Rudolph M. Schindler’s House and Studio (1922)
“Sometimes,” said one, “I just sit out here and smoke my weed and pray.”
By STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM
NY TimesPublished: DEC. 19, 2014
Had I been driving I would not have stopped here. But I was lured from the sidewalk by an open gate and the mysterious buildings beyond. There was a Moorish structure with a minaret, another was Italian with a loggia, a third had a fleur-de-lis on a chimney. It was as if a snow globe village had been dropped onto Sunset Boulevard. At the back of the hushed lot, a stone statue, naked to her hips, stood sentry.
I would later learn that this is where a Jazz Age gangster named Charlie Crawford was murdered. In 1936 these fanciful buildings, commissioned by his widow, became Crossroads of the World, the first pedestrian outdoor shopping mall in Los Angeles. In the 1940s it was recast as an office complex, attracting such tenants as Alfred Hitchcock. Today, the complex calls to mind the scene in “Big” where Tom Hanks returns to an abandoned fairground in search of a wish-making machine. There’s magic in the air, even after the carnival has come and gone.
Visit Los Angeles as a solo traveler and you’ll find few better ways to unmask the city’s hidden-in-plain-sight history, meet other people and imbibe responsibly than to be car-free. (And consider the money you’ll save on gas and valets.) This is not to scorn the car, which offers its own pleasures. It’s a symbol of freedom and, at its most inspired, art. The poet Gary Snyder has written of “the calligraphy of lights on the night freeways of Los Angeles.” And, as Reyner Banham put it in “Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies,” the city’s freeway system is “one of the greater works of Man.”
But driving can complicate a solo trip, and those who would rather not brave Los Angeles traffic should know that they need not see the city from behind a wheel to relish it. Some of its most beloved citizens, including the author Ray Bradbury, never drove. And while walking is common downtown and in Venice Beach and Santa Monica, in cooler months one can just as easily traverse Los Angeles between West Hollywood, Los Feliz, Miracle Mile and Larchmont Village by putting one foot in front of the other (with help now and then from mass transit and Uber). In fact, local tourism officials are encouraging people to do just that.
Last year the City of West Hollywood’s marketing arm posted “Walkable WeHo” tours on its website after being named the most walkable city in California by Walk Score, a company that ranks cities and neighborhoods by their pedestrian friendliness. On West Third Street, home to design boutiques like OK and Plastica, banners promote the area as “a walkable shopping & dining district.” And in March, the California Department of Transportation reported “a dramatic increase in walking trips” among residents, saying they nearly doubled to 16.6 percent of trips by 2012, up from 8.4 percent of trips in 2000.
Granted, strolling Los Angeles can be anything but picturesque. There are wide, noisy boulevards with scant shade. If you’re a woman, men in cars may greet you with “Yowza!” as they whiz by. Sometimes, to borrow a phrase from Shel Silverstein, the sidewalk ends.
But just when you think walking these interminable avenues is for East Coast chumps, something makes you smile. Take the white Tudor-style building that caught my eye on an otherwise humdrum stretch of North La Brea Avenue. A second glance revealed a trompe-l’lœil image of a grinning Charlie Chaplin leaning on a cane. From there my gaze traveled up the building to a 12-foot-tall Kermit the Frog tipping a bowler hat atop what turned out to be the Jim Henson Company, formerly Charlie Chaplin Studios (hence Kermit’s “little tramp” get-up).
Walk east on Franklin Avenue and you’ll be rewarded with postcard views of the Hollywood sign over your left shoulder, or the French-Normandy-style 1920s hotel Château Élysée (now the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International) rising above the trees near Tamarind Avenue. Walk long enough and you realize that here in this megalopolis of cars are quiet wonders, like the surprisingly ubiquitous sight of hummingbirds hovering around storefronts and terraces.
When you’re car-free and solo, one of the easiest places to nest is West Hollywood. There’s plenty of shopping, dining and night life, and the central location makes it a great base for jaunts to other neighborhoods. Hotels dot the Sunset Strip (once the stamping grounds of numerous larger-than-life personalities including members of the Doors and Led Zeppelin) and a walk from here to the La Brea Tar Pits is a mere three miles.
For a tranquil morning stroll past bungalows and Mediterranean-style homes with cactuses in the yard, turn off Sunset onto Sweetzer Avenue. Make your way to the Farmers Market on West Third Street, a casual, affordable maze in which solo travelers will be at ease sampling an array of cuisines, and dining alfresco. A chocolate caramel nut doughnut from Bob’s Coffee & Doughnuts goes with everything. (There for lunch? Try Loteria Grill.)
From there head south to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hancock Park and the La Brea Tar Pits, a grassy landscape punctured by the occasional black gooey pool, where paleontologists have unearthed fossils of everything from snails to an American mastodon. (Incidentally, the Tar Pits, which have been oozing since the last Ice Age, are filled not with tar, but natural asphalt.) Yes, it’s a tourist destination, but for those who have never been, it’s an offbeat adventure. For a greater sense of discovery, enter at the corner of West Sixth Street and South Fairfax Avenue rather than the parking area off Curson Avenue. You’ll pass Michael Heizer’s 340-ton boulder artwork, “Levitated Mass,” before reaching the Observation Pit.
At the yawning Lake Pit, where fiberglass mammoths evoke their unlucky predecessors, the smell of asphalt hangs in the air; on the other side of the fence, cars fly by on Wilshire Boulevard, seemingly invincible.
If you’d rather gawk at shop windows than tar pits, stay in West Hollywood, where you can walk North Robertson Boulevard past the little red awnings of Christian Louboutin; Sur, the restaurant and bar staffed by badly behaved reality television stars; and the original Kitson boutique where boldface names stock up on essentials like rhinestone-encased pepper spray. The most satisfying strolls, however, are to be had on the side streets.
Dorrington Avenue between North Robertson Boulevard and North San Vicente Boulevard is too lovely to resist: hydrangea, azaleas, bird of paradise, cottages in Mediterranean and Spanish bungalow styles — and not a car in sight. You could spend hours weaving up and down the surrounding tree-lined streets, where front lawns are small but lovingly manicured.
Among the succulents and roses, security and video surveillance signs bloom on stakes. As an Uber driver jokingly put it to me: “If you look at a tree too hard, they’re going to prosecute you.” Consider it a Hollywood seduction: As much effort is put into making you want to look as it is in keeping you at bay. One afternoon I momentarily paused on the sidewalk and a man ran up to me. He kept asking if I had a ticket. I kept looking at him blankly. “I’m just standing,” I finally said. It took a minute for it to dawn on me that he was a valet and for him to realize that I was — of all things, a pedestrian. I was reminded of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Pedestrian,” which takes place in the year 2053, when people no longer stroll. The protagonist embarks on an evening walk and is swiftly arrested and taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.
Among the joys of walking is refueling. At Gracias Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant that’s been a popular dinner ticket since it opened early this year, I nabbed a table at lunchtime without a reservation near the open patio doors, sipped a Purista margarita and savored a “bowl” that was as filling as a beef tortilla: romaine lettuce, brown rice, black beans, guacamole, tempeh chorizo, pico de gallo, cashew crema.
The Gracias Madre team is also behind the vegan fare at Cafe Gratitude on Larchmont Boulevard, about a three-mile walk from West Hollywood. And grateful is what you’ll be for the food, especially the savory Bonita breakfast taco plate: brown rice and quinoa, black beans, salsa fresca, avocado, cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seeds. (Ask for the toasted coconut “bacon” flakes.) Or order a Grace smoothie — coconut milk, almond butter, dates, vanilla bean — to take with you on a walk through the village shops.
But back to West Hollywood. The boutiques on Melrose Place are polished, yet those on a budget are better served on Santa Monica Boulevard at places like the $2 Clothing Store. Inside, women were sitting on the floor gleefully fishing sweaters from waist-high heaps of clothing. For some, this is heaven. For me, heaven was a mile and a half away at Book Soup, where spirited (and occasionally naughty) staff recommendations are written on cards tucked into shelves, helping you discover everything from classic fiction you always meant to read to coffee table books like “Houses of the Sundown Sea: The Architectural Vision of Harry Gesner.” As a staffer named Amelia wrote: “Mr. Gesner is my new favorite architect! Apparently an awesome guy too — he’s 89 and surfs everyday: check out the boat houses on pg. 90!”
Should you happen to be an architecture buff, find your way to the nearby Schindler House, described by its curators as “the birthplace” of Southern California modernism. Located on a peaceful residential street, it’s easy to inadvertently walk past the driveway of this low-slung 1920s house, whose rooms often serve as galleries for art exhibitions. I was the sole visitor on a November afternoon, wandering freely from room to room and into the modest but verdant backyard, fancying what indoor-outdoor California living might be like.
As I was heading back to reality, a couple of local men at the foot of the driveway were remarking on the peaceful breeze moving through the trees.
“Sometimes,” said one, “I just sit out here and smoke my weed and pray.”
When the sun disappears, there are plenty of clubs, lounges and theaters in which to while away the night. Or maybe you just want to thumb through CDs and LPs at Amoeba Music, a warehouse of new, used and rare albums — hip-hop, electronica, underground rock — on Sunset Boulevard. Jazz and classical music lovers will want to retreat to the back room where they will also find $1 records.
As for me, I was two and a half miles west, at the intimate, candlelit Tower Bar in the Sunset Tower Hotel. A piano and bass duo played in the dark as I nursed a Tower Smash: tequila, fresh basil, lemon and ginger on the rocks. Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe were but a couple of the celebrities who once walked the halls of this turn-of-the-century-style hotel. The music played on. Through the windows, the faraway lights of homes in the Hollywood Hills twinkled.
The air becomes fragrant near the corner of Fern Dell Drive and Los Feliz Boulevard on the edges of Griffith Park, the largest municipal park with an urban wilderness area in the United States. The whir of traffic — which I’d been walking amid for four miles — faded, and soon all I heard was the brook as I entered the woods, stepping on fallen sycamore leaves, yellow with pointed lobes, like stars on the Walk of Fame.
Near the top of the trail to the Griffith Observatory (James Dean fans may recall the “Rebel Without a Cause” scene shot here) there’s a rocky shortcut, which I began ascending in delicate French sneakers. It wasn’t long before I was sliding back down. A woman in gym shoes bounced past me like a gazelle. “You’re almost there!” she shouted over her shoulder as she reached the summit. “Thanks!” I said, on my hands and knees, clutching a small boulder. “I wore the wrong shoes.”
