Friday, January 25, 2013 3:03 PM
For all the pitched battles and handwringing over the fiscal
cliff, the deal that emerged earlier this month didn’t really change all that
much. Pushing off big decisions on sequestration and the debt ceiling months
into the future, the deal accomplished almost nothing lawmakers set out to
For those of us worried about the fragile recovery, this was
good news. Proposals like Simpson-Bowles would’ve been bad for everyone,
particularly working families. Social Security, Section 8 housing,
public investments like education, and even veterans’
benefits would’ve all taken a hit—all in the name of avoiding a catastrophe
that Congress itself invented. Silly, yes, wasteful, sure, but it could’ve been
So with all those interest deductions and non-security
discretionary cuts flying around, it was easy to lose sight of the bigger
picture. But just as Congress was gearing up for the last leg of fiscal talks
after the election, Democrats and Republicans gained control of dozens of state
governments. In all, 37 states are now effectively
single-party, including 24 controlled by Republicans. Following one of the
most significant partisan shifts in more than half a century, most state
governments are now much freer than Congress or the president to rewrite
budgets, pass bills, and step in where action from Washington is lacking.
We’ve had a little taste of this already. Local battles like
the one over immigration in Arizona or
workers’ rights in Wisconsin
have focused national attention at the state level, especially as federal
action on those issues has stalled. But
this time is different, says Kenneth Quinnell at Talking Union. Already more than a dozen states are planning laws
similar to SB 1070, Arizona’s
infamous immigration bill, and many more may see collective bargaining bans, deep
public sector cuts, and Right to Work become reality.
Although it didn’t change hands last year, Kansas offers a case-in-point about the power
of one-party rule. A Right to Work state since 1958 (it’s in the constitution),
Kansas has gone from deep red to crimson since former governor Kathleen
Sebelius’ ascension to Obama’s cabinet four years ago. In her place, Republican
Sam Brownback, along with cozy GOP supermajorities in Topeka, has taken his state on a hard right
turn, privatizing much of
abortion access, and famously cutting all
state arts funding.
But that was just the beginning. Although the state legislature
has been GOP-controlled for some time, incoming freshmen are of an unusually
rightward bent, and they’ve got big plans for 2013. Just this week Brownback
unveiled a fresh round of deep tax cuts, with the eventual goal of eliminating
income taxes altogether. Meanwhile, a state appellate court has ordered
the state to increase education funding by $440 million, saying current funding
levels are unconstitutional. Brownback responded first by appealing, and then by
proposing a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the court’s authority
over education spending. All told, with this year’s tax cuts, Kansas faces an $850 million budget
over 6 percent of the total budget. “The state of Kansas
stands with its toes hanging over its
own fiscal cliff,” said Democratic state senator Anthony Hensley. Kansas, he added, is
Still, it’s not all going in one direction. In California, also a
“one-party” state, voters enthusiastically passed Proposition 30 in a stunning reversal
of the state’s famous tax revolt in 1978. A temporary but critical measure,
Prop 30 will raise tens of billions of badly needed revenue for a state hit
hard by foreclosures, high unemployment, and deep education cuts. Writing in The Nation, Sasha Abramsky connects
the initiative to Michigan and Florida, where voters refused
harsh anti-tax measures, and to a national trend of rejecting the far-right
discourse that has dominated our conversations about taxes and spending.
And then there’s marriage equality, which could become law
more states by the end of the year, says Abby Rapoport in The American Prospect, bringing the
total as high as 14. With sympathetic governments in Minnesota,
Delaware, Rhode Island,
Illinois, and Hawaii, and strong activism from groups like
Freedom to Marry and MN United for All Families, gay marriage is picking up
steam in a hurry.
All the same, the GOP clearly has an advantage in the
states. Even as another fiscal cliff looms in the distance, many of the most
critical questions in 2013 will be decided at the state level—in many cases, by
Republican majorities. Governors and legislatures are set to rework everything
from Voter ID to hard-won public sector benefits, and right now, there’s not
much stopping them. It may be left to activists—of the kind we saw in Wisconsin in 2011—to retake that power.
Image by Stuart Seeger,
licensed under CreativeCommons.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 4:16 PM
“We are not responsible for climate
change—it’s the big industries that are,” said Abelardo, a young man from the
Tseltal Mayan village of Amador Hernández in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas. “So why should
we be held responsible, and even punished for it?”
Abelardo was one of dozens of villagers
who had traveled to the city of San
Cristóbal de las Casas to protest an international
policy meeting on climate change and forest conservation. At a high-end
conference center, representatives from the state of California and from states and provinces
around the world were working out mechanisms intended to mitigate climate
change by protecting tropical forests. The group was called the Governor’s
Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), and California’s
interest was in using forest preservation in Chiapas as a carbon offset—a means for
meeting climate change goals under the state’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions
Such an agreement among subnational
governments is unprecedented, and California
officials view it as an important way for the world’s eighth largest economy to
help the developing world. But judging from the reaction on the streets of San Cristóbal, Mexican
peasants see it differently. The lush, mountainous state of Chiapas has a long history of human rights
abuses, and the Mexican government has forcibly evicted indigenous families
from their lands in the name of environmental protection. To indigenous
peasants in the Lacandon jungle, the pending agreement has all the hallmarks of
a land grab.
