Trump Gratuitously Rejects the Paris Climate Accord

By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: JUNE 1, 2017

As Donald Trump does his best to destroy the world’s hopes of reining in climate change, let’s be clear about one thing: This has nothing to do with serving America’s national interest. The U.S. economy, in particular, would do just fine under the Paris accord. This isn’t about nationalism; mainly, it’s about sheer spite.

About the economics: At this point, I think, we have a pretty good idea of what a low-emissions economy would look like. I’m sure that energy experts will disagree on the details, but the broad outline isn’t hard to describe.

Clearly, it would be an economy running on electricity — electric cars, electric heat, with internal combustion engines rare. The bulk of that electricity would, in turn, come from nonpolluting sources: wind, solar and, yes, probably nuclear.

Of course, sometimes the wind doesn’t blow or the sun shine when people want power. But there are multiple ways to deal with that issue: a robust grid that can ship electricity to where it’s needed; storage of various forms (batteries, but also maybe things like pumped hydro); dynamic pricing that encourages customers to use less power when it’s scarce and more when it isn’t; and some surge capacity — probably from relatively low-emission natural-gas-fired generators — to cope with whatever mismatch remains.

What would life in an economy that made such an energy transition be like? Almost indistinguishable from life in the economy we have now.

People would still drive cars, live in houses that were heated in the winter and cooled in the summer, and watch videos about superheroes and funny cats. There would be a lot of wind turbines and solar panels, but most of us would ignore them the same way we currently ignore the smokestacks of conventional power plants.

Wouldn’t energy be more expensive in this alternative economy? Probably, but not by much: Technological progress in solar and wind has drastically reduced their cost, and it looks as if the same thing is starting to happen with energy storage.

Meanwhile, there would be compensating benefits. Notably, the adverse health effects of air pollution would be greatly reduced, and it’s quite possible that lower health care costs would all by themselves make up for the costs of energy transition, even ignoring the whole saving-civilization-from-catastrophic-climate-change thing.

The point is that while tackling climate change in the way envisaged by the Paris accord used to look like a hard engineering and economic problem, these days it looks fairly easy. We have almost all the technology we need, and can be quite confident of developing the rest. Obviously the transition to a low-emissions economy, the phasing out of fossil fuels, would take time, but that would be O.K. as long as the path was clear.

Why, then, are so many people on the right determined to block climate action, and even trying to sabotage the progress we’ve been making on new energy sources?

Don’t tell me that they’re honestly worried about the inherent uncertainty of climate projections. All long-term policy choices must be made in the face of an uncertain future (duh); there’s as much scientific consensus here as you’re ever likely to see on any issue. And in this case, uncertainty arguably strengthens the case for action, because the costs of getting it wrong are asymmetric: Do too much, and we’ve wasted some money; do too little, and we’ve doomed civilization.

Don’t tell me that it’s about coal miners. Anyone who really cared about those miners would be crusading to protect their health, disability and pension benefits, and trying to provide alternative employment opportunities — not pretending that environmental irresponsibility will somehow bring back jobs lost to strip mining and mountaintop removal.

While it isn’t about coal jobs, right-wing anti-environmentalism is in part about protecting the profits of the coal industry, which in 2016 gave 97 percent of its political contributions to Republicans.

As I said, however, these days the fight against climate action is largely driven by sheer spite.

Pay any attention to modern right-wing discourse — including op-ed articles by top Trump officials — and you find deep hostility to any notion that some problems require collective action beyond shooting people and blowing things up.

And if all this sounds too petty and vindictive to be the basis for momentous policy decisions, consider the character of the man in the White House. Need I say more?

June 1st, 2017
David Korty | Ceramics

Untitled #5, Untitled #6, 2017
Stoneware and Glaze
10 X 5 1/2 inches, 10 X 5 inches

May 27 through July 6, 2017

South Willard Shop Exhibit

May 27th, 2017
It’s all about contempt

By Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: MAY 26, 2017

A man in Welch, W.Va., with groceries from a food bank that supports local families, many of them in the coal industry. Credit Spencer Platt/Getty Images
For journalists covering domestic policy, this past week poses some hard choices. Should we focus on the Trump budget’s fraudulence — not only does it invoke $2 trillion in phony savings, it counts them twice — or on its cruelty? Or should we talk instead about the Congressional Budget Office assessment of Trumpcare, which would be devastating for older, poorer and sicker Americans?

There is, however, a unifying theme to all these developments. And that theme is contempt — Donald Trump’s contempt for the voters who put him in office.

You may recall Trump’s remark during the campaign that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Well, he hasn’t done that, at least so far. He is, however, betting that he can break every promise he made to the working-class voters who put him over the top, and still keep their support. Can he win that bet?

When it comes to phony budget math — remember his claims that he would pay off the national debt? — he probably can. We’re not talking about anything subtle here; we’re talking about a budget that promises to “abolish the death tax,” then counts $330 billion in estate tax receipts in its rosy forecast. But even I don’t expect to see this kind of fraud get much political traction.

The bigger question is whether someone who ran as a populist, who promised not to cut Social Security or Medicaid, who assured voters that everyone would have health insurance, can keep his working-class support while pursuing an agenda so anti-populist it takes your breath away.

To make this concrete, let’s talk about West Virginia, which went Trump by more than 40 percentage points, topped only by Wyoming. What did West Virginians think they were voting for?

They are, after all, residents of a poor state that benefits immensely from federal programs: 29 percent of the population is on Medicaid, almost 19 percent on food stamps. The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare is the main reason the percentage of West Virginians without health insurance has halved since 2013.

