farmers, no matter what rights they have to surface water: Heavy drilling by farmers near Sack Dam is causing the land to cave in so much that the water is having trouble taking its normal path. Further subsidence will make it hard for water to get through Sack Dam to Mr. Michael’s farm and those of his neighbors.
“Water traditionally flowed with gravity,” as Mr. Michael put it. “It isn’t going to run uphill.”
One of the hundreds of farms in the Sack Dam area belongs to Mr. Hundal. He and Mr. Michael have never met, so in one sense, there’s no particular connection between them. But like all the farmers in the region, they are connected by water.
This year, thanks to his senior status, Mr. Michael will get surface water, about 50 percent of his usual amount, a hardship that means fallowing about 2,500 acres of wheat, cotton, alfalfa and tomato fields. By happenstance, the water that he and his neighbors get this year comes from a source that historically supplied the lower-priority water rights holders in Tulare. Those farmers, including Mr. Hundal, won’t get any water.
Another connection between these farmers has to do with subsidence, as Mr. Michael showed on his map. He found Mr. Hundal’s farm, about 20 miles northeast of Sack Dam. It was colored yellow and red to signify heavy subsidence, and the stream of color connected all the way down to Mr. Michael’s diversion point.
Mr. Michael doesn’t rebuke Mr. Hundal or others for drilling. “You take away a guy’s surface water,” he said, “and he’s going to do what he has to do to survive.” But his tone hardened when he talked about what could amount to a $10 million bill to install a pump to push the water uphill at Sack Dam if the subsidence worsens.
“We could make a legal case that these folks are causing the issue,” he said of the farmers who are drilling near the dam.
Chase Hurley, the manager of the San Luis Canal Company. “Based on current California law,” he said, “you can dig as many holes as you want.” Credit Chad Ress for The New York Times
That sentiment is shared by a number of the senior water rights holders, says Chase Hurley, the manager of the San Luis Canal Company, which manages water for about 45,000 acres, including Mr. Michael’s land. Mr. Hurley says the farmers with senior rights have been rumbling about a way to “get this thing straightened out” or else go after the other farmers in court. They are focused on drillers within about five miles of the dam.
Mr. Hurley tells them they don’t have a very good legal case. “Based on current California law,” he says, “you can dig as many holes as you want.”
Besides, he adds, which landowners would they sue? Farmers whose land borders Sack Dam, or those a few miles out, like Mr. Hundal?
Geology isn’t neat, and the underground aquifer is like a giant earthy sponge, explains Ms. Sneed of the United States Geological Survey. And not all the holes in the sponge connect; sometimes, drilling in one well might drain a hole at a distance and not affect one nearby. There is no simple way, she says, to trace a crater to the particular well that sucked the groundwater out of it.
Mr. Hundal, 57, drove me around his farms in his Ford F-250 pickup truck and described growing up on a farm in India, getting a college degree and immigrating to San Francisco. Seven years after he arrived, he had a master’s degree in agronomy from Chico State and 20 acres. Then, a few years later, he bought 90 more acres — “that was a really risky step,” he said. He smiled at the audacity. He said he borrowed the $650,000 for the new land and grew almonds, long before it was common to do so.
Possible solutions to the water shortage, like using pipes to connect farms so they can share water more efficiently, could take years to put in place. Credit Chad Ress for The New York Times
Now he takes in $14 million in sales from his collection of farms, mostly almond orchards. He hires 25 farmworkers from February through October, but still tends to a lot himself, using a jury-rigged tractor to plant almond and cherry trees. He and his wife recently bought a second home at Pebble Beach for $8 million.
At one of his farms in Tulare, he stopped at a rectangular reservoir six feet deep and a quarter of the size of a football field. “When we get water, we put it here,” he said. It was, on that April day, a dusty bed, with patches of green.
I told him about Mr. Hurley’s concerns about the heavy drilling.
“That’s just baloney,” Mr. Hundal said. “I don’t think it’s causing problems.” He said the subsidence could be caused “by heavy ground.” (His is not a position supported by science.)
Besides, he said, “They take our water and don’t want us to drill.”
Mr. Hurley driving beside a canal managed by his company. Credit Chad Ress for The New York Times
I told him that some of the farmers with senior water rights have talked about suing farmers drilling near the dam — not Mr. Hundal necessarily, but maybe ones closer to Sack Dam.
“They can do that,” but it would be a “waste of time in court,” he said, kicking a cloud of dust. Mr. Sawyers — who works for farmers on both sides of Sack Dam — says that a lawsuit over subsidence could be the first of its kind. He couldn’t recall another. But neither has there been such a drought in recent history. “The current circumstances,” he says, “may give rise to all kinds of new lawsuits.”
This is not to say a lawsuit is imminent or even likely. Mr. Hurley, who runs the water management company, has helped the farmers with senior water rights try diplomacy. Their group has spent $250,000 to help the districts to the east study how to fix the subsidence. Farmers on both sides of the dam have talked of jointly developing an underground reservoir that would be replenished with floodwaters. But floodwaters, even under normal climate conditions, are released only about every four years, Mr. Hurley says. Other possible solutions, like using pipes to connect farms so they can share water more efficiently, could also take years.
Many farmers in the Central Valley agree on a collection of nemeses that includes the news media, regulators and environmentalists. But now there are new tensions. Chris Hurd, a farmer in the region for three decades, still contends that environmental interests and regulators are most to blame for water scarcity, but he notes that comity among farmers has started to fray. “The infighting that’s going on is going to get real bad,” he says. It’s “one year at a time,” he explained of farmers’ mind-set. “Most guys can make money if they can figure out how to get things wet the next 120 days.”
“Guys are overdrafting right next to each other,” he says of the water drilling, adding that he recently saw one farmer’s wells go dry just days after a farmer half a mile away put in a deeper well.
But “what’s going to drive it to the forefront,” he says, is not farmer losses but “when a lot of domestic wells will go dry this summer.”
The Race to Drill Deeper
What’s bad for California farmers is turning out to be good for Michael Higgins. He owns Summit Power & Supply, a company in Austin, Tex., that buys and sells drilling equipment, for water and oil wells. He gets six calls a week from Golden State farmers, up from one every two months just two years ago.
“They’re getting frantic,” Mr. Higgins says.
When Mr. Hundal went to Texas to shop for drills, he discovered something remarkable: Mr. Higgins’s customers were familiar names. “I knew everybody,” Mr. Hundal says. “It was amazing.”
Mr. Higgins has delivered drilling rigs to Bakersfield, Goleta, Madera, Orland, Porterville and other places in California. Two of the drills he sold went to a contractor in Los Banos, and in late April those drills were used to put new wells on the Bowles farm run by Mr. Michael.
For all his concerns about drilling, Mr. Michael decided he had no choice but to join the drillers as a long-term “insurance policy.” Plus, with reduced surface water this year, he says he needs to pull the water from somewhere. He says he’s drilling wells — costing $100,000 each — that go only a few hundred feet deep, above the layer that seems to cause ground collapse.
Two simple, if contradictory, themes have emerged among farmers: One, we’re all in this together. Two, it’s every man for himself.
Steve Laird, who has a small farm in the area, puts it this way: “When it comes down to it, it’s either mine or yours. You do what you have to do to survive.”
Mr. Hundal’s new drill arrived from Texas in the middle of May. Then another challenge arose: He had reached a handshake agreement with a licensed driller to operate the drill, but the driller, Mr. Hundal said, started “dragging his feet.”
