Tuesday, March 27, 2007

your art and the tax code

A new blog - Social Practice - has brought to my attention the following:
The Artist Tax Deduction Bill is finally up for action in the House. “Preserving America’s Cultural Heritage” it’s not, but the text of the bill does seem like it’s a step in the right direction.
After announcing at the Congressional Arts Breakfast on Arts Advocacy Day that he would be the lead sponsor for the Artist Deduction Bill, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) introduced the bill on March 14, 2007, joined by Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN). Identical to a Senate bill introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Robert Bennett (R-UT), the bill supports individual artists by allowing them to take a fair-market value tax deduction for tangible works they donate to nonprofit collecting and educational organizations, and it benefits the public by giving them access to more art. The ‘works’ covered under this bill are “contributions of literary, musical, artistic, or scholarly compositions” which would seem to leave plenty of room for artistic activities that do not produce a physical product.
Under current law, creators and collectors are treated differently when they donate tangible works (e.g., paintings or manuscripts) to museums, libraries, educational or other collecting institutions. A collector may deduct the fair-market value of the work, but creators may deduct only their "basis" value—essentially the cost of materials such as paint and canvas. Again pointing to the class divisions between the producers and the collectors. Americans for the Arts has more info plus ways to be involved.

Friday, March 23, 2007

last of the breed

ok so this video doesn't even come close to the sound quality of last night's performance at Radio City but it was a hell of a show. Ray Price, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson do some great country-swing standards and their own classics. It was a great experience to see these legends that span 60 years. Highlight was - well - Pancho and Lefty, Sing me Back Home, Whiskey River.. oh hell pretty much all of it was a highlight!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

blackwater II -disaster as the new Dot Com

So I went to the book launch and talk of Jeremy Scahill's book on the mercenary group Blackwater USA last night with co-hosts Naomi Klein and Amy Goodman. It was an excellent event full of big ideas and deadly insights. I have to admit being somewhat depressed upon exiting, but these are the times we live in. I can absolutely recommend the book however, do pick up a copy because this story represents something central to understanding not only what Iraq is largely about but what war craft is becoming. Trends in how wars are conducted have roots in business practice and often come full circle back to the civilian population in many forms - some more benign than others but war always reconstructs a society on multiple levels.

The Blackwater story as Scahill observes, is not only about hired mercernaries ("contractors") that operate above and below the law, but rather a larger story of privatizing all aspects of society. It's an ominous philosophy that is an absolutist calling for all traditional constructs of a society to go into private control. From "small things" like the phone company and veteran's health records to the larger fields of defense, health and food production. The potential for fraud, corruption and criminal behavior is almost outside of the imagination. Blackwater represents the first big stride in at least one aspect of this program, privatizing the military.

For me the really big concept touched on last night was by Naomi Klein - "disaster capitalism", the subject of her forthcoming book. This is huge and I was thrilled to hear the term as various bloggers were touching on the subject in our "apocalypse" series earlier this year. Chris Hedges also gets near the topic in his latest book on the religious right - American Fascists. The idea is simple and really quite obvious actually. The War on Terror is obvious part of this new disaster capitalism (which in all honesty we should be calling "corporatism" because that is what we are truly living with) but not exclusive to it. The wave of natural disasters and epidemics such as the Asian Tsunami, Bird-Flu, Katrina, etc. are also part of this new mechanism to profit from extreme events. This is a new universe of profiteering. When sudden shifts happen, whether they are ecological or political in nature the general populace is vulnerable - emotionally, intelectually, financially. Think of the land grabs in Asia after the Tsunami or the 9th ward where 60% of that population were homeowners - no more. These events render rational people reactionary and expose the weakest of us to forces much larger than ourselves. Cash strapped government agencies capitulate as well. We live in a time where disaster is becoming an economic model for success and control of new sectors never before handled by industry. Even the Red Cross is partnering with Wal-Mart for hurricane relief.

