New at Signifier, Signed: Daniel Johnston

Self-taught artist and Austin music legend Daniel Johnston just mailed back his reply to my Signifier, Signed project, penning my autograph... sort of. And C. Vreeland offers that stance that "ordinary people" can sign too.

"Freedom" buttons for the Beijing Olympics

The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum are calling on the president of the International Olympic Committee to confront China over its lack of press freedoms. In a letter to Jacques Rogge, the organizations referred to the "30 journalists and 50 cyber-dissidents [who] are currently held in Chinese prisons for peacefully expressing their views," and asked the committee to urge China to respect press freedoms for reporters covering the Games. Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders has produced buttons -- in five colors to represent each of the Olympic rings -- bearing the Chinese word for "Freedom" and asks athletes, journalists and members of the public to wear them leading up to and during the Olympics in protest of China's poor record in human rights and press freedom.

Finally, the Olympic torch was handed over to Chinese organizers on Sunday amid protests, but it made it there without the help of Narisa Charabongse. One of six Thai torch bearers, the founder of the Green World Foundation bowed out in protest, citing "the severe violation of human rights in Tibet." (I'm so proud of my country-in-law!)


War anniversary sweater

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war and 4,000th US military death, Dan Haugen made a Google map of lives lost by Minnesota military personnel, two dozen students at the University of Minnesota were arrested for blocking the entrance to a Guard recruiting office, and "revolutionary knitter" Lisa Anne Auerbach knitted a sweater.


Circuit Court overturns Mumia's death sentence

Journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal's conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner stands, but the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned his death sentence and called for a new sentencing hearing.


Conservative author: Obama's the best candidate for conservatives

Barack Obama is a "conventional liberal" whose "habit of spouting internationalist bromides suggests little affinity for serious realism," yet he's the best presidential candidate conservatives have got, according to Andrew J. Bacevich in The American Conservative.

An author, Boston University international relations professor and self-described "Catholic conservative," Bacevich (pictured) writes that the "Republican Party does not represent conservative principles" and states that "certain faux conservatives -- especially those in the service of Big Business and Big Empire -- have prospered," while "conservatism as such has not." He cites a Bush-era national debt that's ballooned from $5.7 to $9.4 trillion and post-9/11 foreign policy leadership that "validated conspicuous consumption as the core function of 21st-century citizenship" and foreign policy decisions in which "ideology supplanted statecraft."

But his main argument for an Obama presidency? Obama would end the United States' combat role in Iraq.

Bacevich, it should be noted, lost a son, a 27-year-old also named Andrew, in Iraq, but his opposition to the war preceded that May 2007 event by several years. Also, he's long been critical of the Bush administration and its neoconservative allies on several counts, a trend he continues in this piece:

Above all, conservatives who think that a McCain presidency would restore a sense of realism and prudence to U.S. foreign policy are setting themselves up for disappointment. On this score, we should take the senator at his word: his commitment to continuing the most disastrous of President Bush's misadventures is irrevocable. McCain is determined to remain in Iraq as long as it takes. He is the candidate of the War Party. The election of John McCain would provide a new lease on life to American militarism, while perpetuating the U.S. penchant for global interventionism marketed under the guise of liberation.
In Obama Bacevich sees "a sliver of hope" for a conservative revival, brought on not by any deep conservative values the Illinois senator carries, but in the meaning behind a nationwide embrace of a candidate pledged to end U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"Acknowledging failure [in Iraq] just might open the door to self-reflection," he writes, and such soul-searching, while officially presided over by a Democrat, just might end up benefitting conservatives whose values are not, as Bacevich writes, in growing Empire, using expansive military budgets to shape the world to our wishes and undermining the Constitution.


Google Street View spots a drug deal?


Update: Google has pulled the image... or make that images. Gawker has gathered about a dozen shots of the interaction, which does look a lot like a drug deal, on the south side of Chicago, and posts 'em all.

Hillary's "audacity of hopelessness"

David Brooks on why Hillary Clinton plods on with maybe a 5% chance (according to some pundits) of beating Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination:
Why does she go on like this? Does Clinton privately believe that Obama is so incompetent that only she can deliver the policies they both support? Is she simply selfish, and willing to put her party through agony for the sake of her slender chance? Are leading Democrats so narcissistic that they would create bitter stagnation even if they were granted one-party rule?