Mr. Hundal suspected the reason. “He wants big money. He smells that,” he said. “I can’t drill without a license.”
As he waited to start drilling a new well, Mr. Hundal discovered that his neighbor was also drilling across the street, just 100 feet away. Mr. Hundal thought it was possible that the neighbor’s well would suck up his water.
“It’s crazy, but I can’t tell him to drill away from me,” Mr. Hundal said. “It’s his land, not mine.”
If his well goes dry, Mr. Hundal said, “I’ll have to drill another one and go a little deeper.”June 5th, 2015
10 x 5.25 x 4.9 in
25.4 x 13.3 x 12.4 cm
Through June 21, 2015June 2nd, 2015
Fritz Durst farms 12 crops and raises cattle on 6,000 acres in Zamora, Calif. This irrigation canal has been dry since 2013. Max Whittaker for The New York Times
By Nicholas Kristof
NY Times Published: MAY 30, 2015
LET’S start with a quiz.
Which consumes the most water?
A) a 10-minute shower.
B) a handful of 10 almonds.
C) a quarterpound hamburger patty.
D) a washing machine load.
The answer? By far, it’s the hamburger patty. The shower might use 25 gallons. The almonds take up almost a gallon each, or close to 10 gallons for the handful. The washing machine uses about 35 gallons per load. And that beef patty, around 450 gallons.
The drought in California hit home when I was backpacking with my daughter there recently on the Pacific Crest Trail, and the first eight creeks or springs we reached were all dry.
The crisis in California is a harbinger of water scarcity in much of the world. And while we associate extravagant water use with swimming pools and verdant lawns, the biggest consumer, by far, is agriculture. In California, 80 percent of water used by humans goes to farming and ranching.
That’s where that hamburger patty comes in.
I grew up on a sheep and cherry farm near Yamhill, Ore. I worked for a year for the Future Farmers of America, and I still spend time every year on our family farm. But while I prize America’s rural heritage, let’s be blunt: It’s time for a fundamental rethinking of America’s food factory.
A mandarin orange consumes 14 gallons of water. A head of lettuce, 12 gallons. A bunch of grapes, 24 gallons. One single walnut, 2 gallons.
Animal products use even more water, mostly because of the need to raise grain or hay to feed the animals. Plant material converts quite inefficiently into animal protein.
So a single egg takes 53 gallons of water to produce. A pound of chicken, 468 gallons. A gallon of milk, 880 gallons. And a pound of beef, 1,800 gallons of water. (Of course, these figures are all approximate, and estimates differ. These are based on data from the Pacific Institute and National Geographic.)
You can also calculate your own water footprint at National Geographic’s website.
Our industrial food system produces food almost miraculously cheaply. In 1930, whole dressed chicken retailed for $6.48 per pound in today’s currency, according to the National Chicken Council; in real terms, the price has fallen by more than three-quarters. And, boy, is the system good at producing cheap high-fructose corn syrup!
Yet industrial agriculture imposes other unsustainable costs:
• It overuses antibiotics, resulting in dangers to the public from antibiotic-resistant diseases. About four-fifths of antibiotics sold in the United States are for livestock and poultry — even as 23,000 people die annually in America from antibiotic resistant infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Farming overuses chemicals such as pesticides, some of them endocrine-disruptors that have been linked to possible cancer, obesity and reproductive disorders.
• Factory farming is often based on treating animals, particularly poultry, with ruthless cruelty.
To this indictment, we can add irrational subsidies and water engineering projects that have led to irrigation in areas where it doesn’t make sense. Today, California, despite the drought, is effectively exporting water (in the form of milk, beef, walnuts and produce).
Most of agriculture’s irrationalities aren’t the fault of farmers but arise from lax regulation and mistaken pricing, and that’s true of water as well. Traditionally in the West, water was mostly allocated on a first-come basis, so if you acquired water rights more than a century ago you can mostly still access water for uses (two gallons per walnut!) that no longer make sense in an age of scarcity.
As for the foolishness of agricultural subsidies, until recently, the federal government paid me, a New York journalist, $588 a year not to grow crops in Oregon. I rest my case.
Let’s be clear that it’s unfair to blame farmers for the present problems. We’re the ones eating those water-intensive hamburgers, and we’re the ones whose political system created these irrationalities.
Like most Americans, I eat meat, but it’s worth thinking hard about the inefficiency in that hamburger patty — and the small lake that has dried up to make it possible.
Maybe our industrial agriculture system is beginning to change, for we’re seeing some signs of a food revolution in America, with greater emphasis on organic food and animal rights. Just a week ago, Walmart called on suppliers to stop keeping calves in veal crates and hogs in gestation crates.
Something good could come from the California drought if it could push this revolution a bit further, by forcing a reallocation of water to the most efficient uses. But remember that the central challenge can’t be solved by a good rain because the larger problem is an irrational industrial food system.May 30th, 2015
Chris Martin, For Paul Thek (Lobsters), 2008-2012, Oil, spray paint, collage on canvas 45 x 37 inches (114.3 x 94 cm), CM0115
WILLIAM POPE L.
THROUGH JUNE 27, 2015May 29th, 2015
NY Times Published: MAY 29, 2015
By: Paul Krugman
America remains, despite the damage inflicted by the Great Recession and its aftermath, a very rich country. But many Americans are economically insecure, with little protection from life’s risks. They frequently experience financial hardship; many don’t expect to be able to retire, and if they do retire have little to live on besides Social Security.
Many readers will, I hope, find nothing surprising in what I just said. But all too many affluent Americans — and, in particular, members of our political elite — seem to have no sense of how the other half lives. Which is why a new study on the financial well-being of U.S. households, conducted by the Federal Reserve, should be required reading inside the Beltway.
Before I get to that study, a few words about the callous obliviousness so prevalent in our political life.
I am not, or not only, talking about right-wing contempt for the poor, although the dominance of compassionless conservatism is a sight to behold. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of conservatives believe that the poor “have it easy” thanks to government benefits; only 1 in 7 believe that the poor “have hard lives.” And this attitude translates into policy. What we learn from the refusal of Republican-controlled states to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the bill, is that punishing the poor has become a goal in itself, one worth pursuing even if it hurts rather than helps state budgets.
But leave self-declared conservatives and their contempt for the poor on one side. What’s really striking is the disconnect between centrist conventional wisdom and the reality of life — and death — for much of the nation.
Take, as a prime example, positioning on Social Security. For decades, a declared willingness to cut Social Security benefits, especially by raising the retirement age, has been almost a required position — a badge of seriousness — for politicians and pundits who want to sound wise and responsible. After all, people are living longer, so shouldn’t they work longer, too? And isn’t Social Security an old-fashioned system, out of touch with modern economic realities?
Meanwhile, the reality is that living longer in our ever-more-unequal society is very much a class thing: life expectancy at age 65 has risen a lot among the affluent, but hardly at all in the bottom half of the wage distribution, that is, among those who need Social Security most. And while the retirement system F.D.R. introduced may look old-fashioned to affluent professionals, it is quite literally a lifeline for many of our fellow citizens. A majority of Americans over 65 get more than half their income from Social Security, and more than a quarter are almost completely reliant on those monthly checks.