Beyond that, more than 4 percent of the population, the highest share in the nation, receives Social Security disability payments, partly because of the legacy of unhealthy working conditions, partly because a high fraction of the population consists of people who suffer from chronic diseases, like diabetics — whom Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, thinks we shouldn’t take care of because it’s their own fault for eating poorly.

And just to be clear, we’re talking about white people here: At 93 percent white, West Virginia is one of the most minority- and immigrant-free states in America.

So what did the state’s residents think they were voting for? Partly, presumably, they supported Trump because he promised — falsely, of course — that he could bring back the well-paying coal-mining jobs of yore.

But they also believed that he was a different kind of Republican. Maybe he would take benefits away from Those People, but he would protect the programs white working-class voters, in West Virginia and elsewhere, depend on.

What they got instead was the mother of all sucker punches.

Trumpcare, the budget office tells us, would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance, largely through cuts to Medicaid — remember, the program that benefits almost a third of West Virginians. It would also lead to soaring premiums — we’re talking increases on the order of 800 percent — for older Americans whose incomes are low but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid. That describes a lot of Trump voters. Then we need to add in the Trump budget, which calls for further drastic cuts in Medicaid, plus large cuts in food stamps and in disability payments.

What would happen to West Virginia if all these Trump policies went into effect? Basically, it would be apocalyptic: Hundreds of thousands would lose health insurance; medical debt and untreated conditions would surge; and there would be an explosion in extreme poverty, including a lot of outright hunger.

Oh, and it’s not just about crucial benefits, it’s also about jobs. Coal isn’t coming back; these days, West Virginia’s biggest source of employment is health care and social assistance. How many of those jobs would survive savage cuts in Medicaid and disability benefits?

Now, to be fair, the Trump budget would protect West Virginians from the ravages of the estate tax, which affects around 20 — that’s right, 20 — of the state’s residents each year.

So many of the people who voted for Donald Trump were the victims of an epic scam by a man who has built his life around scamming. In the case of West Virginians, this scam could end up pretty much destroying their state.

Will they ever realize this, and admit it to themselves? More important, will they be prepared to punish him the only way they can — by voting for Democrats?

May 27th, 2017
lesley vance

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.57.17 PM
Untitled, 2017, oil on linen, 31 x 24 x 3/4 inches

May 19 — July 01, 2017

David Kordansky

May 19th, 2017
judith hopf

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.48.30 PM
Brick–Foot, 2016
Bricks, cement. 12 1/4 x 30 11/16 x 13 in

Opening May 20, 2017


May 19th, 2017
A Season of Regret for an Aging Tribal Expert in India

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 1.41.38 PM
The anthropologist T.N. Pandit at his home in New Delhi. In the 1960s, be began working in the Andaman Islands, an Indian archipelago. Credit Poras Chaudhary for The New York Times

NY Times Published: MAY 5, 2017

NEW DELHI — At 82, the anthropologist T. N. Pandit passes his days in the gentle occupations of old age: poetry, a Buddhist study circle, a daily walk in the park. It is rare for anyone to ask him about the years he spent with the hunter-gatherer tribes of the Andaman Islands. Only with difficulty can he locate a single copy of the slender book he wrote about that time.

Somewhere in a drawer, though, there are photographs, capturing Mr. Pandit as he made contact with some of the world’s most isolated people.

In these photographs, faded and curled with age, his face wears an expression of more or less pure joy.

Mr. Pandit, the pale-skinned son of a Kashmiri professor, reaches to pass a coconut to a group of naked, dark-skinned young men who have waded waist-deep in water to greet him. He sits companionably beside a dark-skinned young woman, whose hand rests casually on his thigh. Film shot in 1974 shows him — a reserved Brahmin — dancing exuberantly with a bare-breasted Jarawa woman.

It took Mr. Pandit and his colleagues more than two decades to persuade the tribes known as the Jarawa and Sentinelese to lay down their bows and arrows and mingle peacefully with the Indian settlers who surrounded them. The process was grindingly slow, involving trips into remote jungle areas to leave gifts for people who would not show themselves. In each case, though, there was an exhilarating breakthrough.

In India’s Andaman Islands, these encounters occurred two centuries after indigenous populations in the United States and Australia had been devastated by disease and addiction, leaving no doubt of the dangers of unregulated contact. Mr. Pandit found himself entrusted with the future of tiny groups believed to have migrated from Africa around 50,000 years ago, described by a team of geneticists as “arguably the most enigmatic people on our planet.” India would do it better, he promised himself.

So it is notable that now, when he looks back on his life’s great achievement, he does so with an unmistakable sadness.

Mr. Pandit arrived in Port Blair, the capital city of the island chain, in 1966. Anthropology was such a new field in India that when he was offered a spot to study it at Delhi University he had to look the word up in the dictionary. His first government posting came as a disappointment: the Andaman Islands, an archipelago so remote that the British used it as a penal colony.

He found, to his surprise, that the place suited him. His head was full of the romantic phrases of A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, a British anthropologist who studied the tribes at the turn of the century, describing them as “brave, valiant and very clever people.” He was dismayed to find their descendants begging for alms, teased by the local children.

But there were other tribes, he learned, that had hardly changed since the days of Radcliffe-Brown. One group lived alone on a 20-square-mile island called North Sentinel and had barely been seen at all. The other group, known as the Jarawa, were fearsome archers, known for hiding in the treetops and neatly impaling with arrows outsiders who encroached on their territory. Government policy toward the Jarawa fell to the Bush Police, who were armed with rifles and kept careful records of casualties on both sides.

Mr. Pandit was openly contemptuous of this martial approach, which dated back to the British Raj. In 1967, he managed to join a “gift-dropping” expedition to North Sentinel Island, where the police dropped off coconuts and bananas while the members of the tribe, known as the Sentinelese, hid in the forest.