The better answer is that Clinton’s long rear-guard action is the logical extension of her relentlessly political life.
Read it.


McCain = 4 more years of Bush?

According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 76 percent of voters want a president who'll take a different path than the one set forth by George W. Bush. Today, Crooks & Liars links to an animation suggesting which candidate doesn't fit that definition.

¡Cambio! Date Farmers' new Obama edition

A 30o-piece edition of new artwork by the Date Farmers (Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez) is apparently being sold at $200 apiece at SF's Upper Playground, with proceeds going to the Obama campagin.

Via Curate.


Four thousand American military men and women have been killed in Iraq -- approximately the same number of people currently living in Cannon Falls, MN -- and 97 percent of them died after George W. Bush appeared under a "Mission Accomplished" banner and declared that "major combat operations" in Iraq were over.

Hacking the Olympic logo

China's crackdown on dissent in Tibet -- and, well, everywhere else within its borders -- makes Beijing an odd choice as host city for an international gathering dedicated to competition in the "spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play." So it's no surprise that the Beijing Olympics logo is getting a few enhancements by culture-jammers.

The original at right, and some interpretations below.

Via Copy and Paste It.

Poster by Michael Parisi and Rebecca Cadman, via Mediation and notcot.

Update: Lest this seem like a mere graphic-design exercise or visual gag, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy has grisly evidence of Chinese retribution.

Another iconic image making a comeback is the shot of a lone Chinese man blocking a line of tanks with his body in Tiananmen Square, 1989 (video):
Via Beau Bo D'Or.
Via Flickr user H@r@ald.


Errol Morris' "nonfiction horror movie"

Documentarian Errol Morris calls his new film a "nonfiction horror movie." And from the sounds of it, Standard Operating Procedure doesn't fail to deliver on gore: A chronicle of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, it focuses on the 270 photos turned over to army investigators and tells its story, as only Morris can, through interviews with guards, contractors and a few military higher-ups.

The film, which premieres at the Walker Art Center on April 15 (followed by a post-screening discussion with Morris) and begins its theatrical run at Minneapolis' Lagoon Cinema on May 23, takes a familiar topic and tries to offer context. Key to its story, says Morris, is what happens outside the photographic frame -- chiefly, how do the low-ranking Lynndie Englands of the military tell us more about those up the chain of command who consider humiliating prisoners "standard operating procedure" (as one government expert testifies)?

Debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, where it took home a Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, the movie has already been receiving accolades, but The Hollywood Reporter wonders if it's treading on too-familiar turf (covered well by last year's HBO film "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" by Rory Kennedy) and focusing too narrowly. Citing Morris' "near-pornographic obsession" with the photos, Kirk Honeycutt writes, "The wider context of the war on terrorism, the Bush administration's complicity in prisoner abuse, the moral and legal implications and the damage the scandal did to U.S. prestige worldwide is not even mentioned."

Whether it offers new facts, the film's strength, if it's anything like Morris' past documentaries Mr. Death and The Fog of War, will likely be how he conjures intimate and surprising tales from his subjects. Morris famously uses his invention the Interrotron, a device that allows interviewees to see Morris' face at the end of a camera lens, as well as extremely long interview sessions to get moving material. (In this week's New Yorker, an excerpt from Morris' forthcoming book of the same name, co-written by Philip Gourevitch, introduces us to one of Abu Ghraib photo-taker, Spec. Sabrina Harman, whose morbid fascination with corpses -- interested in forensic science, she once filmed the severed head of a cat, leftover from her autopsy of it, balanced on a Fanta can -- adds context to shots she took of soldiers posing near the ice-packed body of a detainee beaten to death.)

One aspect of the film, re-enactments of humiliations inflicted by American guards at the prison, has generated some controversy. In reply to a reporter at a Berlin press conference who questioned the practice of injecting fictional clips into a documentary, he answered, "With due respect I think this is nonsense talk. There's this idea... that if I run around with a handheld camera and I shoot with available light that is somehow more truthful. Truth is a quest... something that I have never lost sight of and never will."