These realities may finally be penetrating political debate, to some extent. We seem to be hearing less these days about cutting Social Security, and we’re even seeing some attention paid to proposals for benefit increases given the erosion of private pensions. But my sense is that Washington still has no clue about the realities of life for those not yet elderly. Which is where that Federal Reserve study comes in.
This is the study’s second year, and the current edition actually portrays a nation in recovery: in 2014, unlike 2013, a substantial plurality of respondents said that they were better off than they had been five years ago. Yet it’s startling how little room for error there is in many American lives.
We learn, for example, that 3 in 10 nonelderly Americans said they had no retirement savings or pension, and that the same fraction reported going without some kind of medical care in the past year because they couldn’t afford it. Almost a quarter reported that they or a family member had experienced financial hardship in the past year.
And something that even startled me: 47 percent said that they would not have the resources to meet an unexpected expense of $400 — $400! They would have to sell something or borrow to meet that need, if they could meet it at all.
Of course, it could be much worse. Social Security is there, and we should be very glad that it is. Meanwhile, unemployment insurance and food stamps did a lot to cushion unlucky families from the worst during the Great Recession. And Obamacare, imperfect as it is, has immensely reduced insecurity, especially in states whose governments haven’t tried to sabotage the program.
But while things could be worse, they could also be better. There is no such thing as perfect security, but American families could easily have much more security than they have. All it would take is for politicians and pundits to stop talking blithely about the need to cut “entitlements” and start looking at the way their less-fortunate fellow citizens actually live.☐May 29th, 2015
Jon Stewart with veterans who attended a job fair at the studio for “The Daily Show” this month. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
By DAVE PHILIPPS
NY Times Published: MAY 25, 2015
During the surge in Iraq in 2008, Nathan Witmer led an Army scout platoon in a thicket of villages rife with insurgents and roadside bombs. What he really wants to do is direct.
Or maybe write — or produce.
“Anything with movies was always the dream,” said Mr. Witmer, who left active duty in 2010.
Like many troops leaving the military, he was steered instead toward jobs in government agencies that offered referential hiring or with big corporations that recruited veterans, and he assumed his hope of working in show business would remain only that.
But after selling medical equipment for two years, he had the chance to join a five-week industry boot camp designed to bring young veterans into the television business. To his surprise, it was run by one of the Iraq war’s fiercest critics, Jon Stewart, the longtime host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”
“It was actually inspirational,” said Mr. Witmer, who went on to work at Fox News and then found a job as a “Daily Show” associate field segment producer. “We hear ‘Thank you for your service’ all the time, but here was concrete action, people working to really make a difference. And it changed lives. I’m proof of that.”
“The Daily Show” developed the program over the last three years without publicizing it, but now, because Mr. Stewart is preparing to leave the show, he has taken it into the open, urging other shows to develop their own programs to bring more veterans into the industry.
“This is ready to franchise. Please steal our idea,” Mr. Stewart said in an interview at his Manhattan studio recently. “It isn’t charity. To be good in this business you have to bring in different voices from different places, and we have this wealth of experience that just wasn’t being tapped.”
Veterans are less likely to struggle to find work after war — their unemployment rate has been lower than the comparable civilian rate for years — but few land in the entertainment industry, according to the industry group Veterans in Film and Television.
Karen Kraft, a board member of the group, which tries to draw more veterans into the industry, said the small number of military veterans in show business was partly because military service supplanted the years of internships and entry-level jobs often required to establish a beachhead in the industry. The phenomenon may also be connected to a cultural divide that has kept quirky, left-leaning Hollywood and the high-and-tight world of the military from connecting.
“Sometimes people want to apologize for being in the military out here; it’s so misunderstood,” Ms. Kraft, a former soldier who became a producer in Los Angeles, said of Hollywood. “It’s a creative industry, and they tend to see military people as a bunch of rule followers.”
Efforts to bring veterans into the field have included workshops by the Writers Guild of America and projects by big-name producers and directors, among them Bruce Cohen and Judd Apatow, that involve young veterans.
Mr. Stewart may at first seem an unexpected bridge for a Hollywood-military divide. For years the host built his audience by playing straight man to the often absurd truths of the global “war on terror,” serving up scathing satire on American involvement in the Middle East in his longstanding segments “Mess o’Potamia” and “Crisis in Israfghyianonanaq.” At the same time, though, he has been an advocate for troops, visiting the wounded at hospitals, visiting Arlington National Cemetery and in 2011 doing a comedy tour of bases in Afghanistan.
“I knew I had very strong opinions about what we were doing over there, and I wanted to visit the individuals who were part of the effort to gain a perspective on it,” Mr. Stewart said. He added: “Most of all, I realized it was unbelievably hot, nothing but sand. I knew we were nation-building there. I didn’t realize we were nation-building on Mars.”
Justine Cabulong, a former Marine lieutenant who served in Mongolia and Afghanistan, now warms up the audience before “The Daily Show” begins. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
In 2013, American Corporate Partners, a mentoring nonprofit group, asked Mr. Stewart to take a veteran under his wing and help find that person a job in television, which involved making a few calls.
“Jon said he wanted to help, but wanted to do more than just drop his name,” said Sid Goodfriend, who runs the program.
Instead, the staff of “The Daily Show” developed an intense five-week immersion program to give veterans a crash course in their business, with behind-the-scenes looks at areas including talent booking and editing.
They put out word to veterans’ groups but did not mention that the boot camp was at “The Daily Show,” an attempt to weed out fans and focus instead on veterans who really wanted to work in the industry.
“There are well-worn channels into this industry that are closed off to veterans,” Mr. Stewart said. “You get into the television industry generally by going to certain colleges known for having good television programs, getting internships and getting to know people who work in the industry. A lot of veterans never had that opportunity because they were busy at war. This is a way to give them that chance.”
He added that the veterans he had hired had been assets and “way less whiny” than most of his hires.
“The Daily Show” created a program to offer the benefits of an internship — experience and connections — in a form that veterans working full-time jobs could accommodate. Each class of 24 meets once a week in the evening. The program ends with a career fair that has landed a handful of vets jobs in television.
One of them is Justine Cabulong, a former Marine lieutenant who served in Mongolia and Afghanistan and is now a production coordinator at “The Daily Show” — a job that among other things includes a brief comedy routine before the show that warns audience members that if they don’t remain seated and keep their phones turned off, they “will be detained.”
“I feel like the Marines was a good preparation for ‘The Daily Show,’ actually,” she said. “The show is high tempo; it’s pretty chaotic; you have to work together. We might be on the road, not be getting much sleep. But at the same time, it’s not a war zone here. No one is shooting at us. Yes, the printer might have just died, but we can call the printer guy.”May 25th, 2015
INSTALLATION VIEW BILLY AL BENGSTON | A TRIBUTE TO CRAIG KAUFFMAN
MAY 24 THROUGH JUNE 25, 2015
OPENING RECEPTION: SUNDAY, MAY 24. 4-5PM
IN 1958 AT THE ORIGINAL FERUS GALLERY IN LOS ANGELES, CRAIG KAUFFMAN’S PAINTINGS KILLED REGIONALISM.
IT WASN’T NOAH’S ARK ANYMORE. EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF, SINK OR SWIM. (UNFORTUNATELY THERE WERE NO WOMEN AT THAT TIME).
WE ALL TOOK HIS SPARE, ELEGANT AND LIMITED PALATE AS A STEPPING OFF. HIS PAINTINGS SHOWED GREAT HUMOR, REDUCTIVE COLOR AND
SENSIBILITY, AND A MASTER’S TOUCH.
