Art, politics, genetic monstrosities.

Seven years ago, author-economist Jeremy Rifkin worked to set up a "genetic conservancy": he and cell biologist Dr. Stuart Newman submitted a first-of-its-kind patent to the US Patent Office that included "thirty claims covering all the human-animal chimeras (human-chimpanzee chimeras, human-pig and other combinations) for medical purposes." The intent was "to forbid any researcher from crossing human-animal boundaries with embryonic cells for twenty years so that countries can have the time to debate this issue and hopefully pass the appropriate legislation to outlaw all transgenic organisms." Congress paid little attention to the issue of chimera, and scientists forged onward both here (including a U of MN experiment that circulated human blood in pigs) and abroad (Chinese scientists successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs in 2003). At last, the US Senate is considering a bill to ban human chimera.

Unlike these slow-footed senators, artists—from the Critical Art Ensemble to Minerva Cuevas to Eduardo Kac (whose infamous "trangenic art" project was a fluorescent-green glowing bunny)—have long been questioning the wisdom of tinkering with the genetic blueprints of life.

Now Canadian sculptor Adam Brandejs enters the fray with a creepy new project that speaks directly to the issue of chimera—and the ghoulish engineering, packaging and commodification of living things. Called Gen-Pets, his installation consists of 19 animatronic creatures fabricated out of foam and other materials and encased in plastic store-display containers.
Part of his artist's statement:
Today, we are well within the process of desensitizing an upcoming generation towards accepting bioengineering as “natural”. This generation is slowly and systematically being desensitized towards owning and manipulating life through toys such as Tamagotchis, and Furbies. If we do not raise questions as too where this technology can lead us and catch them before it is too late, there will be no turning back. I want people to second think the choices they make before purchasing these types of toys or gadgets.

My goal is not to ask such questions as, how will we relate to this new engineered life? How will it fit into our lives and us into theirs? You can see in my work that I already have this answer. I fear that we will completely objectify living matter, and that we’ll treat them the exact same way we treat Cellphones, Gameboys, and every other consumable (technological) commodity that has been marketed to us. The real question then becomes, not how we will relate to genetically grown life, but how will we relate to all other life after that? How will we interact with life, once we have been taught to think of it as just one more disposable commodity?
(Via We Make Money Not Art.)


Vacations up, approval down.

George W. Bush sure takes a lot of vacations. The month-long trip to Crawford he's embarking on August 3rd is his 50th vacation in five years. He's some record-breaker. In his first three years in office, he'd already surpassed the total number of vacation days taken by two-term president Bill Clinton (152 days ), and, while I can't find figures on total vacations taken by Bush to date, consider that when he left for his 33rd trip to Crawford, he'd hit 233 days—or 40% of his time in office spent out of the office. It wouldn't be such a big deal—a guy needs a break once in awhile!—were he not a "wartime president," or if his track record didn't include this: when the CIA circulated a classified warning on August 6, 2001, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" [pdf], Bush didn't read it because he was "on vacation."

But, while Bush's vacation count arcs past 50, his approval ratings haven't topped 50% since April; only 44% of Americans now approve of the job he's doing as president, the lowest since he took office.


Gettin' up.

DIY graffiti writing tool, via Digg. Apparently, it's not as cool as this one, but it doesn't require you to install a graffiti-writer application.

This I cannot explain.


Urban exploration: Minneapolis.

The Pillsbury "A" Mill, because of its enormous neon sign, is an icon of Minneapolis' riverfront skyline. A group of pseudonymous explorers traipsed through the abandoned space earlier this month snapping some extraordinary shots. Just one of their many adventures in the rundown and the underground in Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.

(Via the Urban Exploration Ring.)

Little black dress.

Correction: "The Marie Claire image found here is not in fact an example of censorship but rather a Photoshopped piece by Farhad Moshiri, originally published in Bidoun magazine (Winter 2005). Moshiri's work does, however, include some actual examples of censored magazines."

Censors in Iran, writes Carrie McLaren, altered this issue of Marie Claire to give new meaning to the headline "Why I love my little black dress": to conform to Islamic law, they filled in all the exposed skin, turning teeny cocktail dresses into burkas. Text accompanies each model, offering reasons such as "It makes my figure the main attraction" and "It releases my inner diva." The overview copy reads, in part:
Every Woman has one: that perfect, goes with anything number that turns out to be the ultimate weapon in her fashion arsenal.
Sometimes women themselves alter magazines to slip 'em past censors. Artist Emily Jacir made a piece a few years ago based on memories of airplane trips from Paris to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during which her mother would black out the exposed parts of female bodies in copies of Vogue in order to bring them into the country. Using a marker to trace just the banned parts on vellum, Jacir's drawings represent "the space in between, a place where the image of woman is banned, and a place where the image of woman is objectified and commodified."

