RIP Doris Day (April 3 1922 – May 13 2019)

A genuine legend passed away today. Doris Day died at home in California, aged 97 years, having recently suffered a serious case of pneumonia.

Singer, actor, activist—she was not only one of our last veterans of Hollywood’s golden years, she was also one of its undisputed superstars.

She led off with a singing career in the Big Band era, and jumped to the silver screen after WWII. She quickly rose to leading-lady status, and from there was one of the industry’s primary bankable stars throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Primarily known for musicals and romantic comedies, she was just as successful in dramas and Hitchcock thrillers.

Her ensuing semi-retirement brought a commitment to animal-rights activism, and later, a focus on the new AIDS epidemic in the mid to late ’80s. Her short-lived (26 episodes) CBN TV series, Doris Day’s Best Friends, gained international attention through a 1985 interview with a thin, visibly ill Rock Hudson, who repeatedly denied that he was suffering from any health issues. He died later that year.

Doris Day spent her mature years active, healthy; largely out of the public eye, but was recording and releasing music as recently as 2011. She aged gracefully, and celebrated her 97th birthday last month with a film retrospective and rare interview. Her family reported that she was in optimum health prior to contracting pneumonia in early May.

We say goodbye to Doris Day: a star, a legend, and a credit to her industry. There’ll never be another like her. May she rest in peace.

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No clean hands: the Bill Barr mess

One of the most important legal precedents in American political history is the United States v. John N. Mitchell. In the aftermath of Watergate, our 67th Attorney General was charged, tried, and found guilty of perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to a maximum of eight years imprisonment, which was reduced by half on appeal. He served 19 months.

John Mitchell’s fate (which included lifetime disbarment) serves as a stark warning to all future attorneys general: The top cop is not above the law.

It’s painfully clear that our current AG, William Barr, disregards this warning, and we can only hope he does so at his peril. Barr’s conduct throughout the snail-paced Mueller Report cycle has been an object lesson in how an Attorney General ought not behave. From his continuing spin of Mueller’s findings (which included that bizarre Trump laudatory masquerading as a press conference), to the gauntlet he threw today in the form of his defiance of Congressional oversight, Bill Barr is actively engaged in the destruction of his own credibility and reputation, and of the dignity and authority of his office.

But it’s worse than that. We now know that on March 27th, Special Counsel Robert Mueller took the extraordinary step of committing to writing his objection to how Barr was characterizing the investigation and its findings. Yet two weeks later, testifying before the Senate, Barr denied being aware of any dissent within the Special Counsel’s office as to the summary findings Barr had issued.

That’s perjury. There’s no other word for it.

It’s unclear, unfortunately, whether or when Barr will face any consequences for lying to the Senate. The GOP majority of that body made clear yesterday, upon Barr’s return to the Hill, that they have his back. Judiciary chairman Lindsey Graham led the effort, by accusing Dem members of his panel of “slandering this man.”

The White House, meanwhile, is said to be cheering on Barr’s defiance. During and after his Senate testimony, Trump was apparently on a conference call with aides and supporters, celebrating Barr’s “loyalty.” (Here’s an important note to Bill Barr and everyone on that call: in Trump’s world, ‘loyalty’ means serving and taking fire for Trump. It’s a one-way street. He won’t do the same for you.)

And the saga continues today. The AG has skipped a scheduled hearing in the House, reportedly in objection to the prospect of being questioned by committee lawyers. His supporters in Congress and in the Executive are, once again, over the moon. Never mind the fact that open defiance of a supposedly co-equal branch of government amounts to, pretty much by definition, a constitutional crisis.

Don’t underestimate, however, the penchant of the Democratic party to drag itself just as deep into the mud. Instead of treating the ongoing morass with the gravity and sincerity it requires, they instead opted for the cheap political points and the photo op.

So yes, we got an empty chair, a Barr placemarker, and a figurine of a chicken. Too subtle for you? Then the Dems drove the point home with a bucket of KFC. We get it, but…

We are not amused.

The government is in freefall, the republic is run by fools and thieves, and if ever we needed patriots—or at least functioning adults—it’s now.