The view at the top took the sting out of my ungainly arrival. Hawks circled and plunged toward the enormous silver city basin. In the distance, the ocean beckoned.
I will not recount how I began skidding down yet another shortcut off the Mount Hollywood hiking trail, but suffice it to say that when it came time to leave, I wanted the most direct, not the scenic, route out. And I thought I was on it as I followed the sidewalk down from the observatory parking lot. Alas, the sidewalk eventually disappeared, and I was suddenly darting Road Runner-style from one curve to another to ensure I would be seen and not hit by oncoming cars. Lesson 1: Wear proper footwear. Lesson 2: Know when to summon Uber.
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Uber has had plenty of clashes with California regulators (not to mention with those in other states and countries) and is facing safety concerns. Nonetheless, it’s convenient in sprawling Los Angeles as well as surprisingly affordable. And as a solo traveler I was delighted to have drivers who shared their favorite haunts (note: they are also willing to stop at drive-throughs) and asked questions that encouraged me to reflect on my travels.
“What’s the best thing you saw inside?,” said the driver who picked me up at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
As it happened, I was at the Getty for more than three hours before looking at a single painting. With works by Monet, van Gogh and Rembrandt, it’s easy to forget that the ivory and honey center, designed by Richard Meier, along with the gardens, are works of art in their own right. The museum offers free walking tours of both. “This,” said an architecture docent as we stood amid the Santa Monica Mountains peering down at what looked like rows of toy cars, “is the notorious 405 freeway.”
And what a contrast it was to the ancient travertine stone on the Getty facade, harvested from the same Roman quarry that provided travertine for the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain.
By 11:30 the center was bustling and about 10 of us were descending toward the maze of azaleas in the Central Garden.
“On the walk down I’m not going to talk to you because I want you to really enjoy the experience,” said our guide for the garden tour.
We zigzagged across teak bridges, over a stream toward bougainvillea and the pungent scent of society garlic.
There were no tiny signs with the names of the plants and trees we passed, and our group agreed that this was something of a relief. “If all we want to know is the name of the thing,” said our guide, “then we’ve really lost the experience.”
Looking into the bowl of the garden is not unlike observing the orchestra from the balcony of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where I decided to spend a Friday night.
Reserve a seat in the center of the last row, the best spot to admire the hardwood-paneled auditorium and pipe organ, designed by Frank Gehry. It’s also convenient if you want to let your eyes drift close as I did during Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”
It’s worth spending time downtown in the surrounding streets, eating in the Grand Central Market, checking out the Victorian court of the 1893 Bradbury building, Little Tokyo, and the opulent Spanish Baroque-style Rendezvous Court inside the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. (If I had more time I would have explored downtown landmarks on one of the Los Angeles Conservancy walking tours.) A stop at the Last Bookstore is a must. What at first blush appears to be your run-of-the-mill shop reveals its darker corners bit by bit, like an old mansion. Among the spookiest spots for those with vivid imaginations is near the children’s section; a dimly lit, windowless room through a vault door. But whatever you do, do not miss going upstairs to the aptly named Labyrinth.
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“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said a man holding his phone up to an illuminated tunnel made of books as we inadvertently photo-bombed each other.
Up here books are not just read; they are used to make art installations, walls and portholes. You’ll find a smattering of little art galleries along with tomes for $1 and weird fare like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
If you can tear yourself away, you’re not far from discovering the roots of this town.
Across the road from Los Angeles Union Station, completed in 1939 when such majestic stations would soon become a thing of the past, you’ll spot a Mexican marketplace. Look beyond the stalls hawking colorful trinkets to the historic buildings. On Olvera Street, there’s Avila Adobe, the oldest existing house in Los Angeles, built in 1818. I walked up the porch into the dark, thick-walled adobe (admission is free), and was greeted by a knowledgeable guide who talked about the ranchero family that once lived here as I peeked into the handful of rooms.
Afterward I sat on the porch overlooking the market, imagining what life was like before the car was king.
Yet as rich as this area is, any car-free tour of Los Angeles must, at some point, lead to the beach.
When the sun shines on the soft, fine sand of Santa Monica, everything shimmers. In the white-blue light of morning, I passed sea gulls and surfers with boards tucked under their arms.
It is here, after a $20 Uber ride from West Hollywood, where I end my trip, listening to the comforting thunder of waves, walking east, without a destination.December 19th, 2014
NY Times Published: DEC. 18, 2014
By Paul Krugman
If you’re the type who finds macho posturing impressive, Vladimir Putin is your kind of guy. Sure enough, many American conservatives seem to have an embarrassing crush on the swaggering strongman. “That is what you call a leader,” enthused Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, after Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine without debate or deliberation.
But Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger. Russia has an economy roughly the same size as Brazil’s. And, as we’re now seeing, it’s highly vulnerable to financial crisis — a vulnerability that has a lot to do with the nature of the Putin regime.
For those who haven’t been keeping track: The ruble has been sliding gradually since August, when Mr. Putin openly committed Russian troops to the conflict in Ukraine. A few weeks ago, however, the slide turned into a plunge. Extreme measures, including a huge rise in interest rates and pressure on private companies to stop holding dollars, have done no more than stabilize the ruble far below its previous level. And all indications are that the Russian economy is heading for a nasty recession.
The proximate cause of Russia’s difficulties is, of course, the global plunge in oil prices, which, in turn, reflects factors — growing production from shale, weakening demand from China and other economies — that have nothing to do with Mr. Putin. And this was bound to inflict serious damage on an economy that, as I said, doesn’t have much besides oil that the rest of the world wants; the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine conflict have added to the damage.
But Russia’s difficulties are disproportionate to the size of the shock: While oil has indeed plunged, the ruble has plunged even more, and the damage to the Russian economy reaches far beyond the oil sector. Why?
Actually, it’s not a puzzle — and this is, in fact, a movie currency-crisis aficionados like yours truly have seen many times before: Argentina 2002, Indonesia 1998, Mexico 1995, Chile 1982, the list goes on. The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad — specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country.
In that situation, an adverse shock like a fall in exports can start a vicious downward spiral. When the nation’s currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses — which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros — implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more. And Russia fits the standard playbook.
Except for one thing. Usually, the way a country ends up with a lot of foreign debt is by running trade deficits, using borrowed funds to pay for imports. But Russia hasn’t run trade deficits. On the contrary, it has consistently run large trade surpluses, thanks to high oil prices. So why did it borrow so much money, and where did the money go?
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Well, you can answer the second question by walking around Mayfair in London, or (to a lesser extent) Manhattan’s Upper East Side, especially in the evening, and observing the long rows of luxury residences with no lights on — residences owned, as the line goes, by Chinese princelings, Middle Eastern sheikhs, and Russian oligarchs. Basically, Russia’s elite has been accumulating assets outside the country — luxury real estate is only the most visible example — and the flip side of that accumulation has been rising debt at home.
Where does the elite get that kind of money? The answer, of course, is that Putin’s Russia is an extreme version of crony capitalism, indeed, a kleptocracy in which loyalists get to skim off vast sums for their personal use. It all looked sustainable as long as oil prices stayed high. But now the bubble has burst, and the very corruption that sustained the Putin regime has left Russia in dire straits.
How does it end? The standard response of a country in Russia’s situation is an International Monetary Fund program that includes emergency loans and forbearance from creditors in return for reform. Obviously that’s not going to happen here, and Russia will try to muddle through on its own, among other things with rules to prevent capital from fleeing the country — a classic case of locking the barn door after the oligarch is gone.
It’s quite a comedown for Mr. Putin. And his swaggering strongman act helped set the stage for the disaster. A more open, accountable regime — one that wouldn’t have impressed Mr. Giuliani so much — would have been less corrupt, would probably have run up less debt, and would have been better placed to ride out falling oil prices. Macho posturing, it turns out, makes for bad economies.December 19th, 2014
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Through December 20, 2014December 16th, 2014
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5 1/4 X 3 X 3 1/2 inches (Approximate)
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Through DecemberDecember 14th, 2014
NY Times Published: December 13, 2014
By Mark Bittman
THE police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.
You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.
This in part explains why we’re seeing spontaneous protests nationwide, protests that, in their scale, racial diversity, anger and largely nonviolent nature, are unusual if not unique. I was in four cities recently — New York, Washington, Berkeley and Oakland — and there were actions every night in each of them. Meanwhile, workers walked off the job in 190 cities on Dec. 4.
The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined; and “income mobility” now describes how the rich get richer while the poor … actually get poorer.
The progress of the last 40 years has been mostly cultural, culminating, the last couple of years, in the broad legalization of same-sex marriage. But by many other measures, especially economic, things have gotten worse, thanks to the establishment of neo-liberal principles — anti-unionism, deregulation, market fundamentalism and intensified, unconscionable greed — that began with Richard Nixon and picked up steam under Ronald Reagan. Too many are suffering now because too few were fighting then.
What makes this an exciting time is that we are beginning to see links among issues that we have overlooked for far too long.
In 1970, after spending a year in New York absorbed by concerns seemingly as disparate as ending the war, supporting the rights of Black Panthers to get fair trials (and avoid being murdered) and understanding the role of men in the women’s movement, I — and others — had conversations like this: “Let’s make people understand that all of those issues, plus poverty and racism and the environment and more, are all part of the same picture, and that fixing things means citizens have to regain power and work in their own interests.”
Of course we failed, as others did before and since. But these same things can be said now, and they’re being said by people of all colors. When underpaid workers begin their strikes by saying “I can’t breathe,” or by holding their hands over their heads and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they’re recognizing that their struggle is the same as that of African-Americans demanding dignity, respect and indeed safety on their own streets.
And of course it’s the same struggle: “It’s the same people,” says Saru Jayaraman, the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Young people working in fast food are the same people as those who are the victims of police brutality. So the Walmart folks are talking about #blacklivesmatter and the #blacklivesmatter folks are talking about taking on capital.”
The N.A.A.C.P.’s Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, captures the national yearning this reflects. “I believe that deep within our being as a nation there is a longing for a moral movement that plows deep into our souls,” he writes. “We are flowing together because we recognize that the intersectionality of all of these movements is our opportunity to fundamentally redirect America.” (The full text of Dr. Barber’s email is on my blog.)
“All of these movements”? Yes: The demands of the fast-food workers movement — $15 minimum wage and a union — have helped to unite movements among airport workers, hospital workers, retail workers and more.