And such culture clashes over land and
forests may become more common: As scientists, economists, and governments
worldwide struggle to find solutions to runaway climate change, they are
investing in one-size-fits-all financial strategies for emissions reductions in
developing countries. These policies tend to ignore local needs, land tenure
issues, small-scale economies, cultural practices, and histories. Communities
in developing countries are raising concerns that, in some instances, these
alleged cures may be worse than the disease.
The GCF was founded in 2009 when 16 states
and provinces, from California to Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, and from
Cross-River State, Nigeria, to Acre, Brazil, decided to explore ways to
implement a program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest
Degradation (REDD). REDD is a program intended to fight climate change by
stopping deforestation. Under REDD, the industrialized North hopes to offset
carbon emissions by paying the global South to preserve forests (which store
carbon). Since its acceptance into U.N. climate negotiations in 2005, the
program has grown popular among international agencies and governments
interested in funding rural development—and has generated fierce resistance
among sectors of the rural poor and indigenous peoples.
When indigenous peasant farmers in Chiapas hear that
they’ll be paid to stop growing traditional crops and reforest with African
palm trees, they see signs of a familiar pattern. And when they’re told that
they may have to leave their jungle villages to allow the forest to recover,
they’re acutely aware of the ongoing theft of their lands. In Chiapas, both projects—the planting of
biofuel crops and the forced resettlement of forest communities—are linked to
the local implementation of REDD.
To indigenous peasants in
the Lacandon jungle, the pending agreement has all the hallmarks of a land grab.
Agencies and policy leaders acknowledge
the tension, but are sometimes dismissive of the depth of the problem. William
Boyd, senior advisor to the GCF and a professor of law at the University of Colorado,
said, “Any broad public policy is going to generate opposition. We understand
that, and we see the need to do a better job at communicating our objectives.”
But the problem is not merely communication. It is an issue of fundamentally
different ways of viewing the world. León Enrique Ávila, an agronomist and
professor of sustainable development at the Intercultural University of
Chiapas, sees REDD as “a continuation of the colonial project to do away with
the indigenous worldview.”
Ávila’s work is strongly rooted in the
indigenous concept of lekil kuxlejal, or el buen vivir—a complex worldview
involving harmony among people, the environment, and the ancestors. According
to this way of thinking, people are a part of—not apart from—nature. From this
perspective, even apparently benign Western notions of wealth, development,
conservation, and sustainability are as alien and as hostile as the more
recognized ills of consumerism, individualism, and war.
“REDD and projects of this type,” Ávila
said, ignore “that nature [has its own] rights, and treat it as a provider of
goods and services, a purely economic entity. This perspective is fundamentally
hostile to lekil kuxlejal.”
closely watched partnership
Of numerous REDD projects worldwide, the
agreement between California and Chiapas, expected to come online by 2015, is
the most advanced, and was the subject of great interest at the Chiapas GCF
meeting. “We are all watching the California-Chiapas project closely,” said
Iwan Wibisono of the Indonesian National REDD+ Task Force.
In 2006, California passed the Global Warming
Solutions Act, which mandates that the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions to
1990 levels by the year 2020. Under the act’s implementation plan, approved by
the California Air Resources Board in 2011, 15 to 20 percent of the state’s
mandated emission reductions will come from a cap-and-trade program that
regulates the state’s major industrial polluters. The program allows polluters
to meet part of their emissions-reduction targets by purchasing carbon credits.
Also known as offsets, these let a company pay someone else to reduce CO2
emissions instead of reducing pollution at the source. Currently, the state
only allows offsets in the United
States. But if the REDD plan goes through, California companies
could pay states in some of the world’s most forested regions not to cut down
As one of his last acts in office, former
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a memorandum of understanding
with Chiapas, opening the door for California industries to
buy offsets generated there. (Other states working on similar agreements with California include Acre, Brazil, Aceh, Indonesia, and Cross-River State, Nigeria).
Two years later, the protocols for this
agreement are still in development by a non-governmental body called the REDD
Offsets Working Group, which is expected to release its recommendations before
the end of 2012.
