August 31, 2009

SEE "In the Loop"

It's sorta like Dr. Strangelove, except it's a fictionalized yet only-too-plausible version of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Brilliant, hilarious, and fast; be alert, or miss half the fun.


Malcolm Tucker: Right. Was it you?
Simon Foster: No, it wasn't. No. What?
Malcolm Tucker: You do know what I'm talking about, don't you?
Simon Foster: No. And... And... whatever it was, I almost certainly didn't do it.
Malcolm Tucker: Was it you, the baby from Eraserhead?
Toby Wright: No, no.
Malcolm Tucker: Then it must have been you, the woman from The Crying Game.
Judy: It wasn't me.

or (between a sorta Colin Powell-ish James Gandolfini and a sorta Hillary-ish Mimi Kennedy):

Lt. Gen. Miller: You're beautiful.
Karen Clarke: I'm sure you say that to all the girls.
Lt. Gen. Miller: Yes, I do . . . And some of the soldiers, too.
Karen Clarke: That's why you shouldn't run for office: bimbo eruptions.
Lt. Gen. Miller: Come on, don't believe that shit. I'm not gonna run for office. I'm just trying to do something different.
Karen Clarke: It's one of the reasons I like you. I know your passion about education and housing and . . .
Lt. Gen. Miller: Lingerie.
Karen Clarke: There you go.
Lt. Gen. Miller: Bestiality.
Karen Clarke: I'd forgotten about that. Are you still allergic to the dog?
Lt. Gen. Miller: Yes, yes, I wake up and my eyes are closed and my head is swollen and I look like a giant ball sac.
Karen Clarke: Oh, my God. You know, they do have modern medication for that sort of thing. Beautiful ball sac, though.
Lt. Gen. Miller: Thank you very much.
Gandolfini's facial simulation of his beautiful ball sac alone is worth the price of admission.

Trailer here; more at IMDB.

August 29, 2009

No Place Like Home: "Lossless"

I'm helping to curate some of the video submitted for the Dallas Video Festival this year. The mound delivered for my review has yielded several gems so far, including 4 works from a series called Lossless by Rebecca Baron and Douglas Goodwin (the visuals here don't do them justice).

Looking for more info, I came across this post on diagonal thoughts – please go there for the text, which is excellent. In a nutshell, the artists use various techniques to reveal, among other things, the discrepancies between various versions of vintage films, visually evincing, e.g., what is lost even in supposedly "lossless" compression. Among other questions, the series asks, what is "home" – without these techniques, can we know whether the version we're viewing is the original? and which version should be considered "original," given that the version we've grown up with may have been compressed or otherwise altered?

To my mind, Lossless also relates to the historiographic trend noted in my posts on Barney, Linzy, and Trends at the 2009 NYC Fairs and in Nicolas Bourriaud's recent comment to the effect that for artists, history is the last undiscovered continent, a jungle to be explored.

(By the way, there will be no The Program this year, but as usual, the regular Festival will include some video art. The Festival dates will be Thur., Nov. 5 - Sun., Nov. 8 – block them out!)

More info on Lossless at diagonal, Rebecca Baron's site, Douglas Goodwin's site, and the Video Data Bank.

August 27, 2009

Initiative by Artist Christoph Faulhaber:

. . . the Guantanamo Allocation Center, which is "dedicated to the question of relocating the remaining detainees . . . . GAC focuses on the global process of allocation and relocation, and aims to provide accommodations in Germany that offer a process of re-socialization by providing and furnishing a temporary, and eventual, final home." The temporary housing is planned in Hamburg, Germany.

More info here (I've asked them for details re- how to donate and will update this post with anything I learn).

UPDATE: As of Sept. 30, you can donate via Paypal here.


More at Index mag; bigger versions on YouTube.

August 26, 2009

What Health Insurance Reform Opponents & Christian Scientists Have in Common

A belief that disease and death either don't really exist or "can't happen to me," coupled with the suspicion that if you are suffering, you probably deserve it.

New from Kalup Linzy

Hilarious, brilliant.

August 25, 2009

Art Prostitute Re-Launch

Updating a previous post . . . here are images of the prints by M, Margaret Meehan, Brent Ozaeta, Steven Hopwood-Lewis, and Misty Keasler, issued in a limited edition of 200 and available for just $100 for the suite of 5, as a benefit for the relaunch of Art Prostitute in hardcover. The suite is available through The Public Trust or online at the Art Prostitute Store (see the latter link for more details). And watch for the book!