There are already results. Two years ago, there was talk of raising the minimum wage to $10; now $15 per hour is seen as the bare minimum. Seattle and San Francisco have already mandated this, Chicago’s City Council voted to gradually increase to a $13 minimum by 2019, Oakland will move to $12.25 in March and a proposal is being considered in Los Angeles. (And although the amounts were woefully inadequate, four red states voted to approve minimum wage increases last month, showing that the concept resonates across party lines.)
Meanwhile, the credibility of those who argue that employers “can’t afford” to raise pay — McDonald’s paid its C.E.O. $9.5 million last year — is nil. For one thing, there are examples of profitable businesses that treat their employees decently, and even countries where fast-food workers can make ends meet. And for another, underpaying workers simply shifts the cost of supporting them onto public coffers. As Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says, “In essence, taxpayers are subsidizing the wealthiest family in America.” That would be the Waltons. (Incredibly, many Republicans still want the working poor to pay more taxes.)
The initial Obama plan is encouraging but lacking, and that’s all the more reason to keep demonstrating. (What good are body cameras, by the way? The videotape of Rodney King’s beating was seen around the world yet resulted in acquittals; Eric Garner’s choking death, viewed millions of times online, didn’t even lead to a trial, even though police chokeholds are banned in New York City.) Besides, as Sanders says, “Even if every cop were a constitutional lawyer and a great person, if you have 30 percent unemployment among African-American young people you still have a huge problem.”
I have spent a great deal of time talking about the food movement and its potential, because to truly change the food system you really have to change just about everything: good nutrition stems from access to good food; access to good food isn’t going to happen without economic justice; that isn’t going to happen without taxing the superrich; and so on. The same is true of other issues: You can’t fix climate change or the environment without stopping the unlimited exploitation of natural and human resources (see Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”). Same with social well-being.
Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters: A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse.
Increasingly, it seems, there’s an appetite and even unity to take on the billionaire class. Let’s recognize that if we are seeing positive change now, it’s in part because elected officials respond to pressure, and let’s remember that that pressure must be maintained no matter who is in office. Even if Bernie Sanders were to become president, the need for pressure would continue.
“True citizenship,” says Jayaraman of Berkeley — echoing Jefferson — “is people continually protesting.” Precisely.December 14th, 2014
Ilford Selochrome 120 September 1954
archival pigment print
40.6 x 50.8 cm
24 November — 25 January 2015′December 13th, 2014
The Verdugos from Altadena, 2014
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20 x 16inches (50.8 x 40.6cm)
Through December 20, 2014December 12th, 2014
NY Times Published: DEC. 10, 2014
By Charles M. Blow
I was born in 1970, on the heels of the civil rights movement. I didn’t witness my parents’ struggles and their parents’ struggles before them. What I knew of darker days I learned in school, read in books or saw on television. Therefore, as a matter of circumstance, there existed a space between that reality and me. It was more pedagogical than experiential.
As a young man, I could connect my current circumstances and present societal conditions intellectually to previous ones and form a long-arching narrative of undeniable progress from slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow to mass incarceration to me. But that narrative was developed in the mind. Not, more innately, written by personal tribulation or authored by the shock and horror of real events happening in real time — my time — so that the mind and spirit could unite in moral outrage and the voice lift in anguished outcry.
That changed when I reached a series of racial-justice maturation moments, two of which are particularly relevant to our current cultural discussion in this country.
One came in 1991, when I was 20 years old. Rodney King was savagely beaten — on video — by Los Angeles police officers. The video showed “officers taking turns swinging their nightsticks like baseball bats at the man and kicking him in the head as he lay on the ground early Sunday,” as The New York Times put it at the time.
Earlier in the day, before the beating, one of the officers who participated had typed a message on a computer terminal in a squad car, referring to a domestic dispute among blacks this way: “Sounds almost as exciting as our last call. It was right out of ‘Gorillas in the Mist.’ ”
One of the officers reportedly said of King and the beating during an internal affair interview: “It’s like he’s looking at me, doesn’t see me, he’s just looking right through me,” reasoning that King was under the influence of PCP. (Testing of King showed no PCP.)
This is reminiscent of the dehumanizing language used by Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson,Mo. Wilson testified about Brown: “He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”
The four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of assault.
Six years after those acquittals, a black man named James Byrd Jr. was attacked by three white men, beaten, urinated on, tied by the ankle to the back of their truck, dragged on the asphalt and decapitated by a culvert.
After that, I was acutely aware of what W. E. B. Du Bois, in “The Souls of Black Folk,” called the “double consciousness”:
“One ever feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
After that, all innocence inculcated and nurtured by the distance of history and the dreamy visions of perpetual progress melted. A new, harsher sensibility and an endless searching for social justice formed in its place.
I knew then that whatever progress might have been made in previous generations would not continue as a matter of perpetual momentum, but rather as a matter of constant pushing.
So I deeply understand and appreciate the feelings of the protestors — particularly the young ones — who have taken to the streets with outrage and outcry in cities across this great country over the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.
I even understand the sentiments, recorded by recent polls, that a majority in this country believe race relations are getting worse and that more than a third think police-minority relations are getting worse.
Obviously, in the long sweep of history, no one could make such a claim. Race relations are certainly not worse than they were 50 or 100 or 400 years ago, but there is nagging frustration that things haven’t progressed as fast as many had hoped. And change, rightly or wrongly, is often measure relative to the recent past rather than to the distant one.
Furthermore, for young people in their late teens or early 20s, like my children, whose first real memory of presidential politics was the election of the first African-American president, any seeming racial retrenchment is jarring, and for them, over the course of their lifetimes, things can feel like they are getting worse.
This is their experiential moment, that moment when the weight becomes too much, when the abstract becomes real, when expectations of continual, inexorable progress slam into the back of a slow-moving reality, plagued by fits and starts and sometimes prone to occasional regressions.
It is that moment when consciousness is raised and unwavering optimism falters, when the jagged slope of truth replaces the soft slope of fantasy, when the natural recalcitrance of youth gathers onto itself the force of purpose and righteousness, when we realize that fighting is the only way forward, that equality must be won — by every generation — because it will never be freely granted.
This is a moment of civic awakening and moral maturing for a generation, and they are stepping boldly into their moment. Yes, they are struggling to divine the most effective way forward, but they will not accept being dragged backward. It is a profound moment to which we should gladly bear witness.December 11th, 2014
A protest on Monday night against police violence blocked traffic in both directions of Interstate 80 in Berkeley, Calif. Credit Noah Berger
By ADAM NAGOURNEY, CAROL POGASH and TAMAR LEWIN
NY Times Published: DEC. 9, 2014
BERKELEY, Calif. — This is the college town where the Free Speech Movement was born 50 years ago, spreading across the nation with sit-ins, marches, demonstrations and arrests. So at first glance, the demonstrations against police conduct in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island that gripped Berkeley over the past few days should be no surprise.
But the University of California campus here today is nothing like the one that became the symbol of student activism in the 1960s, with its demonstrations for civil rights and protests against the Vietnam War.
Large-scale activism here is mostly the nostalgic cause of the aging Berkeley graduates who never really left and who talk of the “F.S.M.,” in-the-know shorthand for the Free Speech Movement. A small number of them showed up in October for a subdued and decidedly gray 50th anniversary rally marking the arrest that started it all.
Now, Berkeley is again racked by protests, fueled in part by the student body here. On recent nights, protesters have come out in force — more than 1,500 were estimated to have taken part in Monday night’s demonstrations, in which 159 people were arrested, an Amtrak train was stopped in its tracks, a central freeway was closed down for hours, and the BART system was halted.
On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council — fearful of threatened disruptions — canceled its regular meeting.
Students were certainly among those joining the marches that have swept across the campus, and they were a particularly noticeable contingent on Monday night. The sight of them gave heart to older Berkeley denizens who had despaired — in a “whatever happened to the good old days” kind of way — over what they described as the student spirit of their era giving way to careerism.
But most of the demonstrators involved in the protests over the weekend, some of whom wore bandannas over their faces, appeared to be older and not necessarily from Berkeley. And students who participated said they were soured when the activism veered into civil disobedience.
“We were with the protests all the way to the highway entrance,” said Sameer Abraham, a senior. “Police were blocking the entrance to the highway, and we got the sense that this would either be the end or that something would happen.”
“So we came back to campus,” he said. “We do not approve of violence.”
These days, there is a cultural divide between the city of Berkeley, still civically dominated by the older people who came out of the antiwar and civil rights movements, and the campus that put it on the map. Students are known for being involved in local causes, and there is the occasional demonstration over, to name one example, tuition increases.
On Tuesday night, a smaller crowd of protesters wandered the streets, stopping in front of the Police Department and a darkened City Hall, where they mocked the City Council for canceling the meeting.
“What a beautiful picture I see before me,” Councilman Kriss Worthington said on the steps of City Hall. “I see people I’ve never seen before at a demonstration.”
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For all the historic lore of this city, few political issues have galvanized students as much as the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, both of them unarmed black men who were killed by white police officers.
In one sense, the seeming complacency here reflects the relative lack of activism on college campuses across the nation. But it also offers insight into the changing demographics of Berkeley, one of the most competitive universities in the nation; only 17 percent of the 73,771 applicants were admitted to this year’s freshman class.
Back in the day of Mario Savio, the best-known leader of the Free Speech Movement, the student body was overwhelmingly white and most of the leaders of the movement were men. Today, just 29 percent of the student population is white; 39 percent is Asian, 13 percent Latino and 3 percent black.
In the 1960s, tuition at Berkeley was almost free; today, it costs $12,000 a year for Californians and $35,000 for nonresidents — and the Board of Regents just voted to raise it again, a decision that some people suggested had helped feed the protest.
A walk across Berkeley 50 years ago would find clumps of students demonstrating, a food co-op, and scribbled signs on bulletin boards advertising meetings of Vietnam War protesters and the early glimmerings of the feminist movement. A stroll through campus most mornings these days would find students, head down, rushing to class.
By contrast, the city is, by any measure, as liberal and activist as ever. In November, its voters defied a national trend and a barrage of spending by the soda industry to pass an initiative imposing a tax on sugary sodas and drinks. This was the first city to boycott South Africa, and pioneered bans on smoking in public places and plastic food containers. That spirit clearly is fed by the campus at its heart.
“The faculty has a lot of touchstones that go back to the ’60s,” said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education here. “If you search for the phrase ‘social justice’ in our course listings, scores of things would pop up.”