In preparing for the GCF meeting in San
Cristóbal, a number of Chiapas-based civil society groups formed a coalition
called REDDeldía (the English translation would be “REDD-ellion,” as in
“rebellion”), which held a parallel forum denouncing the GCF and REDD. The
group’s statement, issued in advance of the GCF meeting, called REDD “the new
face, painted green by the climate crisis, of an old and familiar form of
colonialism that advances the appropriation of lands and territories through
dispossession and forced displacement.” That sentiment was echoed by a similar
forum convened in San Cristóbal
the same week by La Vía Campesina, the world’s largest federation of peasant
For groups in Chiapas, these concerns are rooted in recent
local history. In 1971, the Mexican government issued a decree that gave about
1.5 million acres of the Lacandon jungle to the Lacandon Maya—one of several
ethnic groups that call the region their home—while retaining the rights to
exploit timber, minerals, and other resources. A second decree in 1976 made the
greater part of the jungle—the area with the richest biodiversity in Mexico—into a
UNESCO World Heritage site called the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.
Along with a few settlements from the
Tseltal and Ch’ol ethnic groups, who negotiated their way into the agreement,
the nominal owners of this territory were designated “the Lacandon Community.”
But the creation of the Lacandon Community came with a political cost: in order
to give the Lacandon Maya 1.5 million acres of forest, 26 villages of Tseltal
and Ch’ol people—over 2,000 families who had lived there for decades, if not
centuries—had to be moved.
After their expulsion, several peasant
farmer organizations demanded redress, and the resulting tension between the
Lacandon Community and its neighbors made it impossible, for decades, for the
Mexican government to successfully demarcate the territory. The demarcation
line became known as la brecha Lacandona—“brecha” meaning split, schism, or
gap. Some of the expelled communities later coalesced to form the Zapatista
Army of National Liberation, the indigenous rebel group that brought Chiapas to the world’s
attention with their 1994 uprising. Among the proto-Zapatistas and the other
peasant farmer groups in the region in the 1970s, one of the primary political
slogans was “No to la brecha Lacandona!”
With REDD, work is underway again to draw
la brecha Lacandona. In February, 2011, Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines began
distributing payments of 2,000 pesos a month to members of the Lacandon
Community as part of the state’s Climate Change Action Program, and the state
began expelling “illegal settlers” from the Montes Azules Reserve.
“The jungle was previously occupied by
over 900 communities,” Sabines told the GCF at the opening plenary. “Now we
have cleared them from the jungle. Today the Reserves are being conserved and
protected by their legitimate owners, who will soon have access to the carbon
Among the communities slated for removal
from the jungle is the village of Amador Hernández—1,500 Tseltal Mayan
subsistence farmers who escaped plantation servitude in the 1950s to make their
homes in bare wooden huts and cultivated scattered cornfields in the area that
is now the Montes Azules Reserve. On the first day of the three-day GCF
meeting, several campesinos from Amador Hernández and neighboring communities
entered the auditorium and requested a few minutes at the microphone. Chiapas
State Minister of the Environment and Natural History Fernando Rosas denied their
request, telling the community members that they should listen first to the
meeting’s proceedings. If they wanted to consider joining the REDD program, the
minister told them, he would meet with them at a later date.
Unsatisfied, the campesinos mounted a
protest. They handed out flyers declaring, “The government is lying to you—they
have neither informed us nor consulted us!” Eufemia Landa Sanchez, a woman from
a deforested region on the edge of the Montes Azules Reserve, then took the
microphone and read a message to the plenary.
“Transnational businesses have had plans
for the rural areas of Chiapas
for some time now,” Sanchez said. “The natural wealth of biodiversity and
water, of mines, of biofuels, and of course of petroleum, have led to the displacement
of people, the poisoning of the earth, and have made the peasant farmer into a
serf on his own land. And in every case they blame us and criminalize us. Our
supposed crime today is that we are responsible for global warming.
“Why do the wealthy want to impose their
will by force?” she continued. “The jungles are sacred, and they exist to serve
the people, as God gave them to us. We do not go to your countries and tell you
what to do with your lives and your lands. We ask that you respect our lives and
our lands, and go back where you came from!”
in the balance
Insiders in the GCF projected that, given
the complexities of linking an emerging market in California to forested lands
abroad, and the level of controversy in Chiapas, the Chiapas-California plan
has no better than a 50/50 chance of coming to fruition. Aside from the 2010
agreement, no formal protocols have been approved by the two states. And, aside
from a $1.5 million grant to the GCF from the U.S. State Department and hope
that a so-far hypothetical carbon market will provide some stable cash flow, little
funding is on the horizon.
“If we can’t build a $6 million fund to
make this happen, then we’ve got to think about other options,” said Boyd.
“Among these options, we’re looking at innovative models for leveraging private
Three weeks after the Chiapas GCF meeting,
the California Air Resources Board (ARB) received a visit at its Sacramento office from a group of environmental justice
advocates with ties to the Global South—including an anthropologist who works
closely with Amador Hernández, an indigenous leader from Brazil, and
representatives of Friends of the Earth U.S. They drew a picture of land grabs,
government repression, and related abuses, and urged state officials to drop
all consideration of international forest offsets in California climate policy.
Edie Chang, assistant division chief for the ARB, thanked the visitors for
raising the issues, and assured them, “We’ve told these governments that we’re
far from making a decision.”