“They were watching us carefully, and they must not have been happy, because they picked up their bows and arrows,” he said. “This whole encounter was so amazing, because here is civilized man facing primitive man in its extreme state, living very simply.”

In 1968, Mr. Pandit had a stroke of luck. Three Jarawa teenagers, captured raiding a village, were kept in prison for a month, so Mr. Pandit had a chance to study them at close range. He showed them airplanes and cars. He scribbled down words in their language. After a month, the three young men, loaded down with gifts, were released back to the forest.

There was a silence. Then, six years later, for reasons Mr. Pandit could never explain, a group of Jarawa greeted him on the beach with song and dance. He visited, after that, every two weeks or so. They would strip off his clothes, poke fingers in his eyes, pocket his spectacles.

He recalls these days, even now, with a kind of reverence and delight.

“I have seen a Jarawa girl,” he said. “I can never forget her face, though it was many years back. She sat in the boat watching us as if she was Queen Victoria, with such dignity and such poise. You see, then I realized one doesn’t need clothes and ornaments and crown to make you dignified. What comes spontaneously, your inner self, you can project your personality that way.”

Mr. Pandit’s campaign worked. By the 1990s, the Jarawa were so at ease with outsiders that they began to roam the neighboring settlements, where they found food that required neither hunting nor gathering.

It is difficult to identify the precise moment when contact with the Jarawa came to be viewed as a problem. They began to fish and weave baskets in exchange for money. Sometimes they snatched food from market stalls. Video clips show Indian tourists tossing food to Jarawa on the roadside, crudely ordering the women to dance. Babies fathered by Indian settlers were born to Jarawa women.

Activists concerned with the tribes increasingly described contact missions as a kind of cultural destruction, introducing rot from within. Governments in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia were adopting “no-contact” policies, and India followed suit. Gift-giving expeditions to the Sentinelese stopped in 1996, and the Indian Navy now enforces a buffer zone to keep curiosity-seekers away.

In 2004, the central government formulated a new policy toward the Jarawa, with the primary goal of protecting them “from harmful effects of exposure and contact with the outside world.”

Mr. Pandit and his colleagues were able to socialize with the isolated Jarawa tribe after a breakthrough. Here, in an image from the 1980s, members of the tribe visited a ship anchored off their land.
But the process of integration, once begun, was impossible to stop, said Samir Acharya, a local environmental activist, with a touch of bitterness.

“Now they have gotten infected,” he said. “They have been exposed to a modern way of life they cannot sustain. They have learned to eat rice and sugar. We have turned a free people into beggars.”

A faction of anthropologists continue to defend the practice of controlled contact, saying that humans are by nature social animals, longing to interact. As one put it recently, “There is nothing particularly attractive about living in an isolated tribe on the slow road to extinction.” But their protestations have a weary tone, as of one losing an argument.

Mr. Pandit has followed these developments from the hushed apartment in New Delhi where he lives with the third of his four daughters.

It is nearly impossible for him to discuss his work in the Andaman Islands without thinking of his wife, Roshi, who died in 2015. Roshi would sit with him and endlessly discuss the tribes. His loss remains so painful that he has tried to train his mind not to dwell on it. He struggles, he says, to come to terms with the fleeting quality of human experience.

“Nothing is permanent,” he said. “What has gone on in the past looks like having been a dream.”

in the end, Mr. Pandit agrees that the Jarawa were hurt by putting down their bows and arrows.

“The negative impact of close contact is inescapable, but it is sad,” he said. “What an amazing community, but it has been diluted in its outlook, its self-confidence, its sense of purpose, its sense of survival. Now they take it easy. They beg for things.”

This was not a surprise. He understood that his work would expose the tribes to the outside, with its dazzling technology, and that they would submit avidly. His aim, he said, was to control the process, to slow it as much as possible, so that they understood the value of what they were leaving behind.

“In the course of time, these communities will disappear,” he said. “Their cultures will be lost.”

Mr. Pandit last traveled to Jarawa territory in 2014, on a visit to a daughter in Port Blair. Since then, he has become more physically fragile and doubts he will make the journey again. He is left with the photographs — square black-and-whites from the 1970s, faded color from the 1980s — and with his thoughts.

“I see them sometimes in my dreams,” he said. “Just being with them and spending a little time. Not too long. Not frequently. Just once in a while.” And on those mornings, he said, he wakes up happy.

May 6th, 2017


May 7 – June 18, 2017

Opening reception Sunday May 7, 4-7pm

The Pit

May 4th, 2017
Mathias Poledna

3 May 2017 –
17 June 2017
opening reception on Wednesday,
3 May, 6-8 pm

Daniel Buchholz NY

May 3rd, 2017
Were humans were in California a hundred thousand years earlier than we thought?

A boulder thought to have been used by early humans as a hammerstone.

By Alan Burdick
The New Yorker Published: April 26, 2017

In 1992, Thomas Deméré, a paleontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum, and several of his colleagues were called in to inspect an array of bones that had been unearthed by highway workers building Route 54, just south of the city. What turned up was the Pleistocene. The site was rich with fossils tens of thousands of years old, including the remains of a camel, a horse, a dire wolf, a ground sloth, and, most impressive, a mastodon. Today, the area stretches with ranch homes and water-restricted lawns; way back then, it was a broad floodplain with a single shallow ribbon of water winding through it. “It was a very nice place to live, I’d think, not far from the coastline,” Deméré said at a press conference yesterday.

