Brand-name trash

While not all that original--Adbusters ran some images a few years back of trash bags covered with the Louis Vuitton logo--I like the sentiment. Rene Gagnon created this "top dollar garbage" stencil as "a statement about the value we put on things because there is a pattern associated with it, coach, gucci, doony and bourke..." It also suggests, from a dumpster-diver's perspective, that there's gold in them thar bins, as fickle consumers toss items they grow bored with or figure it's easier to buy something new rather than fix the damaged old one you've already got. Below, a different artist's logo-covered dumpster from early 2006, via Stencil Revolution.

Osama at large: not a failure but "a success that hasn't occurred yet"

I guess I'm succeeding at more things than I realized; it's just that the success hasn't happened yet. From TPMmuckracker (via TDI):

Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden is still at large -- but that's not a failure of White House policy, says Frances Fragos Townsend. As she explained to CNN's White House correspondent Ed Henry last night:

HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.


Bush Administration bans estimates of Grand Canyon's age

UPDATE: As commenters suggest and Alternet confirms, this story is bogus. Apologies, fundies.

Science 0, Fundamentalist Christians 1:
Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’”

Read more.

Celestial Cartography

BibliOdyssey points out the amazingly crafted celestial maps of Alexander Jamieson. A British astronomer, his A Celestial Atlas Comprising a Systematic Display of the Heavens in a Series of Thirty Maps was published in 1822 and features highly detailed images of star clusters:
The subtle hand-coloured engravings in 'A Celestial Atlas' marked a transition from a celestial map style that included elaborate renderings of mythological figures to a less artistic and more scientific approach. The forms of the constellation zodiacs that had begun in ancient Greece were minimised or phased out over time in favour of more accurately detailed illustrations.

Projecting Fear

Wooster points out a guerrilla projection project done by Miami-based activist/artist Ivan Martinez, in which he "runs scared" through the streets typing in his fears--our collective fears?--which are then projected on building facades. This one, projected on what appears to be either a museum or a condo bloc (or, given the unabated condo blitz here in MPLS, maybe I'm--ahem--projecting), reads:
"WOW! How much did this cost? Looks nice, can me and a couple hundred of my homeless friends live in it?"


Dubai Style: Conspicuous consumption

In case you missed last weekend's multipage ad extravaganza in the New York Times Magazine, Dubai is undergoing a huge building boom, including the construction of multiple dentrite-like islands and a new "land of opportunity" marketing tagline. According to this site, Dubai is said to have 15 to 25% of the world's cranes and the world's largest man-made islands (viewable from space).

The world's tallest hotel, Burj al-Arab hotel, is apparently considered the world's first "7 star hotel."

Then there's Hydropolis, "the world's first underwater hotel. Entirely built in Germany and then assembled in Dubai, it is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2006."


Toronto street art. "Bush = Hitler" is (still) a stretch, but...

The Year in Media: Print pales amid (another) online boom

Which do you think George Allen regrets more, his use of the word "macaca," or the invention of YouTube?

It's a tossup, I suppose. As demonstrated by his story (or that of a possibly bigger YouTubed boob, Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens) and its rapid dissemination across the internet, the definitive media story of 2006 was the rise of citizen media, and the vehicles like YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, and scores of others that can be used, for free, to spread memes worldwide in less time than it takes to say "santorum."

The flip side of that story, of course, is old media's fumbling attempts to stay relevant in this new environment. Indeed, it's a curious state of affairs when TIME, one of the grand-daddies of old media, declares "You"--meaning me and you and all the other personal media producers out there--"Person of the Year." My friend Siva Vaidhyanathan, writing at MSNBC, chortles at TIME's backslapping for those of use who spent 2006 "seizing the reins of the global media... and beating the pros at their own game":
Well, thank you, Time, for hyping me, overvaluing me, using me to sell my image back to me, profiling me, flattering me, and failing to pay me. As soon as I saw myself on my local newsstand, I had to buy a copy of Time.
But 2006 was the year that saw print pale and online endeavors soar, from Google's wallet-lightening purchase of YouTube to the boom in expenditures for online employment ads, which now show online job listings outpacing those in print by a half billion dollars. Given the trend, who can blame dead-tree media for trying extraordinary tactics to make ends meet? Locally, that's meant plenty of media consolidation, cost-cutting measures, and new ventures. A less than comprehensive run-down of local media goings-on:

• This week's sudden news of a Star Tribune "fire sale" is surprising, not because, like the Pioneer Press, it's happening at all, but because the Minneapolis daily is being sold for a monstrous loss not to a well-known media company but to a private equity firm. The paper's own coverage blamed the internet for the unprecedented low valuation, and staffers are reportedly freaking out about the bombshell: " Everything we've heard from [Star Tribune owner] McClatchy recently is 'Hey, we're all in this together. We don't do layoffs.' Blah blah blah BS," columnist Doug Grow told the AP. (More to come on this.)

• Citing a drop in ad revenues (and the internet ad spectre), the St. Paul Pioneer Press announced it'd be offering buyouts to staffers this fall. By the time all was said and done, ten percent of newsroom employees were without jobs, representing a combined 502 years of experience, and another 37 part-timers were let go. The paper was acquired by McClatchy and eventually sold off to MediaNews Group; nationally MediaNews is slashing staff as well, most notably at papers in San Jose, Denver and Los Angeles.