AND THEY WERE TOUGH SONS OF BITCHES.
THEY KNOCKED US ON OUR ASS, SORTA LIKE, WAKE UP AND
“PAY ATTENTION MUTHERFUCKER” (CREDIT: BRUCE NAUMAN). PLAYGROUND’S CLOSED, NOW GO TO WORK.
AND IT WAS FUN.
CRAIG DIED MAY 9, 2010.
THESE PICTURES WERE A WAY FOR ME TO SORT OF
HONOR HIM. HE WOULD KNOW THE CONTENT.
IF HE WERE HERE TO SEE THEM, I’M SURE YOU WOULD HEAR HIS UNCONTROLLED CACKLING LAUGH ALL THE WAY TO THE CAPITAL.
ALOHA CRAIG. BILLY.May 20th, 2015
NY Times Published: MAY 18, 2015
BY: Paul Krugman
Surprise! It turns out that there’s something to be said for having the brother of a failed president make his own run for the White House. Thanks to Jeb Bush, we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.
But many influential people — not just Mr. Bush — would prefer that we not have that discussion. There’s a palpable sense right now of the political and media elite trying to draw a line under the subject. Yes, the narrative goes, we now know that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake, and it’s about time that everyone admits it. Now let’s move on.
Well, let’s not — because that’s a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it’s false. The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.
The fraudulence of the case for war was actually obvious even at the time: the ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a dead giveaway. So were the word games — the talk about W.M.D that conflated chemical weapons (which many people did think Saddam had) with nukes, the constant insinuations that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11.
And at this point we have plenty of evidence to confirm everything the war’s opponents were saying. We now know, for example, that on 9/11 itself — literally before the dust had settled — Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, was already plotting war against a regime that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. “Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] …sweep it all up things related and not”; so read notes taken by Mr. Rumsfeld’s aide.
This was, in short, a war the White House wanted, and all of the supposed mistakes that, as Jeb puts it, “were made” by someone unnamed actually flowed from this underlying desire. Did the intelligence agencies wrongly conclude that Iraq had chemical weapons and a nuclear program? That’s because they were under intense pressure to justify the war. Did prewar assessments vastly understate the difficulty and cost of occupation? That’s because the war party didn’t want to hear anything that might raise doubts about the rush to invade. Indeed, the Army’s chief of staff was effectively fired for questioning claims that the occupation phase would be cheap and easy.
Why did they want a war? That’s a harder question to answer. Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.
Whatever the precise motives, the result was a very dark chapter in American history. Once again: We were lied into war.
Now, you can understand why many political and media figures would prefer not to talk about any of this. Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn’t say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.
On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn’t get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.
But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it. The campaign of lies that took us into Iraq was recent enough that it’s still important to hold the guilty individuals accountable. Never mind Jeb Bush’s verbal stumbles. Think, instead, about his foreign-policy team, led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war.
So let’s get the Iraq story right. Yes, from a national point of view the invasion was a mistake. But (with apologies to Talleyrand) it was worse than a mistake, it was a crime.May 18th, 2015
An Arthur Ou image of Moyra Davey, on view at Brennan & Griffin. Credit Courtesy of the artist and Brennan & Griffin
By MARTHA SCHWENDENER
NY Times Published: MAY 14, 2015
In the preface to his “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” from 1921, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein writes, “Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it — or at least similar thoughts.” The same might be said of Arthur Ou’s current exhibition, which features 14 black-and-white images of contemporary photographers reading passages from the “Tractatus.”
One reason is that the book, a landmark of 20th-century Western philosophy, proposed a picture theory of language in which statements or propositions allow us to visualize things, helping to form the basis of our reality. One could argue, however, that in our image-saturated world, pictures have actually taken over. (The Czech philosopher Vilem Flusser, another Wittgenstein fan, called this “the photographic universe” — a term borrowed by Mr. Ou for recent photography conferences at Parsons.)
Yet our notions of reality and pictures have changed radically since Wittgenstein’s time, and this is particularly true of photography after the digital revolution. The fact that Mr. Ou used an analog view camera and a darkroom to develop these photographs is significant. And the checklist tells us that Mr. Ou’s sitters — James Welling, Moyra Davey, Joachim Schmid, Anne Collier and other noted artists of the Conceptual clan — are reading specific passages from the “Tractatus,” mostly relating to images, objects, thought and the world, but also, presumably, to their own work.
Mr. Ou’s whole project is very inside-photography, perhaps too much for some viewers. But Wittgenstein also states in his preface that his book’s “purpose would be achieved if it gave pleasure to one person who read and understood it.” Mr. Ou’s exhibition succeeded for me, though claiming to fully understand its debt to Wittgenstein would be unwise.May 17th, 2015
May 16th, 2015
NY Times Published: MAY 15, 2015
By: Paul Krugman
Jeb Bush wants to stop talking about past controversies. And you can see why. He has a lot to stop talking about. But let’s not honor his wish. You can learn a lot by studying recent history, and you can learn even more by watching how politicians respond to that history.
The big “Let’s move on” story of the past few days involved Mr. Bush’s response when asked in an interview whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He answered that yes, he would. No W.M.D.? No stability after all the lives and money expended? No problem.
Then he tried to walk it back. He “interpreted the question wrong,” and isn’t interested in engaging “hypotheticals.” Anyway, “going back in time” is a “disservice” to those who served in the war.
Take a moment to savor the cowardice and vileness of that last remark. And, no, that’s not hyperbole. Mr. Bush is trying to hide behind the troops, pretending that any criticism of political leaders — especially, of course, his brother, the commander in chief — is an attack on the courage and patriotism of those who paid the price for their superiors’ mistakes. That’s sinking very low, and it tells us a lot more about the candidate’s character than any number of up-close-and-personal interviews.
Wait, there’s more: Incredibly, Mr. Bush resorted to the old passive-voice dodge, admitting only that “mistakes were made.” Indeed. By whom? Well, earlier this year Mr. Bush released a list of his chief advisers on foreign policy, and it was a who’s-who of mistake-makers, people who played essential roles in the Iraq disaster and other debacles.
Seriously, consider that list, which includes such luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz, who insisted that we would be welcomed as liberators and that the war would cost almost nothing, and Michael Chertoff, who as director of the Department of Homeland Security during Hurricane Katrina was unaware of the thousands of people stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food and water.
In Bushworld, in other words, playing a central role in catastrophic policy failure doesn’t disqualify you from future influence. If anything, a record of being disastrously wrong on national security issues seems to be a required credential.
Voters, even Republican primary voters, may not share that view, and the past few days have probably taken a toll on Mr. Bush’s presidential prospects. In a way, however, that’s unfair. Iraq is a special problem for the Bush family, which has a history both of never admitting mistakes and of sticking with loyal family retainers no matter how badly they perform. But refusal to learn from experience, combined with a version of political correctness in which you’re only acceptable if you have been wrong about crucial issues, is pervasive in the modern Republican Party.
Take my usual focus, economic policy. If you look at the list of economists who appear to have significant influence on Republican leaders, including the likely presidential candidates, you find that nearly all of them agreed, back during the “Bush boom,” that there was no housing bubble and the American economic future was bright; that nearly all of them predicted that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to fight the economic crisis that developed when that nonexistent bubble popped would lead to severe inflation; and that nearly all of them predicted that Obamacare, which went fully into effect in 2014, would be a huge job-killer.