The one commandment.

Graffiti in my North Minneapolis neighborhood.


Walker's monsterfeed.

At last, the Walker blogs—four and counting—can be accessed through one big RSS feed, via FeedShake: http://feedshake.com/advfeed.php?code=e6csr6t8qp.

Barney's next.

It's Barneypalooza at the Walker Art Center these days: they're screening Cremaster 2 the last Saturday of the next three months; the sculptural and photographic elements of the film are on view in the galleries; and plans to screen all five movies (in numbered sequence, not the order of production) are in the works for October. So the announcement of Barney's next work might be of interest to Walker visitors: his new film premiered earlier this month at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan. A sibling to Drawing Restraint 7 (in the Walker collection), the new Drawing Restraint 9, is "a 135-minute epic shot in Nagasaki Bay on a Japanese whaling ship and starring the artist himself with his exotic consort, the Icelandic pop music star Björk." Said chanteuse does the soundtrack, a mix of electronic and traditional Japanese music. The film is geographically far-flung from his other recent projects, including a Walker billboard and Carnival float, that linked to the indigenous religions of Salvador in Bahia, Brazil.

[Cross-posted at the Walker Art Center blogs.]


Vergne's returgne.

This just in: the Walker Art Center's new chief curator is an old friend—Philippe Vergne, the former senior curator who left in May to head up Francois Pinault's aborted Paris art center, is returning to replace departing curator/deputy director Richard Flood. Great news for the Walker and the U.S. I'm excited: Philippe's a stellar mind in contemporary art. Co-curator of the '06 Whitney Biennial, he's interested in emerging global art and ideas, from copyright to culturejamming. A blogger before blogging was cool (check out his Gallery 9 project Empire of Signs, about his travels in Japan), he's been helpful to me in my Adbusters explorations on art and social change, feeding me ideas and contacts (many of the curators and artists I interviewed in the current issue, from Hou Hanru to Thomas Hirschhorn, were recommended by him). I've quoted him in past issues of the magazine, and this refreshing quote from him appears in the issue now hitting newsstands:
I want to believe art can change the world. I want to believe it’s like the butterfly flapping its wings in Minnesota and creating a hurricane in Ulaanbaatar. And if it’s not true, well, I’ll still believe it’s a viable idea. Art provides a social contract—with audiences, with artists, with content, whether it’s coming from visual art or music or philosophy or films—that doesn’t find an obvious channel in everyday life. An art center provides a venue for something that won’t be on television, won’t be carried by major music distributors. What justifies [contemporary artsist like] Ellsworth Kelly or Matthew Barney or Kara Walker, or artists in general, is that they're anomalies in a culture run by Cartesian logic—therefore, they are absolutely necessary. They create the unnameable, and if you don't make a place for it, the coefficient of civilization goes down.
For a pdf of the farewell interview with Vergne that ran in the Walker's May magazine, click here. The Walker's press release on Vergne's return here.

The head of the crass.

Befitting the grace and honor of the highest office of the land, the prez flipped the bird to members of the press yesterday in an act almost as classy as his coining of a nickname for Karl Rove: "Turdblossom."

Update: Ok, despite Bush's track record of flying the bird, and his veep's use of the f-word awhile back, it could've been a thumbs up.

The end of film?

The motion picture industry has agreed upon a standard for digital cinema. While it should be good news for emerging filmmakers too broke to afford film and editing, will it also mean the death of film reels?



In the spirit of SeeHere and Horkulated—and because I'm just that tired—I'm posting, almost sans comment, a few images that caught my eye today:

A U.S. Army C-23 Sherpa aircraft flies over a ziggurat located in the town of Ur, 227 miles south of Baghdad.

Bush hasn't attended funerals for any of the nearly 1,800 US military men and women killed in Iraq (including that of Lt. Fred Pokorney Jr., shown here), but he did agree to attend services for four Boy Scout leaders killed at a Jamboree—although heat eventually cancelled that event.

A billboard paid for by retired Ann Arbor orthopedic surgeon Larry Johnson.

Public art by Sayed Alavi.