Many of the former student radicals have settled in the Berkeley Hills, in costly homes with views of the San Francisco Bay. Although they may grow as excited talking about Chez Panisse, the Alice Waters restaurant that pioneered California cuisine, as about Edward Snowden, who leaked classified government information, there is no shortage of anguish over what they see as the absence of political interest on their campus.
“Protest is in our DNA,” said Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, in a recent interview.
Several students interviewed here said they hoped these past few days marked a turn among their peers. “It seemed like a transformation in the movement,” said Pavan Upadhyayula, the student body president.
Students turned out in larger numbers on Monday — there are no classes this week, as students prepare for exams — but there were signs that they had different views on how to proceed from those of some of the more established demonstrators. At Sproul Plaza, students took to megaphones to urge for peaceful demonstrations. But Yvette Felarca, 44, an organizer from By Any Means Necessary, one of the groups behind the protests, said she thought “militant” actions were justified if necessary.
“Riots are the voice of the unheard,” said Ms. Felarca, a Berkeley alumna. “You can never replace the lives of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but you can always replace broken windows.”
The Free Speech Movement Café sits at the center of the campus. About 30 students were assembled in front of the cafe on Monday afternoon, but the cause was hardly political: This was Hug-a-Pet time, in which a local animal rescue foundation and the University Health Services brought over dogs for students to pet as a stress reliever.
Still, the political reputation of this campus endures.
“I doubt it’s that important in attracting undergraduates, who come because it has long been ranked the best public university in the world and remains affordable,” said Christopher Edley Jr., a professor and former dean at the Berkeley Law School. “But once you are here, there are weird ions in the air.”December 11th, 2014
Angie Adams/Franz Kline. 2010–11
Oil, wax, and charcoal on cut linen, 7′ x 58″ (213.4 x 147.3 cm
Forever Now presents the work of 17 artists whose paintings reflect a singular approach that characterizes our cultural moment at the beginning of this new millennium: they refuse to allow us to define or even meter our time by them. This phenomenon in culture was first identified by the science fiction writer William Gibson, who used the term “a-temporality” to describe a cultural product of our moment that paradoxically doesn’t represent, through style, through content, or through medium, the time from which it comes. A-temporality, or timelessness, manifests itself in painting as an ahistorical free-for-all, where contemporaneity as an indicator of new form is nowhere to be found, and all eras coexist. This profligate mixing of past styles and genres can be identified as a kind of hallmark for our moment in painting, with artists achieving it by reanimating historical styles or recreating a contemporary version of them, sampling motifs from across the timeline of 20th-century art in a single painting or across an oeuvre, or radically paring their language down to the most archetypal forms.
The artists in this exhibition represent a wide variety of styles and impulses, but all use the painted surface as a platform, map, or metaphoric screen on which genres intermingle, morph, and collide. Their work represents traditional painting, in the sense that each artist engages with painting’s traditions, testing and ultimately reshaping historical strategies like appropriation and bricolage and reframing more metaphysical, high-stakes questions surrounding notions of originality, subjectivity, and spiritual transcendence.
The exhibition includes works by Richard Aldrich, Joe Bradley, Kerstin Brätsch, Matt Connors, Michaela Eichwald, Nicole Eisenman, Mark Grotjahn, Charline von Heyl, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, Dianna Molzan, Oscar Murillo, Laura Owens, Amy Sillman, Josh Smith, Mary Weatherford, and Michael Williams.
December 14, 2014–April 5, 2015December 9th, 2014
Face Pot 1, 2014
8 x 6 x 4 inches
Opening Reception: Sunday December 7, 2014. 3-5 PM
December 7, 2014 through January 2, 2015December 6th, 2014
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
By MALIA WOLLAN
NY Times Published: DEC. 5, 2014
BERKELEY, Calif. — Tom Dalzell looks too strait-laced to be the arbiter of the eccentric.
Nonetheless, almost two years ago, Mr. Dalzell, 63, set out in his khakis and comfortable shoes to walk every street, alleyway and path and document this city’s material oddities on a website he calls Quirky Berkeley. “There is a tremendous diversity of thought here,” Mr. Dalzell said. “And one of the ways we express our lack of conformity is with the quirky things we put on our houses and in our yards.”
The rules are simple: no seasonal decorations, and all quirk must be viewable from the street.
So far, Mr. Dalzell has walked nearly 150 miles and shot some 9,000 photos of rogue garden gnomes who moon passers-by; a four-foot-wide peace sign outside a house long occupied by Wavy Gravy of Woodstock fame and his Hog Farm commune compatriots; dozens of colorful hard hats hanging from a front yard tree; a massive wolf sculpture made from old car parts; a menagerie of animal-shaped mailboxes; a giant metal orange that once served as a roadside refreshment stand but now sits in a wooded side yard; and a variety of wildly painted houses and sculptures.
Sometimes Mr. Dalzell uses the site to riff on the city’s culture and history. Introducing items filed under “Peace,” he writes: “I make the following claim: Berkeley is the peace symbol/flag/pole capital of the world. Go ahead, prove me wrong.”
Mr. Dalzell moved to Berkeley 30 years ago, after a stint working for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. He manages a labor union of gas and electric utility workers by day and moonlights as an author of slang dictionaries and a collector of idiosyncrasies.
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Dalzell stood on the sidewalk outside what he considers the crown jewel of Berkeley’s quirk: a strange, bulbous structure that locals call “the fish house” built on a block of low-slung, single-family homes on the city’s south side. “As Ken Kesey would say, this is ‘bull goose loony,’ ” Mr. Dalzell said.
The house is not, it turns out, modeled after a fish but rather a tiny, indestructible microcreature called a tardigrade, or water bear, which can survive deep freezing, boiling and 10 days in space. The architect Eugene Tsui — who said he was in the process of legally changing his surname to Tssui after a dream he had in China that involved Genghis Khan — designed the home for his parents, who had no idea what a tardigrade was but wanted an earthquake-proof home.
In a sign of the changes underway here, Mr. Tsui now rents it to four young men and their technology start-up.
Like most things in this city of close to 117,000 residents, the question of whether Berkeley is actually more bohemian in thought and yard ornamentation than, say, Denver, is the subject of heated debate. “All the assumptions about Berkeley are flat-out wrong,” Mr. Tsui said. “It is a myth that this is a liberal-minded, freethinking place; at its heart, it’s a conventional bedroom community.”
Mayor Tom Bates, for one, disagrees. The large state university here has long drawn creative types, and the city’s residents have always embraced “things that are different,” the mayor said. The city was a center of the antiwar and Free Speech movements of the 1960s, and has consistently passed laws that look left-of-center to much of the country, including most recently the nation’s first tax on sweetened sodas.
“One of the real joys of walking this city,” said Mr. Bates, who does not own a car, “is to come across a house or lot where someone has done something zany.”
After a year of meticulously inventorying and cataloging, Mr. Dalzell has settled on a few general theories of quirk. First, quirk begets more quirk. “If one person puts up an animal mailbox, you’ll often see other animal mailboxes pop up around them,” he said, describing a kind of keeping up with the Joneses, Berkeley-style.
Second, the density of quirk is thicker in the city’s traditionally lower- and middle-class flatlands than up in the hills, where the wealthier tend to live. Third, nothing (as the Buddhists say) is permanent. “Sometimes you’ll see something really interesting, only to go back a week later to find it gone,” Mr. Dalzell said.
Still, there are some who view the whole Quirky Berkeley enterprise more as a testament to its creator’s kookiness than its subjects’.
“We urban and architectural historians exhibit variants of this strange behavior in cities around the globe,” said Stephen O. Tobriner, a professor emeritus of architectural history at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon close inspection, he said, any urban area yields all sorts of evidence of curious human behavior — including, sometimes, an inhabitant’s desire to walk every city block.
Even in the era of Google Street View, walking each mile of a city has become something of a fad. A woman finished walking every street in Berkeley in 2007. A man in his mid-90s walked over 300 miles of Sydney, Australia, before he died in 2008. It took three years for a Minneapolis woman, Francine Corcoran, to walk the 1,071 miles that make up the city. London has been walked, as has San Francisco.
And while the other walkers did not set off explicitly to round up wackiness the way Mr. Dalzell did, at a walker’s pace, they no doubt saw plenty of it anyway.
“When you walk a city block by block, you are forced to slow down and look at everything — you see more, you feel more, you get into the rhythm of the neighborhoods,” said William B. Helmreich, a professor of sociology at City College of New York who wrote “The New York Nobody Knows,” a book about walking every street — some 6,000 miles — of the city’s five boroughs.
“In urban areas, you often don’t feel like an individual, which makes you want to put your stamp of uniqueness on something,” Professor Helmreich said, “even if it is just the paint on your house.”December 6th, 2014
DECEMBER 07 – FEBRUARY 08, 2015December 6th, 2014
By ERIC L. ADAMS
NY Times Published: DEC. 4, 2014
I CAN recall it as if it were yesterday: looking into the toilet and seeing blood instead of urine. That was the aftermath of my first police encounter.
As a 15-year-old, living in South Jamaica, Queens, I was arrested on a criminal trespass charge after unlawfully entering and remaining in the home of an acquaintance. Officers took me to the 103rd Precinct — the same precinct where an unarmed Sean Bell was later shot and killed by the police — and brought me into a room in the basement. They kicked me in the groin repeatedly. Out of every part of my body, that’s what they targeted. Then I spent the night in Spofford juvenile detention center.
For seven days after that, I stared into the toilet bowl in my house at the blood I was urinating. I kept telling myself that if it didn’t clear up by the next day, I would share this shame and embarrassment with my mother, although I could never bring myself to start that conversation. When clear urine returned, I thought I was leaving that moment behind me. I never told anyone this, not even my mother, until I was an adult.
As I attempted to put that shame and attack on my manhood away, new horror stories kept compelling me to relive those memories: the nightmare experiences of Randolph Evans, Patrick Dorismond, Abner Louima and countless other young men have reminded me of my own secret. Think of all the secrets that young men of color are hiding. How many are concealing some dark truth of the abuse they endured, and what is that darkness doing to them?
In order to finally bring this darkness into the light of day, our nation must address the foundation of this crisis. That starts with acknowledging that the training taught in police academies across the country is not being applied in communities of color. After six months in the police academy, that instruction is effectively wiped out by six days of being taught by veteran cops on the streets.
I learned this myself firsthand. I didn’t want any more children to go through what I endured, so I sought to make change from the inside by joining the police department.
