February 28, 2010

UR Union of the Unemployed

. . . a.k.a. "UCubed":

. . . The idea is that if millions of jobless join together and act as an organization, they are more likely to get Congress and the White House to provide the jobs that are urgently needed. They can also apply pressure for health insurance coverage, unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits and food stamps. An unemployed worker is virtually helpless if he or she has to act alone.

Joining a Cube is as simple as it is important. (Please check the union web site: www.unionofunemployed.com). Six people who live in the same zip code address can form a Ucube. Nine such UCubes make a neighborhood. Three neighborhood UCubes form a power block that contains 162 activists. Politicians cannot easily ignore a multitude of power blocks, nor can merchants avoid them.

The union is built from the ground up. Cube activists will select their own leadership in each cube, neighborhood, block and higher group as well.
More at DailyKos.

February 27, 2010

Mystery Money

Per WaPo,

A blizzard of bank notes is flying out of Afghanistan – often in full view of customs officers at the Kabul airport – as part of a cash exodus that is confounding U.S. officials and raising concerns about the money's origin.

The cash, estimated to total well over $1 billion a year, flows mostly to the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, where many wealthy Afghans now park their families and funds, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. So long as departing cash is declared at the airport here, its transfer is legal.

But at a time when the United States and its allies are spending billions of dollars to prop up the fragile government of President Hamid Karzai, the volume of the outflow has stirred concerns that funds have been diverted from aid. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, for its part, is trying to figure out whether some of the money comes from Afghanistan's thriving opium trade. And officials in neighboring Pakistan think that at least some of the cash leaving Kabul has been smuggled overland from Pakistan.

"All this money magically appears from nowhere," said a U.S. official who monitors Afghanistan's growing role as a hub for cash transfers to Dubai, which has six flights a day to and from Kabul.
More at the link.

Dramatic Reading of a Break-Up Letter

(Thanks, snarky!)

February 26, 2010

More Happy Weekend

To replace Georgia State Rep. Glenn Richardson, a family-values Republican who stepped down after he was accused of having an affair with a lobbyist while he was married, voters elected another family-values conservative, Rep. Daniel Stout, who admitted to an affair with his first wife's mother while his first wife was pregnant with their daughter.

So when he yelled, "Who's your daddy?" did she say, "Your wife's mother's father"?

Have a Good Weekend

(Thanks, Ben!)

Healthcare: You Want Ideas?

Why not make a rule that says, each insurance co. must offer the same plans, for the same premiums, to everyone?

Why should your access to healthcare depend on, e.g., whether you happen to work for a large corporation? How does it benefit society to allow insurance companies to just screw all the people who don't have the smarts or the leverage or the whatever to negotiate a better deal – e.g., free-lancers, or people working three part-time jobs to make ends meet, or children?

Do we really think healthcare should be a perq, like a company car, that people get only if they land the right job?

There are lots of reasons why an insurance company might want to charge one person more than another; and as a society, we might or might not decide to legitimate some of those reasons (e.g., whether or not you smoke). But why shouldn't we have more say as to which bases for charging higher premiums are appropriate?

What if Congress Actually Had to Congregate . . .

. . . with each other?

Today got an email soliciting me to sign a petition calling for an end to the filibuster. It may be that that's what must be done; but history, including the "Healthcare Summit" convened by Pres. Obama yesterday, suggests that something both more and less drastic might suffice.

What if we simply forced Congressmembers to actually be present, not just in the building but in the same room, whenever they're in session? So that yes, if they wanted to filibuster, they'd have to actually be there and do it; and yes, while any discussion or other business were going on, they'd have to actually be there and conduct it, or possibly even listen to it?

If nothing else, they'd have less time for lobbyists and preaching to their respective choirs.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

February 25, 2010

Temporary Services, Art and Language, Etc.

I've been working on organizing some programs/events in Dallas relating to Temporary Services' Art Work issue. I'm excited about developments and hope to be able to let you know more soon.

Meanwhile, been trying to educate myself a bit about the aesthetic and other contexts for Temporary Services' project, and am amazed at how many trails I've been following for a long time, some through non-"art" contexts, seem to be coming together.