Jason Gray, the ARB’s staff counsel,
acknowledged the concerns as well: “We really only want to work with
jurisdictions that engage in consultation and participatory processes. … We
understand the political risks. … We would only want to be involved if California can take a
What that leadership looks like remains to
be seen. But if land and culture are threatened by any policy advanced by the
GCF, indigenous peasant farmers in Chiapas
will not back down without a fight. “These campesinos don’t want a revolution
to change they way they live,” explained León Ávila, echoing the words of
Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. “They want a revolution because they
want to continue living as they always have.”
of San Cristóbal,
where the GCF meeting took place, by barenuckleyellow,
licensed under Creative
This post was originally published by
YES! Magazine, and is licensed under Creative Commons. To repost, follow these steps.
Friday, November 04, 2011 3:48 PM
Two California vintners want to cut down 2,000 acres of redwood trees and replace them with vineyards in the largest woodland-to-vineyard conversion in California’s history. Do I need to explain what conservationists think of this?
Under the proposal, reported by the Los Angeles Times and later tipped by High Country News, two Sonoma County pinot noir growers, Premier Pacific Vineyards and Artesa Vineyards, want to expand their growing operations by slicing into forestlands of Douglas firs and the state’s iconic redwoods. Premier also wants to develop 60 high-end estates—for members of the 1 percent, I assume—on adjacent lands that it already owns on the ironically named Preservation Ranch.
“In exchange,” reports the Times, “the developers promise to restore streams, add more than 200 acres to a county park, plant 1 million redwoods and Douglas firs and make other environmental improvements.”
But environmental advocates aren’t appeased by these offers:
“I don’t see a need for more deforestation to have a great wine economy, because there is a lot of cleared land already available,” said Adina Merelender, a UC Berkeley conservation biologist.
“The big issue for us,” added Jay Holcomb of the Sierra Club, “is that redwoods-to-vineyards conversions are worse than clear-cutting because they are permanent.”
A Sierra Club website that has detailed information about Preservation Ranch suggests that its moniker was a greenwash from the get-go:
The project was named “Preservation Ranch” by its proponents to disguise its essential nature as a speculative for-profit venture which targets the steep, undeveloped redwood and oak woodlands of coastal Sonoma County.
A county official acknowledges that the proposal is “controversial from beginning to end,” so approval is by no means certain. One thing is sure, though: If the deal goes down, the resulting pinot noir, regardless of its flavor profile, will most certainly have a bitter, acrid finish.
UPDATE 11/9/2012: Premier Pacific Vineyards has been terminated as the manager of the vineyard investment portfolio held by the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, according to North Bay Business Journal and Wine Industry Insight. It’s unclear how this affects the company’s proposed vineyard expansion in Sonoma County.
Sources: Los Angeles Times, High Country News, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter
Tim Pearce, Los Gatos
, licensed under
Friday, April 15, 2011 12:32 PM
Here’s a problem that most of us never have to face: You're young, you're trying to get established, and the work you do becomes such a skyrocket success that there's almost no place to go but down. Think child actor here, or viral internet sensation, teen music heartthrob, teenage tennis champion—any of those rare persons who are everywhere one moment only to disappear a few moments later and are never heard from again. This is perhaps what F. Scott Fitzgerald was thinking about when he wrote: "There are no second acts in American lives." Or, more recently, what Kurt Cobain was pondering when he quoted Neil Young in his suicide note: "It's better to burn out than to fade away."
Chris Burden is a case study for how quick and early success can affect the course of an artistic career. In 1971, at age 25, Burden became suddenly famous (or infamous) throughout the art world. That year, in the F Space gallery in Los Angeles, Burden made a performance piece titled "Shoot," in which he had an assistant point a rifle at his left arm and shoot it. And art would be changed forever afterward. Never mind that Burden, when interviewed a year later, talked about the influence of the Vietnam War on the piece and "about the difference between how people reacted to soldiers being shot in Vietnam and how they reacted to fictional people being shot on commercial TV….What does it mean not to avoid being shot, that is, by staying home or avoiding the war, but to face it head on?" In the midst of the self-absorbed and recessional 1970s—which starkly contrasted to the wild, communitarian, and innovative 1960s—critics and observers had a hard time getting past a basic reductive formula: This crazy artist would go to any length to turn his body into art. Through the whole of the 1970s, artists would spearhead only a few new art movements—just mail art, installation art, neoexpressionism (which, of course, was a throwback to an earlier movement)—and in this lull Burden's performances stood out.