Given how badly these predictions turned out — we had the biggest housing bust in history, inflation paranoia has been wrong for six years and counting, and 2014 delivered the best job growth since 1999 — you might think that there would be some room in the G.O.P. for economists who didn’t get everything wrong. But there isn’t. Having been completely wrong about the economy, like having been completely wrong about Iraq, seems to be a required credential.
What’s going on here? My best explanation is that we’re witnessing the effects of extreme tribalism. On the modern right, everything is a political litmus test. Anyone who tried to think through the pros and cons of the Iraq war was, by definition, an enemy of President George W. Bush and probably hated America; anyone who questioned whether the Federal Reserve was really debasing the currency was surely an enemy of capitalism and freedom.
It doesn’t matter that the skeptics have been proved right. Simply raising questions about the orthodoxies of the moment leads to excommunication, from which there is no coming back. So the only “experts” left standing are those who made all the approved mistakes. It’s kind of a fraternity of failure: men and women united by a shared history of getting everything wrong, and refusing to admit it. Will they get the chance to add more chapters to their reign of error?May 15th, 2015
Photogenic Painting, Untitled 21, 1975, cyanotype, 30 x 40 inches.
Through August 16, 2014May 14th, 2015
The green acres of Kanye West and Kin Kardashian in Calabasas. According to one official from the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which supplies water to many in the affluent northwest area: “70 percent of the district’s water is going to the lawn maintenance of about 100 manicured estates.”
By Danny Jensen
LAIST Published: May 11, 2015
Celebrities around Los Angeles are taking heat from their neighbors for wasting water on lush lawns in the midst of a serious drought. But chances are that drought shaming and $100 fines from the city won’t change most of their watering routines.
From almond farmers to bark beetles, there’s been a lot of drought-related finger-pointing lately. And now the neighbors of Kimye, JLo and Barbara Streisand are drought-shaming the celebrities for maintaining giant, well-watered estates in the wealthy cities in Northwest Los Angeles, including Calabasas and Hidden Hills.
While new state mandates will require that the water-happy residents will have to cut usage by 36 percent next year, comments from neighbors and aerial photos of their properties from Page Six, suggest most aren’t taking the drought too seriously. Especially considering the overusage fees for water under the new guidelines will top out at $100.
“The Kardashian flowers and hedges are right in our face. It’s disgusting. You walk by and you can smell the freshness,” one vocal Hidden Hills neighbor told Page Six. “Let them drink dust!”
The green acres of Kim and Kanye reportedly includes two vineyards, two pools and ‘sprawling outdoor space.’
A spokesperson for the two celebrities, on the other hand, counters that: “Kim takes this drought seriously and has made some amendments to the property [since buying it]. She has no problem letting her grass go brown.”
Other celebrities in the area and elsewhere in Los Angeles who are drawing the ire of there neighbors for their thirsty, lavish lawns include Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Barbara Streisand and Hugh Hefner.
According to one official from the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which supplies water to many in the affluent northwest area: “70 percent of the district’s water is going to the lawn maintenance of about 100 manicured estates.”May 11th, 2015
ACRYLIC INK ON LINEN MOUNTED TO PANEL IN ARTIST’S FRAME
41 5/8 X 53 1/2 INCHES
May 14 – 17, 2015May 10th, 2015
Phil Spector, one of the songwriters for “Be My Baby,” with the Ronettes.
Photograph by Ray Avery.
By MARC SPITZ
NY Times Published: AUG. 16, 2013
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys estimates that he’s heard “Be My Baby,” by the Ronettes, more than 1,000 times. The very first listen, 50 years ago this month, still haunts him.
“I was driving and I had to pull over to the side of the road — it blew my mind,” Mr. Wilson said, repeating a story that has become something of a legend. “It was a shock.” Just 21 and already frustrated with his band’s basic surf music, he bought the single and set about deconstructing its arrangement and production.
“I started analyzing all the guitars, pianos, bass, drums and percussion,” he said by telephone. “Once I got all those learned, I knew how to produce records.”
Those records, many fans would contend, weren’t half bad, but if you ask Mr. Wilson, they still don’t stack up.
“I felt like I wanted to try to do something as good as that song and I never did,” he said. “I’ve stopped trying.” Mr. Wilson added: “It’s the greatest record ever produced. No one will ever top that one.”
The Wall of Sound, that dense and dramatic signature style of the ‘60s wonder boy Phil Spector (who wrote the song with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich) can still shake you up with its plinking pianos and castanets, its echo-chambered vocals and massive drums, but it no longer shocks. Today “Be My Baby” is as ubiquitous as a pop classic gets.
The song’s true bona fides may be found in its sustained usefulness. What once astonished Mr. Wilson now produces a reaction so reliable that film and television producers deploy it as a Pavlovian trigger indicating that things are about to get exciting. It’s even been used as a cover in a TV commercial for the erectile dysfunction remedy Cialis.
Martin Scorsese used “Be My Baby” to open his 1973 film “Mean Streets.” The song’s sweetness and angst were the perfect counterpoint to his noir vision of a city of spontaneous violence and hot tempers. Charlie, Harvey Keitel’s tormented character, wakes up alone in a dark room with a crucifix on the wall, a siren blaring outside and a storm in his head. He rises, looks in the mirror and then goes back to bed. When his head hits the pillow, those drums kick in.
In 1987 “Be My Baby” made a splash in the March 31 episode of the hit comedy “Moonlighting,” when Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd finally answer the question of “Will they or won’t they?” They insult each other. She slaps him and says “Get out.” He grabs her arm and … those drums kick in.
“When they finally go to bed,” Mr. Barry said proudly, “they do it to ‘Be My Baby.’ ”
Yet it may be the title sequence of “Dirty Dancing,” released that August, that best reflects the song’s lasting ability to enchant a viewer. “We were on a tight budget and we never shot an opening sequence,” said the film’s producer, Linda Gottlieb. A sepia-toned “scratch tape” of clinching partners surging back and forth in eroticized slow motion was assembled and approved. “We thought, that looks pretty good,” Ms. Gottlieb recalled. “But what music can we use?”
So she and the director, Emile Ardolino, and the screenwriter, Eleanor Bergstein, sat down in front of an old Moviola editing bay and watched the scene while dipping into an assortment of around 400 available songs. “Nothing worked, but the minute we put on that boom-ba-boom,” she said — imitating the opening six-note drumbeat devised by Mr. Barry while slapping a metal filing cabinet in Mr. Spector’s office and later immortalized by Hal Blaine, a member of Mr. Spector’s Wrecking Crew of studio musicians — “we had gooseflesh. Suddenly it was magic. It said, something exciting is going to happen.”
“Be My Baby” is not cheap. “We paid more for that song than any song in the movie, and I think it lasts 45 seconds,” Ms. Gottlieb said. “My recollection is it was something like $75,000, which was beyond comprehension for a film with a total budget of $4.5 million. But it was so worth it.”
Sony ATV Music Publishing, the company that has handled copyright deals related to the song since a 2007 agreement with Mr. Spector, would not comment on current pricing.
But those who splurge for it evidently think it’s worth it. Take “Ninth Grade Man,” a 1990 episode of the TV comedy “The Wonder Years.” Fred Savage’s Kevin is tempted by an attractive new student who briefly leads him away from his true love, Winnie. When he regains his senses and meets Winnie for a soda at Woody’s pizza place, guess what’s playing on the jukebox. “When you’re 14, you can’t always put words to life,” the adult Kevin says in the show’s signature voice-over.