• The Star Tribune's efforts in 2006 seemed a shotgun approach: last month it launched Vita.MN, a bars-and-bands event listing that covers that same turf as Free Time, a standalone free tabloid the paper tested out a few years back. It seems to be geared toward competing with City Pages and Pulse, but its less than dazzling content suggests it exists to drive traffic to its website. The paper's Buzz.MN seems derivative of the social networking site Gather.com, a Minnesota Public Radio joynt, and MNSpeak.
(The dot-MN URL was a hot one this year, as someone figured out that Mongolia was selling domains with that locally flavored e-ppendage.)

Speaking of which, MNSpeak got a financial boost this year when it was purchased from creator Rex Sorgatz (who has since moved to Seattle to work at Microsoft) by the "Bartel Cartel"--former CP publisher Tom Bartel and his wife Kris Henning, who founded The Rake. They installed their son Matt as editor of the site. (In other Rake news, the monthly cut loose editor Hans Eisenbeis this year, allegedly over conflicting opinions on the editorial direction of the magazine.) Grassroots online projects like
the local issues forums at e-Democracy and Twin Cities Daily Planet appeared to continue with relative (grassroots-sized) gusto this year.

Forum Communications, the Fargo, North Dakota–based media company, added to its empire this year, picking up key regional papers including the Grand Forks Herald, the Duluth News Tribune, The Daily Telegram in Superior, Wisconsin, and weekly newspapers in Cloquet and Two Harbors, Minnesota. As the elections came around, Forum came under scrutiny for its unusual policy—dictating which candidates a local paper was to endorse from Fargo, based on the preferences of unabashed Republican donor William Marcil, the chain’s owner.

[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]

Photo of the year?

Maybe not, but this shot of Charlie, the Italian greyhound, viewing a Minneapolis rollover (posted back in February) gets high marks for combining drama and cuteness, without the aid of Photoshop.

Meta-artist waxes philosophical in self-negating art

I've got so many problems with this stencil piece--it's location on the facade of the Art Institute of Chicago, it bogus (although well-intentioned, I'm sure) claim, its grandiosity--but I'll post it (relatively) comment free.


NRA comic book...

While the NRA calls the comic book (below) a hoax, Raw Story says it's not. Meanwhile, Boingboing and the Raw Story offer the full deal as a pdf.


Peace, joy, violence.

A Boingboing reader (welcome!) connects the dots between the NRA comic book and the weird rifle-wielding-dog Xmas card with this:

NRA graphic novel revealed

Just in time for the holidays! Wonkette publishes illustrations allegedly from the NRA's forthcoming graphic novel/recruitment tool, Freedom In Peril: Guarding the 2nd Amendment in the 21st Century. Rightwing fear mongering at its finest, this artfully drawn bit of propaganda hits every hysterical high note of the radical right, from a gas can-carrying, hairy-legged eco-terrorist to a warty-faced George Soros (above) and obese Michael Moore. Of course, the hero of this tale--who boldly protects his family against "illegal alien gangs" and the like--is the white homeowner, keeping watch from a rooftop as the city around him crumbles. Ironically, it's the media that's to blame for inciting fear--not the organization that shows a white cop gagged with a gang member's bandana.

Sounds of the Season:

"No one is trying to raise a family on minimum wage, and if they are, they have no business having a family."

Dave Thompson of KSTP 1500

December 24, 2006
Via Minnesota Monitor.

Happy holidays

Nothing says holiday cheer like a Chihuahua with a tiny rifle, so with this card (dated 1895), I wish the best to you and yours for 2007.


30-Day Muslim

This is remarkable television: Morgan Spurlock's TV series 30 Days invited Dave Stacey, a 33-year old insurance salesman from West Virginia, to "be" a Muslim for thirty days. A devout Christian, Stacey moves to Deerborne, Michigan, to live with the Haques', an American Muslim family of Pakistani descent. Ground rules: he must observe the religious practices of the family--eat what they eat, pray when they pray (five times a day, starting at 5:30 a.m.), and grow a beard.

It's a remarkable journey the very game Stacey goes on. He's open, yet firmly Christian, and while he joins in for prayer, he resists reciting the Arabic prayers because he doesn't know what they mean (when consulting with an imam, he's told about his reservations, "You're here to learn, not to believe."). When he learns what they mean, he still hesitates, not wanting to betray his own faith and heritage. He--and I watching along--learned so much about Islam, its relationship to Christianity and Judaism (the hijab is part of the Jewish faith, Mrs. Haque tells him), and the five pillars of the faith (belief in one god, prayer, charity, fasting, pilgrimage).

Learning Arabic, studying the Quran, even touring a Halal meat processing plant, he learns about Islam. He sees discrimination and suspicion. By the end, Stacey isn't converted to Islam, but he is, perhaps, to humanism. His hosts give him a send-off party, complete with a decorated cake bearing the phrase, "Let's agree to disagree." Still, as "reality" TV, it only goes so far. As a CAIR lawyer tells him:
"Over thirty days, you can get a little bit of flavor. But you know at the end of the day, after 30 days, you know you can home to your wife and kid, shave off your beard and go back to being a white, Anglo-American Christian. I don't have that luxury. I know inside they hate me for who I am."
Another excellent find by Peek.

The Decider.

Big changes in Iraq? (Via SpeakUp.)