Burden followed "Shoot" with a series of memorable performances. In "Five Day Locker Piece" (1971), he spent five days crammed inside a two-foot by two-foot locker. In "Deadman" (1972), he lay still beneath a tarpaulin as though he were a corpse, and in "Bed Piece" (1972) he stayed in a bed in the Market Street Program gallery in Venice, California, for twenty-two straight days. Each successive work of Burden's from this period was designed to test the limits of his endurance, strength, flexibility and tolerance for pain. He hung himself upside down and naked over a basketball court ("Movie on the Way Down," 1973); he crawled naked through broken glass on a local 10-second TV spot ("Through the Night Softly" 1973); and he lay on the floor of a Chicago gallery beneath a piece of glass for forty-five consecutive hours ("Doomed," 1975). One of his most notorious works from this period was called "Transfixed." For this performance, which took place in 1974 on Speedway Avenue in Venice, California, Burden lay down on the rear of a Volkswagen Beetle and had nails hammered into both of his hands, as if he were being crucified. The car was pushed out of a garage for a few minutes, its engine revved at full throttle, and then pushed back inside.
This string of youthful performances were so widely observed that they took on a life beyond the artist, helping create a new art genre, endurance art, and influencing a generation of imitators—some noteworthy; most forgettable. For a time in the 1970s, it seemed his ideas were the only new thing going. While I was in art school in the early 1990s, a professor who was acquainted with Burden, Tom Holste, spoke of the artist as a shamanistic psychopomp for the modern world. This likely was because, in his work Burden often seemed to enter a trancelike state in order, perhaps, to commune on our behalf with a supernatural or spiritual world. (A psychopomp is a figure who escorts newly deceased souls to the spirit world.) This early work also gave Chris Burden a formidable reputation even beyond the circles that cared about such things. Norman Mailer referenced Burden's work in his 1973 essay and book on graffiti art, The Faith of Graffiti. (Mailer held up Burden as an example of the Romantic, civilized artist in contrast to the more primitive impulses that guided graffiti artists.) Burden even entered the popular consciousness. His performance "Transfixed" was mentioned in David Bowie's 1977 song "Joe the Lion," and his "Shoot" provided the inspiration for Laurie Anderson's 1977 song "It's Not the Bullet that Kills You–It's the Hole (for Chris Burden)." "I used to use myself as a target," Anderson sang. "I used myself as a goal. I was digging myself so much, I was digging me so much, I dug myself right into a hole."
By 1978, "dug myself into a hole" may have been an apt description of how Burden was feeling. For some time, each new performance work seemed designed to be more sensational than the last, an obvious creative dead end. And now that he was into his 30s, his body was less able to endure what his intellect imagined for it. Compounding Burden's frustration, perhaps, is the fact that the intention of most of his performances was widely misunderstood. A few observers were aware of this at the time. Robert Horwitz, writing in Artforum in May 1976, said of Burden's work: "Like most reductivist art, his work is under-articulated. That is, the information presented is so limited that one set of facts may suggest—indeed, may encourage—a number of conflicting interpretations and offer no means of determining which were intended by the artist…. Inaccessibly private responses, feelings and insights are woven into its basic structure. Nor can one distinguish between those qualities that are specifically attributable to the work from those that are ambient or latent in the environment." (Horwitz also added that Burden's ambiguity was likely a strength, serving "to set the work apart from the general flux of experience.")
For reasons that the artist has never fully explained, Burden quit making performance art works around 1977 or 1978. Also in 1978, Burden became a professor in the art department at the University of California in Los Angeles. And while he made art objects in the years following, none of it ever attracted anything like the attention that his early performance work did. Art critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote, in 2007, that Burden's work since the late 70s was comprised of "one-off wonders." Burden's career was, at least in the upper echelons of the art world, for the most part as cast-off and forgotten as Linda Blair, Lief Garrett, and Tracy Austin.
Burden was forgotten, that is, up until a few years ago. The seeds of Burden's return to the international art spotlight were sown around the turn of the century. In 1999, Burden, now in his 50s, created an installation for the Tate Gallery in London called "When Robots Rule: The Two Minute Airplane Factory." Burden had commissioned a studio of sculptural engineers to create a machine that would make, in an assembly-line way, a series of rubber band-powered toy airplanes out of tissue paper, plastic, and balsa wood. A placard in the gallery explained to viewers how various parts of the machine, which churned away throughout the exhibition, were intended to work. The only hitch was the factory did not. No actual airplanes were ever created. In fact, no actual material ever ran through the machine.
The resulting consternation and attention paid to this work—was this a joke? was this intentional?—brought international attention back to Burden for the first time since the 1970s. He followed with more compelling work: A "Ghost Ship" that had no crew and, piloted using on-board computers and a GPS system, undertook a 5-day, 330 mile trip off the coast of England; a sculptural piece, called "The Flying Steamroller," that used a flying level to send a steamroller flying through the air; an installation, for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, called "Urban Light" that was comprised of 202 closely clustered, fully operational vintage streetlights (a work that has proved so popular that its become a popular location for wedding photos and fashion shoots and was even featured in a recent Hollywood romantic comedy); and, most recently, two variations ("Metropolis I" and "Metropolis II") on a model imaginary city constructed of erector-set parts, machinery, conveyor belts, building blocks, toy car tracks, and similar materials, feeling and sounding very much like a modern-nightmare version of a Rube Goldberg machine.