There is something post-modern in all of this as some bloggers (Jodi Dean) have touched on. Iraq is a great example.The war in Iraq is on the one hand a colonial pillaging of a sovereign state, but it is also a simultaneous pillaging of ourselves. We (in cohort with others) are poised to control all of the natural resources of Iraq at the same time wasting tons of our own captial, natural resources and lives in the process and depleting our own resources and social systems at home. So the pillage is an exterior motive as well as reflexive act meant to cause an equal breakdown within our own ability to govern at home. These breaks in traditional structures cause economic and political opportunity for non-governing entities. Vacuums are quickly being filled by ideologically driven private interests. Blackwater is just one case - where they lobby to be part of the military to get access, no bid contracts and tax dollars while at the same time lobby to be outside of the military to be free of the Pentagon's Uniform Code of Military Justice. The goal is to be intrinsic to the "total US Force" while maintaining tax free status as a BVI entity. You can easily include Bechtel, Lockheed Martin and many others in this growing trend of paradoxical corporatist identity.

Image: Blackwater headquarters North Carolina
many concepts in this post indebted to Naomi Klein

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Team Helsinki

Regular readers ( I think I have some) may have noticed a new addition to the blog roll- Team Helsinki. I'm doing some "guest" posting on that blog with some other fascinating people from around the globe. The blog explains what the team is about and if you ever wanted to know about Helsinki, team leader Sean Hicks has loaded the blog with tons of historic and current data on the city.

I'm humbly trying to contribute to team (though I am probably in over my head)- as there are so many great discussions going on around the web - and in real life - as to the nature of a city and what the urban experience can be for the future.

Competitions such as Helsinki 2050 are a sign of positive change as growth is sure to be the center of our political and social reality for the next 50 years. So check out the blog and feel free to comment and point the team to any resources you think have relevance to the practice of everyday living.

Monday, March 19, 2007


The new book on Blackwater USA is out this week. There is a book signing and discussion between author Jeremy Scahill and Naomi Klein of The Nation at the Center for Ethical Culture. This looks to be fantastic! If you are unaware of who/what is Blackwater, pickup the April edition of The Nation or check out Jeremy's site for the book here - very informative.

In short, Blackwater is a private mercenary company funded by tax dollars, promoted by the Bushies and the Pentagon, and increasing in scale.They have over 20,000 "soldiers", a small airforce (20 aircraft) and seek to replace the national guard in this country as demonstrated in New Orleans after Katrina. With so many reservists abroad, it's a big security and financial vacuum to fill - a big opportunity in other words. This is an organization that is not subject to the same laws as you and I or as normal law enforcement.

Balkinization had a great post last friday about what the rise of Blackwater represents - a threat to the tradition of the citizen- soldier.

Balkinization writes:
Before there was a President, a Congress or a Supreme Court, before any thought had been given to a Constitution, much less a Bill of Rights, America had its first institution: the Army. It was directed by a commander-in-chief - the only one in our history not to serve simultaneously as president. And that Army was the initial repository of national values, particularly of the notion of a citizen-soldier, putting his life at risk for the promise of modest pay and little more, called to duty for altruistic reasons - not for cash or power, prepared to relinquish his soldierly calling and return to civilian life at the end of hostilities. (By and large the Founding Fathers did not think much of a standing army; indeed, much of what they had to say on this subject is so obscene one would have difficulties printing it even today). One of the foundational values of the American Republic is the concept of a citizen-soldier, a concept presented eloquently by George Washington in his farewell address to the troops from November 3, 1783, and preserved at the heart of the nation's defense strategy for more than two centurie
For George Washington and his contemporaries, the mercenary was a symbol of a corrupt and enslaving Europe that they sought to avoid. The citizen-soldier, by contrast, was the model for a democracy that places great value on stability and peace, that abjures military adventurism. But today, under the corrupting influence of those potent narcotics, money and power, all these lessons seem forgotten.