For years now, Deméré and his collaborators have been studying specimens from the site with mounting astonishment. In 2014, James Paces, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, determined that the mastodon remains were a hundred and thirty thousand years old. On its own, this fact would not be so surprising, but a recent examination of the animal’s bones suggests that they were smashed open with large cobbles, most likely for the marrow inside. What seemed at first to be a paleontological site, in other words, could be an archeological one. If that’s the case, then it predates some of the earliest evidence of hominins in North America by more than a hundred thousand years. Eleven scientists, including Deméré and Paces, joined to publish their results today in the journal Nature.

“The scholarship over the earliest occupation of America is a battlefield,” John McNabb, an archeologist at the University of Southampton, said by phone. (Nature asked McNabb to independently comment on the paper and the team’s results.) “But those folks are arguing about differences of two hundred years here and there. This is an order of magnitude beyond anything that’s been talked about before.” McNabb, who characterized himself as “skeptical,” predicted that the announcement would be met by “an uproar—outrage, anger, utter dismissal.” Still, he said, “If it is true, it changes everything about the occupation of the Americas and the story of the movement of people out of Africa.”

Deméré, at the press conference, conceded that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” and argued that the study “provides conclusive evidence that this is an archeological site.” The sediment in which the remains rested, a fine-grained silt, was laid down gradually by a slow-moving stream, which would not have been powerful enough to shift big stones or rearrange large bones. The cobbles that served as hammerstones and anvils, then, could not have entered the layer by natural means. And the bones and rocks showed cracks, scars, flakes, and abrasions typical of repeated battering. Careful comparison with bones from other sites, the authors suggested, ruled out damage inflicted by trampling or the gnawing of carnivores.

Using rocks to break apart large bones, either for the marrow or to create hardy tools, is an old hominin trick, dating back at least a million years in Africa. To make their case, Deméré and his colleagues tried their hand at it. In one experiment, they attached a rock to a long wooden handle and used it to break apart the bones of a dead elephant that they had been allowed to dig up. (“It was extremely fresh and smelled extremely bad,” Deméré said.) The fragments and fracturing that resulted were virtually identical to what they saw on the mastodon bones in San Diego. They conducted a similar experiment in Tanzania on the femur of an elephant that had died along a road. The video of the activity, with two Maasai men looking on as two white scientists hammer away with a rock club, resembles a fun-house version of a nature documentary.

The scientists I spoke to who were not part of the Nature team were quick to praise the authors’ credibility and the quality of their research. “They’ve taken the best body of evidence and explored it in a very logical manner,” McNabb said. “They have tried to falsify all the possible natural explanations and come to a point where they can’t see any other interpretation than human habitation. It’s just a question of whether they really have excluded everything possible.” But, he added, with “something as big and important as this, you need absolutely incontrovertible evidence, and there’s too much here associated with a question mark.” For instance, he found it strange that the hammerstones and anvils weren’t accompanied by the smaller, sharper stone tools also typically found at prehistoric butchery sites. “Disarticulating the leg of an elephant isn’t easy,” he said. “If you’re going to break into the bone, you have to cut through the hide and flesh first.”

Ariane Burke, an archeozoologist at the University of Montreal, said she was also struck by the absence of knapped stone tools. (In January, Burke co-authored a study suggesting that the first North Americans arrived from Siberia about twenty-four thousand years ago, some ten thousand years earlier than the previously accepted date.) She added that she’d be excited to see the team compare the activity at the mastodon site with sites of a similar age in Eurasia where woolly mammoths were butchered by humans, to see how the physical evidence compares. “I still find the site puzzling—you can say ‘intriguing’ if you don’t want to say ‘puzzling’—for various reasons,” she said. “One, of course, is the date. A hundred and thirty thousand years before present is unprecedented; there’s nothing in North America to compare it to.”

The looming question is who, or what, might have dismembered this mastodon so long ago. “The simple answer is, of course, we don’t know,” Deméré said. The researchers found no human remains at the site. The generally accepted theory for the settlement of North America has modern humans, Homo sapiens, entering across a land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska between about twenty-seven thousand and eleven thousand years ago. But the bridge was ephemeral; around the time the mastodon’s bones were smashed, it would have been underwater, as a warm climate melted glaciers and raised sea levels. Back then, humans were still a fairly new and remote species. Homo sapiens were believed to have left Africa in several waves, the first no earlier than a hundred and thirty thousand years ago. They made it to China between eighty thousand and a hundred and twenty thousand years ago and to Australia by fifty thousand years ago; a later wave out of Africa reached Western Europe by about forty-two thousand years ago. For humans proper, North America would have been a bridge too far, too fast.

But earlier members of the genus Homo, including the species that eventually evolved into Neanderthals, had already left Africa and populated Eurasia. At the press conference, Deméré speculated that they or another species of Homo might have entered North America, if not by land bridge then by boat. Burke doesn’t think the existing evidence is compelling enough; there is no genetic indication that Neanderthals ever reached this continent and nothing to suggest that they were sailors. “I would not push that boat out into the water,” she said with a laugh. Deméré also mentioned the Denisovans, a cryptic hominin species that inhabited Western Siberia sixty or seventy thousand years ago. “It’s premature to start invoking the Denisovans given how little we know about them,” Burke cautioned.