More: View videos and slideshows on the film.

Read this:

The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh.


Barack: Think Different.

Found (but not getting much traction) on Reddit.

Chiang Mai Stencil

Chiang Mai graffiti
I love this mix of institutional and unsanctioned stenciling, spotted by our friend Dani Brasil in Chiang Mai, Thailand, during our recent trip.


France calls for EU boycott of the Beijing opening ceremonies

As activists say Tibetan protesters are being "shot like dogs," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is calling on the EU to boycott the opening ceremonies -- but why not the whole shootin' match? -- of the Olympic games in Beijing.

Above: China's famed Terracotta Warriors conscripted to speak out against China's crackdown on dissent in Tibet, by Mark Trepte/The Associated Press.

Wooster's OSX masthead

The latest iteration of the Wooster Collective's revolving and (I believe) reader-submitted masthead uses icons from the Mac's OSX dock to spell out the site's name. Very clever.

[via notcot]


No joke: Trippi says Obama/Clinton ticket "likely"

An (overly?) optimistic entrepreneur on ebay is trying to sell off the domain ObamaHillary08.com -- shortened to the exclamation OH, in case you missed it -- for a buy-it-now price of a cool $400k. But the notion of a dual ticket, toyed with by mashup artists with varying levels of Photoshop mastery, has a foothold with a more credible source, Joe Trippi. The longtime Democratic strategist tells New York Magazine that there's a real possibility of a Clinton/Obama (or vice-versa) pairing:
Well, I don't see the Clintons walking off the field if Hillary has the popular-vote lead, which is a realistic possibility. And I don't see Obama walking away from a lead among pledged delegates. That is why I think it is likely that, however this is resolved, the two of them run on a ticket together, and here is why: In 1976 and 1980 we had fights that went to the convention. In 1976 it was Ford and Reagan fighting it out and Jimmy Carter became president. In 1980 it was Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter and Reagan became president. History says you don't want to campaign into the convention, even if McCain will be carrying George Bush's baggage. So I think there will be tremendous pressure on the eventual nominee to pull the party together by picking the other.


Extreme Embroidery

Pricked: Extreme Embroidery, a look at how a sometimes dowdy craft has been embraced and revivified by contemporary artists and designers, is on view at New York's Museum of Arts & Design through April 28. Regine has a recap of the alternately political, sexual and flat-out funny offerings in the show.

Pictured: Afro Abe II, Sonya Clark


Tibet Stencil Art

A quick look at recent (and not as recent) street-art about Tibet.offshore
Tim Snell says this shot shows Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, "a tibetan monk who was sentenced to death, then life imprisonment, in china for a crime that he claims he did not commit. apparently he's seen as a threat to china's control of tibet and did not receive a fair trial or an independent lawyer." Students for a Free Tibet is asking everyone to download and post or stencil Tenzin's image to raise awareness of Tenzin's continuing imprisonment.
A "Free Tibet" stencil in Krakow, Poland.
dev null

Calls for Olympic boycott as Tibetans (and Björk) protest

As protests in Tibet over Chinese rule have left anywhere from 10 to 100 people dead, many are calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders is campaigning for a boycott, too, calling the country "the world's biggest prison for journalists and cyber-dissidents." Its list of nine failings by China range from the jamming of foreign radio signals and blocking of websites to the jailing of internet users and reporters. Download a RSF/Beijing 2008 web banner or gif here.

And at a concert in Shanghai March 2, Björk upset some fans when she shouted "Tibet! Tibet!" near the end of the song "Declare Independence." First dedicated to the Faroe Islands, remote islands with traditional ties to Greenland but a province of Denmark, the songs lyrics include the lines, "Don't let them do that to you. Raise your flag!"

China denounced the act, saying that Björk "not only broke Chinese laws and regulations and hurt the feelings of Chinese people, but also went against the professional code of an artist." Underscoring that it understands what art is all about, it then promptly blocked access for its citizens to the Icelandic artist's website.

Glue Society stuck on Jungen's Nike sculptures?