Censorship in Venice

For more, see Jacques Charlier 100 Sexes D'Artistes (French, English, and Italian versions available; click on the image for a larger version); via e-flux:

In a letter dated 18 March 2009, the [an agency of the City] of Venice announced the refusal of the project 100 Sexes d'Artistes by Jacques Charlier (which should have officially represented the French-Speaking Community of Belgium in the present Biennale) because "certain posters could offend the shared sense of public decency."

On 14 April1, we sent you a letter (in Italian) in which we posed the following questions:
  • could you tell us where the "shared sense of public decency" begins and ends by indicating which of the 100 posters might be considered offensive?
  • is the "shared sense of public decency" so fragile in Venice that it cannot tolerate the presence of a few posters dispersed around the city? And, in addition, are the same criteria applied to advertising, which is more invasive and sexist?
  • finally, who decides what constitutes the "shared sense of public decency"?
We have received no reply as yet.

You may be aware that the project censored by the Biennale and by the City of Venice has since been presented in public space in nine European cities (Antwerp, Belgrade, Bergen, Brussels, Linz, Luxembourg, Metz, Namur and Sofia) where it was welcomed with the good humour appropriate to this project . . . .

However, thanks to the unconditional support of the Ministry of Culture and Broadcasting of the French-Speaking Community of Belgium and Wallonie-Bruxelles International, we are going to publish a book relating the incredible story of this double censorship.

* * * * *
. . . we would be very happy to be able to include your answers in this publication . . .

If Cameras Don't Catch Criminals, They're There 'Cuz – Why Again?

Per the BBC:

Great Britain has spent some £500 million [as of today, nearly $820 million] on surveillance cameras, over a million of which are installed in London.

An internal police report has found that last year, only 1 crime was solved by each 1,000 cameras in London. In one month, the system of cameras helped catch just 8 our of 269 suspected robbers.

"David Davis MP, the former shadow home secretary, said: 'It should provoke a long overdue rethink on where the crime prevention budget is being spent. . . . [the camera system] leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness.

"'It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.'"

(Thanks, Ben!)

To be fair, a police spokesman added,"[w]e estimate more than 70% of murder investigations have been solved with the help of [camera system] retrievals . . . ." But one could also ask whether even more might have been accomplished if the same funds had been spent on more detectives or other strategies.

August 23, 2009

David Foster Wallace

Just heard a great To the Best of Our Knowledge on Dallas's KERA 90.1 FM on David Foster Wallace, including his Kenyon College commencement address here. The rest of the program was just as good; you can hear additional segments here.

Wallace is perhaps best-known for his 700-page Infinite Jest, which Time included in its "All-Time 100 Greatest Novels" (1923–2006) (and which of course refers to Hamlet's description of a beloved fool whose skull is unearthed in Shakepeare's play).

Wallace committed suicide a year ago Sept., leaving behind an unfinished novel, The Pale King, which is currently being edited for publication. D.T. Max writes in The New Yorker,

The novel continues Wallace’s preoccupation with mindfulness. . . . A typed note that Wallace left in his papers laid out the novel’s idea: “Bliss — a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious — lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.

Guess he found it easier said than done. (I speculate that "Pale King" again refers to Hamlet; search for "pale" at the latter link.)

At the Dallas Museum of Art for 1 More Week: Rist et Al.

The Private Universes exhibition has lots of great work, all worth seeing. One of my favorite pieces, perhaps most fave, was Pipilotti Rist's I Couldn't Agree with You More (1999) (the image right is from Rist's website, but doesn't look quite like the video).

I think this piece deserves analysis, but sorry to say, I can't take that on now. But in case it's of any help, below are my notes:

Close up of, presumably, Pipi, colorful and hot (color throughout this piece is tweaked, but. Bright yellow hair, full make-up including purple lips, bright hipster shirt). ALL footage is in slo-mo, with no audio except music, its tempo matched to the pace of the video, mournful, dreamy and almost spacey but with a steady thread of harmonica.

Pipi moves smoothly through various settings, apparently holding the camera before her but moving it around, sometimes nearer, sometimes not so near, often swooping to get weird angles and different backgrounds or to maintain the pace of visual movement, but almost always trained on her own face. Mostly we see her face and throat and some background, occasionally a bit more of her body. Her eyes mostly remain fixed on the camera but also v. often at a point just above it – just where the second projection lies (higher than shown in this image) – and, rarely, elsewhere. The second projection, superimposed roughly at her "third eye" point (though a bit to the left?), is much smaller, blurry-edged, and consists of footage shot in a forest at night, lit by car headlights, of 4 naked adults, 2 women and 2 men, who appear to observe Pipi even more constantly than she appears to observe them. The nude people (nouveau sauvages?) are stark naked but with modern haircuts, sometimes partially hiding behind shrubbery, sometimes caught out in the middle of the road. They look somewhat startled, curious, or faintly amused; but the emotion is not intense. Pipi's face is if anything even more impassive, but seems intent – very much watching, looking; the two constituencies are definitely looking, and mostly at each other.