And if one or another of these hominins did make it to San Diego, what happened to them? Did they come this far only to fade away, like so many ill-fated colonists? “We can become locally extinct,” Deméré said. Even so, he added, there may well be more evidence out there to find. He encouraged archeologists to look in older deposits than they typically explore, and for paleontologists to reëxamine museum collections that might contain evidence of hominin—or human—activity after all. “I like to say that a lot of this evidence has fallen into the academic cracks between archeology and paleontology,” Deméré said. Another possibility is that there is nothing to be found. How do you prove that something doesn’t exist? As Burke put it, “The believers will continue to believe, the disbelievers will continue to disbelieve, and the rest of us will sit in the middle and say, ‘We’d like to see more data.’ ”

April 27th, 2017
ivan morley

Invention, 2012, Oil on glass, 24 × 30 inches

New Ivan Morley site designed by Jonathan Maghen

April 27th, 2017
David Korty

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 1.13.13 PM
Untitled (Greek Mask #2), 2017
Flashe, ink, paper on canvas
36 x 30 inches

APRIL 20 – MAY 21, 2017

Derek Eller

April 21st, 2017
Peter Shire: Naked Is the Best Disguise

​Peter Shire, Scorpion, Black, 1996-2013, cone 06 clay and two part polyurethane with ceramic primer, and glazed lids with metal detail, 12 ¾ x 31 ½ x 12 in.

Friday, Apr 21, 2017
7pm – 9pm

MOCA Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Avenue West Hollywood, CA 90069


April 21st, 2017
stanya kahn

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 5.31.12 PM“Stand in the Stream,” film still, 2017

April 14 – May 20, 2017

Susan Vielmetter

April 14th, 2017
Christopher Williams

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 5.12.50 PM
Model-Nr.: 1421, Model-Nr.: 2401, Model-Nr. 92173, Model-Nr. 92182
Studio Rhein Verlag, Düsseldorf,
January 21, 2017, 2017
21 x 26 1/4 inches (53.3 x 66.7 cm)

Open Letter: The Family Drama Refunctioned? (From the Point of View of Production)
Through May 20, 2017

David Zwirner London

April 14th, 2017
Mike Judge, the Bard of Suck


As we took a seat in the back of the Commissary, a restaurant on the Sony Pictures Studios lot, Mike Judge pointed out a man seated two booths away. It was Tom Rothman, the chairman of Sony Pictures and former head of Fox’s film division, where he oversaw the rocky release of Judge’s 2006 film, “Idiocracy.” The movie imagined America 500 years in the future, populated and ruled by absolute morons, its infrastructure crumbling, its cities piled high with trash, everyone anesthetized by impossibly stupid television like the hit show “Ow! My Balls!” Though the film finished shooting in 2004, the studio mothballed it for more than a year. When “Idiocracy” was finally released, it wasn’t screened for critics or promoted in any other way — there wasn’t even a trailer — and it was shown in only seven cities, New York not among them. The studio, it seemed, was fulfilling the bare minimum of its contractual obligations, as if hoping that the movie would just go away.

I asked Judge about a rumor that surrounds the film: that Fox spiked it because it lampooned so many of Fox’s advertisers, not to mention Fox News itself. (Its anchors, in the film, look as if they just walked in from a porn set.) Judge explained that, actually, the movie had tested abysmally with audiences. And because his first live-action film, “Office Space,” had become a hit despite initially bombing, Fox figured it might as well not bother with much marketing — that the movie would take off on its own or recoup its budget in the home-video market. But he’d heard the other version of the story too.

As if on cue, Rothman approached our table, wearing glasses and a pinkish Oxford, carrying an antique lacrosse stick with a tennis ball in the basket, cradling it back and forth as he talked. He was with a friend named Lars Tiffany, who was wearing a Virginia Lacrosse shirt and, as a matter of fact, had recently been installed as the head coach of men’s lacrosse at the University of Virginia, and had taken his team to the studio to meet Rothman. “This is Mike Judge himself,” Rothman said to Tiffany. Then Judge introduced me to Rothman, explaining that I was from The Times: “Be careful what you say.”

“You’re doing a profile of Mike?” Rothman asked, beaming with excitement, which seemed to be his default mode. “You can’t possibly do a profile of Mike without talking to me! About his [expletive] movie career! Goddamn right! ‘Office Space’! ‘Office Space’ and ‘Idiocracy’!” Judge, who speaks so softly I often found myself nudging my recorder closer to him, was beginning to tell Rothman that we had just been talking about “Idiocracy” when Rothman started up again. “O.K., so lemme just say, I’ll give you the simple answer: ‘Office Space’ is to his credit, and ‘Idiocracy’ is entirely my fault.” He turned to Judge. “Right?”

“I agree,” Judge said.

“He was [expletive] ahead of his time. As always. As always.”

“I should’ve made it 10 years later and set in the present.”

‘They don’t seem to get into it for the purpose of pure greed and trying to make money. They end up there.’
Rothman turned to me. “He had it. You’re gonna see it. How absolutely. Terri-fy-ingly. Prescient it is.” He was picking up momentum. “Right now? ‘Idiocracy’? One of the great documentaries of our era!” he said, physically punctuating his point in such a way that he managed to thump a diner sitting behind him with the lacrosse stick.

Calling “Idiocracy” a documentary is one of those jokes about Donald Trump that was made constantly in the latter months of 2016 and now reeks of a certain strain of ineffectual liberal smugness. Still, it’s an observation not entirely without merit. As recently as two years ago, the movie felt like a relic of the jingoistic Bush years, but then history shuddered in such a way as to render it clairvoyant. In “Idiocracy,” the secretary of state is sponsored by Carl’s Jr., a company whose chairman very nearly became our current secretary of labor. In 2505, the Oval Office is occupied by an ex-wrestler and porn star named Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho; our president has been on the business end of a Stone Cold Stunner and once appeared in a nonpornographic segment of an otherwise soft-core Playboy VHS tape, dumping sparkling wine onto a limousine. His name is a brand name, too.