Hours after coming out of the police academy, I was told something as a new rookie officer: You’d rather be tried by 12 jurors than carried by six pallbearers. In my impressionable first days, I saw officers leave the precinct every day touching the lockers of their fallen brothers. They started their shift on the defensive, thinking about protecting themselves, as opposed to the communities they served, regardless of the complexion of those communities. One of my white fellow officers once told me that if he saw a white individual with a gun, he took extra care for himself and the individual. When he saw a black individual with a gun, he took care only for himself.
These are the lessons to which I was exposed, and the reality of what policing communities of color has been, not just in New York City but across America. There is a legacy of inequity that did not just appear overnight, but was carved into the culture of law enforcement over decades.
There is reluctance on the part of police leadership, which has long believed in the nightstick and quick-trigger-finger justice, to effectively deal with officers who have documented and substantiated records of abuse. These individuals need to be removed from the force. That is an essential component of the larger response we must have to address this history of abuse.
We cannot continue to approach policing in an antiquated fashion, and that certainly includes technology. Technology has been used as a crime-fighting tactic, but not as a tool to determine what happens during a police action. New York City has taken the right step in putting body cameras on police officers, but what about cameras on guns themselves? While I was a state senator, I introduced a proposal to allow such devices, which would not interfere with the function of the weapon; this proposal deserves to be revisited. In fact, we can go further, with cameras on police vehicles as well. Not only will technology shine a light on the darkness of these police encounters, it will be significant in advancing community trust that accountability does in fact apply.
Equally important, especially in the wake of what has taken place after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, is reform to our grand jury system. Grand juries were established in England in the 12th and 13th centuries, a vestige of a time when people needed to be protected from unfair prosecution from the king and others. There was a necessary element of secrecy — one that need not apply in cases involving police misconduct.
Open, preliminary hearings in court can and should determine if a case should be stepped up to a trial. Additionally, the handling of police shootings should be wholly separated from local grand juries. These bodies cannot handle cases involving local police officers on whom they rely every day.
Special grand juries should be convened for police-related incidents, and independent agencies must gather evidence even before they convene, at the time of police encounters where a death has occurred; the evidence gathered at that moment is the evidence that will shape whether there is an indictment, as well as whether there will be a fair trial based on the facts.
All of these ideas need to be moved forward under the leadership of our president, our governors, the mayors of our major cities and our law enforcement leadership. If we fail to take advantage of this moment that history has laid on our doorstep, we are doomed to more abuse, more division and more chaos.
When my son was 15, he was stopped by the police in a movie theater for no apparent reason. He showed his ID and explained that his father was a retired police captain and a state senator. The response was “So what?” It doesn’t and shouldn’t matter who he is. He shouldn’t have had that experience at all. And until that changes, for all men of color, real reform will never come.December 5th, 2014
Untitled Face Pot #5, 2014
14 x 6.5 x 4.5 inches
Opening Reception: Sunday December 7, 2014. 3-5 PM
December 7, 2014 through January 2, 2015
Photograph by Ruth Fremson
NY Times Published: DEC. 1, 2014
By LAWRENCE DOWNES
Judith Scott was an artist based in Oakland, Calif., who made abstract works from fiber and found objects. Some of them are small and slender, like a hunter-gatherer’s quiver. Some are large enough to cradle in both arms. Some you would need a shopping cart to move. One actually is a shopping cart, piled high with seemingly random objects and cocooned in white string.
That piece and many others are on display through March at the Brooklyn Museum in “Bound and Unbound,” a comprehensive survey of Ms. Scott’s art. The title is apt. Ms. Scott’s method was to use yarn, string and knotted fabric to wrap mundane materials, like crutches, bicycle wheels and plastic tubing, to the point of transformation. The shrouded objects are often left unrecognizable. The results are bafflingly beautiful.
Some works once reminded a Times critic of “the animal-shaped kono power objects of the Bamana people of Mali.” But it’s safe to say of Ms. Scott’s art that the Bamana people have nothing to do with it, and that any detected symbolism or allusion is a viewer’s projection.
Ms. Scott had no formal training, no education to speak of, could not hear or speak and had Down syndrome. Her work exists without explanation, even as to how it should be displayed. Right-side up or down is a curator’s assumption. Every one of her 200 or so pieces is “Untitled.”
The art world does agree that the works are superb. They are shown around the world, the subject of articles, books and films. On film, you can see Ms. Scott spooling, cutting and knotting with a quilter’s patience and a genius’s dedication. She would work until her fingers were stiff and bleeding, motivated by who knows what. “Some mysterious personal juju” is how the musician David Byrne, an admirer, put it, acknowledging that it is impossible to know what was going on behind her watery eyes.
As a child, Ms. Scott was declared profoundly retarded and ineducable. At 7, she was sent to a state hospital in her home state of Ohio. She was institutionalized for 35 years. She got out only because her twin sister, Joyce, living in the Bay Area, missed her and became her guardian. In 1987, Joyce took Judith to Creative Growth Art Center, an innovative studio in Oakland for people with developmental disabilities. After nearly two years there, dabbling uninterestedly with paint, Judith found her medium.
She also found respect and deference as her talent blossomed. She became “very regal,” Joyce said, the queen of the place, with her own table and a wealth of supplies. As she wrapped her pieces — summoning the staff to remove them when she was done — she also made an artwork of herself, with colorful scarves and hats and strands of jewelry. A short documentary, “Outsider,” shows her as a woman of warmth and teasing affection in a close web of family, colleagues and friends.
Such dignity through achievement is too often the exception for people with Down syndrome, whom society prefers to infantilize and ignore. People with mental disabilities are easily pitied but seldom listened to; in the broader struggle for civil rights they remain a forgotten group.
Timothy Shriver, the chairman of Special Olympics, writes in a new book, “Fully Alive,” that people with intellectual disabilities bring those who are “normal” face-to-face with their own limitations. “In a world where we strive for independence and self-sufficiency,” he writes, “people with disabilities remind us that we are all dependent in some way.” The impulse has long been to hide these reminders away, locked in institutions or overlooked within families, sequestered from their own potential.
Sometimes, rarely, one among them hits the cosmic lottery and breaks through on her own.
Judith Scott became an artist in her early 40s. She was 61 when she died, in 2005. Her artistic vision, like all genius, is a mystery, but what made it possible is simple to explain: her own hard work, the love of a sister, the attentive support of a groundbreaking arts institution — and miles and miles of string.
Ms. Scott’s pieces are colorful, oddly shaped yet graceful, unself-consciously beautiful. That is also a good way of describing a human being, which Ms. Scott — against overwhelming odds, and the larger world’s denial, and without saying a word — declared herself to be.December 2nd, 2014
December 2nd, 2014
Thanks to Jonathan MaghenDecember 2nd, 2014
Meredith Monk Celebrates 50 Years of Work
“I just keep trucking along.” Credit Julieta Cervantes
By ZACHARY WOOLFE
NY Times Published: NOV. 28, 2014
The traffic was light, the sky dark, the sidewalks mostly empty on a bitterly cold recent Sunday evening in TriBeCa. Looking down shadowy side streets, it was possible, for a moment or two at a time, to imagine being back in the forbidding, exhilarating downtown New York of the 1970s.
The fantasy only deepened on arriving at the West Broadway building where the composer, vocalist, dancer, choreographer, director and filmmaker Meredith Monk has lived and worked since 1972. A star and survivor of that long-ago downtown scene, she marks the 50th anniversary of the start of her professional career this year, an ideal moment to honor her pathbreaking work, which has inspired artists as different as Merce Cunningham and Björk.
“I’ve been in fashion, out of fashion,” Ms. Monk, 72, said with a broad smile over fennel tea in her loft, where the cozy, if still rough, living quarters lead through a doorway to an expansive rehearsal space. “I just keep trucking along. It’s an inner necessity to work, and that’s not going to change. I need to create. I need to.”
She made her reputation stretching her voice, and those of her collaborators, into primeval, wordless yowls, keens and rasps, placing those strange sounds within luminous, ambiguous theatrical and choreographic events. Much of the music and movement for these pieces wasn’t recorded in conventional written form, so the questions of whether and how they will be transcribed, notated and eventually revived after she is gone hang over her golden anniversary.
But much of the celebration is characteristically forward looking. Wednesday brings the New York premiere, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, of her latest music-theater piece, “On Behalf of Nature,” a spare yet grand, despairing yet affirming elegy for our planet.
While her work is often sober, Ms. Monk in person is elfin and funny, with a taste for brightly colored, unexpectedly puffy pants and her hair in two thin braids. Peppered with her hearty laugh, the rehearsal at her place that frigid recent Sunday was also focused on a newish work, “Night,” composed in 1996 and revised in 2005. But her early roots were visible, and not just in the loft. She and her vocal ensemble began the session with the same joyfully overlapping “Hallelujah” warm-up that she is shown leading in a 1983 television documentary about her ambitious output, which includes piano miniatures, her signature extreme vocal solos, three-act operas (the exquisite “Atlas,” 1991) and more recent forays into orchestral writing (such as “Night”).
Old and new rub up against each other throughout her anniversary season. The holder of this year’s Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall, she has written a new piece for the hall’s resident Ensemble ACJW, to have its premiere in February. The St. Louis Symphony will play “Weave” (2010) at the hall in March, two days before a sweeping concert there of works both recent and classic, with guests like Jessye Norman and John Zorn. In May, Ms. Monk and her vocal ensemble will close the season at Carnegie with a selection from a broad swath of her career.
Born in 1942, she grew up in Queens and Stamford, Conn., playing piano and taking classes in Dalcroze Eurhythmics, a system that ties musical education to movement. There were musicians on both sides of her family, and her mother was a noted studio singer who performed on radio advertisements and variety shows. But commercial work was fickle, a lesson her daughter internalized.
“I learned that I didn’t want anyone else to be in control of what I was doing or not doing,” Ms. Monk said. “I wanted to make my own life.”
She fell in love with folk music’s plangent melodies, and studied voice and dance at Sarah Lawrence College. But traditional forms were unsatisfying. “When I would do a classical music recital, it just didn’t feel big enough for me,” she said.
From the time she graduated, in 1964 and moved to Manhattan, her work was indeed bigger: more capacious and elusive. In “16 Millimeter Earrings” (1966), Ms. Monk sang “Greensleeves,” read aloud from Wilhelm Reich’s “The Function of the Orgasm” and wore a large sphere over her head, on which video footage of her face was projected.