While NPR headlined a story today "No End in Sight to Darfur Conflict," the BBC quotes Kofi Annan, who's optimistic that the country will allow UN peacekeepers into Darfur after reading reports that "encourage me to think we may tomorrow (Saturday) receive a green light from [Sudan's] President Bashir." And, this paper says Khartoum already OK'd a "hybrid" peacekeeping force that'll replace the 7,000 African Union troops who've been patrolling the region.

Watch it: Via Coudal, here's the trailer for the Sundance Audience Award-winning documentary God Grew Tired of Us (image above), a true story of some of Sudan's "lost boys" who walked a thousand miles to escape the civil war and Khartoum's bombings raids during the country's civil war and ended up in the U.S.

French curators charged for "pornography" in 2000 exhibition

In 2000, Bordeaux's contemporary art museum, the Centre d'Arts Plastiques Contemporains (CAPC), launched the exhibition Presumed Innocent: Contemporary Art and Childhood, featuring work by 80 artists including Jeff Koons, Wolfgang Tillmans, Ugo Rondinone, and Cindy Sherman. Shortly after the show closed, a French child-protection agency filed suit against the museum's then-director Henri-Claude Cousseau (now director of Paris' Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) and the exhibition curators Marie-Laure Bernadac and Stèphanie Moisdon for showing "violent images of pornographic character." At issue were three works: a Gary Gross painting of a girl taking a bath, an Elke Krystufek video showing a masturbating girl, and photos by Annette Messager of children with their eyes scratched out. This week charges were finally filed against Bernadac and Moisdon; Cousseau's charges were laid November 14.

A lawyer for the organizaton, La Mouette, accused CAPC of "displaying pornographic images of children that are an attack on human dignity, and of allowing children and adolescents to see them." She added, "There is no question of trying to limit freedom of expression. Our case rests entirely on the issue of protecting children. If the show had been adults-only, we would not have gone to court." (The museum reportedly did have warning language and had cordoned off explicit sections of the exhibition.)

But a group of prominent museum directors--including the Tate's Nick Serota, Hayward gallery director Ralph Rugoff, Yale Art School dean Robert Storr, and curator/critic Hans-Ulrich Obrist--think it is about limiting speech. They and nearly 100 other curators, historians, and museum directors have come out in support of the 60-year-old Cousseau and the show's curators. Paris-based artist Thomas Hirschhorn, in an email to colleagues, writes:

It is the first time in France that charges are laid against a museum director and curators in the frame of their professional activity, for the content of an exhibition. There is no jurisprudence for such a case. They face 5 years of prison and 75’000 euros penalty.

We, citizens, artists, creators, intellectuals, researchers, and above all men and women with the freedom to think, create and express ourselves, wish to assert hereby our unconditional support to Marie-Laure Bernadac, Henry-Claude Cousseau and Stephanie Moisdon, and we whish to express how appalled we are by this laying of charges that represents a serious step back, taken against hard-earned liberties.

These liberties, which are the ground of democracy, are endangered today, and we wish to forcefully express our indignation at the seriousness and the injustice of this situation. We all feel concerned and wish to mobilize.

By undersigning this petition, we assert our full solidarity with Marie-Laure Bernadac, Henry-Claude Cousseau and Stephanie Moisdon. If you wish to join this petition, please indicate your Name, Profession, Town and Country and send these informations to :


Cousseau says, "The show was about the fragility of children and how their image can be exploited."

For more links about this case, visit NEWSgrist. Cross-posted at Off-Center.

Despite "despair," groups plan Darfur action for 2007

The situation in Darfur is grim.

Former U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz (MN) laments that just 7,000 African Union troops are confronting the monumental task of averting genocide in a region of Sudan "about the size of Iraq... or Texas." Meeting with the Minnestoa Interfaith Darfur Coalition last week, the current UN Human Rights ambassador said, "We despair at what can be done."

Politicians across the political spectrum--from Sen. Sam Brownback to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and even George W. Bush--have called the systematic killing, rapes, and destruction in Darfur "genocide," a crime under international law that United Nations members have sworn to prevent.

So why, almost four years into the current conflict and 400,000 deaths later, are attacks backed by Sudan's government continuing in Darfur? And what can be done to stop them?

A deeper understanding of Darfur's precarious postion shows a complicated confluence of interests and histories--and underscores how elusive hope for stability in the near future is. But as members of the interfaith committee meeting weekly at Minneapolis' Temple Israel or activists at global organizations like the Genocide Intervention Network are finding, there are firm steps that can be taken in 2007. Whether they, if enacted, will make a difference is another matter.

Darfur 101

Darfur, a region on the westernmost edge of the north African country of Sudan, is wedged between conflicting factions--racial, religious, economic. The government, based in the north central city of Khartoum, is controlled by Arabs, who comprise around 40 percent of the population. Southern Sudan, home to most of the country's oil fields, is 60 percent African. Ever since Sudan gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1956, the south has sought greater autonomy and control of its resources and has mounted nearly continuous rebellions against the wealthy Khartoum government of the north.

A civil war, ended through pressure by the U.S. and U.N. in 2005, raged for 25 years over allocation of these oil resources, not to mention the tensions arising from nomadic north Sudanese whose camel-grazing needs bumped up against the established farms of the southern part of the country. Further, northern Sudanese are largely Muslim, while southern residents are predominantly Christians and animists.