And if you're not the visual type, a great mp3 download—Fela Kuti and the Future Sound of London—via Norwegianity.

More on mapping.

Following up on my earlier post on Ecotrust's pattern map of a Conservation Economy, WorldChanging offers a fascinating link-dump on the aesthetics of geographical and conceptual mapping. Of particular interest are a "What if" map that depicts how the actual life of its creator could've deviated--or still could as he moves forward, and a French site that correlates the country's vote on the EU constitution with bloggers and websites that supported the "no" campaign.

Another great mapping project/social critique comes from the Institute for Applied Autonomy: "a web-based application charting the locations of closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras in urban environments," iSee helps users "find routes that avoid these cameras ("paths of least surveillance") ... allowing them to walk around their cities without fear of being 'caught on tape' by unregulated security monitors."

[Cross-posted on the Walker Education blog.]

Terrific performance: on the narrative of suicide bombing

"If terrorists have seized control of the world narrative, if they have captured the historical imagination, have they become, in effect, the world's new novelists?" The New York Times' Lorrie Moore wrote this in 1991, but, with suicide bombings happening with alarming frequency—nearly daily in Iraq or the Middle East—and, in the cases of Egypt and London, in places rarely rocked by such explosions, her question is timely. It's a notion culled from the Don DeLillo novel she was reviewing, Mao II, which has its protagonist musing:
There's a curious knot that binds novelists and terrorists. In the West we become famous effigies as our books lose the power to shape and influence.... Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on human consciousness. What writers used to do before we were all incorporated.
While many people now are pondering what makes suicide bombers tick, from Time reporter Aparisim Ghosh's rare glimpse into the mind of a bomber-to-be in Iraq (his pseudonym, Abu Ubeida al-Jarrah, uses the name of a 7th-century general who overthrew Syria for Islam) to Hany Abu-Assad's film Paradise Now, which will screen at the Walker in October (details to come), others are wondering how these tactics are rewriting our narratives. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Coercion and Media Virus, blogs:
Suicide bombing is a media virus with very real effects. The sticky outer shell is the event itself - a suicide bombing gets covered on the news. It's huge news, especially if it occurs in a white western nation. Currently, it's the fastest spreading kind of news story there is.

The code, like that of any successful media virus, challenges the unarticulated confusion over the relationship of the west to oil, Arabs, Islam, and post-colonialism. Actually, the virus fuels itself on rage going back as far as the Crusades, or certainly since the imposition of CIA-sponsored dictatorships."
And Harper's editor and author of the new book Mediated, Thomas de Zengotita, wonders aloud:
I've been thinking and writing about performative self-consciousness in a mediated age for the last five years or so, and I have this question which I've scarcely dared to formulate so unlikely does it seem. I'm wondering if "playing a starring role" could be part of the motive for suicide bombers, not the whole motive, obviously, but part? At first I recoil from the thought—nobody needs attention that much! But then I remember Columbine and I remember the video record of themselves that the shooters compiled—I saw some of those tapes, and this is my native culture, and I've taught High School, and I know those kids were starring in their own show. So I'm asking...is there anything like a culture of performance at work in the worlds of suicide bombers?

[Cross-posted at the Walker Film/Video blog.]


Mapping the Conservation Economy

How do we gauge the health of our communities? Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef posits that fundamental needs fall into nine universal categories: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, idleness, creation, identity, and freedom—a list that suggests "health" relies on inter-related factors that are economic, ecological, and social. Enter: Ecotrust's Conservation Economy map, an animated schema that "offers a visual guide to the building blocks — or 'patterns' — that provide a framework for the evolving language of sustainability."

(Via Reggie Prim.)

And: Calculate your ecological footprint.

Info downpour.

Via Smart Mobs:
Researchers are working on "information rain", taking advertisements to the realm of mock meteorology.

A projector on a tall tripod shows images of raindrops hitting the ground and making ripples, in hopes that people will enter the "rainy" area and hold out their palms.

A camera tracks the entrants' movements and sends the data to connected computers. Then the projector shoots out a round-shaped advertisement -- which can post words such as "SALE" -- right onto their hands.

That's why they call it corporate media.

As one New York newspaper makes its entire front cover an ad for Cingular, Loews and Motorola, Adbusters takes a timely look at just who's sitting on the board at major media companies:
The myth of the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” has recently taken yet another hit after researchers at California’s Sonoma State University took a close look at the resumes of the 118 people who sit on the boards of directors of America’s ten largest media organizations. The research team is part of the Project Censored, which for nearly three decades has been exposing journalistic self-censorship — “the news that didn’t make the News.” They determined that the group of 118 board members in turn sit on the boards of 288 other major corporations. They also discovered that eight out of the ten media behemoths share common memberships in each other’s boardrooms.