Friday, March 16, 2007

driving off a cliff

Senator Biden railing against the incompetence of the administration. It's pretty powerful. Would have been nice to hear this 3 years ago though.

via Alternet.com

the fallacy of the corporate citizen

Wired has a jarring story on the imprisonment of bloggers in China - courtesy of Yahoo! but hey, it's just the price of doing business....a corporate citizen can't be blamed.Google, Microsoft and others are right there with them but Yahoo seems to have a real track record when it comes to imprisonment cases.

between theory and art

I think, on this occasion, we should forget parallax. Or, rather, we should take note of how the notion of a parallax-like relationship between art and theory is already functioning (ideologically, if you want to put it that way) within the contemporary art sign-system. So someone with a Zizekian bent might say: “just as you can see either a vase or two faces, you can see either art or theory, but never both at the same time”. But isn’t this approach already too well inscribed in the attitude of the contemporary art world, which feeds off (in the UK, at least) both an elitist, exclusive domain of theory and an unjustified, obscene access to public funds? Depending on your point of view, a pile of bricks in a gallery can either be a powerful statement of the artist’s desire to be a bricklayer and join the proletariat, or they can be just a nice, strange thing to wonder and look at. - foucault is dead

Foucault is Dead has a brave foray into the relationship between contemporary art and theory. The very thing that keeps many artist's on their toes and I'm guessing causes a lot of self-doubt and anxiety for many more. Worth reading here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

the freeway blogger

Not sure how familiar people are with Tales of the Freewayblogger but this is an ongoing intervention along California highways. This is good stuff and it puts the message where it needs to be - real life, but more importantly in those
in-between spaces. I like it a lot. I wonder if Chelsea were to do the same thing with those Patrick Mimran billboards how the reception would be?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Haggard's massage table on Ebay

This hot piece of evangelical history is now going for $1175.00.
Only 10 years old, looks barely used - if only ;)

tip: evangelicalright.com

Friday, March 09, 2007

world energy flow

couldn't resist swiping this map from Kazys! needless to say but we're not exporting much....and this is 10 years ago.

(click map for full size)

...more Baudrillard

It's been a hectic week and I'm exhausted by it or perhaps I'm feeling sentimental (at Baudrillard's death - if that has any logic). Here's a couple good discussions on the late philosopher.

from Ghost in the Wire:

Baudrillard and Heidegger, 1

Baudrillard and Heidegger, 2

Long Sunday has a pdf of selected writings here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jean Baudrillard Dead at 77

Baudrillard has passed
into the eternal simulacra. The last generation of influencial philosophy is shrinking in number.

Art for Market Sake II

Art’s willingness, even eagerness to be absorbed by money -- to estheticize money, as it were -- suggests that art, like every other enterprise, from the cultural to the technological (and culture has become an extension and even mode of technological practice in many quarters) is a way of making and worshipping money -- a way of affirming capitalism. Indeed, it is a way of signaling the triumph of capitalism over socialism, that is, the unimpeded pursuit of money and profit at the cost of the common human good that might be achieved by the re-distribution of capitalist-generated wealth.
- Edward Winkleman
Winkleman has a good post to today regarding his frustrations with the current fad - money. Rather the saturation and slavish devotion towards money being exhibited by the players of today's artworld - artists, gallerists, critics.

He sites this commentary by Donald Kuspit on Artnet.com as a source of irritation.

I will suggest that the irrational exuberance of the contemporary art market is about the breeding of money, not the fertility of art, and that commercially precious works of art have become the organ grinder’s monkeys of money. They exist to increase the generative value and staying power of money -- the power of money to breed money, to fertilize itself -- not the value and staying power of art.
Many years ago Meyer Schapiro argued that there was a radical difference between art’s spiritual value and its commercial value. He warned against the nihilistic effect of collapsing their difference. I will argue that today, in the public mind, and perhaps in the unconscious of many artists, there is no difference. The commercial value of art has usurped its spiritual value, indeed, seems to determine it. Art’s esthetic, cognitive, emotional and moral value -- its value for the dialectical varieties of critical consciousness -- has been subsumed by the value of money.
Let's ignore the fact that this edict is on ArtNet which purports to service the auction sales watchers. Winkleman's complaint is this is lip service and hand wringing with no actions. He may be right and some may argue that a critic is by nature an observer and not a mover. However that ignores the power of many 'name" critics such as Kuspit and his counterparts - "name" artists and gallerists. Kuspit is righ to observe that Art currently is serving capital more and more. We must realize that the current obsession with fairs and markets is an evolution on one hand but also the clammering of an elite wealth class and their managers - the banks - to further establish art as an asset class for their own purposes. An art collector can claim their collection of art as a financial asset whereas an artist can only claim her work as a 'collectible". One party can get financing because of their asset, the other can't.