To complicate matters further, says Dr. Ellen Kennedy, a sociologist and founder of the University of St. Thomas' chapter of the Genocide Intervention Network, an anticipated secession by the south in 2011 puts the Khartoum government on edge. “The north is trying to get as much money out of those oil wells when the getting-out of those oil wells is good,” she said.

As part of this bid for autonomy, rebel forces have launched attacks on government entities, and Khartoum forcibly rebuked them using government-backed militias called the Janjaweed (while its etymology is disputed, the word likely derives from the Persian term for "warrior": jangawee). Made up of nomadic camel-herders from the north, these militias, in helicopters and on horseback, have burned villages to the ground, raped women, and terrorized Darfur.
According to survivors' testimony, says Kennedy, "the Janjaweed are actually saying to the people as they are killing them or as they are raping the women over and over again: ‘You are African, you are African, and we are killing all the Africans.’ Ethnic cleansing is involved as well. There’s a lot of raping of the women. In this culture, to rape a woman is to stigmatize her for life: she will never get married, she will be an outcast from the community, and, of course, the child that she bears, then, will no longer be viewed as being an African child. This child, too, will be socially cast out from the community.”

And this is where genocide comes in. The term is defined by the U.N. as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Outside influences

While a comprehensive peace agreement, signed in 2005 but not yet fully implemented, came about through the dogged efforts of the U.S. and European Union, the most dominant influences in Sudan are not American: China and many Arab states are there for the oil; Russia is doing a booming arms business.

Earlier this month, The Economist reported on Africa's largest commercial construction site, a 1500-acre, $4 billion development in Alsunut, being built as a campus for Sudan's oil interests, which are predominantly Chinese and Middle Eastern. The first structure going up is a dazzling sail-shaped building that will house the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company headquarters. China's insatiable economy requires more oil to grow it, and it takes advantage of weak infrastructures and less-than-ethical governments across Africa (see the New York Times recent coverage of China's development "adventure" in Angola) to secure this important resource. As a result, Sudan is prospering because of this demand: this year, the International Monetary Fund expects the country's Gross Domestic Product to grow by 13 percent. And the north is the largest beneficiary of this growth.

"Russia has all these weapons for sale since the end of the cold war," says Kennedy, and Sudan is a willing buyer. In 2004, Russia announced it was selling 12 MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to Sudan, as well as Kalishnikov assault rifles and Antonov transport aircrafts. China, like Iran, have been selling arms to Khartoum as well. Amnesty International reports that since the 1990s China's sales to Sudan have included more than 40 Shenyang J-6 and J-7 jet fighters, F-7 supersonic fighters, a Russian MiG-21 Fishbed, 50 Z-6 helicopters; additionally Chinese companies have been contracted to repair Mi-8 helicopters for Sudan.

Witnesses to a raid in the northern Darfur village of Kornoy named these very crafts when they described what they saw:
Two Antonov airplanes, five helicopters and two MIGs attacked our village at around 6am. Five tanks came into town. The attack lasted until 7pm. The inhabitants fled from their homes but our brother-in-law was killed when running away. Eighteen men and two children from our family were killed when fleeing.
Given the extent of these sales, no wonder Russia, which has veto power as holder of one of five permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council (another is China), isn't prone to intervening in Darfur.

Finally, the United States' own relationship with Sudan makes intervention unlikely. Kennedy explains:
We need Sudanese help, presumably, in the "war on terror." For a number of years, the Sudanese government had been harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. To alieniate the Sudanese government gets rid of sources of information for us regarding the "war on terror."
Complications of Intervention

So where are the most promising prospects for improving the situation for Darfur's civilians? There aren't many, according to Dr. Stephen Feinstein, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Because there's little political will to intervene militarily in Darfur and that the U.N. has no military force of its own, he says there's "no possiblity of intervention":
Stopping genocide only becomes possible when it is in the national interest of the country identifying an event as genocide and having the will to intervene. Since the U.S. has a volunteer army that is overextended in Iraq, I don't see any way for the U.S to get involved--hence, one must suggest that a lot of people have been snookered into the belief that something can happen.
That said, he says getting medical and food aid to refugees is key, although it's difficult since "refugees are constantly on the move" and the conflict has become so unstable the U.N.'s World Food Program recently pulled its people from Darfur.

The Minnesota Interfaith Darfur Coalition invited Sen. Boschwitz, the U.S. ambassador to the UN's Human Rights committee, to brainstorm ways American legislators can be persuaded to help in Darfur. Some of the committee's suggestions were problematic. The U.N. can't send in peacekeeping forces without Sudan's permission, and Khartoum says it won't comply. Thanks to Iraq, the U.S. has little appetite for foreign incursions, and even if they did, American troops on the ground would be perceived by Sudan and the Arab world as colonialist aggression. An investigation into war-crimes prosecution against Sudan's chief perpetrators of genocide launched by the International Criminal Court won't likely get any U.S. support, says Boschwitz, since "we're afraid our people will be hauled in front of it" for alleged crimes committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

One area of promise might be enforcing a no-fly zone over Sudan, a tactic supported by George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The tactic was used in northern Iraq to protect the Kurds, Boschwitz recalled, and since the Janjaweed "inflict considerable damage using helicopters," it could prevent considerable bloodshed. The problem: the U.S. has no airbases in the area.

When pressed by the Darfur coalition, Boschwitz agreed that allies like France and the U.K. might agree to allow U.S. planes to refuel at their bases in Africa. While expressing little fondness for the French--"They're recalcitrant and difficult, but they're still a civilized nation"--Boschwitz conceded, "They may be our best option."