Given that the job of the press is to help us to run the state, and not the other way around, the following makes for an alarming list of bedfellows:

New York Times:
Carlyle Group, Eli Lilly, Ford, Johnson and Johnson, Hallmark, Lehman Brothers, Staples, Pepsi.

Washington Post:
Lockheed Martin, Coca-Cola, Dun & Bradstreet, Gillette, G.E. Investments, J.P. Morgan, Moody's.

Adobe Systems, Echelon, H&R Block, Kimberly-Clark, Starwood Hotels.

The Tribune (Chicago & LA Times):
3M, Allstate, Caterpillar, Conoco Phillips, Kraft, McDonalds, Pepsi, Quaker Oats, Shering Plough, Wells Fargo.

News Corp (Fox): British Airways, Rothschild Investments.

GE (NBC): Anheuser-Busch, Avon, Bechtel, Chevron/Texaco, Coca-Cola, Dell, GM, Home Depot, Kellogg, J.P. Morgan, Microsoft, Motorola, Procter & Gamble.

Disney (ABC): Boeing, Northwest Airlines, Clorox, Estee Lauder, FedEx, Gillette, Halliburton, Kmart, McKesson, Staples, Yahoo.

Viacom (CBS): American Express, Consolidated Edison, Oracle, Lafarge North America.

Gannett: AP, Lockheed-Martin, Continental Airlines, Goldman Sachs, Prudential, Target, Pepsi.

AOL-Time Warner (CNN): Citigroup, Estee Lauder, Colgate-Palmolive, Hilton.

Can we reasonably imagine Peter Jennings’ handlers at ABC giving him the green light to investigate why Halliburton was awarded sole-source contracts in Iraq when their own wallets are fattening because of it? How about expecting the grand poobahs of the New York Times to report on the financial ties between the Bush and Bin Laden families through their mutual membership in the Carlyle Group when they’re feasting from the same trough?

Your house has been on the market how long?

Given the halo and cross elements of the identity on this sign, I'm sure there's good intentions behind the name of this company. But, really, is Eternity the best name for a realty company?


Variations on a theme.

Via Unbeige, an exploration of the graphic identities of subway systems worldwide. Sans commentary.

Eco-system under ice.

From Future Feeder:
The chance discovery of a vast ecosystem beneath the collapsed Larsen Ice Shelf will allow scientists to explore the uncharted life below Antarctica’s floating ice shelves and further probe the origins of life in extreme environments. Researchers discovered the sunless habitat after a recent underwater video study examining a deep glacial trough in the northwestern Weddell Sea following the sudden Larsen B shelf collapse in 2002.

“Seeing these organisms on the ocean bottom–it’s like lifting the carpet off the floor and finding a layer that you never knew was there.”said Eugene Domack, a professor at Hamilton College in New York and lead author of the report detailing the ecosystem.


Rushkoff on suicide bombs as viral media.


Venom line.

Bike manufacturer Specialized is allegedly (because there seems little on the web to back the claim) coming out with a new line of bikes next year called Venom. While it features ultra-lightweight frames that look unlike any bike I've seen on the road, I'm a much bigger fan of simpler designs.

And: While on the topics of bikes, check out solar- and bicycle-powered WiFi networks in Uganda, via Timbuktu Chronicles.



"The Most Beautiful Machine" is an idea of Claude E. Shannon, who died in 2001. His "Mathematical Theory of Communication" is the fundament of the digital machine. It's a communication based on the functions ON and OFF. In this special case the observers are supposed to push the ON button. After a while the lid of the trunk opens, a hand comes out and turns off the machine.
(Thanks, Giselle.)


Billboards and the "Beautiful City"

Yesterday morning Calvin Klein launched a new "live billboard" in Times Square: around the clock, 40 gaunt models simulate partying (sans sex and booze) inside what's supposed to be a bottle of CK One. I suppose it's the next step in the billboardification of the world: we've got ad-tattooed foreheads, nuns selling ad space on coats that are given to homeless people, even Disney's less-than-altruistic act of outfitting LA's street people with Incredibles gear. As advertising's scales tip even further into the crass, garish, and eye-assaulting, here's a nice idea for a counter-balance:

In Canada, Them.ca proposes a Beautiful City Billboard Fee, a modest annual tax of $6 per square foot of ad space assessed to billboard companies, with proceeds going toward the creation of ad-free public art. In Toronto alone, revenue from the city's approximately 5,000 billboards could raise $6,000,000 for public art in a single year.