The action of the main (face) video starts with Pipi walking down the aisle of a public bus or tram, with other riders visible in the background; then she's in a grocery store, with lots of goods, price tags, and other shoppers behind her. While in the store, but not elsewhere, she's wearing a camera strap – I think we glimpse a camera of some kind hanging from it? – and the strap is a bright blue that flickers in a way I don't notice the other blues or other colors doing – I have to think she colored it or something, to draw attention to it? Perhaps to let us know this primary viewer is in fact the artist (and carrying two cameras)?

Next she seems to be in an apartment; she sinks onto a bed (the camera still trained on her own face), then gets up, then we see a city through windows behind her; there seem to be at least two cityscapes, one of which involves a large construction project.

Throughout, the same forest-with-naked-people scenes are superimposed more or less on her forehead, but because one loop is ca. one minute shorter than the other, the scenes sync up differently from one viewing to the next. The audio is synced with the main video of Pipi's face.
Also worth much more than this mention is the exhibition, Willie Doherty: Requisite Mention, featuring his video, Ghost Story, together with related photographic works.

Today's Big Thing

I considered embedding, but the labelling you get with their embed is not so aesthetic, and it's not so obvious how to strip it out, plus you might want to add this site to your feeds anyway . . . 3 recent posts I liked were Girl Doesn't Realize Bfriend Is on Vacation (longish but worth it), Little Kid Parallel Parks Like a Badass, and Dog vs. Man Dance Battle.

August 20, 2009


[Spoiler alert: This post could spoil the experience for you, which may be the most important part. If you think you might have a chance to participate in GuruGuru, please look for the warning below re- when to stop reading.]

GuruGuru (2009), by the collective, Rotozaza, was commissioned by the Fusebox Festival in Austin, Texas. It's a participatory, "directed acting" production – the artists call it "Autoteatro" – and was one of the most exciting works I've encountered this year. At this moment, it's being conducted again as part of the British Council's Edinburgh Showcase 2009, at the Forest Fringe, through August 29.

I experienced GuruGuru in April-May of this year, and at that point, the artists were still refining it. So please accept my apologies for any discrepancies between my recount of the work below and its current version, whether due to any changes in the work or my defective memory.

GuruGuru lasts 50 min. and permits and requires 5 participants at a time, so you have to sign up in advance or just show up and get lucky. Participants were greeted by one of the artists, Ant Hampton. He was sufficiently slim and pale that "wraith" came to mind, though mentally highly substantial (and I understand he's picked up some color since). He quickly sized us up and cast us, passing out name labels hand-written on pieces of white bandage tape.

Hampton then led us to a locked side door into the building and gave us our instructions. He would leave us in order to open the door from the inside; when we saw it open, we were to enter, find our assigned names on the backs of five chairs, put on the headphones lying on the seats of the chairs, and be seated. The headphones would then give each of us different instructions for what to say and do. We should try to follow our instructions, but if we muffed or missed anything, we shouldn't worry, but just keep trying. We need not say our lines in the same way they were spoken to us, but we should feel free to "have fun, 'color' the character." There would be no audience, other than ourselves, and the experience would not be recorded.

[If you think you might have a chance to experience GuruGuru, stop reading now!]

After we entered, we found our chairs in a semi-circle facing a television flanked by two identical, large, fake potted plants. You could only hear your own instructions (through your own headphones), and not anyone else's. You could easily hear what the other participants were saying in accordance with their instructions, as well as sound from the tv.

On the tv there appeared a simplified, animated mouth that began speaking to us, inviting us to choose whatever appearance we preferred for it, as it cycled through various possibilities: large or small, thin-lipped or thick-, bow-shaped or not, variously colored. We made a selection in accordance with our headphones' prompts; we then went through a similar process to select a voice as it spoke in various pitches, textures, accents, etc.; then eyes, a nose, and so on, until we'd constructed an entire face and head, enjoying the consumerist experience of designing our ideal, computer-based group therapist from among a plethora of choices.

Trying to listen to and perform your instructions – while also interpreting what you and the other participants and the tv therapist were saying and doing – was disconcerting, demanding, and hilarious. You're playing an extra-detailed game of "Simon Says," in which not only your movements but your every word is dictated by a voice "in your head"-phones. Your instructions are clear but occasionally drowned out when another participant is talking, and they offer no explanation of your motivations or feelings. You're trying to get into a character that has been imagined for you – and it becomes evident that the 5 characters have been very distinctly imagined by the artists – but you've had no prior opportunity to learn what the character's supposed to be like; and you have no prior understanding of the character's circumstances, although the character does – you have to figure it all out on the fly, while trying not to act bewildered. (E.g., when at one point I was directed to start breathing hard, I wasn't sure if I was meant to be anxious, angry, aroused, or asthmatic.) This experience is in itself both viscerally unforgettable and highly thought-provoking.