Instead we have these clowns.

The two-party system, ladies and gents, in all its glory. May the nation survive despite it.

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Social-media dead to outnumber the living by 2070

Is there anyone dead on your friends list? It’s a little unsettling, isn’t it? The profiles just abide out there, zombie-like, occasionally generating macabre birthday notices and the like. In especially tragic cases, their walls take on the temporary status of virtual wakes, collecting messages of condolence and despair. That peters out after a while, but the profile lingers on.

To be sure, platforms like Facebook have procedures for the bereaved to delete the accounts of the deceased. By necessity though, it’s a bit onerous (otherwise the trolls would be reporting us all as dead)—most families don’t bother with it. That’s why the number of zombie accounts is growing.

This report opines that, based on the trajectory of new-user sign-ups, and the current death rate (holding steady at 100%), in fifty years the dead will be the online majority.

Anecdotally, it checks out. We Gen X’ers had our first wave of mortality, the unnatural deaths, back before social media was a thing. The early suicides, the accidents and terminal misadventures of youth, we did that back in the era of MS-DOS.

We’ve been dying of natural causes, more or less, since Zuckerberg hit his thirties. As of this moment, my account is still linked with a high school acquaintance who died last year of a stroke, another who didn’t survive open-heart surgery the year prior, and at least two who OD’d on opiates (so maybe we’re not immune to misadventure quite yet after all).

No one has wound-down these undead accounts, and by now it seems like no one will. And I can’t exactly unfriend them, can I? That’s e-desecration.

So this is, apparently, the new normal and it’s the vector we’re set upon. More of us will die, most of our accounts will remain online, and fewer and fewer youngsters will be interested in joining any platform their parents use. Dead accounts will be the growth sector.

But will they really become the majority? Only if Facebook is still around for another half century. That seems about as likely as a sudden resurgence of MySpace .

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Election 2020 – let the handicapping begin

It’s never too early for electoral predictions, and the 2020 presidential election is just 19 months away. Let’s go on the record with a Deconstruction of political prognostications….

While most are keeping a sharp eye on the bloated slate of Dem candidates, we’ll begin seeing soon enough that the real bellwether is going to be the Republican primaries. Renominating an incumbent president is usually a pretty yawn-y affair, but it won’t be this time. Trump will win his primary, to be sure, but it won’t be the cakewalk that he, and everyone else, is expecting. As of this writing, only former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld has officially entered the intramural scrum against Trump, but that doesn’t matter. As long as there’s a candidate with a pulse and reasonably conservative bona fides running against Trump, we’ll see some remarkable cracks in his supposed bullet-proof party loyalty.

Here’s why: It’s entirely possible, indeed it’s unexceptional, to be a social and fiscal conservative without being a nativist, a nationalist, or a crypto-fascist. There are a large number of Republicans, then—maybe a majority of them—that understand exactly what Donald Trump represents, and they don’t like it anymore than the rest of us.

Why don’t the polls reflect that? Because no one likes hearing “I told you so,” and no one bleats that phrase more than an aggrieved liberal. Also—those polls? They’re usually sponsored by hoary institutions with names like CNN, AP, Washington Post, and CBS/ABC/NBC. One thing Trump does have in common with these folks is a hatred of the news media, so the last person that a conservative suffering from buyer’s remorse is going to confide in is a media pollster. The second-to-last is any of their liberal friends or relatives.

But in the solitude of the voting booth, they’ll be free to express themselves. Trump will win his primary, but it’ll be a squeaker. That’s when he’ll realize he has a problem.

Over on the Dem side, the outcome of the primaries will entirely depend on whether the party back-office puts its thumb on the scale, like it did in 2016, or if they actually let their voters decide.

If it’s the latter, then electability will be the word of the day. The Democratic rank and file will be in no mood to make history or smash glass ceilings—it’s going to be all about Who Can Beat Trump. For that, they’ll want a reasonably qualified white guy from a flyover state: Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, and John Hickenlooper will be their go-tos. If they’re feeling adventurous, they’ll add Cory Booker and Mayor Pete to the list of front runners. Nostalgia and name recognition will gain some delegates for Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, but not enough of them.