[Cross-posted at the Walker blog. Photo via Myszka.]


Cell Phones for Civic Engagement

Cross-posted at the Walker blog:

"Civic engagement" is an incredibly broad term, running from get-out-the-vote drives to the Walker Art Center's interest in linking contemporary art with community concerns to... cell phones? Apparently. The global conference MobileActive: Cell Phones for Civic Engagement, to be held in Toronto September 22–24, will look at how this not-quite ubiquitous technology can be instrumental in participatory democracy, human rights work, and community building.

Sound far-fetched?

USA Today reports how SMS (short message service) has been used in political movements from South Korea to the Middle East to the Phillippines, where in a beautiful case of "mobile democracy," text messages were used to organize the demonstrations that contributed to the downfall of President Joseph Estrada in 2002. WorldChanging catalogues other examples where cell-phone technology has been pivotal in social change, from ways the technology can spark bottom-up economic development in poor nations in Africa to the use of textmobbing as a form of political protest. And Howard Rheingold links to a story about how the poor in the Philippines use "texting" for the collective good:
Finding that his family has run out of its supply of rice, Nestor Santos (not his real name) pulled out a cellular phone from his pocket, keyed in the order and promptly sent it via short message service (SMS) ... to his order taker.

A few hours later, the ordered sack of rice to be shared by Nestor and his neighbors arrived.

This account may sound like just another technology-assisted lifestyle story, except for the fact that Nestor collects garbage for a living, and lives in a former dumpsite that still has a huge mound of compacted decades-old filth -- and a much-reduced stench outsiders still find overpowering -- to remind residents of their even sorrier past.

What the world needs now...

An antidote to terror and other unpleasantries, reported on by the Star Tribune:
Jennifer Crutcher was driving through Wisconsin on her way from Cincinnati to Minneapolis when she found out about the terrorist bombings in London. She looked up and found solace in an unlikely icon stuck to her rearview mirror:

A My Little Pony magnet.

"It's just a peaceful feeling you get when you see them," said Crutcher, sitting at a table in the University of Minnesota's Coffman Union early this month for the annual My Little Pony convention. "The people who collect them just do it because they are sweet. There is no ulterior motive behind My Little Pony. This is really about community more than anything."

It would have been hard to find a less cynical, more sincere place in America than that day, when perhaps 100 members of "the pony community" gathered to talk about a small plastic toy....
(Thanks, Adrienne.)


Our own Santorum.

Last week, Sen. Rick Santorum opined that "it's no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm" of clergy sexual abuse. Rick, meet Katherine. The conservative Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten is blaming gang crime on "the debilitating attitudes of the '60s," which were brought to us by liberal "intellectuals, lawyers, and entertainment executives" (!). In a column where she offers no indication that she's discussed poverty with actual poor people, gang members, or victims, she pinpoints the real problems—welfare and sexual freedom:
The '60s revolution was about personal "liberation." Recreational sex? "Make love, not war." Drugs? "Whatever turns you on." Teachers, parents and police? "Challenge authority."

The '60s also launched the War on Poverty. Though well-intentioned, it created incentives for self-destructive behavior such as out-of-wedlock childbearing and welfare dependence. Its mantra was that the poor are victims without responsibilities, whose behavior has nothing to do with their plight.

Waffles anyone?

"President Bush changed his stance today on his close adviser Karl Rove, stopping well short of promising that anyone in his administration who helped to unmask a C.I.A. officer would be fired," reports the New York Times. But the prez isn't the only waffler in the GOP. Check out Minnesota's Norm Coleman (who owes his job, in part, to Rove's intervention), then and now:
"What we're hearing is a little rank political hypocrisy when it comes to claims about a special prosecutor, and I also want to note, the president of the United States has been very, very, very clear. If someone in his administration leaked information or did something that is illegal, they will be held accountable."
October 1, 2003

"My Democratic friends would be doing the nation a great service if they spent half as much time getting legislation passed that will benefit the country as they do in  attacking Karl Rove. When you're out of ideas and lack vision, you are left with nothing but personal attacks and negativity. We have enough to do in the Senate in minding our own business than to be sticking our noses into someone else's business. Everyone needs to cool the rhetoric, focus on the business of the people, and allow the investigation to run its course."
July 13, 2005
[Image via Patridiots.]