The Glue Society had a great idea with God’s Eye View, "a series of images that re-imagine key scenes from the Bible as if captured on Google Earth," but another project by the Australian advertising/art team seems a bit less original. The sculpture above, constructed from Nikes to promote a shoe launch by the company in Asia, appropriates -- or, ahem, engages in the "sincerest form of flattery" -- Brian Jungen's celebrated sculptures.

See more of Jungen's work.

Hell yes!

Nice find by Colin: a call-and-response between a street artist and Ugo Rondinone at the New Museum in New York.

Guns of wood: An interview with Michael Rea

Fecal Face catches up with Milwaukee-based artist Michael Rea to discuss his all-wood spacesuits, machine guns and band roadgear.

On-the-job cutlery

Unhealthy as it can be, many of us often eat lunch in our workspaces. Here's a clever -- if hygienically iffy -- design that combines these dual desk roles.


Bush "envious" of troops in Afghanistan, calls their work "romantic"

George W. Bush videoconferenced with military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan Thursday morning. "I must say, I'm a little envious," he said. "If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed."

When Bush was younger and not employed in the White House, of course, he had the opportunity to be on the front lines. During the Vietnam War, Bush landed a pilot's spot, thanks to strings pulled by Texas' Democratic lieutenant governor Ben Barnes, in a so-called "Champagne Unit" of the Texas Air National Guard. In his application for the six-year stint, Bush checked the box that read, "'I 'do not' volunteer for overseas.'" In 1972, Bush dropped off the map -- missing his military physical and months of duty.

Bush also told the assembled contractors and soldiers that their work in Afghanistan "must be exciting... in some ways romantic." But with a million pounds of metal raining down on the landscape in the first nine months of 2007, "alarmingly high" civilian casualties (350 killed by coalition forces and 438 by insurgents, as of last September) and the deaths of nearly 500 US troops there so far, perhaps that "romance" looks a bit difference on the other end of the teleconference screen.

Jeff Fecke contributed to this post.

Pictured: George W. Bush action figure by Merit International

Bush's extraordinary rendition of "The Green Green Grass of Home"

Despite historic low opinion ratings, a bungled war in Iraq and the country on the verge of recession, George W. Bush remains giddy as all get-out. The guy who graced journalists with a soft-shoe jig last week and a backfired joke about missing WMDs in 2004 performed for reporters at the Gridiron Club on Saturday.

His selection?

An extraordinary rendition of "The Green Green Grass of Home."

Flak 67

The new episode of Flak Radio, the excellent podcast by Taylor Carik and Jim Norton, is out, and this week's guest was... me. Tune in to hear musings on politics, kickboxing, protest and journalistic ethics. (Don't miss Jim and Taylor's Spitzeresque resignations or the Paulcentric blooper reel.)

Speaking of which: Before I catch, ahem, flak, I made some misstatements. When discussing my Premack-winning story on jailed videoblogger Josh Wolf and the ethical issues around it, I misspoke: The rally Wolf was videotaping was not an antiwar protest but coincided with a globalization summit in Scotland; and Wolf was released from jail after 226 days after he posted said footage online. My bad.

Now, go listen!


Happy K-Mart

Photographer Brian Ulrich links up the interview I did with him and posts my favorite of his new series, which he took in a backroom of an extraordinarily enthusiastic (or so we're to believe) K-Mart store.

Ironic Eliot

Groan: Could this 2006 campaign ad by Eliot Spitzer be any lamer? Maybe, but it probably couldn't be more ironic. Touring the childhood school of runningmate David Paterson (now New York's governor), Spitzer mentions "street signs" that mark the building's hallways: Trustworthy Turnpike, Honesty Road, Integrity Lane and Responsibility Road.

Consuming Imagery: An audio slideshow with Brian Ulrich

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans were urged to shop to keep the economy strong, advice that wedded patriotism to shopping. The suggestion sent Chicago-based photographer Brian Ulrich to the stores, but not to buy: he began documenting America's peculiar and complicated culture of shopping at malls, thrift shops and big-box stores. A featured artist in the new Walker Art Center exhibition Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes, Ulrich took both surreptitious and art-directed shots of the spaces and faces, not to mention the rarely seen back rooms, of our consumer landscape.