I won't inflict it all on you here, but I can't resist sharing, I've been looking for info online re- what the "Art and Language" movement (or whatever you call it) – at first not finding much; e.g. Wikipedia's entry contains little more than a string of names – and just found this great resource published by that splendid repository of aesthetic booty, Germany's ZKM. It's a text the Art and Language group produced called Blurting in A&L. Was ist das? Quoting ZKM's intro,

Blurting in A & L is a printed booklet whose content is a dictionary with blurts or »annotations«. The annotations were written by american members of Art & Language Ian Burn, Michael Corris, Preston Heller, Joseph Kosuth, Andrew Menard, Mel Ramsden and Terry Smith between january and july 1973. Michael Corris and Mel Ramsden chose terms as headlines for the annotations. The first letters of the headlines were used for an alphabetical ordering. In this order the annotations were numbered.
Anyway, what appears to be the complete, online version, is here, in a great, interactive format (the original was apparently similar in format to the image at right {which you can enlarge by clicking on it}, except I added the stripes in honor of Michael Corris's recent contro to Modern Ruin).

As John Hodgeman says, you're welcome.

"Jasmine, Dawn, and Aaliyah"

are three vogue performers:

I understand the artist Rashaad Newsome edited their performances together to choreograph a new dance, which he then had them perform without music while he filmed.

His work is in the current Whitney Biennial curated by Francesco Bonami, which includes just 55 artists, over half of which are women (hallelujah).

February 23, 2010

Curating the Net

Great article at Wired re- how Google works:

Google’s engineers have discovered that some of the most important signals [re- potential improvements to Google's search algorhithm] can come from . . . [t]he data people generate when they search – what results they click on, what words they replace in the query when they’re unsatisfied, how their queries match with their physical locations . . . . The most direct example of this process is what Google calls personalized search — an opt-in feature that uses someone’s [personal] search history and location as signals to determine what kind of results they’ll find useful. . . .

Take, for instance, the way Google’s engine learns which words are synonyms. “We discovered a nifty thing very early on,” Singhal says. “People change words in their queries. So someone would say, ‘pictures of dogs,’ and then they’d say, ‘pictures of puppies.’ So that told us that maybe ‘dogs’ and ‘puppies’ were interchangeable. We also learned that when you boil water, it’s hot water. We were relearning semantics from humans, and that was a great advance.”

But there were obstacles. Google’s synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories about how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. “Hot dog” would be found in searches that also contained “bread” and “mustard” and “baseball games” — not poached pooches. That helped the algorithm understand what “hot dog” — and millions of other terms — meant. “Today, if you type ‘Gandhi bio,’ we know that bio means biography,” Singhal says. “And if you type ‘bio warfare,’ it means biological.

One reason I'm thrilled with the internet is that through it, we're all helping Google and others create scientific models of human linguistic intelligence, among other things. I trust Google will eventually share the results of their and our efforts in this and other areas of knowledge, although I assume we'll have to pay for them.

But I'm posting mainly to try to make sure we all understand that the role played by search engines and other online intermediaries in selecting and ranking search results is absolutely critical in shaping not just our online lives, the importance of which will only continue to grow, but also our knowledge and beliefs about history, current events, etc., and thus our non-virtual realities.

(And never doubt that non-virtual realities – control over water, guns, infrastructure, energy – will continue to matter. Even the 'net needs servers and power.)

Per the OED, "curate" derives from the Latin word for "care." The primary meaning is "a member of the clergy engaged as assistant to a parish priest." The secondary definition, which I more or less mean to use here, is to "select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition)."

That's more or less what search engines do: select and organize (rank) info on the net. (Although they don't care for it, unless you count selecting it as "care." Sometimes info survives on the net precisely so long it is overlooked, as when the info proves embarrassing to the authority that put it there. More often, the expense of keeping info on the net means that if it's ignored, it eventually disappears.)

Not only are companies like Google curating our realities, but they're not telling us what their curatorial guidelines are. They keep close secret many of the factors that determine search results. They need to do this because they're commercially-driven entities competing with others.