As the group performed in accordance with our instructions, our words and actions often seemed both emotionally "off" and ill-timed – exchanges between characters were virtually always out of sync – this aspect seems to me to reflect interestingly on the subjects of timing, rhythm, the sometimes-awkward "dance" of interaction with others, psychological wavelength interference, etc. Nonetheless, we managed to understand the gist of what we were supposed to be trying to say.

Gradually, our "identities" were revealed. Evidently we're all actors, and we've been "on the headphones" for varying lengths of time – in some cases, years – as part of our treatment for the problem that was presumably the basis for grouping us together, stage fright. For now, we don't have to worry about forgetting our lines or, for that matter, making decisions; the headphones make all the decisions for each of us – decisions that, we're told, we'd each have made anyway, right down to when to roll our eyes (though whether in exasperation or skepticism may be unclear).

Of course this system is mind-bogglingly circular – did we ever really have stage fright, or have we just been programmed to believe that, as a justification for the whole exercise?

All kinds of issues are implicated regarding identity, role play, the need to free oneself from parental and other voices in one's head, the existential anxiety of freedom and its fruits, power, control and being controlled, brainwashing, gestalt theory, systems theory, etc. (Among other things, as Shakespeare said, "Life's but . . . a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more" {Macbeth, Act v, scene v}; I've certainly got stage fright.)

Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that our computer-based therapist has a few bugs. "His" voice and appearance are disrupted by increasing static, his voice reverts to one the group previously rejected, and aspects of his appearance revert to a default selection; he even briefly appears monstrous.

As all this unfolds, it also becomes apparent that this therapist has a substantive conflict of interest. Despite his benign veneer and the multitude of superficial choices offered to us regarding his voice and appearance, clues accumulate that he's working not primarily to help us but for corporate, commercial interests. It's more mining than ministration; who- or whatever runs the headphones already knows a lot about us; but the tv's real clients want to know more. They want to hear our dreams, not to serve us but, perhaps, to expand their control over us yet further.

Before the end of the "session," one of the participants' characters, "Angel," apparently gets a glimmer that this "therapy" isn't really helping her/him, and (per instructions from the headphones) actually takes the headphones off and walks out of the room. But (as instructed before removing the headphones) s/he returns after a brief hiatus – possibly not quite able to completely detach from the tv, the group, or both? In any case, even Angel's impulse to rebel has apparently been anticipated and co-opted.

Though the tv therapist is re-booted, the glitches quickly compound again. At one point, I think I heard a suggestion that the two systems – the tv therapist and the headphones – were separate. The headphones system seemed perhaps more reliable, both in that it continued to function even while the tv system was "crashing" and in that it lacked the most sinister aspects revealed in the tv system. At the same time, it's notable that at one point, the headphones collaborate with the tv system when, in response to the tv therapist's request that Angel describe a dream, the headphones direct her/him/(me) to tell a real dream or fantasy not dictated by the headphones.

Despite being rebooted, the therapist's performance finally degrades to the point that the session has to be terminated – but our 50 minutes of "therapy" was up anyway, wasn't it?

What is the effect of having an animated, inanimate interlocutor in the mix? We all know the "therapist" is fake. We go along with the game, but we don't worry about him, what we tell him, what he makes of it, or how he influences us – at least, not until he starts seriously degrading. We don't think about the fact that he is a front for live participants who prefer to remain hidden, whose agenda remains undisclosed but who, it becomes apparent, hope we'll help them deploy us to help them. (How many of Facebook's quizzes have you taken?)

What about the second inanimate participant, the headphones? Technology's made it vastly easier and more efficient to access more information and connect with more people who share our interests, but such relations are mediated by technology. Indeed, we often e-mail rather than phone, or otherwise use technology to avoid more intimate contact – some of us even use it to distort or falsify our appearances. Interactions among the participants in GuruGuru are thoroughly mediated not just by the "therapist" but primarily by the headphones. We get to share our "real" responses only if we hang around afterward.

And being on the headphones was akin, it seemed to me, to life in general, in that, once we're born, we truly do have to discover ourselves, to learn what various sensations mean, how to operate our bodies and manage our emotions, what our strengths and weaknesses are, our preferences, etc.