“Be My Baby” can even function as a sort of punch line, as when it plays over the closing credits of “Baby Mama,” the 2008 fertility-themed buddy comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
The song has thrived on radio for the last 50 years as well. Barbara Cane, vice president and general manager of writer-publisher relations for the songwriters’ agency BMI, estimated that it has been played in 3.9 million feature presentations on radio and television since 1963.
“When a BMI song of an average length of three minutes reaches one million performances,” she explained, “it has been broadcast at least 50,000 hours, which equals more than 5.7 years of continuous airplay.” That means it’s been played for the equivalent of 17 years back to back.
The song has been covered by everyone from John Lennon (in a Spector production) to Maroon 5. It’s been honored by the Library of Congress and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and Mr. Spector, the Ronettes, Mr. Barry and Ms. Greenwich are all in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Be My Baby” even had a second life in the ‘80s, when its hook was incorporated into “Take Me Home Tonight,” a Top 5 duet between Eddie Money and Ronnie Spector, Mr. Spector’s ex-wife and the song’s original lead vocalist.
“It had that double chorus,” Mr. Money said. “I knew the song was going to be a smash.” The song’s popularity gave Ms. Spector, then retired, a second life as a touring and recording artist.
Paradoxically, one place you will not hear “Be My Baby,” is in “Beyond the Beehive,” Ms. Spector’s touring theatrical production of songs and stories. “I’m not allowed to sing ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby I Love You’” — another Ronettes hit — “in my show because Phil said no,” Ms. Spector said in a telephone interview. “He owns the publishing.”
But she is allowed to sing the song in concert, she said, and often closes her club shows with it. (Mr. Spector is currently in prison, serving 19 years to life after his murder conviction in the 2003 death of the actress Lana Clarkson, yet his hold on the song is intact.)
Ms. Spector suggests that innocence is part of the song’s sustained power. She recounts being flown out to Los Angeles as a teenager from Spanish Harlem to record the song at Gold Star Studios. She was then known as Ronnie Bennett. She belted out her vocals in the sound booth while staring down a young but no less odd Mr. Spector.
“I was so much in love,” she said. “That energy comes back to me every time: when I’m singing ‘Be My Baby,’ I’m thinking of us in the studio.”
The soapy darkness now associated with their subsequent marriage (Ms. Spector’s 1990 memoir, also titled “Be My Baby,” recounts wild jealousy and feeling threatened by a gold coffin in the basement of a castle turned de facto prison) informs the song’s myth.
At its heart, “Be My Baby” is as much about power and control as it is about romance. Lyrically it also marks a bold moment in pop music, when a woman makes a play for a man while infantilizing him. Usually the reverse was the norm.
Mr. Barry said: “I consider myself to this day a feminist. I was picturing a shy guy. A guy who just needed a little nudge.”
The song’s protagonist sings, “For every kiss you give me, I’ll give you three.” We never find out from the lyrics whether her offer is accepted.
“I always wanted to believe when the song was over, there’s a happy ending,” Mr. Barry said. “He came around, and they hooked up.”May 10th, 2015
Opening Saturday, May 9, 6-8pmMay 8th, 2015
May 10 through June 4, 2015May 8th, 2015
May 5th, 2015
Through June 21, 2015May 3rd, 2015
Thanks to David LeonardMay 1st, 2015
May 1 – May 30, 2015
Thanks to Bruce M. ShermanMay 1st, 2015
New Silver Works and Paintings
30th Annual UCLA Pow Wow
May 2nd & 3rd, 2015
UCLA North Athletic Field
By ADAM NAGOURNEY and JACK HEALY
NY Times Published: APRIL 26, 2015
COMPTON, Calif. — Alysia Thomas, a stay-at-home mother in this working-class city, tells her children to skip a bath on days when they do not play outside; that holds down the water bill. Lillian Barrera, a housekeeper who travels 25 miles to clean homes in Beverly Hills, serves dinner to her family on paper plates for much the same reason. In the fourth year of a severe drought, conservation is a fine thing, but in this Southern California community, saving water means saving money.
The challenge of California’s drought is starkly different in Cowan Heights, a lush oasis of wealth and comfort 30 miles east of here. That is where Peter L. Himber, a pediatric neurologist, has decided to stop watering the gently sloping hillside that he spent $100,000 to turn into a green California paradise, seeding it with a carpet of rich native grass and installing a sprinkler system fit for a golf course. But that is also where homeowners like John Sears, a retired food-company executive, bristle with defiance at the prospect of mandatory cuts in water use.
“This is a high fire-risk area,” Mr. Sears said. “If we cut back 35 percent and all these homes just let everything go, what’s green will turn brown. Tell me how the fire risk will increase.”
The fierce drought that is gripping the West — and the imminent prospect of rationing and steep water price increases in California — is sharpening the deep economic divide in this state, illustrating parallel worlds in which wealthy communities guzzle water as poorer neighbors conserve by necessity. The daily water consumption rate was 572.4 gallons per person in Cowan Heights from July through September 2014, the hot and dry summer months California used to calculate community-by-community water rationing orders; it was 63.6 gallons per person in Compton during that same period.
Now, California is trying to turn that dynamic on its head, forcing the state’s biggest water users, which include some of the wealthiest communities, to bear the brunt of the statewide 25 percent cut in urban water consumption ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown. Cowan Heights is facing a 36 percent cut in its water use, compared with 8 percent for Compton.
Other wealthy communities that must cut 36 percent include Beverly Hills and Hillsborough, a luxury town in Silicon Valley. Along with Compton, other less wealthy communities facing more modest cuts include Inglewood, which has been told to reduce its water consumption by 12 percent over what it was in 2013.
The looming question now, with drought regulations set to be adopted next month, is whether conservation tools being championed by this state — $10,000-a-day fines for water agencies, higher prices for bigger water users or even, in the most extreme cases, a reduction in water supplies — will be effective with wealthy homeowners. Since their lawns are more often than not tended to by gardeners, they may have little idea just how much water they use.
As it is, the legality of conservation — the practice of charging higher water rates to people who consume more for big water use — came under question when a court ruled that a tiered-pricing system used by an Orange County city ran afoul of the State Constitution and sent it back to allow the city to try to bring it into compliance.
“The wealthy use more water, electricity and natural gas than anyone else,” said Stephanie Pincetl, the director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They have bigger properties. They are less price sensitive. So if you can afford it, you use it.”
“Then it becomes a moral question,” she said. “But lots of wealthy people don’t pay their own bills, so they don’t know what the water costs.”
Brown Lawns vs. Lush Ones
In Compton, where residents often pay their bills in cash or installments, lawns are brown and backyard pools are few or empty. In Cowan Heights, where residents are involved in a rancorous dispute with a water company over rate increases, water is a luxury worth paying for as homeowners shower their lush lawns and top off pools and koi ponds.
“Just because you can afford to use something doesn’t mean you should,” said Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, as she sat in her second-floor office with windows overlooking the light-rail Blue Line tracks that cut through town. “We’re all in this together. We all have to make sure we consume less.”
Hints of class resentment can be heard on the streets of Compton.