Other than that, a glimmer of hope rests in whether legislators, like newly elected Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Keith Ellison, along with longtime Darfur advocate Sen. Norm Coleman, could be convinced to create a Darfur caucus that could raise awareness in Congress about the genocide and encourage economic pressure on Sudan. Says Boschwitz, "Pressure does work. The Sudanese will need us for one thing or another at some point."

The other pressure point is China. While it is currently illegal for American companies to invest in Sudanese businesses, a movement is underway to expand divestment to firms investing in China. But given China's increasing dependence on Sudan's oil, little will dissuade them from continued involvement.

"The Chinese get eight percent of oil energy from the Sudanese," Boschwitz says. "They stepped in when we sanctioned the Sudanese. But short of going in with forces saying 'Stop this,' the options go downhill from there."

The Genocide Intervention Network's legislative agenda is far more concrete. Since Congress has little influence over mandating a no-fly zone or issuing war crimes indictments, its focus for 2007 will be in "hitting the Sudanese where it hurts: petroleum," says advocacy director Sam Bell. Its top priorities:
  • Denying port entry for oil tankers docked in the port of Sudan (currently, this is a non-binding provision of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act)
  • Pursuing capital market sanctions against PetroChina, which, Bell says "means they would be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange")
  • Authorizing state divestment from companies funding the genocide
  • Pushing to make US support for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing contingent on China's cooperation on Darfur.
Further, getting more money to the African Union Mission in Darfur is key, so, Bell says, "it can be the backbone of an effective UN force."

In the new year, I will ask legislators to weigh in on these provisions, their ranking in the Darfur Scorecards, and ideas for, as Dr. Kennedy says, making sure that, when it comes to genocide in Darfur, "'never again' means 'never.'"

Part 1: "With Darfur in 'freefall,' can Congress transcend partisanship?"

[Map courtesy of PBS. Photos by Linsey Addario]


Pac-Man: Graffiti or social engineering?

Guerrilla artists in Wright County, Minnesota, have painted a huge Pac-Man on Highway 55, as well as a series of seven-foot dots for it to gobble up. The hand-painted character (which is about a month old, but has been touched up several times) comes with accompanying signs--and a message:

The 7-foot dots are 225 feet apart, the distance needed at the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit, to stop in three seconds without rear-ending the vehicle ahead. Accompanying signs tell drivers to keep two dots apart in the stretch, traveled by an average of 16,000 vehicles a day.

Project traffic data collected on three July weekdays by the state Office of Traffic Safety showed that the dots had slowed drivers by almost a third of a second, to 2.6 seconds between vehicles monitored halfway through the two-mile section of dots.

And the space between vehicles increased by nearly 23 feet compared with gap data collected before the dots were added in June. Average speeds at the dots midpoint decreased about a mile per hour to 58.6 and remained about that speed a mile after the dots ended.

Earlier: Walker Art Center groundskeeper plays Pac-Man.

Best Photojournalism

The PDN Photo Annual has an amazing section on Photojournalism and Sports. A few nominees for 2006's best:Mike Hewitt's photo of Andre Agassi and Roger Federer warming up before the Dubai Duty Free Men's Open, for Sports Illustrated.

Christopher Morris' photo, for TIME, of a "damaged photograph found inside a home in Chalmette, St. Bernard Parish" after Hurricane Katrina.
From 2005, Janet Jarman's image for German CEO magazine's article on immigration from Central America: "Marisol, 8, daydreams as she and her siblings wait for another load of garbage at the municipal waste dump."

The Military-Industrial Complex, verbalized. (Or, shop the war away.)

George W. Bush, at his much-touted final press conference of 2006, made some startling statements, including his first admission that "We're not winning [in Iraq], we're not losing." But the kicker comes at the end. From the CBC's coverage:

He said the most painful part of his presidency has been knowing that American soldiers die as a result of his decisions. His "heart breaks" for their families, he said....

...Although he said the war will require additional sacrifices, he called for no sacrifices on the home front.

"A recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country," he told the reporters, "and I encourage you all to go shopping more."

(Thanks, Tom. Photo: Christopher Morris)


Goode question: Would immigration reform have kept out Muslim convert Ellison?

In a letter reportedly sent to hundreds of constituents, Virginia Republican Rep. Virgil Goode warned what will happen if America doesn't "adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration":
"[T]here will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country."
After specifically referencing "the Muslim Representative from Minnesota," Goode states, "We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country."

A problem with his logic: curtailing immigration wouldn't have prevented Keith Ellison from "demanding the use of the Koran."

A US citizen from birth, Ellison converted to Islam when he was 19.

Read the letter here.


Gift from the Sea: "Heirloom whale barf"

Why, I've never read a more gripping tale of ambergris (a.k.a. "petrified whale vomit," "floating gold," or "whale's pearl"). Here's the tale of Dorothy Ferreira, whose 82-year-old sister sent her a green chunk she found on the seashore 50 years ago, with the admonition, "You’re the one who lives by the ocean; ask someone out there what it is."

She did, and discovered that she's got a key (and rare) ingredient of fine perfume, ambergris, which can sell for $10 per gram. Her holiday gift could be worth around $18,000.