"Metropolis II" is, for now, the centerpiece creation of this newly reemerged artist. Recently loaned by the artist for 10 years to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it is an overwhelming thing: more than 1,000 cars clack loudly through the machinery and across tracks and curves, filling the space with a constant roar of sound; individual cars are impossible to discern as they move around the construction, through the various machines, girders, and block constructions, and eventually return to the end of the tracks to start the churning process all over again. The cars zip along the track at speeds of up to (relative to their size) 100 mph, and they are intended to continue doing so until they wear out. Burden has said about this work that it is a "poetic" (as opposed to a "realistic") portrait of "L.A. or any modern city," even as he has also suggested the work "does produce anxiety" because of the constant movement, the noise, and the endless clacking bustle and turmoil. In sum, this is a provocative piece in the way that poetry about death is provocative: We know there is likely more truth in this fancy portrait than there is in any realistic portrayal.
Among its many attributes, "Metropolis II" begs us to reconsider Burden's complete oeuvre and its intentions. All of his work—even his early seminal performance work—has one thing in common. It all has pointed to the unreality and futility that rules modern life. The pain we projected onto his early work was not just the artist’s alone, but was also our pain. At first this was expressed by setting up impossible and quixotic tasks for himself while he stood in for us, but later, after the personal performances had run their course—or perhaps after Burden had grown up enough to start looking outwardly—this meant creating structures that reflected the modern urban condition. In the end, Chris Burden was less a shaman steering souls to an alternate world, than he was a prophet revealing the beautiful pain and equisite futility of our own.
Michael Fallon is a writer, editor, and non-profit administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 4:53 PM
Whenever I go to the grocery store and come to the refrigerated-foods aisle, I pick up a box of tofu—pale, waterlogged, and lonely in a vacuum-sealed plastic container. Filled with good intentions of going meatless more often, I often buy it. It’s less often that I use it. Tofu may have its benefits (soy purportedly lowers cholesterol, eases the symptoms of menopause, and promotes heart health), but the fact remains that coagulated bean curd is decidedly not sexy.
John Scharffenberger, CEO of the Hodo Soy Beanery in Oakland, California, hopes to change that.
Scharffenberger is a veteran of the luxury food market. His Scharffenberger Cellars brought critically acclaimed Champagne-like sparkling wine to the masses. His most well-known venture, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, helped steer Americans’ chocolate tastes from sweetly pedestrian to unabashedly dark. Now, Scharffenberger and Minh Tsai of Hodo Soy aim to turn us on to tofu, hippies and foodies alike.
Hodo Soy Beanery is a small tofu factory that uses organic, non-GMO soybeans from Iowa farms to make products including tea-infused soy blocks, braised five-spice nuggets, and yuba strips—crepelike noodles cut from thin sheets of soy. The company has a stylish website, offers public tours of its facility, and just might be the future of tofu.
“The timing is right for tofu,” says California, the magazine of the Cal Alumni Association, “as more people reduce their meat consumption and seek out vegetarian protein sources without sacrificing flavor.” And as the discussion on genetically modified food heats up, non-GMO tofu may get an additional boost.
By no means is Scharffenberger the only player in the new tofu renaissance. According to the San Francisco Gate, there are several artisans bolstering tofu’s image:
Bay area chefs are making their own tofu, and local companies are producing it as it is done throughout much of East and Southeast Asia—for daily consumption…. These producers are bringing the noble bean curd back to its handmade roots, showing that it can involve as much craft as cheese or chocolate.
Tofu like cheese or chocolate? I’ll never pass you by in aisle five again.
, San Francisco Gate
Image by cipher, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 08, 2010 2:09 PM
In an interview with California magazine, the novelist and Brooklyn native Jonathan Lethem (The Fortress of Solitude, Men and Cartoons) talks about becoming a writer in Berkeley. I loved this little nugget about his time working in bookstores:
Just handling this ocean of different books—new and used, in and out of print, famous and forgotten—it was literature as this giant mosaic of texts and experiments and attitudes. I think it’s just very liberating to break out of a great man’s theory of history.
I guess I’ve always liked working from that sense of—what would you call it?—license that the margins permit. I always just visualize myself writing books that were meant one day to be dusty, forgotten volumes being encountered by intrepid browsers in a used bookstore. It was a much less freighted way to think about trying to enter the conversation than to imagine I had to write The Great Gatsby.
Image by melanieburger, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 15, 2010 11:11 AM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25 at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C. and post them online the following Monday. We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees.
The following eight magazines are our 2010 nominees in the category of science/technology coverage.
, published at UC Berkeley, is as eclectic as its community. The quarterly opens with sneak peeks at research in motion, such as cyborg spy beetles and the science of humor. The features that follow challenge conventional wisdom and tap iconoclastic characters to bring high-minded theories down to earth.
Engineers are responsible for some of the most exciting innovations in modern science. IEEE Spectrum, the official magazine of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, translates the advances in computers, robotics, and other fields of science into a language that geeks can love and anyone can understand.