Doubtless all or most of the criteria incorporated into their algorithms result in better service to their users. But this secrecy also means we can never be sure we're not missing out on info that commercial intermediaries consider unimportant or even disadvantageous to them for us to find.

Less ominously, it also simply deprives us of the opportunity to critically examine and debate not only how our world is being shaped, but also whether we might want to shape it differently. That is, even if all criteria used to determine search results and the like reflect solely the users' desires, when we become aware of our criteria and desires, sometimes we decide it's worth making a conscious effort change them.

But it's virtually impossible to do that without knowing what they are.

February 22, 2010

Report on "Modern Ruin"

I loved the concept and the works shown, which were especially impressive considering the artists had less than two weeks to conceive and create their contributions.

The show was organized by Christina Rees and Thomas Feulmer, and the artists included Frances Bagley, Tim Best, Michael Corris, Thomas Feulmer, Annette Lawrence, M, Margaret Meehan, Tom Orr, Richard Patterson, Cameron Schoepp, Noah Simblist, Christoph Trendel, Terri Thornton, Kevin Todora, and Jeff Zilm.

The piece shown here is Double Trouble by Noah Simblist (2010, paint on wall). Per the artist, the statistics are the amount of foreign aid the U.S. gives to Israel and the number of Palestinian houses that were destroyed anyway. (The ambiguity in relation to bank bailouts and home foreclosures in the U.S. was intentional.)

More photos and details here, and I'll add more info there if I get it.

UPDATE: NPR's Marketplace will air an interview re- the show TONIGHT ca. 6:30 PM (I presume that's CST.) In Dallas, that'll be on 90.1 FM.

Conflux (NYC)

NYC's psychogeographic answer to Burning Man. From the 2009 festival:

More at Conflux.

The Psychogeography of Art Museums

Per Wikipedia, psychogeography was defined by Guy Debord as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals" (referncing Debord's Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955).

More about the project shown in the video above at eMotion.

February 21, 2010

Isn't it Ironic.

Per HuffPo, Tripp Palin Johnston has socialized health care through Indian Health Services and the Alaska Native Medical Center.

UPDATE: Per the Globe and Mail, during a recent appearance, Palin quipped, “We used to hustle over the border for health care we received in Canada. And I think now, isn't that ironic?”

February 20, 2010

Are You Better Off Today Than . . . .

According to the IRS (as reported by The Wall Street Journal), between 1992 and 2007,

. . . the average income for the top-earning 400 families, denominated in 1990 dollars, grew from $17 million to $87 million, representing a five-fold increase in real terms. . . .

The data shows that these families saw their incomes increase by 31 percent between 2006 and 2007 alone, while the average income of each family reached $345 million.

The amount of money earned by the group more than doubled from 2001, when its members earned on average $131.1 million. In 1993, the top 400 tax return filings amounted on average to $46 million. This means that there was an eight-fold nominal increase in the average earnings for this group between 1993 and 2007.

Meanwhile, the effective tax rate on this group—the amount actually paid in taxes—fell to 16.6 percent, the lowest figure on IRS records dating to 1992.

Miss Vaginal Davis

"Vaginal Davis is the key proponent of the disruptive performance aesthetic known as terrorist drag." More on YouTube.

February 19, 2010

Dallas County Primaries

We can't elect the officials we need if we don't get them on the ticket to begin with. We need to inform ourselves about party candidates and vote in the primaries (I admit I've been remiss in this dept.; but no more).

In Dallas County, the next primary is March 2. Early voting has already begun and continues through Feb. 26. Find your early voting locations here.

For what it's worth, among the Dems, I strongly endorse Ronnie Earle for lieutenant governor. Please contact me if you'd like recs re- the other offices.

Home Computer of the Future

The caption reads,

Scientists from the RAND Corporation have created this model to illustrate how a "home computer" could look like in the year 2004. However the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented technology to actually work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems. With teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use.
(Thanks, Thor!) Love the monitor. And as U N Gaitonde asks (see comments below), the double steering wheel was for what?

Keep your eye on that RAND corporation.

February 18, 2010

Seeing ≠ Believing

Pretty amazing:

(Thanks, Ben!) The "news" segment startng 30 secs. in was for a movie . . . I think.