“One day, I had this revelation that the voice could be like an instrument,” she said. “I didn’t have to do words, and it could be male and female, animal, vegetable, mineral. There could be landscape, characters, textures.”
She began pushing her range, emerging with a style full of clicks, creaks, ululations, exhalations, vibrations and trembles that were wild sounding — “drastic,” the critic Jill Johnston called them — but intricately controlled. Dreamy, ethereal tones, like Joan Baez’s or Joni Mitchell’s, tipped over into something part obscure confession, part primordial ritual. (“Beginnings,” on the Tzadik label, is an essential compilation of these early experiments.)
Intelligible English would occasionally emerge from the artful babble. “She must be crazy,” Ms. Monk croaks on her first album, “Key” (1971), and some listeners may well have nodded in agreement.
But she was more than merely idiosyncratic. While her vocal techniques were haunting, and deployed with arresting confidence, she used them not as effects but as seemingly organic outgrowths of fully formed worlds that felt simultaneously contemporary and ancient. Her charisma and theatricality, with crucial doses of wit and warmth, also carried her in pieces like “Our Lady of Late” (1972), in which she sat alone on a vast stage, accompanying herself with drones made by rubbing a wine glass.
This theatrical element grew more complex in sprawling multimedia pieces like “Quarry” (1976), a child’s-eye opera about war, which prompted the formation of her vocal ensemble. Ms. Monk and five ensemble singers went on to perform “Dolmen Music” (1979), which retained the intimacy of her solos while widening their scope into a mesmerizing communal rite. Made into a classic recording — her first of 11 (and counting) on the ECM label — the work still feels both familiar and radically strange.
“It invites us into new worlds,” Derek Bermel, the artistic director of the American Composers Orchestra, said of Ms. Monk’s work from the Carnegie stage before the group performed “Night” on Nov. 21. “But ‘invites’ is the word. It doesn’t push us.”
He was speaking about her aesthetic. But the observation is also true of her political posture, which can seem reticent, even mild.
“I always think making art in this world we’re living in is political,” Ms. Monk said. “But I’ve never been a ‘pointy’ kind of artist.” Speaking of “On Behalf of Nature” in “Conversations With Meredith Monk,” a recently published book of interviews, she asks, incredulously, “Am I supposed to be telling people to call up the guys to not have fracking?”
Those hoping for a rally may be disappointed by the piece. Set on a bare stage, with eight vocalist-dancers, “On Behalf of Nature” is an attempt to speak as nature rather than about it. Though it includes a bracing solo for Ms. Monk that she calls a “nonverbal rant,” the mood is more ruminative than raging.
It’s not always the case these days that Ms. Monk is included in her casts. “She’s starting to write music for other people, and it’s going to be really interesting,” said the composer David Lang. “Her personality is so big that when you’ve seen her perform, you may not have realized just how beautiful her music is.”
But her work can suffer from her absence. There are sensitive instrumental textures in “Night,” but they don’t carry the interest or intensity of the vocal lines, and even the voices are less intriguing because Ms. Monk’s isn’t among them. When the San Francisco Symphony performed her “Realm Variations” at Carnegie in 2012, the work was energized when she sang, slack when she didn’t.
The unexpected death of her partner, the choreographer Mieke van Hoek, after a stroke in 2002 contributed, by several accounts, to her fresh interest in how her work will continue after she is gone. “She’s done a lot of meditating and a lot of self-reflection,” said the vocalist and composer Theo Bleckmann, a longtime collaborator. “So I think that reflects in her work and what she wants to do and what she wants to leave.”
In 2000, she joined the roster of the influential music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, but not when she was first asked. “Forget it,” she recalled telling the company when it originally inquired about signing her. “I’m going to let it die with me, because no one will understand how to do it.”
Now she takes more seriously the painstaking task of preparing the performable scores needed to bring her pieces before a wider audience. The process of creating a broadly understandable version from the available material often begins with the laborious process of transcribing recordings, with assistance from the various, sometimes faint memories of Ms. Monk and the original participants. It has been slow going.
“I had to invent half the notation,” said the composer Missy Mazzoli, who helped transcribe “Book of Days” (1985), a medieval fantasia. “I had to listen to these amazing primal wails, with improvisation and not improvisation on top of each other, and communicate that through the score. No one is ever going to perform her works like Meredith Monk, but the goal was to create something that was at once a document and a jumping-off point.”
Having a viable score is only the beginning. “Just singing the notes does not even get close to what makes this music tick,” Mr. Bleckmann said, adding that the intangible emotional and even spiritual context — the pieces are deeply informed by her Buddhist practice — must be passed on, too. Yet the goal is not sheer verisimilitude. While Ms. Monk has allowed, and often guided, performances of her work by others, she dislikes new versions that try to mimic her originals.
“The one person who kind of got through without trying to be Meredith the Second and sounding awful is Björk,” Ms. Monk said. “She did ‘Gotham Lullaby’ ” — an aching 1975 melody on the “Dolmen Music” album — “in her own way and kept the feeling of it. She kept the form in her own way. She kept the mood. She kept the integrity. Other people have tried to do it note by note, and it doesn’t work, it never works.”
Ms. Monk has given her blessing to a vocal sextet called the M6, which formed in 2007 to revive some of her older works. And she has approved an eventual new production of “Atlas” proposed by the director Yuval Sharon, which will be the opera’s first staging since its premiere.
“Most meaningful of all to me is that she would trust me to bring it to life,” Mr. Sharon said. “It’s a big step for her, letting another person realize her work in a way other than how she originally imagined it.”
Important questions still lie before Ms. Monk and her management arm, the House Foundation for the Arts. Will she choose to leave certain works unpublished, and therefore unperformed? Will securing future rights be contingent on bringing in Ms. Monk’s collaborators to train performers in the subtleties of her style?
“I’m of two minds about it,” Ms. Monk said. “On one hand, I love the idea that the music can live beyond me. And maybe there are some things that can’t. And then we have recordings, and that’s great.”
But Ms. Mazzoli insisted, “This work is not going to die with her.”November 30th, 2014
Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times
In October 2012, Bob Baker joined some friends in the party room at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater just west of downtown Los Angeles. The marionettes: Hansel and Gretel, left and right, and the Fairy Godmother.
By BOB POOL
LA Times Published: November 28, 2014
For years, puppeteer Bob Baker’s marionette theater hung on by a thread.
In the end, it outlasted Baker, who died Friday at age 90 after an eight-decade career pulling the strings of his whimsical creations and delighting young and old alike.
Baker died at his home in Los Angeles of age-related causes, said Greg Williams, a friend and puppeteer who worked with Baker for many years.
Baker’s theater, which occupies a former cinder block movie scenery shop west of downtown Los Angeles, is the oldest puppet theater in the United States. When it was opened in 1962 at the corner of 1st Street and Glendale Boulevard by Baker and business partner Alton Wood, it was an immediate hit with children and their parents.
Thirteen years earlier, Baker and Wood had teamed up to form a touring company that kept busy staging puppet shows at school fairs, women’s clubs and churches. They also had a thriving side business at a small Santa Monica Boulevard workshop where they designed and built puppets for movies and commercials and produced toy Pinocchio puppets sold at Disneyland.
The workshop created promotional windows for Disneyland and animated displays for Knott’s Berry Farm. Its puppets appeared in commercials for Bob’s Big Boy, McDonald’s and Burger King as well as in ads for new cars, drug stores and a cigarette maker.
Over the years Baker enjoyed recounting how he had worked as an animation advisor with Disney Studios and walked through Disneyland with Walt Disney at his side the day before the park opened for business in 1955. He also reminisced about birthday parties where he performed his puppetry magic for the children of such Hollywood celebrities as Eleanor Powell, Jack Benny and Danny Kaye. He was proud that his puppets had roles in “A Star Is Born,” “Star Trek,” Elvis Presley’s “G.I. Blues,” Disney’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
But film and TV commercial work dried up when computer-generated imagery came into vogue in Hollywood. Attendance at weekday puppet shows dwindled as schools struggled with budget problems and began cutting back on field trips. A roofing company that rented space on the theater grounds closed up shop because of the recession.
By 2008 Baker had fallen behind on the theater’s mortgage payments and the property was listed for sale for $1.5 million. Closure was averted when the Ahmanson Foundation and other donors came to its rescue. A year later, Los Angeles officials declared the theater — the oldest of its kind in the United States — to be a city historic-cultural landmark.
Baker put the property back on the market in 2012 for $2 million as he searched for $150,000 to pay back taxes and for a private investor willing to refinance the mortgage. He made it clear that only the theater site was for sale: He intended to keep his collection of 4,000 puppets intact and hoped to lease back the theater from its new owner.
The building was sold last year, but Baker’s puppeteers plan to continue staging performances there at least until the lease runs out in March, Williams said Friday.
It’s no wonder Baker wanted to hold on to his creations. His marionettes were elaborately designed and carefully crafted, with some taking 350 hours to hand-build and outfit in sumptuous costumes. Others, like dancing cactus plants, were delightfully simple. Many were surprisingly complex: circus figures riding on horseback, monkeys that juggled while walking on stilts, Spanish tango dancers. Some cost as much as $5,000 to create.
From the theater Baker also ran the Academy of Puppetry and Allied Arts, where high school students could learn the art of puppetry. The academy helped subsidize tickets for school kids’ field trip to marionette shows.
A Los Angeles native, Baker lived in the same house in Koreatown where he was born Feb. 9, 1924 — a place seven minutes away from the theater.
Baker always explained that he was bitten by the marionette bug as a 6-year-old when he went to a puppet show. By age 8 he was taking puppetry lessons; he staged his first professional performance in 1932 for an audience that included film director Mervyn LeRoy.
By the time he was a student at Hollywood High School, Baker was working with the WPA doing puppetry and selling his own hand-crafted marionettes to high-end department stores. After graduation, he apprenticed at George Pal’s animation studio, recognized for its Oscar-winning stop-motion techniques using puppet figures. In less than a year, Baker became a lead animator for Pal’s Puppetoons division, which was contracted at the time to Paramount Studios. Later, he and Wood formed Bob Baker Productions. Wood died in 2001.
As a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Baker helped pick winners for the Oscars’ animated feature film award category. He also served as governor of the animation branch of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and was a former president of the Los Angeles Puppet Guild.
The marionette theater was a trip back in time for generations of baby boomers and others who grew up watching TV’s “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” in the late 1940s, “Howdy Doody” in the ’50s, “The Shari Lewis Show” in the ’60s and “The Muppet Show” in the ’70s.