We wish more reporters would go to Johns Hopkins Public Health for story ideas and analysis instead of relying on oversimplified press releases. The biannual publication brings a global perspective to everything from malaria and AIDS research to sleep disorders and innovations in eyewear.
Only one magazine would teach readers how to make a steampunk electrostatic generator and a letterpress printing machine in the same issue. Make magazine takes science away from the scientists and puts technology in the hands of garage innovators and do-it-yourself enthusiasts.
In a world besieged by a seemingly endless list of baffling challenges, Miller-McCune is a smart, clear-eyed tonic. The monthly’s editors seek out cutting-edge research to demystify the day’s most pressing issues and highlight institutions and innovators that provide reason for hope.
Science News is inexhaustible. Every two weeks it surveys groundbreaking research in a variety of disciplines to deliver in-depth, inviting stories. Want to know a lot more about archaeology? A little something about superstring theory? This is your go-to guide.
Stanford reports on the awe-inspiring work done by its host university’s faculty, students, and alumni, and then produces an impeccably rendered general-interest magazine. And although its stories cut across disciplines, we’re drawn to its richly researched stories on global health, conservation, and psychology.
Technology Review does much more than review the day’s coolest gadgets and mind-blowing scientific innovations. MIT’s magazine gets into the cultural and political implications of those innovations to help experts and casual readers better understand how new technology will change the wider world.
Want more? Meet our
health and wellness
Tuesday, June 02, 2009 3:32 PM
DAPRA-funded Berkeley researchers have tricked out a beetle with tiny electrodes that allow them to control its flight, reports California. Next step: Outfitting the insect with onboard sensors that relay information back to mission control. Hello, coleopteran espionage!
This certainly isn’t the first time animals have been “pressed into military service,” the University of Berkeley alumni magazine reports. The cyborg beetle is merely the latest in a line of distinguished (also often disastrous and no doubt PETA-enraging) military critters. California did us the courtesy of a recap. Here are a couple of my tragicomic favorites:
The common gerbil. “With their unique ability to smell increased adrenaline in sweat, gerbils had been slated to detect spies and terrorists since WWII. The Israeli internal security force put gerbils to work at the Tel Aviv airport, but cancelled the project when the furry creatures implicated innocent passengers who were just anxious about flying.”
The domestic cat. “The CIA inserted a transmitter and battery pack in a cat and put a microphone in its ear and an antenna on its tail, to eavesdrop on the Soviets during the Cold War. On its first test run, the cat was run over by a taxi before reaching the intended target.”
Image by wildxplorer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 29, 2009 10:02 AM
For a state that prides itself on being a beacon of progress in American politics, California seems intent on proving it can be just as backwards as everyone else, at least when it comes to gay rights. A California appeals court ruled this week that California Lutheran High School didn’t violate the law when it expelled two students it suspected of being lesbians, determining that the state’s civil rights laws don’t apply to private religious schools. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:
The ruling is the first to consider a religious school’s status under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination by businesses and was amended in 2005 to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. State education law also forbids anti-gay bias, but that law applies only to public schools.
The court determined that California Lutheran didn’t qualify as a business and therefore wasn’t bound by the act. The school’s lawyer applauded the ruling, telling the Chronicle that the court rightly recognized their right to exercise freedom of religion. But Kirk Hanson, an attorney for the expelled girls, told the L.A. Times that the “very troubling” decision essentially gave private schools carte blanche to discriminate against students for any reason, as long as they could defend their actions on religious grounds. The Times reports that the girls plan to take their case to the California Supreme Court.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008 10:07 AM
The image of a perfect beach usually doesn’t include piles of seaweed and other natural debris. But though it’s not aesthetically pleasing, beach wrack, as those piles are called, is a vital part of a beach’s ecosystem. Grunion, a species of fish, depend on wrack to house their incubating eggs, and other shorebirds forage in wrack for food.
Beach grooming, which scoops up these piles and flattens and redistributes sand, endangers the wrack’s fragile ecosystem and makes the shoreline more vulnerable to erosion. Grooming has been in effect for many of California’s beaches since the 1960s, but only recently did scientists and environmentalists pick up on the importance of a more natural beach look.
Scientists, activists, and beach managers have started to come together to address these concerns, reports Coastal Services. Recent efforts include a ban on grooming below the high tide line, and training workers and managers to recognize and avoid grunion breeding areas. The activist group (in the process of incorporating as the nonprofit Beach Ecology Coalition) is also exploring alternatives to current grooming practices, including seasonal or rotational grooming, hand grooming, or even leaving beaches untouched.
In order to address the potential unhappiness or confusion of the public at the idea of cluttered beaches, the group has launched a campaign to increase awareness of beach ecosystems and how proper action (or inaction) is vital to nature.