Morever, as the artists have explained, the headphones system "is an advanced version of the same brain currently driving things in our world, the brain which reads your emails and offers you products accordingly, the robot on the phone in the morning calling you by your name, the device in the supermarket tracking your eyeballs as they scan the shelves." Or, as William J. Mitchell might put it, Me++; or as Star Trek, the Next Generation put it, the Borg. What happens, the artists ask, when the system in which we've embedded ourselves makes mistakes or even fails? "At what point should we stop trusting?"

What about the role of the real, animate artists – the mad scientist creators of both the tv and headphones interfaces?

After experiencing GuruGuru, I asked Hampton if he'd seen Adam Curtis's BBC documentary, Century of the Self. In Century, Curtis used original vintage footage and recent interviews with people directly involved in the events recounted to show how, beginning in the 1920's, theories originated by Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, gave rise to psychoanalytically-derived public relations techniques used to uncover people's primitive, often irrational or self-centered motivations, so as both to cater to and to manipulate whole populations. These techniques have been used not only by businesses in selling products but also by politicians (and, I might add, by religious leaders – see, e.g., Brands of Faith). Some using these psychoanalytically-derived techniques believed they were helping to bring about a more democratic system in which the consumer or voter was "king." But as Curtis reveals, the point of a "focus group" was never to hear our stated opinions or preferences but rather to create a situation in which we might, through body language or other clues, betray the more primitive desires and emotions that drive our behavior without our conscious awareness. Curtis warns that decades of immersion in P.R. have transformed us from communities of citizens capable of organizing to help ourselves as well as those less fortunate into an atomized mass of consumers who look to the marketplace not only for instant gratification but also for psychic support and our very identities. The doc covers much more; I'd found it so valuable that I'd watched its 4 hours through 3 times. (As of this writing, you can find links to the 34 segments on YouTube, in order, in my previous post here; and I understand Curtis plans to make all his docs viewable here soon.)

Hampton confirmed Century had in fact been a primary inspiration for GuruGuru. Among other things, the selected appearance of the tv therapist was based on that of psychiatrist Fritz Perls, featured in Century, a key proponent of gestalt therapy and a practitioner at the Esalen Institute back in the '60's.

The artists have also explained that they share a "love for exploring systems crumbling under duress or through crisis: be they mechanical, political or belief systems, it's in the debris of their failed operations where [the artists'] ideas find expression, there in the terrible gap between human aspiration and 'how things turned out.' This gap often unfolds into a potent mix of the strangely familiar with the unidentifiable other. . . . The act of piecing together a face which eventually begins to speak and address its very creators produces highly uncanny results. It also begins to reveal a reverse-history of how psychoanalysis evolved into advertising and consumer research . . . . It is through Freud's notion of the uncanny that the story of modern man's relationship with the self is explored and unpeeled, revealing failed experiments, skewed intentions and, ultimately, a mindset stuck on consumer-led priorities. The piece isolates the moment when our optimism and 'good faith' in systems takes a nose-dive, where the hollow core of Freud's misappropriated ideas opens up to swallow us, and asks . . . . At what point do we have to think for ourselves?"

I was sorry to think relatively few people might have the chance to participate in GuruGuru and asked Hampton about the possibility of putting a version on the 'net, perhaps as a multiplayer online game for participants with videochat capability. He was emphatic that this would not be consistent with the purposes of the piece.

This post is part of a wider-ranging conversation I think I'd like to have about relational art (a.k.a. participatory art, dialogic art, discursive art, etc.). Jumping ahead . . . a few writers seem to have suggested that artists have become more interested in in-person exchanges, avoiding new media, perhaps partly in reaction against the alienating effects of media and the use of media by businesses and governments to manipulate mass markets and other populations, and some have even suggested that "good" relational art should give rise to interactions that have particular qualities, such as being empathy-enhancing, or building community without suppressing individuality. I think this view is too limiting. It seems to me that artists are exploring ALL kinds of relations, whether in-person or mediated by technology, and whether community-building or manipulative or even abusive. I wonder if the defining characteristic of relational art isn't simply that it focusses on the interactions, the relations created in the course of the project, as the primary art object. I think artists are asking, what conditions lead to what kinds of relations, and to what kinds of effects do those relations in turn lead?

In 1975, I wrote a paper on John Milton's dramatic poem, Samson Agonistes. The method of analysis I used then was much the same as the one I apply now in studying art works. In that paper, I concluded that part of the meaning of the poem was that "meaning resides in relatedness."

GuruGuru ingeniously combines and contrasts a wide variety of kinds of relations. In this piece, even our relationship to ourselves is mediated by technology – yet at the same time, we can only experience the work in person, in real space and real time, and we have the chance to continue our new in-person relationships elsewhere in space and time. Indeed, Hampton tells me, one member of a group of participants who decided to hang out together for a bit afterward noticed they had to go though a process of "un-learning" what they'd projected onto one another as GuruGuru characters.