Judge has been exploring the contours of American suckiness for his whole career, so it’s no surprise that in what most Americans would consider a difficult year, his vision resonates. But Judge has spent much of his time as a satirist focusing on less self-evidently stupid targets. In “Office Space,” it was the micromanagers who turned a central aspiration of the American dream — white-collar work — into a fluorescent-lit nightmare. Now, on “Silicon Valley,” entering its fourth season on HBO, it is the upward-failing sociopaths of the tech industry, who envelop their monopolistic ardor in homilies about changing the world. (As the show’s billionaire villain, Gavin Belson, once put it: “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else makes the world a better place better than we do.”) The not-so-hidden brutality of our managerial class has always fascinated Judge. It may even help explain the sudden interest in “Idiocracy” around the election: Of course those people would come to love such a meanspirited movie after losing to a guy capable of misspelling the word “tap.”

After lunch, Judge and I made our way back to his editing bay on the lot. HBO rents space from Sony for the production of “Silicon Valley,” and Judge was there putting together the first episode of the new season, working from a room with blackout curtains over windows that would otherwise look out onto a small warren where the R.V. from “Breaking Bad” is parked — alongside, somewhat less impressively, Walter White’s Pontiac Aztek. Judge sat down with his co-showrunner, Alec Berg, their assistants and his editor to watch the episode for what might as well have been the thousandth time.

“Silicon Valley” concerns a small start-up called Pied Piper that is constantly bullied by a tech giant called Hooli, when it is not being brought low by its own employees. The fourth season opens with Richard Hendricks, the lead character and company founder, trying once again to turn his visionary compression algorithm into a viable business. We all watched as he paid a visit to Monica, a partner at the venture-capital firm that backs him, but found that someone else had taken over her office. It’s immediately clear that this new occupant is less a dreamer than a destroyer of dreams, which is no simple feat considering he’s onscreen for all of 10 seconds. But the job of comedy writers, sometimes, is to draw in bold lines, as you would with stage makeup. The perfect details were all there: The guy leans back in his chair with a smug smirk, seated beneath a framed Tom Brady jersey, and — amazingly, considering the scene was shot weeks earlier — in his hands, he holds a lacrosse stick.

Mike Judge started his career as an animator working out of his house in Dallas in the early ’90s, and two very different shorts defined, early on, the twin poles of his comedic universe. The first cartoon he ever completed, in 1991, was called “Milton’s Office Space”; it runs about 90 seconds and begins with a man at his desk, saying to the camera, “I told Bill if they move my desk one more time, I’m quittin’.” Bill shows up — hair slicked back, suspenders — and, of course, asks Milton to move his desk. “If you could go ahead and just get it as far back into that corner as possible, that’d be terrific,” he says, leaning on the door frame, coffee mug in hand. “That way, we’ll have room for some more of those boxes.” The short ends with Milton alone once again. “Well, O.K.,” he says to no one in particular. “But I’m gonna set the building on fire.”

The other pole of Judge’s work can be found in the 1992 short “Frog Baseball,” his first starring the adolescent goons Beavis and Butt-Head. The two venture out into the Texas chaparral, strip malls fading into the distance, the landscape seeming to ask: What do you expect to happen? They catch a grasshopper and stick a firecracker “in its butt,” celebrating its demise by shouting the chord progression from “Iron Man.” They find a frog and hit it with a bat, its corpse coming to rest amid crushed beer cans and spent shotgun shells; the boys do “Smoke on the Water.” Then they find a poodle.

A consistent theme in Judge’s work is the problem of agency: People like Milton have too little; people like Beavis and Butt-Head have too much. But all of them are united by the destructive impulses that arise from their predicament — and by the fact that they’re based in reality. Frog baseball was something Judge once overheard a guy talking about at work. First, he thought: That stuff happens. Then he thought: Who would do this? Beavis and Butt-Head offered an answer to that question. As for Milton, he was based in part on a guy Judge worked with shortly after college, at an engineering firm in San Diego. “Milton” was an employee in the logistics department, and no one ever seemed to talk to him. One day, passing by on the way to the restroom, Judge decided to say hi, not realizing that doing so would unleash a torrent of rage. “If they move my desk one more time, I’m quittin’,” the man told Judge, before delivering a rant about his fish tank and its sunlight needs. Judge remembers thinking: “He’s not going anywhere. You could move his desk a hundred times; he’s not gonna quit.”

Judge did quit that job, after a year. It was his first after graduating from the University of California, San Diego, in 1985 with a degree in physics, and he hated it. He moved to Silicon Valley, where he lasted three months each at two different jobs. In a way, he felt tricked. When he was growing up in Albuquerque, everyone told him that if he wanted a lucrative and satisfying career, all he had to do was get a technical degree. “Guidance counselors just pound it into us: science, college, science,” he says. But he had a technical degree and could barely afford his rent. His next-door neighbor worked as an auto mechanic, and not only did he make more money than Judge, but he kept flexible hours and seemed to be substantially happier. (He would serve as inspiration for Lawrence, the construction-worker neighbor in “Office Space”; Judge’s neighbor in the other direction helped inspire Butt-Head.) “For so long,” Judge told me, “I was wondering how I was going to make a living that wasn’t going to make me miserable. That was my main concern in life.”

He had an out: For a few years, he made a living playing stand-up bass with the blues guitarist Anson Funderburgh’s band. He moved to Dallas, where he bought a home for about $85,000 with his wife at the time. Back then, banks were still offering high-interest CDs that paid about 10 percent a year. Judge sat down one day to calculate how much he’d have to plow into one of these to avoid working for the rest of his life, living on interest alone. It was $360,000. This early-retirement scheme would be made irrelevant by the colossal success of “Beavis and Butt-Head,” which thrived in part by savagely roasting both MTV (the channel that aired it) and the generation its programming had spawned.