Image courtesy of willsfca, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 5:20 PM
On election day, Californians passed Proposition 8, eliminating the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Many are still wondering how this could have happened, and some are looking to religion as an easy target to blame. But careful study of the issue belies the blame game.
“Both the organizing successes of the Christian right and the failures of the gay movement” allowed the proposition to pass, Richard Kim writes for the Nation. Anti-gay marriage organizations pushed hard in minority communities, organizing rallies and buying up advertising space in Chinese, black, Spanish, and Korean media outlets. Although polls predicted the proposition’s failure in the days leading up to the election, exit polls indicate that 70 percent of African Americans ended up voting in favor of the constitutional amendment.
Pointing the finger at Christian or minority communities is overly simplistic, Wendy Cadge writes for the Immanent Frame. When it comes to gay marriage, a huge “diversity of opinion exists within families, communities, churches, and racial and ethnic groups,” Cadge writes. Rather than fighting against religion (or against minorities, for that matter), defenders of gay marriage should reach out more to religious and minority communities.
Some have suggested taking the word “marriage” out of the discussion in general, to avoid religious connotations. That won’t solve the problem either, according to E.J. Graff, the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution. Graff told On the Media’s Bob Garfield that marriage is “the passport word” that’s understood throughout the world, extending rights to couples no matter where they go.
For better or worse, the definition of “marriage” has been in contention for hundreds of years. Graff argues that people shouldn’t simply give up on marriage, they should continue working to change the definition. “Just change the rules,” says Graff, “like we always have.”
Image of a protest against Proposition 8 that singled out the Mormon Church, credited with bankrolling much of the Yes on 8 campaign, by
, licensed under
Tuesday, March 25, 2008 4:36 PM
“Dr. Vino” Tyler Colman claims to have calculated the carbon footprint of wine and come up with a simple answer: If you live west of the line he’s drawn through the middle of the country, you should buy wine from California, and if you live east of the line, you’re better off buying from East Coast or European wineries. You may have good reason to think twice about his findings, however.
Colman and his partner Pablo Paster use their research paper to unload a metric ton of scientific-sounding chatter, largely regarding variables and calculations that are either undeniable or not on the table, and then use this data to somehow carve out their precise line. Easily digestible, easily reprintable. Colman and Paster’s proscriptions about wine buying have run, seemingly unquestioned, in several places, including a New York Times op-ed and in a non-peer-reviewed section of Science (subscription required).
But their research is suspect. First, they look at just three wineries located in three widely disparate growing regions, Yellow Tail (New South Wales, Australia), Coulee de Serrant (Loire, France), and a hypothetical “cult” winery in California’s Napa Valley. These three wineries ship wine to just one major market, Chicago. (Colman, when he’s not professing at New York University, happens to teach at the University of Chicago.)
Large cargo ships are said to carry the bottles from the Australian and European wineries. These ships dock in the U.S. (Los Angeles for Yellow Tail; New Jersey for Coulee de Serrant) and the wine is then hauled by road or rail to its Chicago destination. By comparison, the imaginary Napa winery (call it L’Strawman) ships exclusively by air overnight express.
Basically, Colman and Paster use lots of fancy footwork (and irrelevant calculations) to say that shipping a bottle of wine via sea and land is more efficient than flying the same bottle in a plane, even for a shorter distance, if you divide the carbon output by the number of bottles each vessel can carry. But they are comparing apples to oranges and vastly oversimplifying the issue. If they compared apples to apples—mass market to mass market (or cult wine to cult wine), normal carriers to normal carriers—it is unlikely that Colman and Paster would get a simple line dividing the country. Or, for that matter, very much attention.
(Thanks to David Egerton, Ph.D. candidate, University of Louisville.)
Thursday, March 06, 2008 10:23 AM
California’s Salton Sea isn’t just a body of water, it’s an epic tale of environmental tinkering gone wrong wrapped up in a storyline that involves real estate fever, massive fish kills, congressman Sonny Bono, and more than a few sunburned eccentrics. High Country News tells part of the strange tale in its March 3 issue. For a cinematic, even weirder take on the sea and its characters, check out the documentary film Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, now out on DVD, which is reviewed in the March-April Utne Reader.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008 10:26 AM
Amid last fall’s flurry of beef recalls, Meatpaper magazine interviewed Neal Westgerdes (article not available online), the overseer of all California meat inspectors—including those at Westland/Hallmark Meat, the firm responsible for the record 143-million-pound recall on February 17. There have been no reports of illness, but the industry’s integrity is in question. Now I can only read the interview, published in the Winter 2007 issue, with skepticism as Westgerdes explains how inspectors check in daily at all processing facilities and have on-site office space at slaughterhouses. “Consumers don’t get to go where I go and see what’s going on,” Westgerdes says, explaining inspectors’ role as defenders of the public interest. I wonder if Westgerdes would now be so quick to affirm that he confidently eats commercially raised meat, while hunting gives him ethical pause: “I don’t think those animals were put on this planet to satisfy our need for meat.”
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!