The Evisceration of the Middle Class

Great article, with supporting references, at Alternet. E.g.,
Paul Buchheit, from DePaul University, revealed, "From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation's total income, while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%." Robert Freeman added, "Between 2002 and 2006, it was even worse: an astounding three-quarters of all the economy's growth was captured by the top 1%."

. . . [T]he United States already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis. Since the crisis, which has hit the average worker much harder than CEOs, the gap between the top one percent and the remaining 99% of the US population has grown to a record high. The economic top one percent of the population now owns over 70% of all financial assets, an all time record.

As mentioned before, just look at the first full year of the crisis when workers lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point clear, 400 people have more wealth than 155 million people combined.

* * * * *

[Meanwhile, although US workers are working more hours and have become dramatically more productive, their inflation-adjusted income has declined.] If our income had kept pace with compensation distribution rates established in the early 1970s, we would all be making at least three times as much as we are currently making.
More at the first link above. See also Elizabeth Warren.

February 17, 2010

Janitors Crash Bankers' Meeting

"At 10 am today, about one hundred janitors and supporters of SEIU Local 26 crashed the National Bankers Association meeting at the Saint Paul City Center. They executed a carefully planned action designed to barge into the bankers’ conference and demand fair treatment of Local 26 workers. Union members quickly surged from their bus parked outside into the atrium of the Hilton, past the conference check in desk and into the ballroom where speakers were addressing hundreds of Minnesota bankers. Security stopped the vast majority of the protesters, but a few made their way into the bankers’ gathering.

The union’s message was conveyed with chanting, air horn blasts and massive signs that exposed the multimillion dollar salaries of top Minnesota bank executives like Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who made over $18 million this year. Full-time janitors make as little as $20,200 a year, before taxes, and many face thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket medical costs due to poor coverage, or avoid doctor visits out of fear of incurring big bills."

February 15, 2010

Social Evolution

Speaking of monopolies (see previous post),

Some cell behaviors – especially those that give the cell group its ability to exploit environmental resources – are cooperative in nature . . . . When genetic relatives are clustered together, cooperative cell behaviors like extracellular enzyme secretion can evolve more easily. Secreted enzymes, in turn, may allow a pathogenic bacterial colony to become more virulent, or a nascent cancerous tumor to become malignant.

. . . . In the three images shown here, the red and blue cell types do not differ in any way other than their color, which is used to determine whether a cell group remains well-mixed, or whether related cells tend to cluster together.

From left to right, environmental nutrient concentration was decreased from ubiquitous, to moderate, to sparse. As nutrient concentration decreases, the tendency for different genetic lineages to spontaneously segregate increases, which favors the evolution of cooperation.

More here; from the Art of Science 2009 Online Gallery, where there are more cool images (thanks, Bob!)

Another Important Piece of the Puzzle: "The New Monopoly Capitalism"

Below is a talk by Harper's and Financial Times contributor, Barry C. Lynn, on how the evisceration of U.S. antitrust laws since Reagan has allowed a concentration of monopolistic power that far exceeds even that achieved during the Gilded Age. The facts laid out shocked even me.

Lynn's new book is titled, "Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction." To skip most of the intro, which I found a bit long, start ca. 5 min. in.

Sounds like Lynn's work dovetails nicely with that of Adam Curtis (see Century of the Self; or click on "Adam Curtis" in the labels in the footer of this post for more info).

February 14, 2010

Go, Wanda!

Continued at related YouTube links.

February 11, 2010

Feds Claim Right to Kill US Citizens on US Soil if Suspected of "Terrorism" -- Seriously

Per ABC News, "The director of national intelligence affirmed rather bluntly today that the U.S. intelligence community has authority to target American citizens for assassination if they present a direct terrorist threat . . ." (emphasis supplied; full story at the foregoing link).

To repeat: The U.S. government has arrogated to itself the right to deprive you of your life (let alone liberty or property) without due process of law, if an unidentified authority says they think you "present" a "terrorist" threat.

They are not talking about a situation in which you are actually, presently threatening anyone – e.g., if you were actually pointing a weapon at someone, or holding someone hostage – because in that case, they would have the right to kill you anyway.