GuruGuru is a collaboration among writer, director and performance maker Ant Hampton, musician and composer Isambard Khroustaliov, and filmmaker, animator and graphic artist Joji Koyama. (The three artists also presented some of their individual works in an evening program at Fusebox, which was also terrific.) More details about GuruGuru and these particular artists here, and more info on the Rotozaza collective here.

UPDATE: I understand GuruGuru's booked more or less solid in Edinburgh (but do try to get in) and that Adam Curtis is planning to attend.

FURTHER UPDATE: Century of the Self is now viewable here.

Eroyn Franklin at Fantagraphics

Wish I cd be there: 1201 S. Vale St., G-town, Seattle, 2009-08-22, 6-8pm; see also Franklin.

August 19, 2009

Obama: a Corporate Marketing Creation

John Pilger is an Australian journalist and documentary maker. He has twice won Britain's Journalist of the Year Award, and his documentaries have received academy awards in Britain and the US. You can see the rest of the speech here; remember to rate it up.

Please go rate this up on YouTube (click on the picture above). We cannot begin to hold them accountable, until we understand what they need to be held accountable for.

August 17, 2009

Inquiring Minds Want to Know . . .

  • Is AIG still selling credit derivatives? (see, e.g., Timmeh, here.)

  • Has Goldman Sachs bought any derivatives (from AIG or anyone else) since the AIG bailout (see, e.g., this)?

  • If so, what are the terms (i.e., what is G-S betting for or against, and are those derivatives attached to any "insurable interest" of G-S – i.e., if they're hedging risks re- a commodity or whatever that they actually own, that's one thing; if they're simply speculating that, e.g., commercial real estate in general will tank, that's another)?

August 16, 2009

Bank Etc. Failures, Present & Looming

"Aug. 14 (Bloomberg) -- 'More than 150 publicly traded U.S. lenders own nonperforming loans that equal 5 percent or more of their holdings, a level that former regulators say can wipe out a bank’s equity and threaten its survival. . . . '

"Excluding the stress-test list, banks with nonperformers above 5 percent had combined deposits of $193 billion, according to Bloomberg data. That’s almost 15 times the size of the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund at the end of the first quarter."

More great analysis here by Karl Denninger.
See also Bud Conrad at the Daily Reckoning ("the $4.8 trillion in deposits the FDIC is providing coverage on doesn't include the expansion that now extends insurance coverage from $100,000 to $250,000 for normal bank accounts. That likely brings the exposure of the FDIC closer to $6 trillion. But that's pretty inconsequential at this point: using any reasonable accounting method, the FDIC is already bankrupt and will require hundreds of billions of dollars in government bailouts just to keep the doors open.")

So . . . you might want to check on your own bank or credit union's financial status here.

Wealth Disparity Now Greatest in U.S. History

. . . since the collection of such data began in 1917 (per Emmanuel Saez via Paul Krugman).

August 14, 2009

Dr. Dean Does It

(He and his audience correctly answer pertinent questions re- healthcare reform.)

Isa Genzken

Plastinated children – yes!

At Museum Ludwig thru Nov. 15.

August 13, 2009

From Those Who Foresaw the Crash

More Healthcare, Except Funny

I hope Margaret and Helen are for real; but it's worth it even if they aren't:

[I]s it just me or did combing your hair become optional when going out in public? I’ve been watching news clips of these town hall free-for-alls and we have definitely become a nation of tired, poor, and huddled masses clearly tempest-tossed, but without access to a good beauty salon. Universal Hygiene – now that is something I could get behind. And all of them are asking for their America back. I wonder which America that would be?

Would that be the America where the Supreme Court picks your president instead of counting all the votes? Would that be the America where rights to privacy are ignored? Would that be the America where the Vice President shoots his best friend in the face? Or would that be the America where an idiot from Alaska and a college drop-out with a radio show could become the torchbearers for the now illiterate Republican party?

* * * * *

And what’s all this crap about killing your grandmother? Are you people honestly that stupid? This has become less an argument about healthcare reform and more a statement about our failed education system. Margaret, I don’t know what plans you’ve made up there with Howard, but down here with Harold, we have living wills to determine how we will leave this world when the time comes. Mine states that unless the feeding tube is large enough for a piece of pie, I don’t want to be hooked up to it.

It just gets better.

Healthcare Reform, & the Best Thing About My Bunion Surgery

Since you asked . . .

Dear Representative __________:

We NEED a meaningful public option.

Last year I had surgery on my foot. I had to stay completely off it for a solid month, and my doctor prescribed a knee-walker to help me get around. The manufacturer my doc recommended said they could ship one for under $500 and get it to me in 3 days.