“I have a garden — it’s dying,” said Ms. Barrera, the housekeeper, as she left the water department at Compton City Hall, where she had just paid a $253 two-month water bill. “My grass is drying. I try to save water. In Beverly Hills, they have a big garden and run laundry all the time. It doesn’t matter.”
Rod Lopez, a contractor from Compton who tends to homes here and along the wealthy Newport Beach coast, said he was startled at the different attitudes he found toward water consumption in communities just 30 miles apart.
“I work in Newport Beach: I see water running all day long,” he said. “We’ve gotten so tight over here. Everything is irrigated over there. They may get fined for it — they don’t care. They have the money to pay the fines.”
Compton and Cowan Heights, which is 10 miles from Disneyland, could hardly be more different, and it is not only a matter of water. The median household income in Compton is $42,953, and 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; 67 percent of the population is Hispanic. In North Tustin, the census-designated community that includes Cowan Heights, the median household income is $122,662, and less than 3 percent of the population lives below the poverty line; 84 percent of the population is white.
Since the first homes sprang up in Cowan Heights in the 1950s in what had been hilly horse pastures, water and money have made this neighborhood of doctors, lawyers and wealthy retirees bloom. Even as the drought has worsened and water rates have climbed, residents have continued consuming hundreds of gallons a day and paying — albeit with more than a little grousing — water bills that have soared to $400 or $500 a month.
Many people say they are trying to use less: They are capping their sprinkler systems, installing expensive new drip-watering systems or replacing their thirsty lawns with starkly beautiful desert landscapes. But they can also afford to buy their way out of the drought, assuming that fines will be the primary punishment for those who do not conserve, and that the water will keep flowing for those who can pay.
Some Cowan Heights residents say their neighbors have enough money not to pay heed to rising prices, and are content to let their landscapers use as much water as necessary to keep their homes in bloom. Landscapers’ trucks are parked around nearly every twisting road, tending to avocado and lemon trees, plush lawns, and riots of purple hibiscus and scarlet bougainvillea.
“They don’t even think about it,” said Gail Lord, a resident who keeps a blog cataloging the gardens around Cowan Heights.
On Deerhaven Drive, Craig Beam and his wife saw their water-scarce future after a landscaper stomped at the base of their Chinese elm and declared the roots hollow and parched. “Nobody’s going to go broke around here paying their water bills,” Mr. Beam said.
Still, in a sign that even the wealthy have their limits, the drought is exacerbating a dispute between Cowan Heights residents and their for-profit water provider, the Golden State Water Company, offering a glimpse of fights to come as local water agencies impose higher prices to meet California’s new conservation mandates. The neighborhood is bristling with lawn signs reading, “Stop the Water Ripoff!”
Residents complain their water bills have soared as Golden State Water imposed a three-tier pricing system that charges more for higher water use, the kind of conservation pricing that state water regulators are championing. The company is now seeking to add a fourth, even higher price tier. “Golden State Water’s rates reflect the true cost to operate and maintain the water system,” said Denise Kruger, a senior vice president of the company.
That has not appeased water users.
“Water is a necessity of life,” said Mr. Sears, the retired food-company executive, whose bimonthly water bills regularly run $400 or $500 but went as high as $756 last September. “It should not be sold as a commodity.”
Thirty miles away, the economy in Compton is on the upswing as this region comes out of the recession. Still, Compton Boulevard, the axis around which the 127-year-old community was settled, is filled with reminders of the poverty and crime that are still here: Check-cashing stores and bail bondsmen. Many homes have gates over their windows.
Compton has a storied history of gang wars and has produced some of the bigger names in rap music, including Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube. The unemployment rate in Compton was 11.8 percent in February, compared with 6.7 percent statewide. (There are no comparable numbers for Cowan Heights, since it is an unincorporated region.)
This city is a neat grid of postage-stamp-size front lawns, many of them brown or choked with weeds. There are few pools or ornamental fountains in this part of the county; the fountains in front of City Hall have been turned off.
After not budging for 25 years, water prices began rising in 2005 and have increased about 93 percent since then. The city, which has 81,963 water consumers, has also set up a two-tiered system to charge heavier users more, though it remains to be seen if that and other tiered systems will be challenged in the wake of the court ruling in Orange County last week. A typical water bill here is $70 a month.
Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“To me the issue is keeping down the cost,” said Ms. Thomas, 41, the stay-at-home mother. “Conservation is a cost-saving thing for me.” She leaned over the fence of her home that she shares with her husband and children, looking over her compact patch of lawn that surrounds her home and another small cottage, where her mother lives.
Chad Blais, the deputy director of public works at Compton, said people often paid their water bill in cash or pleaded for an extension. “We do have a large community that is month-to-month on their pay,” he said. “They don’t have a high water usage mainly because they can’t afford it. They’ll call and tell us they’re choosing to pay for food or medicine.”
Under Governor Brown’s 25 percent statewide reduction order, about 400 local water agencies are responsible for cuts ranging from 4 percent to 36 percent. Water companies are limiting how often people can water their yards — twice a week for Golden State customers — and barring them from washing down pavement or using drinking water to wash a car.
If water providers cannot get customers to conserve enough voluntarily, they can resort to financial penalties: Golden State said it would fine offenders in Cowan Heights and other communities it serves $500 a day.
California’s water-control board has zeroed in on Cowan Heights and its 5,399 water customers as some of the most spendthrift water users. The benchmark measurement from last summer put it high on the list of 94 water districts that must cut their water use by 36 percent under the proposed new rules.
“It is somewhat of an outlier,” Toby Moore, the chief hydrogeologist for Golden State Water, said of Cowan Heights. “There’s been a lot of investment into those properties, so water use is higher to address the landscaping of those properties.”
Some people in Cowan Heights are planning to let their lawns go brown, though more out of a spirit of conservation than economic necessity.
“We’ll replace that with rocks,” said Dr. Himber, the neurologist, as he and his landscaper walked the grounds.
Ms. Lord, the blogger, walked around her home, tucked amid flower-splashed hillsides behind a stately automated gate, and surveyed her roses with a fatalistic eye. “Doomed,” she said, nodding at the flowers, blooming wedding-white and dance-hall pink. “Doomed.”
‘A Bad Message’
About 80 percent of the water in this state is used by agriculture, so the amount of water that might be saved by cuts in wealthy and relatively sparsely populated areas will not be large.
But the disparity in behavior is a matter of concern among state water regulators, as is the worry that high prices will not have the same kind of impact on water use in, say, Cowan Heights as they might in Compton.
“That is the challenge,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water for about 19 million people. “We are finding it works with 90 percent of the public. You still have certain wealthy communities that won’t bother. And the price penalty doesn’t impact them. It sends a bad message.”
David L. Feldman, who studies water policy at the University of California, Irvine, said a big risk for state water regulators would be if the public concluded that water-conservation policies were “falling disproportionately on those who are less able to meet those goals.”
Ms. Barrera, the housekeeper, said she had thought she was doing her part, and she spoke of the lush gardens and sweeping pools she sees in Beverly Hills.
“I’m using a lot less,” Ms. Barrera said. At that, she glanced down at the just-paid water bill she was still holding in her hand. “But I guess it’s not enough.”April 29th, 2015
Untitled, (Indian #5 Face 45.50), 2014
Oil on cardboard mounted on linen
50 3/8 x 40 1/4 inches
May 1 — June 20, 2015
By BEN RATLIFF
NY Times Published: APRIL 24, 2015
A few weeks ago, the jazz tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington stood onstage at a club in Hermosa Beach, Calif., with his band, the Next Step, ending a version of the ballad standard “My One and Only Love” with an improvised closing tag, like a group cadenza.