No, they are talking about assassinating you ahead of time, because someone says they think you're planning something like that.

So, the entirety of the U.S. is apparently now a Constitution-free zone.

February 10, 2010

"Trinity River Design District"

(Dallas), by Justin Terveen (click on the image for a somewhat larger version):

Much cooler, gigantic version of the same photo here. More on Justin Terveen's Flickr page. (Thanks, Julie!)

February 9, 2010

Modern Ruin

"On . . . September 25, 2008 the U.S. Government took over Washington Mutual, selling most of it to JPMorgan Chase.

"Roughly a year earlier, at the height of a frenzied economic bubble, Washington Mutual began building a new $1 million branch at 5030 Greenville Ave., just south of Lovers Lane [Dallas, TX]. Just after its completion, the government seized WaMu, and JPMorgan Chase decided not to occupy the building.

"The new building was never opened, never used, and has sat as an empty shell for more than a year.

"On February 20, 2010, Modern Ruin – an exhibition organized by Christina Rees and Thomas Feulmer – will open. The two-day exhibition will be the only use for the million-dollar building before the demolition process begins the following week.

* * * * *

"15 artists will create work inspired by and in dialogue with the building . . . ."
including Frances Bagley, Tim Best, Michael Corris, Thomas Feulmer, Annette Lawrence, M, Margaret Meehan, Tom Orr, Richard Patterson, Cam Schoepp, Noah Simblist, Christoph Trendel, Terri Thornton, Kevin Todora, Jeff Zilm. There's a "reception/intervention" Sat., Feb. 20, 8-11pm, and the exhibition will otherwise be open only Sat. and Sun. Feb. 20 and 21, 12-5pm.

In a related story today, indianexpress.com reports, "JPMorgan Chase & Co said it is cutting up to 14,000 jobs, more than previously disclosed . . . . JPMorgan expects $2.75 billion of savings from Washington Mutual . . . . by the end of 2009, sooner than originally thought."

February 8, 2010

Dallas Contemporary Opens

with a fine installation by James Gilbert. More on the Contemporary here.

February 5, 2010

Dallas Art Fair 2010

The second annual Fair opened today at the Fashion Industry Gallery (at 1807 Ross Ave.; see the Dallas Art Fair or my previous post for hours, etc.). It's like an Armory you can actually absorb, with more than 50 exhibitors from the US, UK, and Canada and lots of great contemporary work, much of it by big-name artists (Ed Ruscha, Richard Patterson, Yue Minjun, Henry Darger, Nic Nicosia, Erick Swenson, Vernon Fisher, Anish Kapoor, Judy Pfaff, Marilyn Minter, Kim Joon, Damien Hirst, Jenny Holzer, Kiki Smith, Robert Ryman, Chuck Close, etc.). Plan to spend a full day if you can.

The visuals within this post are of: Ed Ruscha, The Mighty Ones (1993), John Berggruen Gallery; Chris Doyle, Apocalypse Management Panorama (2009) (detail), Andrew Edlin Gallery; Susan Hauptman, Self Portrait (2009) (charcoal and 3D postcard on paper), Forum Gallery; Kim Joon, Bird Land-Breitling (2008) (detail), Sundaram Tagore Gallery; Graciela Iturbide, Mujer Ángel, Sonora Desert, Mexico (1979) (note the hair and the boombox), Peter Fetterman Gallery; Yue Minjun, Hat No. 2 (2004), Pan American Projects; and Fahamu Pecou, Role Model Citizen (2009), Conduit Gallery.

Many more photos here. (Caveats: pics of the artist, title, and gallery info appear after the the works to which they relate; no judgment should be inferred from whether or not I included a particular work {some were skipped merely 'cuz I couldn't get a clear shot or for some other random reason, while others were included merely 'cuz illustrative of some point I might some day make}; and apologies for the reflections, dim lighting, etc., which are difficult to eliminate in the art fair setting.)

February 2, 2010

Prize for Perseverance

"The work computer of one regional supervisor for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission showed . . . . [that] during a 17-day period, he received about 1,880 'access denials,' wherein the computer system blocked his attempts to view Web sites that were deemed pornographic."

More at The Washington Times.