But Judge’s frustration with his early experience in the white-collar work force had only temporarily receded, and it would soon come rushing back in the form of “Office Space.” The 1999 film reprised the characters from the “Milton” short and expanded on the theme it explored: the way work not only robs you of your free will but also refashions that will in its own image. It’s such a brutal portrayal of workplace misery that its most useful points of comparison date back to when office culture was first unleashed on humanity. Many liken it to Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” (a story Judge has not yet read), and I still recall a high-school English teacher invoking the movie in an effort to impress on the class what Franz Kafka’s life was like, toiling away by day at an insurance company in the twilight of the Hapsburg empire.

If you set aside his long-running TV show “King of the Hill,” which is much too loving to be considered satire, Judge’s corpus of work cleaves neatly into two pieces. In one, people are driven nearly to ruin in their efforts to escape the crush of immense managerial apparatuses (“Office Space,” “Extract”). In the other, we see the opposite — imbeciles left completely and terrifyingly to their own devices (“Beavis and Butt-Head,” “Idiocracy”). “Silicon Valley,” remarkably, fuses both of these impulses. The tech world it skewers is the most dynamic sector of our economy, possibly representing the greatest concentration of brainpower and capital ever seen in human history, creating products that insinuate their control into every last corner of our lives. And yet it’s nevertheless lousy with man-children who seem to want nothing more than the ability to prolong adolescence, theirs and ours alike, and have the means and the license and the asinine product ideas to do so. If “Idiocracy” imagined that America would one day amuse itself into ruin, then “Silicon Valley” offers a compelling case for how we’ll go about doing it — not in spite of our best and brightest, but because of them.

On a Tuesday morning in February, I found myself in a nearly empty Los Angeles Convention Center, where the “Silicon Valley” production team had fashioned about one-third of one hall into a mock industry convention. Staged for a scene in the show’s coming season, the event had 28 booths, among them Pied Piper’s and, across from it, one for a fictitious mobile game. The other 26, however, were completely real, with many staffed by actual employees. Square was there, along with Roku and Oculus and Nest, which brought a fire truck that had been painted baby blue by the guys from “Pimp My Ride.” There were companies I’d never heard of, like FLIR (thermal imaging), Mophie (portable chargers) and Equinix (“Interconnection to connect, protect and power the digital world”). A drone company called DJI had set up what can perhaps best be described as a go-go dancer cage for one of its quadcopters.

Looming above me was a 15-foot-tall four-legged mech, a full-body prosthesis fashioned from trellised white steel beams and hydraulic pumps. Behind it was a red R.V. with a helicopter on top of it, and all around were high-definition TVs playing promotional loops of other high-definition TVs installed in sumptuous settings. An employee of the company responsible for all this, Furrion, was explaining to me and a few “Silicon Valley” writers how this grab bag of contraptions all fit under the Hong Kong-based firm’s umbrella. Furrion had been involved mainly in yachts and then high-end audiovisual installations before deciding to “move toward lithium technology,” which led to robotics and to the mech, which he claimed, rather incredibly, could run 20 miles per hour. “The military actually wanted to, uh, arm it,” he told us. “But that’s not — we don’t — you know, we want to stay away from the military.” Then he paused and hedged: “As much as we can.” (Later, he said it was a previous project of his own that a military contractor had been curious about — a giant mechanical spider he created for Burning Man.)

In the middle of all this was Judge, whose appearance sits somewhere in the overlap between “aging surfer” (which he is) and “off-duty cop” (which he is certainly not). At 55, he’s trim with a powerful-looking upper body and somehow presents a sense of calm despite quivering with nervous energy. He sat at his monitors, eyes darting back and forth between the two feeds, legs pumping like pistons, chewing gum so furiously that I could, at times, see the muscles in his temples pulsating like an exposed heart. He has the habit, when making decisions, of clutching his skull as if it might otherwise split open. Anxious as he seemed, he never raised his voice and still laughed at the bits he liked, even on repeat viewings. (I asked him later, half-kidding, if directing stresses him out to the point that he still harbors fantasies about leaving the work force completely. “Oh, no, I do,” he said. “Totally.”)

The portrayal of the tech world on “Silicon Valley” might scan as absurd to anyone outside the industry, but within the valley the show is known and appreciated for its verisimilitude. Not only does it have a technical adviser in the writers’ room and on set; it also has a small research staff. Judge and Berg frequently meet with a network of contacts in the valley for material, in subjournalistic fashion, offering anonymity or compositing as cover to protect their sources. Thomas Middleditch, who plays Richard, told me he gets two responses from people in tech: They either love the show for its accuracy or find it so accurate that it’s too stressful to watch.

It could be said that a satire so beloved by its target must be a failure, but the valley’s embrace of the show underscores, in a way, the accuracy of the critique — a dynamic apparent at the convention. “You have to be careful,” warned Clay Tarver, a writer on the show, “because if you start talking to them, then they’ll start pitching you their thing. So I just don’t talk to anyone. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb here.” The actors, he said, are pitched all the time, wherever they go — which would be the equivalent of Christopher Guest being handed demo tapes by aspiring musicians who enjoyed his performance in “Spinal Tap.” Between takes, I watched a bearded employee of an electric-skateboard company enter full mall-kiosk-tout mode, aggressively selling Hollywood actors and extras on the merits of his product. Martin Starr, who plays Gilfoyle, took one for a spin and was then shown how the board’s battery popped out, making it convenient for air travel.