And what is ambergris?
Ambergris begins as a waxlike substance secreted in the intestines of some sperm whales, perhaps to protect the whale from the hard, indigestible “beaks” of giant squid it feeds upon. The whales expel the blobs, dark and foul-smelling, to float the ocean. After much seasoning by waves, wind, salt and sun, they may wash up as solid, fragrant chunks.

Because ambergris varies widely in color, shape and texture, identification falls to those who have handled it before, a group that in a post-whaling age is very small. Ms. Ferreira says she has yet to find an ambergris expert.

“A hundred years ago, you would have no problem finding someone who could identify this,” said James G. Mead, curator of marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution, who said he hears of new ambergris surfacing somewhere in the world maybe once every five or six years. “More often, you have people who think they’ve found it and they can retire, only to find out it’s a big hunk of floor wax.”

Sonic Seniors.

Imagine the Langley Schools Project kids in, like, 50 years, and you start to get an idea what the senior choir Young@Heart sounds like. Can't imagine it? Then watch this video of the group performing Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia." (Via Off-Center.)


Minimalist holidays

To me the baroque, over-the-top aesthetic of the holidays are stand-ins for consumptive overdrive of the season.

So naturally, these two minimalist holiday projects make a nice metaphor: the Hanukit by Israeli design team Reddish and a pixelated Christmas tree poster. If you want a holiday that's simple in ways other than aesthetic, here's my annual plug for Buy Nothing Christmas, plus links to a The Nation's guide to a socially responsible holiday and Ethiquette's responsible shopping guide.


Fox News, Keith Ellison, and the "Nazi bible"

Al-Jazeera's English broadcast puts Fox News' "fair and balanced" tagline to a smell test by looking at its December 1 coverage of Keith Ellison's request to be sworn in on the Quran. With Dennis Prager at center screen, host Sean Hannity compares Islam's nearly 1500-year-old scriptures with an autobiographical screed written in 1925 by a genocidal-maniac-to-be.

Hannity asked:
"On what grounds will those of you defending this congressman's decision in his right to chose his favorite book... Would you allow him to choose Hitler's Mein Kampf, which is the Nazi bible?"
While Hannity's innuendo--linking the Quran and Mein Kampf in the same breath--is troubling, it's his use of the term "Nazi bible" that's surprising, especially since he and Prager are so concerned that Ellison honor the book most often used in oaths.

The term "bible," while deriving from the Greek for book (biblia) according to Webster, predominantly refers to either the Christian or Jewish holy books, not to political tracts. A "Nazi bible"--as the first find in a Google search of the phrase yields--would suggest, well, Hitler's bible.

Like the one the Führer commissioned in 1939; in an attempt to "Nazify" the church, Hitler ordered hand-picked theologians to "cleanse church texts of all non-Aryan influences" and revise the 10 Commandments to include 12, deleting several and adding these:

Keep the blood pure and your honour holy! Maintain and multiply the heritage of your forefathers. Always be ready to help and to forgive. Honour your Fuehrer and master!
Perhaps these modifications indicate my issue with the Ellison/Quran flap: what is being sworn is of greater import than what it's being sworn on.

After all, in Mein Kampf Hitler wrote that "today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.”

Hitler, like anyone, was judged by his actions, those of a homicidal racist, rather than by his statements of faith. (The quote above continues: "By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.")

Congressman-elect Ellison will be rated--and berated--by the likes of Hannity and Prager, no doubt. But perhaps they could wait til after his first day in office to get started.

[A frequent rightwing commenter at Minnesota Monitor, where I crossposted his entry, seems to have a bigger problem with a mention of al-Jazeera than the utterings of Sean Hannity.]

And: The director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Dr. Stephen Feinstein, calls for the resignation of Dennis Prager from the US Holocaust Memorial Council for saying Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison shouldn't serve if he won't take his oath on the bible. Says Feinstein, "[E]veryone should see Prager's comments as bigotry enthroned... [H]is statements have single-handedly made it clear that one Jew does not understand the civic responsibilities of an organization whose board he represents."

Federal Judge: Lethal injections "unconstitutional"



Lucky pig?

This unfortunate-looking two-faced pig is an indicator of luck to Thais in Mookdahan Province, according to Thai-Blogs. Villagers sought out the piglet in hopes of learning lucky numbers for the national lottery. Richard Barrow writes that Thais "look for anything auspicious or unusual" to improve their lottery chances:
One was the footprints of a Naga snake on top of a car. People were looking for numbers in the patterns. Another was a pig which had two faces. Today comes another story from the Thai Rath newspaper. A man from Udornthanee bought a betel nut palm to decorate his restaurant. After a short while, he noticed that the leaves of the plant were growing into the shape of the King of the Nagas, a highly respected serpent snake. As soon as the locals heard about this they came flocking to his restaurant to pay respect and also to beg for the winning lottery numbers!

Guzhen's Eiffel

The "world’s only architecture shaped like a huge Western classical oil lamp" will be constructed in Guzhen, China, the "lighting capital of China." Metropolis reports:
The 833-foot tall building "will stretch 430,560 square feet over 48 floors, with an immense glass chimney on which an array of images will be projected at night from inside. With an observation deck at its crown, the building has a base that will contain shops, restaurants, and a museum to document 'humanity’s quest for light against darkness.'
The structure is scheduled for completion before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

CNN "humor": Obama part of Axis of Evil

A hearty WTF to Jeff Greenfield and Wolf Blitzer at CNN who produced this inane (and apparently humorously intended) report on Barack Obama's attire--a suitcoat without a tie, which Greenfield says puts the Illinois senator in league with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
GREENFIELD: Now, it is one thing to have a last name that sounds like Osama and a middle name, Hussein, that is probably less than helpful. But an outfit that reminds people of a charter member of the axis of evil, why, this could leave his presidential hopes hanging by a thread. Or is that threads? -- Wolf.