My insurer (one of the biggest in the business) said they'd cover it, but only if I got it through an "in-network provider."

Now, you might think the point of dealing with "in-network providers" would be that the insurer could negotiate cheaper prices; but apparently, no. They gave me a list of over a dozen in-network providers, and I called them all. It turned out only one could provide the item – and it would take at least two weeks, partly because special authorization was required from the insurer, because this in-network provider's price to procure the item was over $1,000.

I called the appeals people at the insurer and I told them hey, we can get it quicker from the manufacturer and you'll save $500. The insurer could not have been less interested. They'd pay the $1,000, and I'd have to wait two weeks. When the knee-walker finally arrived, it was an inferior model from a different manufacturer.

I have to at least ask whether the insurer and its in-network provider weren't splitting the mark-up at my employer's and ultimately all of our expense – i.e., they require me to accept an inferior product at twice the cost, then the insurer recovers the cost through premiums, plus collects a kick-back from the "preferred provider." (Not to mention the delay and other detriment to my well-being).

The VA is running a great single-payer system, and Medicare is running a great public option. I would gladly trade my private insurance for either. (I'd rather have a bureaucrat between me and my doctor than someone who views my illness as a looting opportunity.)

Meanwhile, I'm afraid to speak frankly with my doctor for fear something I say might be used as an excuse to deny coverage.

Our healthcare money isn't lengthening our lives (we in the U.S. pay twice as much for healthcare than people in some 26 other nations, yet our life expectancies are much shorter; see chart here from

So, where is the money going?

Private insurers in the U.S. have had decades to show they can provide decent healthcare coverage, and have failed. Surprise! – they won't do it unless they HAVE to.

Theoretically, yeah, government could regulate private insurers into decent coverage. But as any "free marketeer" should concede, that would be the LEAST efficient way to do it! We'd have to actually regulate, we'd have to staff up enforcement, etc.

Clearly, the MOST efficient way is to give private insurers some COMPETITION!

PS: Congressional Dems REALLY need to focus on media reform. So long as conservatives control 98% of the "mainstream" media, you'll be dogged by misrepresentations and hysterics at every turn.
Below right is the chart referred to above (showing that we in the U.S. spend ca. twice what 26 other countries spend for healthcare, for much shorter life expectancies).

You can contact your reps through the "Contact your U.S. Congressional reps" link in the sidebar at left.

PS: The best thing about my bunion surgery was, I learned I could freeze my sig. other's entrées for a month or more in advance. Otherwise, not so rec'd.

UPDATE: My rep., blessed be, is so far standing up for the public option. So I sent her/him this:
I fervently hope you will continue to stand firm in favor of a public option!

Private insurers in the U.S. have had decades to show they can provide decent healthcare coverage, and have demonstrated they won't do it unless FORCED to.

could, theoretically, regulate private insurers into providing decent coverage; but as any true "free marketeer" should concede, that would be the LEAST efficient way to do it! We'd have to actually regulate, we'd have to staff up enforcement, etc.

The MOST efficient way is to give private insurers some COMPETITION! If the free market is so dam' efficient, they've got nothing to fear.

Pls, pls, pls, we need you to continue to care for us. We do notice; we vote for you bec. you do. Thank you.

August 11, 2009

Contour 2009: Historiographic Art in Architecturally Historic Locations

"Vincent Meessen’s new film ‘Vita Nova’ takes as its point of departure a cover of the French magazine Paris-Match, from 1955. . . . The artist subsequently embarks on a search for Diouf, the child soldier, weaving an elaborate narrative that brings together phantoms from the colonial past, the writings of Roland Barthes – who wrote about this particular image – and issues that centre on the representation and re-writing of history, its repressed narratives, as well as the spectral nature of photography."

The video is being shown as part of Contour 2009, the 4th Biennial of the Moving Image in Mechelen, Belgium, which "presents artists working with film, video and installation in special locations in the historical inner city . . . ."

The show, called "Hidden in Remembrance is the Silent Memory of Our Future," is curated by Katerina Gregos and includes commissioned works by 18 artists; the website's extremely helpful.

Trolls for Hire

(Click on the image for a larger version.) More here.

August 9, 2009


Unions, co-ops, etc.: they got made; most got broken (by bigger bros).

Saw Hoffa last nite; woke at 4am re-piecing it.

One of Mamet's lines worth quoting, re- the unionized: They'd rather some people die for your mistake, than that they lived, but that they lacked a leader.

Another interesting aspect: at least per this version, blue-collars had to be seriously bullied into helping themselves.