I tried to heed Tarver’s advice as I wandered around the faux-convention in the late afternoon, but I wound up failing. The initial pressure of the morning had given way to boredom among the extras and start-up employees. At the edge of the set, a man sat in a three-wheeled conveyance called a Vanderhall Laguna, looking vaguely disappointed. I walked by the Roku booth, where the “employees” were lounging on the carpet, looking at their phones. They were extras, it turned out, and when I asked why Roku hadn’t bothered sending real employees, their answer was interrupted by a voice from the next booth: “Because Roku doesn’t have an exciting product to talk about!”

It was the skateboard guy again. Though his prop lanyard identified him as Chris Riddle, he introduced himself as Dave. I couldn’t help liking him, and we fell into conversation as Judge and the cast prepared a shot at Pied Piper’s booth. Dave was impressed with how true to life the booth was, especially its use of AstroTurf. He had just been at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, he said, and AstroTurf was definitely the hallmark of a shabby booth. (Unknown to him, the “Silicon Valley” team had been there, too.) It would’ve been even more accurate, he said, if it had Ikea furniture — and from there, all of a sudden, I was being pitched. Dave had run to Ikea that very morning, he said, because a Best Buy in Mountain View had decided to sell his product, and he’d had to give them all his promotional fixtures; in fact, Dave said, he had big plans to place the board in dozens more stores. Then he added something strange: He said he’d spoken with a procurer for a Police Department about using the skateboards for patrols.

The entire conversation seemed to bolster Judge’s case for verisimilitude-as-satire. The implicit suggestion of “Silicon Valley” is that if you want to see how the tech world’s ostensibly freewheeling nature conceals a willingness to be party to systems of bureaucratic and governmental control — not to mention how it runs on a crass sort of hucksterism, and how it might represent a terrible misallocation of wealth and intellect — all you really need to do is look straight at it.

When Judge was casting “Silicon Valley,” nearly every actor who wound up in the principal cast first auditioned for the part of Erlich Bachman, the Falstaffian stoner who, in his avarice, chauvinism and arrogance, epitomizes Silicon Valley’s strange id. Judge held auditions in a conference room with frosted glass windows, and when T.J. Miller — who eventually landed the part — walked by, Judge saw his silhouette pass and started laughing. “If someone’s silhouette can make you laugh,” he told me, “they’re probably pretty funny.” We tend to think of funniness as a quality inherently tied to extroversion. But Judge isn’t like that at all. He’s surprisingly reserved and — while often funny — doesn’t really crack jokes. His is a sense of humor that renders the expression literal: He knows funny when he sees it, but he tries not to get in its way.

A couple of weeks after I visited the set of “Silicon Valley,” we met for dinner in Santa Monica, at a restaurant on the Third Street Promenade. We drank Coors Lights, and for the most part, Judge entertained me with anecdotes, including one about meeting Andrew Mason, who founded Groupon. Mason had played in punk bands, and the company he started, originally called the Point, was intended to help people organize around social causes. Early on, though, its users realized they could band together to save money, so Mason reoriented the company around that purpose. Eventually he realized he could just go directly to other companies to ask for discount deals, then sell those to groups of users. “Before I knew it,” Judge recalled him saying, “I was selling coupons.” Judge sympathizes with members of the tech world, he explained, because they’re not like Wall Street guys — they actually build things people use. “They don’t seem to get into it for the purpose of pure greed and trying to make money,” he said. “They end up there.”

In “Silicon Valley,” Richard’s efforts to avoid “ending up there” act as the propellant for the show’s drama. He outmaneuvers a frivolous lawsuit from Hooli, copycat products from better-capitalized companies and a Pied Piper chairman who wants to turn quick profits by putting his revolutionary algorithm in a boring piece of hardware. The valley is portrayed as adept at just about everything except fostering innovation — it would rather squash it, steal it or cram it into a box. It isn’t until the second half of Season 3 that Richard finally overcomes the venality of his peers to release a consumer version of his supposedly world-changing technology — which is when he discovers that most civilians just aren’t sophisticated enough to understand what it does or how to use it.

Judge has said that one reliable source of comedy for him is the way humanity simply isn’t prepared for modernity, which ensnares us in vast systems of control in order to sustain itself. What he couldn’t have imagined while making “Idiocracy” in the early 2000s was that technology was about to thrust humanity into an era for which we are even more ill equipped. It was around that moment that Silicon Valley inventions — blogging platforms, social media, YouTube — began sweeping away old orders and gatekeepers in a way that was both exhilarating (because we were more in charge of our destiny than ever before) and mortifying (because we were, well, more in charge of our destiny than ever before). “Idiocracy” was released the same year that Time magazine heralded this new age by naming us all the Person of the Year. A decade later, Donald Trump earned that honor, along with the presidency. If anything can explain the short time horizon on which “Idiocracy” and reality merged — if you believe they have — perhaps it is that technology left us completely, terrifyingly, to our own devices.

Over dinner, Judge told me that he now fears “Idiocracy” was a little optimistic — maybe the country won’t even exist in 2505. Then he told me the best story of the night. He was location-scouting for the movie at a reform school, though he didn’t know it was a reform school at the time. He looked around and thought the students there looked, in his words, “kinda stupid,” and figured they might be of use to him. In the “Idiocracy” universe, the most popular movie in America, and the winner of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, consists entirely of a man’s buttocks, passing gas intermittently for 90 minutes. Judge had made a 35-millimeter print of this movie-within-a-movie — just a few minutes of it — for a scene that takes place in a theater, and he wound up recruiting 250 of the “juvenile delinquents” to fill the seats. Judge figured he’d have to do a bit of directing to get the proper response from these extras — that context-free flatulence wouldn’t actually be that funny — but the kids surprised him. “They just start laughing,” he told me. “And they just keep laughing.”

He turned to his director of photography and wondered aloud why they were even bothering with “Idiocracy.” Couldn’t they just release this?

April 13th, 2017
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