Bush wants $100 billion more for wars

In addition to the $70 billion set aside for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this fiscal year, and the $475 billion the Pentagon recieved for military operations, George Bush wants an additional $100 billion for wars. Wouldn't this constitute gross mismanagement? Wisconsin Rep. Dave Obey nails it: "Republicans have spent years handing out billions upon billions of dollars in tax cuts to millionaires while shortchanging our national priorities."

The war, originally estimated by the administration to cost between $50 and $60 billion, has already cost Americans seven times that figure, and by the end of March 2007, the pricetag will have surpassed $378 billion.


Air Hijab.

Bahrain sprinter Raqaya al Ghasara won a gold medal at the 15th Asian Games on Monday. Aside from her 23.19-second 200-meter sprint, what's noteworthy about her performance was the full headscarf, or hajib, she wore. "Wearing traditional Muslim dress has encouraged me," she says. "It's not an obstacle - quite the opposite." Note, too, the Nike Swooshes adorning her full-body suit and hijab, suggesting that Muslim athletes are the latest to appear within the branding giant's aiming sight.

Next up: branded burqas?

(Thanks, Stephan.)

Media Monitor: December 13

Media protest gets little media coverage: Monday's "nationwide day of action to call attention to cutbacks at newspapers across the country" drew 125 protesters from the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune newsrooms. No big surprise here: few mainstream media outlets gave the demonstrations any coverage.

MN connection to the "War on Terror":
Great Britain has stopped using the phrase "War on Terror," according to the Christian Science Monitor. On this shift in political thinking--away from the US.--the paper quotes a Minnesota Daily editorial that posits that the UK's deteriorating "special relationship" with the US forces a decision: to "be at the helm of the European Union or risk being cut adrift."

Speaking of which:
In an interview on Townhall.com with conservative columnist Cal Thomas, Donald Rumsfeld admits one regret: "I don't think I would have called it the war on terror... it is not a 'war on terror.' Terror is a weapon of choice for extremists who are trying to destabilize regimes and (through) a small group of clerics, impose their dark vision on all the people they can control. So 'war on terror' is a problem for me."

Comic kudos: The American Press Awards have just been announced: on the list is the Star Tribune's Steve Sack, named Berryman Cartoonist of the Year.

The elephant in the newsroom: Salt Lake City's Deseret Morning News has appointed a new editor and, apparently unconcerned about reader perceptions of political bias in the newsroom, he's former chair of the Utah Republican party Joseph Cannon. File under: What liberal media?


A white wall for Darfur.

Via networked_performance, here's a nice way to remember those killed in Darfur--and help those still alive: The Darfur Wall has forty panels bearing gray numbers from 1 to 400,000, representing each of the people killed since 2003 in northern Sudan. Spend a dollar (or more) to turn each number from gray to bright white, and eventually, a dismal gray wall will be illuminated. Every penny of funds raised will go to these four organizations:
The Darfur Foundation, creator of the piece, writes: "As we light the wall, we acknowledge the importance of each life lost, we cast light upon a tragedy too many have ignored, and we overcome one barrier to peace."

Earlier: "The Darfur Meme" and "With Darfur in 'free fall,' can Congress transcend partisanship?"

Another way to help: This afternoon I interviewed Dr. Ellen Kennedy, a sociology and anthropology professor who oversees the University of St. Thomas' Genocide Intervention Network chapter (more on her interview soon). She told me of the "Ten-for-Ten" program: instead of receiving Christmas gifts this year, students are asking ten relatives to give $10 each to the national GI-Net office. If you'd like to give the "gift of safety" to civilians in Darfur, send your (tax deductible) gift to:

Genocide Intervention Network
"Ten for Ten" Campaign
1333 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20005,

Homosexuality's milky origin revealed!

Soy Toys? Tofoofs? Edamame's Boys?

According to conservative news site WorldNetDaily, soy milk turns boys gay!

James Rutz of Megashift Ministries writes:
Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products.

I Swear: CO radio host challenges Ellison's ethics, morality

Colorado AM radio host Mike Rosen questions whether Keith Ellison can "ethically and morally hold office" if he wishes to have a private swearing-in using the Quran instead of the bible (he also calls Ellison "a follower of Louis Farrakhan," despite Ellison's repudiation of the Nation of Islam's "propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic ideas and statements.")