The Los Angeles City Council designated Baker’s theater a historic-cultural landmark in 2009 after a parade of puppets marched across the council’s ornate horseshoe-shaped desk and other Southern California puppeteers rallied to support the landmark nomination. Baker, ever the workhorse, missed watching the 14-0 vote because he was staging a previously scheduled series of shows in Paramount.
He has no immediate survivors.November 28th, 2014
South Willard will be closed for Black FridayNovember 26th, 2014
By RANDY KENNEDY
NY Times Published: NOV. 25, 2014
Lewis Baltz, whose caustic but formally beautiful black-and-white images of parking lots, office parks, industrial garage doors and the backs of anonymous warehouses helped forge a new tradition of American landscape photography in an age of urban sprawl, died on Saturday in Paris. He was 69.
The cause was complications of cancer and emphysema, said Theresa Luisotti, whose gallery represented him for many years.
Mr. Baltz was one of a group of photographers — including Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, Joe Deal, Nicholas Nixon and Frank Gohlke — who became known as founders of the New Topographics movement, named for a highly influential exhibition, “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape,” at the George Eastman House in Rochester in 1975. Their work was united by a seemingly dispassionate, affectless presentation — the critic Ken Johnson, writing in The New York Times, once compared it to pictures taken by an insurance adjuster — of the rapid transformation wrought across the countryside in the 1960s and ’70s by suburban development, strip malls, highways and motels.
More than those of his colleagues, Mr. Baltz’s stark, geometric photographs used the language of Minimalism, the dominant mode of sculpture at the time, to convey a kind of creeping soullessness in the man-made landscape of Southern California, where he grew up.
“Viewed one way, this could be photography as art criticism,” William Wilson wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 1992. “Instead, Baltz cuts to the sociological quick. This use of the land is not evil because it is merely venal, but because it is rational.”
Mr. Baltz’s best-known photographs include no people, as if humanity might have been cleanly erased by some technological devastation. In interviews, he was comically pointed about the effect of suburban and commercial architecture on the concept of its inhabitants.
“You don’t know whether they’re manufacturing pantyhose or megadeath,” he once said, in an often-cited observation about the people who might have been working inside the warehouses his pictures showed.
In a 1992 interview, he said: “Coming from Orange County, I watched the ghastly transformation of this place — the first wave of bulimic capitalism sweeping across the land, next door to me. I sensed that there was something horribly amiss and awry about my own personal environment.”
Lewis Baltz was born on Sept. 12, 1945, in Newport Beach, Calif., the only child of a couple who owned a mortuary business. His father, who was also Newport Beach’s deputy coroner, was an alcoholic who died of cirrhosis of the liver when Mr. Baltz was 11.
At 14, Mr. Baltz began working in a Laguna Beach camera store whose owner, the photographer William Current, took him under his wing and gave him books, advice and a view of the wider world of art that lay beyond the conservative oceanside towns of Southern California.
Mr. Baltz graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1969. He received a master’s degree in 1971 from Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University), where his master’s thesis was a series of photographs of tract houses that seemed like a bridge between the romanticism of Minor White’s barns and the stark reductiveness of Brice Marden’s monochrome paintings.
Work from Mr. Baltz’s landmark book, “The New Industrial Parks Near Irvine, California,” was shown at the Castelli Gallery in New York in 1975, a year after it was first published. In 1977, his work was included in the Whitney Biennial along with that of Conceptual artists like John Baldessari, Mel Bochner and Robert Cumming.
In the late 1980s Mr. Baltz moved to Europe, where his work had a strong following, and he taught for many years in Switzerland and Italy. At his death he was living and working in Paris. Around the time of his move, he turned toward color photography and began bodies of work — sometimes using imposing imagery enlarged to several feet tall — that explored political issues, like surveillance and the reach of technology, that have since become even more pressing.
His work entered many major public collections, including those of the Guggenheim, Tate Modern, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2013, the Getty Research Institute acquired Mr. Baltz’s archive, donated by him and his wife, the artist Slavica Perkovic, who survives him, as does his daughter, Monica Baltz.
Though he worked in photography all his life, Mr. Baltz expressed deep philosophical skepticism about the medium — or at least the art-photography world. “I think being a photographer is a little like being a whore,” he once said, with characteristic bone-dry wit. “If you’re really, really good at it, nobody will call you that.”
The camera, he said, was often a device less for communication than for a kind of existential defense. In 2009 he told an interviewer for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, “I used photography to distance myself from a world that I loathed and was powerless to improve.”November 26th, 2014
Donald fields, 37, with daughter Olivia Fields,9, at a Leimert Park gathering during the Ferguson, MO grand Jury decision. “If that was my little brother I would be very sad, she sad.November 24th, 2014
NY Times Published: NOV. 24, 2014
By David Carr
Amid the public revulsion at the news that Bill Cosby, a trailblazing black entertainer, allegedly victimized women in serial fashion throughout his career, the response from those in the know has been: What took so long?
What took so long is that those in the know kept it mostly to themselves. No one wanted to disturb the Natural Order of Things, which was that Mr. Cosby was beloved; he was as generous and paternal as his public image; and that his approach to life and work represented a bracing corrective to the coarse, self-defeating urban black ethos.
Only the first of those things was actually true.
Those in the know included Mark Whitaker, who did not find room in his almost 500-page biography, “Cosby: His Life and Times,” to address the accusations that Mr. Cosby had assaulted numerous women, at least four of whom had spoken on the record and by name in the past about what Mr. Cosby is accused of having done to them.
Those in the know also included Ta-Nehisi Coates, who elided over the charges in a long and seemingly comprehensive story about Mr. Cosby in The Atlantic in 2008.
Those in the know included Kelefa T. Sanneh, who wrote a major piece in The New Yorker and who treated the allegations as an afterthought, referring to them quickly near the end of a profile of Mr. Cosby this past September.
And those in the know also included me. In 2011, I did a Q. and A. with Mr. Cosby for Hemispheres magazine, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, and never found the space or the time to ask him why so many women accused him of drugging and then assaulting them.
We all have our excuses, but in doing so, we let down the women who were brave enough to speak out publicly against a very powerful entertainer.
Mr. Whitaker has said he didn’t want to put anything in the book, which he wrote with Mr. Cosby’s cooperation, that wasn’t confirmed — which of course raises the question of why he wouldn’t have done the work to knock the allegations down or make them stand up.
And given that the allegations had already been carefully and thoroughly reported in Philadelphia magazine and elsewhere, any book of the size and scope of Mr. Whitaker’s book should have gone there.
Mr. Coates recently expressed regret on The Atlantic website that he did not press harder on Mr. Cosby’s conflicted past. In the course of his reporting, he said he came to the conclusion that “Bill Cosby was a rapist.”
He added: “I regret not saying what I thought of the accusations, and then pursuing those thoughts. I regret it because the lack of pursuit puts me in league with people who either looked away, or did not look hard enough.”
I was one of those who looked away. Having read the Philadelphia magazine story when it came out, I knew when the editors of the airline magazine called that they would have no interest in pursuing those allegations in a short interview in a magazine meant to occupy fliers.
My job as a journalist was to turn that assignment down. If I was not going to do the work to tell the truth about the guy, I should not have let him prattle on about his new book at the time.
But I did not turn it down. I did the interview and took the money.
I paid for that in other ways. The interview was deeply unpleasant, with a windy, obstreperous subject who answered almost every question in 15-minute soliloquies, many of which were not particularly useful.
After an hour of this, I mentioned that the interview was turning out to be all A. and no Q. He paused, finally.
“Young man, are you interested in hearing what I have to say or not?” he said. “If not, we can end this interview right now.”
Mr. Cosby was not interested in being questioned, in being challenged in any way. By this point in his career, he was surrounded by ferocious lawyers and stalwart enablers and he felt it was beneath him to submit to the queries of mere mortals.
He was certain of his own certainty and had very little time for the opinions of others. Mr. Cosby, as all of those who did profiles on him have pointed out, was never just an entertainer, but a signal tower of moral rectitude.
From the beginning, part of his franchise was built on family values, first dramatized in “The Cosby Show” and then in his calling out the profane approach of younger comics and indicting the dress and manner of young black Americans.
Beyond selling Jell-O, Mr. Cosby was selling a version of America where all people are responsible for their own lot in life.
He seldom addressed bigotry and racism. Instead, he exhorted individuals to install their own bootstraps and pull themselves into success. And while they were at it, they should pull their pants up and quit sagging, a fashion trope Mr. Cosby found inexcusable.
It proved to be a popular theme with white audiences and less so with black ones. A generation of black comics who revered other pioneers like Richard Pryor found Mr. Cosby’s lectures tired and misplaced.
But that moralism, which put legs under his career as an author and a public figure, made Mr. Cosby a target. In 2005, ABC News reported on accusations of a former Temple University employee, who said that the entertainer drugged and fondled her.
That was followed by a report on “The Today Show” that he did the same thing to Tamara Green, a California lawyer.
The Philadelphia magazine story with a more comprehensive list of victims came out in 2006 and was followed by a story in People magazine about Barbara Bowman, who said that she was drugged and assaulted. And then the story just died.
Mr. Cosby was (mostly) out of view, his lawyers pushed back and tried to knock down every story and victim, and no one in the media seemed interested any longer. Mr. Cosby was old news, he had been investigated but never criminally charged, and there seemed to be little upside to going after a now-ancient story.
But as Mr. Cosby’s profile rose again when it became clear that he would get another ride on television with shows on NBC and Netflix, so did the scrutiny.
In February of this year, Newsweek published accounts from two of his victims, including Ms. Green, who called Mr. Cosby a “rapist” and “liar.”
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In the end, it fell to a comic, not an investigative reporter or biographer, to speak truth to entertainment power, to take on The Natural Order of Things.
On Oct. 16, comedian Hannibal Buress took the stage in Philadelphia, Mr. Cosby’s hometown, and railed against the incongruity of his public moralizing and private behavior. He told the audience, “I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch ‘Cosby Show’ reruns.” (TV Land has since canceled those reruns, and both Netflix and NBC have shelved projects with Mr. Cosby.)
He said Mr. Cosby has the “smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.”
And then he dropped the bomb. “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches.”
Social media, a nonfactor when the allegations first surfaced, feasted on a clip of the set posted on Philadelphia magazine’s website.
On the heels of Mr. Buress’s routine, Mr. Cosby’s public relations people asked his Twitter followers to make funny memes of the entertainer, and that promptly backfired in a massive way.