But it sprung open a whole new chapter of the song. Mr. Washington’s playing spread through the group into a sustained volcanic surge, with a front line of two saxophones and trombone; Miles Mosley’s upright bass and Brandon Coleman’s keyboards run through distortion and wah-wah pedals; and two drummers, Ronald Bruner and Tony Austin, making enfolded, clattering patterns. A series of melodies and rhythms developed on the fly, with Mr. Washington building up to hoarse, Pharoah Sanders-like cries, and then the tailing off commenced Mr. Washington finished last. He closed up his solo in whispers, removed the horn from his mouth and pulled on the loose curls in his hair, smiling absent-mindedly.
The unusual circumstances — a surf-side rock club, a performance during a motley tribute concert — suggested a test case. Jazz in Los Angeles doesn’t have much cultural capital outside a small cohort, and this was not Mr. Washington’s crowd. The audience members acted indifferent at first; then they tuned in, cheering at the catharsis points, quieting at the silences.
It might have tuned in sooner if it had known it was watching the leading figure in a new Los Angeles jazz scene, who is about to release a triple-disc debut called, factually, “The Epic.” (It comes out May 5 on the label Brainfeeder.) Or that his work as a soloist and arranger helps define the sound of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” one of the most important hip-hop records of the last several years. Or that this group represents a special resource of the area: it’s one of the best jazz groups I’ve heard in a long time, and has hardly performed outside of California.
As of now, if you want to see them, you have to go to Los Angeles.
There is an old story about the lack of broader recognition around Los Angeles jazz musicians, stretching back to the 1960s and before, to the time of the saxophonists Teddy Edwards and Eric Dolphy (before he moved to New York), the big-band composer Gerald Wilson, and Horace Tapscott, leader of the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. It has to do with New York being the center of the jazz-performance business, and Los Angeles, the center of the soundtrack and television business. But it also has to do with the temper of life in Los Angeles, the possibility for working in a less-pressured and lifelong artistic community, the artist’s sense of security against New York hustle.
“You know the lackadaisical thing people talk about out here?” Mr. Washington said in a talk we had a year ago, at Mr. Mosley’s house in Marina del Rey. “When you’re focused, that lackadaisical thing turns into freedom. You can do what you want. No one’s going to put a label on you.”
A true, intuitive, cross-listening, family-like sound at this level is rare enough in jazz to be exciting; it’s the thing sought for. Most developing groups don’t perform regularly enough to achieve that coherence. The lack of demand affects supply.
But over the last few years, Mr. Washington, 34, and a dozen or so other musicians in their early 30s — most of whom come from the same general area of South Los Angeles, playing in the same school ensemble and in one another’s church bands — have figured out their solution to the problem. They formed a cooperative group called the West Coast Get Down, and created residencies for themselves over the past four years, first in the Leimert Park neighborhood and later in Hollywood spots including the Piano Bar, where they tend to play twice a week. The coherence of the band, all those coordinated surges, sounds emphatic in a cultural scene that otherwise can feel transient.
“Los Angeles is a large city, sprawled out, and we’re all in our cars,” Mr. Mosley said. “The likelihood of you stumbling across a scene is unlikely, which is why we’ve done so well in our residencies. You go there, and it doesn’t feel like the L.A. you’ve signed up to experience.”
In late 2011, they pooled their resources for a gargantuan recording session at a bare-bones studio in Echo Park: For about a month, 10 players made seven albums with sub-groupings of various sizes, each one featuring a different leader. (Mr. Austin, the drummer, doubled as the engineer.) They were forgoing other work, too: Most of them make livings as sidemen. Mr. Washington plays with Chaka Khan, Mr. Coleman with Rachelle Ferrell and Babyface, and so forth. The albums are just beginning to emerge, all of them different.
Mr. Washington’s is the first and the densest, about 175 minutes of music. His band amounts to two piano trios — double drummers, bassists and keyboardists — with horns in front; later he added strings and a choir. “The Epic” is full of swing and funk and long solos, ecstatic highs and drawn-out tensions, dense arrangements, a few places that come close to musical theater, and a direct line — sometimes startlingly direct — to black American church music. It is also cosmic, in both ’70s-retrograde and futuristic ways. Palms will be read to this music, miracles foretold.
Mr. Washington is a big, dreamy, rather brilliant guy from a family of six children, whose parents spent their careers in the Los Angeles public school system; his life has been rooted in local music and education. His mother, Valerie, is a science teacher; his father, Rickey, a recently retired music teacher, was in one of the first classes to graduate from Locke High School, near Watts, built in response to the riots of 1965. He was taught — as well as Rickey’s friends Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancler, who went on to some fame in jazz and pop — by Reggie Andrews, an important educator in the area. By the time Kamasi went to high school, Mr. Andrews was still teaching, and looking out for young players.
“In the ’80s, a lot of kids, if you were kind of bright, you got bussed to schools out of your community,” Mr. Washington said. (He attended Hamilton, in West Los Angeles.) “So you wouldn’t know the talented musicians who lived around the corner from you. Reggie used to figure out who was talented around Central L.A., and he’d pick us up after school. We’d all go to Locke.”
The “multi-school” band at Locke also contained Stephen Bruner, Ronald’s brother, now known as Thundercat, a virtuosic electric bassist known through his work with Erykah Badu and Flying Lotus (and on Mr. Lamar’s new album as well). Four of the band’s members, including Thundercat, made a record in 2004 as the Young Jazz Giants; the current West Coast Get Down is made up entirely of players from the same school band. If it seems like an abstraction that great teachers move jazz forward, this group is the proof.
Mr. Washington drifted away from jazz for a while — he lived close to Compton, and the rappers of N.W.A. were his local heroes — but at 11, a cousin played him a tape of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and something connected. “It was the rhythms he played,” Mr. Washington said. “West Coast hip-hop had that heavy sense of the beat, and Art Blakey played with that, too. It sounded like something that Dre would have sampled.” A few years later, after he started playing saxophone, he connected with John Coltrane’s album “Transition,” and his hearing was changed; Coltrane, as well as Wayne Shorter and Kenny Garrett, come out most strongly in his sound.
On May 4, Mr. Washington and his band, in a typically sweeping gesture, will perform all of “The Epic” at the Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles, the way it’s supposed to be heard, with strings and choir. There will also be a kind of story line, supplied by Mr. Washington as narrator. It turns out that Mr. Washington dreamed a narrative to the music during the long months he was working on it, and the dream determined the sequencing of the album.
“There’s a dude on top of this mountain, and he stands in front of this gate and guards it,” he explained. “There’s lots of carnage around him; he’s been defending this gate for a long time. At the bottom of the hill there’s a little bitty village, with all these people, and all they do is train to challenge this dude, so if they beat him, they get to become him.”
A bunch of things happen next, but in general the story is about real and imagined figures of authority, and special entry into special places. It is possible that there is a metaphor here about jazz, but the music tells you all you need to know.April 28th, 2015
Installation view of Anne Truitt ’62–’63
Through June 27, 2015April 26th, 2015
Living Rooms : NorthWest — One, with lights, action
oil on canvas
32 1/2 x 33 3/4 in
Through April 25,2015
Thanks to MCApril 24th, 2015