During his December 8 broadcast, Rosen said:
One of the reasons that traditionally people have taken oaths -- either serving as witnesses in trials or defendants, or being sworn in with the oath of office as president or a member of Congress -- one of the reasons people have put their hands on a, on the Judeo-Christian Bible -- which includes the Old Testament and the New -- is that this is one of the foundations of Western civilization, and it's also one of the foundational sources of our law. Moses was known as the lawgiver. The Ten Commandments have -- have had a great deal of influence over the creation of law in Western society. So it's consistent with that part of our society that qualifies as Caesar's element -- render unto Caesar what is Caesar's -- for people who serve in law-making and governing capacities to take an oath consistent with our foundation. For those who really believe that the Constitution is blasphemy, at least in parts when it conflicts with Islam -- these people have a right to their religious beliefs and they can operate in our society. But the question is, can they ethically and morally hold office?
Rosen's mention of courtroom procedures, however, fails to recognize that the bible needn't be used to swear in witnesses in court proceedings. Last summer, when Muslims in North Carolina attempted to donate copies of the Quran for courtroom oaths (and were refused), the Christian Science Monitor wrote:

Already, witnesses in American courts do not have to take a religious oath and can instead simply testify on pain of perjury. It's up to judges to decide what passes for an oath.

Most have apparently given other oaths wide latitude. In a federal terrorism case in 1997 in Washington D.C., for instance, the judge allowed Muslim witnesses to swear to Allah. And the practice isn't new: Mochitura Hashimoto, the Japanese submarine commander who testified in the court martial of a US Navy captain in 1945, was allowed by a military tribunal to swear on his beliefs of Shinto, the ancient religion of Japan.

As to Rosen's mention of the Ten Commandments, a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper in 1814 casts doubt on this notion:
[I]n answer to Fortescue Aland's question why the ten commandments should not now be a part of the common law of England? we may say they are not because they never were made so by legislative authority, the document which has imposed that doubt on him being a manifest forgery.
Further, Jefferson writes, British common law--which the American legal system is largely based upon--was established in England before Christianity arrived there:
...Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here, then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it...."
[Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.]

Quoting Kofi

Annan's speech yesterday:

[A]s Truman said, “If we should pay merely lip service to inspiring ideals, and later do violence to simple justice, we would draw down upon us the bitter wrath of generations yet unborn.” And when I look at the murder, rape and starvation to which the people of Darfur are being subjected, I fear that we have not got far beyond “lip service.” The lesson here is that high-sounding doctrines like the “responsibility to protect” will remain pure rhetoric unless and until those with the power to intervene effectively — by exerting political, economic or, in the last resort, military muscle — are prepared to take the lead.

And: as the UN Human Rights Councils holds a special session on Darfur today, the US General Accounting Office reveals that six of the State Department's Darfur death toll estimates had "methodological strengths and shortcomings" but "none appeared very accurate."


Darfur: The Meme.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, has used the G-word in describing the situation in Darfur, Sudan. So has Colin Powell, George Clooney, the US House of Representatives, Madeleine Albright, George W. Bush, and millions of demostrators worldwide.

So why, for the third year running, does genocide continue in Darfur?

It's complicated, doubtless, but if we claim to be a "never again" nation--a "culture of life" that won't stand for another Rwanda, another Holocaust--why isn't preventing the rape, murder, and displacement of millions an urgent priority? If we're moral people, how can this continue?

Pressure has been exerted on all fronts--in state houses and the UN General Assembly, on streets by protesters and by tireless media figures like Nicholas Kristof. As a meme that stands in for massive human suffering, "Darfur" has to take off and permeate all aspects of our world, so the willfully ignorant or the otherwise distracted can be that way no longer. Both as recognition and a call-to-action for demonstrators, legislators, graffitists, artists, bloggers, interventionists, benefactors, gamers, and others, here's a run-down of innovative ways of passing Darfur-awareness memes. Can art and protest, graffiti and YouTube change the world? Probably not, but as part of a relentless and multi-faceted effort to change minds, maybe it can help.

Pass it on...

YouTube: We saw it used, to great effect, in the midterm elections, and activists are using it for Darfur. This one features bits of rally speeches by Tom Lantos (the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress), Barack Obama, George Clooney, and others before offering the testimony of The Lost Boys of Sudan, who at ages 6 and 7, saw their parents murdered in front of them. Below that, a homemade YouTube Darfur plea.

Last month, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum projected wall-sized images of the genocide on the side of their building. A partnership with the traveling exhibition Darfur Darfur, the project--headlined "Our Walls Bear Witness"--serves the dual roles of educating and challenging us that "not on our watch" can this continue. That an institution focused on the world's most horrifying genocide is doing it links the suffering in Sudan to the murder of millions of Jewish people, making clear: a Holocaust is what we'll have if we don't act.

Flickr pools pass the meme, including this street stencil, a tiny reminder on the pavement in Edgewater.

Darfur is Dying is a video game that illustrates life in northern Sudan. The free online game created by MTV has two parts. In the first, you can pick one of eight characters--from 10-year-old Deng to 30-year-old Rahman--to forage for water. Hiding from Janjaweed militias can be tough, and if you're caught--and, likely, raped and killed--that character disappears next time you play. The second part simulates life in a refugee camp, putting yourself in the place of those struggling a world away. Naturally, it includes background on the crisis, action steps, and an email-a-friend function.

Finally, this isn't a meme, but it could be. Searching for a map of Sudan, I stumbled upon this image showing the tiny town of Darfur in Minnesota. What if Darfur was in the US? Would we wait this long to ensure the safety of millions of people?
Of course, there are dozens of sites selling merchandise with proceeds going to Darfur awareness initiatives and humanitarian relief in Sudan. Become a walking billboard with t-shirts, the Save Darfur Yarmulke, wristbands, etc. And bloggers, consider putting up an anti-genocide link bug to the Genocide Intervention Network on your site. (Also, from GI-Net, "ten things you can do right now.")

Genocide Intervention Network