With NBC and his other former partners having jettisoned him, Mr. Cosby’s lawyers were left alone in the bunker, playing Whac-a-Mole against charges from women that are popping up everywhere. And on Sunday, The Washington Post did a comprehensive recap of the charges.
For decades, entertainers have been able to maintain custody of their image, regardless of how they conducted themselves. Many had entire crews of dust busters who came behind them and cleaned up their messes.
Those days are history. It doesn’t really matter now what the courts or the press do or decide. When enough evidence and pushback rears into view, a new apparatus takes over, one that is viral, relentless and not going to forgive or forget.November 24th, 2014
An untitled 1965 work by Susan Te Kahurangi King includes familiar characters
NY Times Published: NOV. 20, 2014
By KAREN ROSENBERG
Since the early 1960s, the New Zealand artist Susan Te Kahurangi King, 63, has been reworking Looney Tunes characters like a rogue animator, abstracting, distorting and disassembling them in surreal and psychedelic landscapes. A small installation of her drawings was the undisputed hit of this year’s Outsider Art Fair. She is now making her gallery debut, with a bigger presentation, organized (like her art fair display) by the independent curator Chris Byrne.
In one early graphite drawing, Sylvester the Cat has met with a fate even Tweety Bird could not have imagined: He’s involved in a nasty-looking pileup of cartoon body parts. Later comes a Popeye head sprouting from the beak of the Road Runner, a composite figure surrounded by ducks who are floating skyward in the manner of Tiepolo figures.
Ms. King also has a way of animating negative space; clearly, she does not suffer from horror vacui. In her colored-pencil drawings from the late 1970s, waves of tiny, minnow-like figures press in from the bottom right corner of the page, but leave half of it blank.
As the gallery’s news release tells us, Ms. King stopped speaking at the age of 4 (for reasons that have never been attributed to a specific disability). This bit of knowledge encourages us to see her extraordinary fluency with graphite and colored pencil as a kind of substitute for speech. But we don’t necessarily need to know that to appreciate that her drawings, which invoke, among other things, the sonic mayhem of Saturday morning cartoons, are commandingly vociferous.
Through December 20, 2014November 22nd, 2014
Oil on fabric
78 1/2 x 78 1/2 inches (199.5 x 199.5 cm)
Through December 20, 2014November 21st, 2014
Thanks to Jonathan MaghenNovember 21st, 2014
NY Times Published: NOV. 20, 2014
By Paul Krugman
The Tenement Museum, on the Lower East Side, is one of my favorite places in New York City. It’s a Civil War-vintage building that housed successive waves of immigrants, and a number of apartments have been restored to look exactly as they did in various eras, from the 1860s to the 1930s (when the building was declared unfit for occupancy). When you tour the museum, you come away with a powerful sense of immigration as a human experience, which — despite plenty of bad times, despite a cultural climate in which Jews, Italians, and others were often portrayed as racially inferior — was overwhelmingly positive.
I get especially choked up about the Baldizzi apartment from 1934. When I described its layout to my parents, both declared, “I grew up in that apartment!” And today’s immigrants are the same, in aspiration and behavior, as my grandparents were — people seeking a better life, and by and large finding it.
That’s why I enthusiastically support President Obama’s new immigration initiative. It’s a simple matter of human decency.
That’s not to say that I, or most progressives, support open borders. You can see one important reason right there in the Baldizzi apartment: the photo of F.D.R. on the wall. The New Deal made America a vastly better place, yet it probably wouldn’t have been possible without the immigration restrictions that went into effect after World War I. For one thing, absent those restrictions, there would have been many claims, justified or not, about people flocking to America to take advantage of welfare programs.
Furthermore, open immigration meant that many of America’s worst-paid workers weren’t citizens and couldn’t vote. Once immigration restrictions were in place, and immigrants already here gained citizenship, this disenfranchised class at the bottom shrank rapidly, helping to create the political conditions for a stronger social safety net. And, yes, low-skill immigration probably has some depressing effect on wages, although the available evidence suggests that the effect is quite small.
So there are some difficult issues in immigration policy. I like to say that if you don’t feel conflicted about these issues, there’s something wrong with you. But one thing you shouldn’t feel conflicted about is the proposition that we should offer decent treatment to children who are already here — and are already Americans in every sense that matters. And that’s what Mr. Obama’s initiative is about.
Who are we talking about? First, there are more than a million young people in this country who came — yes, illegally — as children and have lived here ever since. Second, there are large numbers of children who were born here — which makes them U.S. citizens, with all the same rights you and I have — but whose parents came illegally, and are legally subject to being deported.
What should we do about these people and their families? There are some forces in our political life who want us to bring out the iron fist — to seek out and deport young residents who weren’t born here but have never known another home, to seek out and deport the undocumented parents of American children and force those children either to go into exile or to fend for themselves.
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But that isn’t going to happen, partly because, as a nation, we aren’t really that cruel; partly because that kind of crackdown would require something approaching police-state rule; and, largely, I’m sorry to say, because Congress doesn’t want to spend the money that such a plan would require. In practice, undocumented children and the undocumented parents of legal children aren’t going anywhere.
The real question, then, is how we’re going to treat them. Will we continue our current regime of malign neglect, denying them ordinary rights and leaving them under the constant threat of deportation? Or will we treat them as the fellow Americans they already are?
The truth is that sheer self-interest says that we should do the humane thing. Today’s immigrant children are tomorrow’s workers, taxpayers and neighbors. Condemning them to life in the shadows means that they will have less stable home lives than they should, be denied the opportunity to acquire skills and education, contribute less to the economy, and play a less positive role in society. Failure to act is just self-destructive.
But speaking for myself, I don’t care that much about the money, or even the social aspects. What really matters, or should matter, is the humanity. My parents were able to have the lives they did because America, despite all the prejudices of the time, was willing to treat them as people. Offering the same kind of treatment to today’s immigrant children is the practical course of action, but it’s also, crucially, the right thing to do. So let’s applaud the president for doing it.November 21st, 2014
By NICK BILTON
NY Times Published NOV. 19, 2014
I am the ruler of worlds. Let me rephrase that: I am the ruler of one very small world of social media bots.
My Twitter bots resemble real people, with photos for avatars and bios. Meet Fabiola Shaffer: She is pretty, has long brown hair, is a writer and researcher in New York and loves chocolate. Karri B. Segal is a sophisticated woman in her mid-50s, works in advertising in New York and likes Etsy. Rick Engbarg is a tuxedo-wearing rocket scientist who freelances at SpaceX and lives in San Francisco.
Never mind that they don’t exist (and their accounts have since been suspended), figments of a few lines of computer code. I can command them to retweet certain topics (like chocolate or Ebola), favorite a tweet or follow anyone who follows them. Compared with most bot collections, which number in the tens of thousands and are often called bot farms, my enclave of 20 bots is more like a bot petting zoo.
We’ve known about bots for some time (I wrote about them earlier this year, and how anyone can buy a few thousand “friends” for $5). But making these fake accounts used to be difficult, requiring lots of programming deft. Now, even I can make my own — and trust me, my programming skills are minimal.
As a result, a giant pyramid scheme has emerged on social media, where fake friends now command real money.
Here’s how the pyramid works: With minimal effort, I downloaded a piece of software called Twitter Supremacy. For $50 for a six-month license, the software (which violates Twitter’s terms of service agreement) lets me fabricate an unlimited number of friends.
Furthermore, I can program these fake accounts to tweet, retweet and follow others automatically, as if they were living, breathing users. (There are dozens of similar services that do this for Instagram, Vine, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook.)
With an army of fake friends at my disposal, I can now charge people who want to increase their number of followers or promote certain tweets. One bot creator I talked to (who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because his work violates user agreements with social media sites) said that he manages hundreds of thousands of Instagram bots and makes a good living by pushing posts to the app’s popular page. He can also manufacture all kinds of engagement, including following accounts and commenting on photos.
Who pays for these services? The bot creator said that his clients include well-known celebrities and brands, along with everyday people who want a social media ego boost. (The bot maker wouldn’t let me share whom he works with, but the list includes A-list celebrities and a fast-food chain.)
This is where the real money is exchanged. Consider, for example, that a celebrity like Kim Kardashian, who has 25 million Twitter followers, has been paid $10,000 to tweet about ShoeDazzle. Or that Charlie Sheen, who has 11 million followers, was reportedly paid $50,000 to tweet about internships.com.
What if many of their followers are fake? Numerous reports have found that celebrities, politicians and companies often buy fake followers to enhance their perceived importance online.
The practice is so widespread that StatusPeople, a social media management company in London, has a web tool called the Fake Follower Check that it says can tell how many fake followers a person has. According to that tool, 6 percent of Ms. Kardashian’s followers are fake, as are 12 percent of Mr. Sheen’s. Mr. Sheen did not respond to a request for comment. Ms. Kardashian, speaking through her publicist, said she was has never purchased followers.
(It should be noted that celebrities and other users often have no control over the number of their fake followers. Bot farms will often follow big-name celebrities, regardless of whether a celebrity is a client or not.)
Yet it doesn’t seem to matter. For a single tweet, Facebook update or Instagram photo, brands will pay $1,500 to $2,500 to lower-tier celebrities like Marlon Wayans or Holly Madison, and up to $50,000 to upper-tier celebrities like Ms. Kardashian and Mr. Sheen.
Social media companies are well aware of this. Each year, Facebook has said it finds 67 million to 137 million fake accounts on its service. Twitter said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that 5 percent, or around 24 million, of its accounts are bots. And Instagram is littered with millions of bots that copy people’s profiles, share their photos and leave comments on images.
But in general, social media sites are more concerned with eradicating malware and viruses than with eliminating bots that tweet about boy bands.
What’s striking about this pyramid scheme is just how simple it is. The bot creator I spoke with said that the software is so easy to use that teenagers are getting into the act now as a way to supplement their allowance.
It also taps into the hunger of advertisers to reach consumers on social media. “This all points to social media advertising being one giant bubble,” said Tim Hwang, chief scientist at the Pacific Social Architecting Corporation, a research group that focuses on bots. “Everyone is really happy to say, ‘Look at the numbers that we got, it must have been successful,’ even though the retweets and favs are inflated by bots.”
So there you have it. If you want to make a little extra cash, and a lot of fake friends, there’s plenty of room on the social media pyramid scheme. You can have your bots become friends with mine. They’ll even follow you back.November 21st, 2014