Henge by hand.

A retired carpenter in Flint, Michigan, thinks he's figured out how Stonehenge was made using no wheels, rollers, or machines. In his experiments, he's devised a way to pivot (and move as much as 300 feet vertically) objects ranging in size from a minivan-sized chunk of stone all the way to a 30 x 40' barn—by himself. He also created a teeter-totter-esque jack (shown here) to raise an obelisk. His website: The Forgotten Technology. And a video on his work.



Christianer than thou.

If you're Catholic in Mississippi, you're not Christian enough for a Jackson adoption agency. A branch of Bethany Christian Services won't accept adoption applications from Catholics, claiming that "Catholicism does not agree with our Statement of Faith." The Presbyterian agency, part of a national organization that has 75 offices in 30 states, doesn't mind accepting money from Mississippians of all denomination, presumably even Catholics: Bethany accepts money generated from the sale of "Choose Life" license plates.

Urethane rubber bearskin from Eelko Moorer. Via We Make Money Not Art.

Flora Furniture

A few years ago, the Walker Art Center featured the Terra chair in a show of contemporary design. Organic in form and composition, it looked like a great project for my parents' 80-acre plot in Wisconsin. My visions of sprouting armchairs in unexpected places—overlooking the creek, beside their Chartres-style mowed labyrinth, along the intersecting paths through the woods—deteriorated when I saw the plans for the chairs (which involved simple interlocking cardboard sheets that are filled with dirt) were selling in the museum shop for $150.

Enter: ReadyMade magazine's plans for a sod couch. Way cheaper, do-it-yourself, and infinitely modifiable.

Click me.



For the big sounds of pachyderm percussion, check out the Thai Elephant Orchestra, a group of elephants at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre that play specially designed instruments in the jungles of Thailand:
Those familiar with Thai instruments will recognise the slit drums, the gong, the bow bass, the xylophone-like renats, as well as the thundersheet. The only difference is that the elephant versions are a bit sturdier.

The elephants are given a cue to start and then they improvise. They clearly have a strong sense of rhythm. They flap their ears to the beat, swish their tails and generally rock back and forth. Some add to the melody with their own trumpeting.
Some of these elephants are multidisciplinary masters: they created paintings with artists Komar and Melamid that were auctioned off at Christie's.

Coffinmakers can't keep up:

In Baghdad, where one person dies every hour, as in much of the rest of Iraq, casket makers are unable to keep up with demand. A Swiss study states that 39,000 of the 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq are the result of bombings.
Iraq: The view from Minnesota. Things are pretty darn rosy in Iraq, says St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Mark Yost, but you'd never know it reading the hateful screeds of the press. (Of course, seeing the sunshine in Iraq must be pretty easy from the comfort of a Minnesota laptop.) In a piece called "Why they hate us" ("they" being Americans, "us" being the press), he writes:
I know the reporting's bad because I know people in Iraq. A Marine colonel buddy just finished a stint overseeing the power grid. When's the last time you read a story about the progress being made on the power grid? Or the new desalination plant that just came on-line, or the school that just opened, or the Iraqi policeman who died doing something heroic? No, to judge by the dispatches, all the Iraqis do is stand outside markets and government buildings waiting to be blown up.
Naturally, the daily reports of Iraqis getting blown up—an average of 800 civilians and police officers killed each month—might color one's view of Yost's statements. And maybe journalists on the schoolpainting beat get pulled off assignment when dozens are killed by insurgents.

But I'll leave it to this conservative columnist's peers to straighten him out. Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell contacted journalists at the Baghdad bureau of Knight-Ridder, the same company that owns the PiPress. Among those who replied was bureau chief Hannah Allam:
I invite Mr. Yost to spend a week in our Baghdad bureau, where he can see our Iraqi staff members' toothbrushes lined up in the bathroom because they have no running water at home. I frequently find them camping out in the office overnight because electricity is still only sporadic in their sweltering neighborhoods, despite what I'm sure are the best-intentioned efforts of people like his Marine buddy working on the electrical grid.

Mr. Yost could have come with me today as I visited one of my own military buddies, who like most officers doesn't leave the protected Green Zone compound except by helicopter or massive convoy. The Army official picked me up in his air-conditioned Explorer, took me to Burger King for lunch and showed me photos of the family he misses so terribly. The official is a great guy, and like so many other soldiers, it's not politics that blind him from seeing the real Iraq. The compound's maze of tall blast wall and miles of concertina wire obscure the view, too.