Their choices boiled down to, one feudal lord to whom you are mere fodder vs. another who kinda cares but who could be shafted at any moment by nexts-in-command who either don't care or aren't as competent. I pick (b).

('Spose Nicholson has insurance on his left eyebrow?)

Health Insurance Reform, per an Industry Insider

Wendall Potter worked at health insurer Cigna for 15 years and left his position there as head of "the ultimate PR job" on good terms with the company. What triggered his resignation?

During a visit to relatives in Virginia, he was intrigued by a notice of a "health care expedition." The quotes below from the transcript of the July 10, 2009 installment of Bill Moyers Journal describe what Potter saw, and just some of the reasons why we MUST have a public option (much more, all worthwhile, in both video and transcript form, at the foregoing link):
POTTER: I didn't know what to expect. I just assumed that it would be, you know, like a health – booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that.

But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they'd erected tents, to care for people. I mean, there was no privacy. In some cases – and I've got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement.

And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care. People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee – all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth.

* * * * *
POTTER: I thought that [Michael Moore] hit the nail on the head with his movie [Sicko]. But the industry, from the moment that the industry learned that Michael Moore was taking on the health care industry, it was really concerned.

MOYERS: What were they afraid of?

POTTER: They were afraid that people would believe Michael Moore.

MOYERS: We obtained a copy of the game plan that was adopted by the industry's trade association, AHIP. And it spells out the industry strategies in gold letters. It says, "Highlight horror stories of government-run systems." What was that about? [Note: You can download the documents by clicking here and here.]

POTTER: The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you're heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

* * * * *
MOYERS: This is fascinating. You know, "Build awareness among centrist Democratic policy organizations – "

POTTER: Right.

MOYERS: " – including the Democratic Leadership Council."

POTTER: Absolutely.

MOYERS: Then it says, "Message to Democratic insiders. Embracing Moore is one-way ticket back to minority party status."

* * * * *
POTTER: Well, there's a measure of profitability that investors look to, and it's called a medical loss ratio. And it's unique to the health insurance industry. And by medical loss ratio, I mean that it's a measure that tells investors or anyone else how much of a premium dollar is used by the insurance company to actually pay medical claims. And that has been shrinking, over the years, since the industry's been dominated by, or become dominated by for-profit insurance companies. Back in the early '90s, or back during the time that the Clinton plan was being debated, 95 cents out of every dollar was sent, you know, on average was used by the insurance companies to pay claims. Last year, it was down to just slightly above 80 percent.

So, investors want that to keep shrinking. And if they see that an insurance company has not done what they think meets their expectations with the medical loss ratio, they'll punish them. Investors will start leaving in droves.

I've seen a company stock price fall 20 percent in a single day, when it did not meet Wall Street's expectations with this medical loss ratio.

For example, if one company's medical loss ratio was 77.9 percent, for example, in one quarter, and the next quarter, it was 78.2 percent. It seems like a small movement. But investors will think that's ridiculous.

* * * * *
POTTER: . . . [T]he people who are enrolled in our Medicare plan like it better. The satisfaction ratings are higher in our Medicare program, a government-run program, than in private insurance. But they don't want you to remember that or to know that, and they want to scare you into thinking that through the anecdotes they tell you, that any government-run system, particularly those in Canada, and UK, and France that the people are very unhappy.

B.O. "Death Panels" Want to Kill Sarah Palin's Parents and Baby

August 8, 2009

Matthew Rodgriguez

Recently came across this, by one of TX's own (more at tinlarkgallery): faces painted on 77 trees in Pope Park, Hartford, CT (click on the image for a better view). It's one of several public art works commissioned by RealArtWays, which seems like a cool org.

Works by Steven Hopwood-Lewis et Al.

on sale at Brian Gibb's Dallas gallery, The Public Trust. If those in charge of economic policy for the last 12 years hadn't revoked my early retirement, I might have surrendered the cash for the item at right (click on the image for a version with more legible title and pricing).

I'm disappointed I didn't manage to post this earlier, but I think the sale's still on; and it includes lots of great stuff (including work at lower prices).

And the Trust opens a great new show on Aug. 22, offering 5 original prints for $100, with work by Hopwood-Lewis, Misty Keasler, Margaret Meehan, M, and Brent Ozaeta.

August 7, 2009

Jamie Hayon and Nienke Klunder

These are cool (more at the link; thanks, Ben!).

To Be Continued . . .

Sorry for the slight hiatus; travel followed by dayjob crunch, etc.; not over yet; plus, been working on a more in-depth post on GuruGuru.

(If you're interested, I attended my first cosplay convention {see also and click on Cosplayers/2004} as a fully-costumed participant. Thanks to Bob for the escalator pic!)