In January, Brian and I, friends since we met through Adbusters magazine years ago, discussed his three-part, multi-year Copia project. While his work offers a critique of -- "and maybe a warning" about -- overconsumption, it also arises from empathy, a we're-all-in-this-together acknowledgement of the commercial world we live in.

Here's a 12-minute audio slideshow of our phone conversation:

Consuming Imagery: Brian Ulrich Interview from Eyeteeth on Vimeo.


Bicycles, LOLcats and Obamemes

We've seen memes aplenty in the '08 presidential race,  from the anti-Hillary Apple/1984 ad of last year to "Obama girl" on YouTube. But in recent weeks the trend has taken a downright Dadaesque turn.

Vague, seemingly non sequitur websites have popped up right and left, including the surprisingly popular "[Candidate] Is Your New Bicycle" websites. Apparently started with an Obama version, the sites refresh with random messages, like "BARACK OBAMA FOLDED YOU AN ORIGAMI CRANE" and "BARACK OBAMA SET YOUR VOICE AS HIS RINGTONE."

The site has sparked dozens of others, including a less-than-friendly one for Hillary Clinton and "New Bicycle" pages for Michele Obama, John McCain and Ron Paul (who "WANTS TO SELL YOU GOLD").

My favorite of the Obamemes (if you will) is LOLbama.com. It inserts the ubiquitous LOLcats meme -- cat-photo aesthetic and misspelled musings included -- into the realm of contemporary electoral politics.

Human Crayons

Artist Heli Hietala makes crayons in human form, asking "what is left of the one which is used as a disposable product?" Cool idea, although quite similar to the more interesting "chalk monument" project by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla.

Via Cynical-C.

"Dear Political Graffiti Artist"

Via Gammablog, a great reminder of the other side of the graffiti equation: the owner of the wall. This note, pasted on the wall of an all-girls Catholic school in New York, came in response to graffiti that read "Don't walk away in silence."

Via Reddit.


AT&T/NSA billboard jam

AT&T's cooperation with the NSA's warrantless wiretapping scheme hasn't gone unnoticed by the culturejammers at the Billboard Liberation Front, who offered the following "advertising improvement campaign." A BLF representative said the project represents "an extraordinary rendition of a public-private partnership" between the US Government and the phone giant. "These two titans of telecom have a long and intimate relationship, dating back to the age of the telegraph. In these dark days of Terrorism, that should be a comfort to every law-abiding citizen with nothing to hide.”

Art museum's bacon dispenser

Kate Strathmann at the Walker Art Center discovered an intervention of the hot-air hand dryers. Someone affixed the directive "push button, receive bacon," below the infographic which seemingly illustrates the same thing. But a quick google shows that it's a long-running gag, almost as old, it'd seem, as the one where the "w" and the word "warm" are scratched off dryers to read "rub hand under arm."

Someone at Etsy is selling buttons commemorating the meme (above), and Deviant Art has stencils:Here, according to one Reddit commenter, is where it all began: Maybe an artist should make a real bacon dispenser... unless someone already has.

Thanking the Academy...

That's nice: I won a 2007 Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Award for "excellence in opinion journalism" for my April 2007 Minnesota Monitor story on jailed San Francisco videoblogger Josh Wolf. In a press release, the judging panel wrote: “This article was very timely—it raises important questions about a key piece of our democracy—the fourth estate. It asked ‘What is the future of journalism?’ and “What do we make of all these new voices?’”

Update 3/14/08: Josh Wolf writes in with a comment:
There is one aspect of the story, that I'm assuming you didn't know when you wrote it that I think may alter the perception of some of my critics who felt that I was withholding evidence. Although I refused to turn over the material to the US Attorney, I did, on several occasions offer the judge an in-camera review to assess the evidentiary value of my out-takes. The US Attorney objected and the judge refused our request.

My case was about a lot of things, the rights of an independent press being central to the story, but the way that the Federal government acted in an unreasonable and unwarranted manner over an issue that should have been outside their jurisdiction is, in many ways, just as important.

Witt in Giant Robot

My friend Witt of Walker Art Center fame makes the Twin Cities proud in the new issue of Giant Robot magazine, where his "perfect day" is featured in a two-page spread. See page 1 and page 2.

Via Off-Center.