Mr. Yost can listen to our bureau's morning planning meetings, where we orchestrate a trip to buy bottled water (the tap water is contaminated, when it works) as if we're plotting a military operation. I wonder whether he prefers riding in the first car -- the most exposed to shrapnel and bullets -- or the chase car, which is designed to act as a buffer between us and potential kidnappers.

Perhaps Mr. Yost would be moved by our office's tribute wall to Yasser Salihee, our brave and wonderful colleague, who at age 30 joined the ranks of Iraqi civilians shot to death by American soldiers. Mr. Yost would have appreciated one of Yasser's last stories -- a rare good-news piece about humanitarian aid reaching the holy city of Najaf.

Mr. Yost's contention that 14 of Iraq's 18 provinces are stable is pure fantasy. On his visit to Baghdhad, he can check that by chatting with our resident British security consultant, who every day receives a province-by-province breakdown of the roadside bombs, ambushes, assassinations and other violence throughout the country.

If Baghdad is too far for Mr. Yost to travel (and I don't blame him, given the treacherous airport road to reach our fortress-like hotel), why not just head to Oklahoma? There, he can meet my former Iraqi translator, Ban Adil, and her young son. They're rebuilding their lives under political asylum after insurgents in Baghdad followed Ban's family home one night and gunned down her 4-year-old daughter, her husband and her elderly mother in law.

Freshly painted schools and a new desalination plant might add up to "mission accomplished" for some people. Too bad Ban's daughter never got to enjoy those fruits of her liberation.
For an interesting thread at Romenesko by Yost's peers—including fellow Pioneer Press staffer Charles Laszewski, who writes, "[Yost has] spat on the copy of the brave men and women who are doing their best in terrible conditions. More than 20 reporters have died in Iraq from around the world. You have insulted them and demeaned them, and to a much lesser degree, demeaned the reporters everywhere who have been threatened with bodily harm ...I am embarrassed to call you my colleague."—click here.


Finally, a little work-sanctioned blogging: I'm a blogger-at-large (of sorts) at the Walker Art Center's blogs. So far, the Film/Video; Education and Community Programs; and Performing Arts departments are blogging. Look for my posts—and those of some pretty interesting minds in a variety of areas—there. Here's my first post, on the film blog:

Downloading nightmares: In the "war on terror," it's pretty easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys, right? The BBC's documentary series The Power of Nightmares, produced last fall, suggests it's not so easy. The film looks at two groups, American neo-conservatives and radical Islamists, arguing that the notion that we're "threatened by a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion... a myth that has spread unquestioned through politics, the security services and the international media." Here's a plot summary from the TimesOnline:
[Writer/narrator Adam] Curtis’s argument is so neatly structured that you don’t want anything to threaten its symmetry. It goes like this: Washington’s neoconservatives, who had President Reagan’s ear and now have George W. Bush’s, start scouring the world for a new ideologically flawed, power-hungry bogeyman following the demise of the Soviet bear; and they find an ally for their despair of incontinent liberalism in America’s Christian fundamentalists. At the very same time, various Islamic fundamentalists, repulsed by Egypt’s slide into secularism, resolve to restore Islam to its rightful place as the religious, political and cultural backbone of the Middle East.
Winner of a 2004 British Academy Television Award, the documentary has apparently never been shown in the US.

'Til now: the amazing, nonprofit Internet Archive is offering The Power of Nightmares as a free download.

Wayback lawsuit: The 10-year old Internet Archive, which also runs the Wayback Machine, a site where you can search an archive of 40 billion web pages as they appeared when first published, is getting sued. A company called Healthcare Advocates has filed suit against the organization "saying the access to its old Web pages, stored in the Internet Archive's database, was unauthorized and illegal."
Plamegate Cliff's Notes: Came late to the Plame/Rove party and can't pick up the plot? Feel stupid, at this late date, asking what Nigerian uranium-enriched yellowcake has to do with Times reporter Judith Miller's imprisonment? Wonder why all those lefty blogs keep writing "ribbit" (a reference to Joe Wilson's question about "whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs")? Here's an excellent, breezy-reading overview of the story, courtesy of Defective Yeti.
This Divided State: When Michael Moore planned a visit to Utah Valley State College last October 20, the turd hit the turbine: rightwingers protested, hate mail and death threats poured in, an outraged local millionaire offered the college $25,000 to cancel Moore's appearance, and an ominous proclamation foretold that Moore would bring with him the Apocalypse. Young filmmaker and BYU grad Steven Greenstreet and a small documentary film team were there to capture the conflict. Their movie, This Divided State is out and is beginning a small national tour. See the trailer here.