Contemporary Art is effectively the new dot com bubble. It is unchartered waters for investors and many see it as a get rich quick scheme because it is largely new on the financial radar and almost completely unregulated by tax authorities. It is the wild west particularly in more raw markets such as Asia. It is also a chance to frame the debate for a social class that is largely naive in financial and wealth management matters.

It is important for artists to realize that the tradition they are involved predates capital and will post-date capital. Yes a post capital world is possible based on historic precedents! That we as a group need to look at what Value means and find a real definition of Value so that WE get to frame the discussion. Commerce will always play a roll - we have to eat, and we have bills. But it is the artist (and by extension gallerist, critic, curator) who must define Value for those who want to engage us and participate in this enduring human endeavor.

I'll close with this by Kuspit:
The list implies the conflation of critical value and social value, where social value tends to be reduced to national value, implicitly understood as a bottom line value. To say this another way, price is political warfare carried out by economic weapons. Price signals a partisan national choice, and with that supposedly national art values.
Let me emphasize that while these art money comparisons raise art value comparisons, the market offers no conceptual follow-through or rationale for its prices. Indeed, whatever the national differences, it tends to preclude critical discussion of artistic differences, even as it crudely signals them. Money’s reason for being is enough to make the being of any art rational and give it critical import.

image: Justine Smith via pennyliscious

Monday, March 05, 2007

march madness: curatorial smackdown

LeisureArts has this witty send up on curatorial waters and college hoops. any odds makers out there?

click chart for full scale

Saturday, March 03, 2007

old yeller

Well it seems as if many Americans now realize that war is not a tailgate party after all. The Financial Times has this story on the decline of sales of the yellow ribbon car magnet.

The magnets, bearing the slogan “Support Our Troops”, became a symbol of patriotism for millions of US motorists.

But as support for the war fades, demand for yellow ribbons has collapsed.

Magnet America, the largest manufacturer of the product, has seen sales fall from a peak of 1.2m in August 2004 to about 4,000 a month and now has an unsold stockpile of about 1m magnets.

“Every product has a lifespan and this one has run its course.”said Micah Pattisall, director of operations.
hmmm, yes, every product does have a shelf life. Of course the other part of the story is how Chinese imports have had a major impact on sales. Luckily there is a new fad, True Love Waits - the latest in chasitity campaigning.

The American Folklife Center has a fascinating history of the yellow ribbon here. Its origin is a prison song (not Tony Orlando!) and the ribbon is very much a living tradition that can still be steered by a plethora of motivations by disparate groups.

Friday, March 02, 2007

fire walled

Consider the boom in fence building around the globe:
  • India and Bangladesh. A 2,500 mile (~$1.2 billion dollars) fence to seal the border from what India fears could become the "new Afghanistan."
  • US and Mexico. A 2,000 mile state of the art barrier being constructed in incremental installments.
  • Israel and the West Bank. 436 miles of concrete barriers.
  • Saudi Arabia and Iraq. A 550 mile wall at a cost of $600 million (part of a ring to encircle the entire country, as with the fence to the south with Yemen).
  • Spain and Morocco.
  • Thailand and Malaysia. 75 km border fence.
  • Pakistan and Afghanistan. A 2,400 km fence.
  • Kuwait and Iraq. Upgrade to the 215 km fence with Iraq.
  • Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
  • UAE and Oman.
Global Guerillas asks this relevant question:

If the Berlin wall (et. al.) were a sign of a fundamental contradiction in the communist system that ultimately destroyed it, are these walls a sign of a similar contradiction (albeit different, given the change in directionality)?

image: Mexican/US border via Subtopia

Thursday, March 01, 2007

when we all become photographers

Lens Culture has a post on the surge of photography in every aspect of our lives and the exhibition: We Are All Photographers Now. So what happens when we photograph everything all the time? Where are we all heading? And to echo Lens Culture further, what would Sontag and Barthes have to say? ...that would be fascinating

Conflict in Palestine © Keystone