Coke threatens photographer: This rather picturesque billboard showing water jugs in front of a Coke mural may land Cannes Silver Lion–winning photographer Sharad Haksar in court. The problem: he's shedding light on the fact Coke is causing water shortages in Indian towns where it has bottling operations, and according to rural movements against the company, they pollute whatever water they don't bottle. Haksar refuses to apologize, and reportedly is hiring lawyers to file a countersuit.

A few more works by Haksar:

A stump-tailed macaque, that's what. This seven-day old lost its mother three days ago at the state zoological park in Guwahati, India.
Rirkrit Radio: As part of his show at the Serpentine (which was blandly panned here), Rirkrit Tiravanija is running a live radio station out of the gallery on Resonance 104.4 FM ("London's first radio art station"). See the when and how of listening here (see the listing for "Please do not turn off the radio if you want to live well in the next 15 minutes.")
Kid-powered: According to BoingBoing, the Colombian sustainability village Gaviotas features a pre-school that has a see-saw disguised as a water pump. Gaviotas, energy independent since 1995, has also made a slew of innovative tools and toys, from a wind-powered musical organ to a solar oven:
• a high pressure solar cooker
• methane burners
• hot-water solar panels
• parabolic solar grain driers
• self-cooling rooftops
• cooling wind corridors
• corkscrewing manual well digger
• variety of highly efficient and durable windmills
• specialized bicycle for the Llanos
• pedal powered cassava grinder (10 hours work done in 1 hour)
• rotating drum peanut sheller
• ox-drawn land graders
• one-handed sugarcane press

Shopdroplifting: Where "droplifting" left off, "shopdropping" is taking over. Just as audio collage artists a few years back "reverse-shoplifted" their CDs into the bins at Sam Goodys and Best Buys across the continent, now artist Ryan Watkins-Hughes is replacing labels on canned foods at grocery stores with those featuring his own photography. Whereas droplifters had no bar codes (which forced stockers on inventory day to apply codes or clerks to arbitrarily assign prices at checkout), Watkins-Hughes leaves the barcode intact so the price can be read. An interesting take on traditional art distribution channels. The artist is looking for others to submit work to be featured on cans. Click here for details.

(Via We Make Money Not Art.)
America's worst greenwashers: A new "helios" logo and a tagline (from "British Petroleum" to "Beyond petroleum") doesn't hide the fact that BP is still in the top 10 list of worst greenwashers (those who give "a positive public image to putatively environmentally unsound practices") published by The Green Life. All ten:
1. Ford Motor Company
2. BP
3. United States Forest Service
4. ChevronTexaco
5. General Motors
6. Nuclear Energy Institute
7. Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
8. TruGreen ChemLawn
9. Xcel Energy
10. National Ski Areas Association
(Via Sustainablog.)
Musclepower: At The Land, a "laboratory for self-sustainable development" founded by artist Rirkrit Tiravanija outside Chiang Mai, Thailand, a new experiment in alternative power is in the works. Artist Philippe Parreno is creating a Battery House on this off-the-grid rice farm; in order to power laptop computers and, hopefully, host electronic music events, the house will transform the muscle power of water buffalos into electrical energy (originally, the project called for elephants):
In front of them is a structure made of still-inert plastic leaves holding a 20-tonne concrete counterweight, hanging vertically like clothes in a European miners’ locker room. Their job: to lift them patiently, one by one, using a system of cables and pulleys, moving with animal slowness. Thus muscular energy (2,000 w/h) is transferred, stored and released, transformed, by means of a dynamo, into electrical energy. This endless cycle from elephant to structure to gravity and then to energy compresses or frees interior space, in rhythm with the occupation of the Land and the movement of the counterweight platform.
The Land also features other alternative-energy experiments, including biogas developed by the Danish art collective Superflex.

Meanwhile, in Africa, the boundless energy of children provides the power for a new water management system. The Play Pump harnesses the energy of kids playing on a roundabout (or merry-go-round) to transport underground water into holding tanks—around 1400 liters per hour. As the inventor's website says, "Playing on a roundabout has always been fun for children, so there is never a shortage of 'volunteers'."