Whoever that candidate is, come November, the race will be theirs to lose. It might be cliche to say that it’ll be the economy, stupid, but that doesn’t make it any less true. All indications are that the economy will continue to soften between now and then, maybe even slide into a recession, and if that’s true, then Trump will take the blame.

Those conservative voters will, at that point, hold their nose (and think of the judiciary, and RBG’s SCOTUS seat), and pull the lever for Trump. But that will not be enough. The independents, and the blue-collar voters from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, will not be fooled again. As we speak, they already well know that the GOP sold them a bill of goods with their 2017 tax cuts (remember when Trump said his rich friends were going to be angry with him? Good times)…and the Dems will not be parsimonious in reminding them of this.

So Trump will hold onto a core of GOP voters, minus the really disgusted ones who’ll be sitting this one out. With that, he’ll be lucky to pull down 35 per cent of the popular vote.

And that as-yet to be named flyover white guy? If he shows up, speaks with intelligence, and has a minimum number of skeletons in the closet, he’ll finish with 350 electoral-college votes, and the Trump era will be at a close.

You heard it here first.

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C’est une tragédie

What a heart-wrenching loss for Paris, for France, and for the world.

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Gaze long into this abyss

For the first time ever, we have a picture of a black hole. Behold the supermassive space-time phenomenon that lies at the heart of galaxy M87, 55 million light-years from earth.

The image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope, which is actually a network of eight ground-based observatories around the world, working in concert. The consortium announced today that they have successfully captured the first optical image of a black hole.

A black hole is as much a condition as it is an object—it’s a region of space-time warped by gravitation (probably, in most cases, initiated by the collapse of extremely massive stars) to the point that not even light can escape. The idea that gravity could absorb light was first proposed by astronomer John Michell in 1784, but it wasn’t until Albert Einstein developed his general theory of relativity in 1915 that black holes were named, and described.

For the next hundred years, more or less, black holes remained entirely theoretical, and it was thought by many that they’d always stay that way. In the 1980s, Stephen Hawking predicted the existence of a type of quantum radiation generated near the edges, or event horizons, of black holes, which might provide an indirect method of detecting them. It’s said that upon the publication of that paper, some anonymous physicist ran through the halls of his university, shouting to his colleagues, “Did you hear? Stephen has changed everything!”

Today, everything has changed again. Einstein was right, and so (of course) was Hawking. Black holes exist, they’re monsters (the one above is 40 billion kilometers in diameter—larger than our solar system); we know how to find them, and we can see them.

What’s next? On days like this, it feels like there’s literally no limit.

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Here’s what’s going on

I said hey.

What’s going on?

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The art of eternal employment

Lifetime guaranteed employment sounds like a concept from an earlier age, or perhaps something that never existed at all.

How about eternal, self-perpetuating employment? Economists can argue whether such a thing could ever be possible (economists argue about everything, you know), so it’s up to conceptual artists, plus a little seed money, to make it a reality.

Eternal Employment” at Korsvägen train station, near Gothenberg, Sweden, is a proposed art project conceived by the duo Simon Goldin and Jakob Senneby—they’re Stockholm-based creators who spin art from macroeconomics, drawn (as they put it) “to its (il)logical conclusions.”

Their proposal in this case is to collect the prize money offered by Public Art Agency Sweden and the Swedish Transport Administration, intended for art installations at the still-under-construction Korsvägen station, and invest the sum (about $650,000) in both international and domestic Swedish securities. Per their projections, by the time the station opens in 2025, the account should have grown to the point of supporting the employment of one person, at fair living wages plus competitive benefits, in perpetuity.

The absurdist subtext seems to be that since the salary is financed through equity investing, no actual value needs to be created by the (lucky) chosen worker. Thus, that person will have no job requirements, and no real job description. The worker will be required to report to Korsvägen, and punch a time clock which switches on a set of terminal lights. After this, the workday consists of “no duties or responsibilities besides the fact that the work should be carried out at Korsvägen. Whatever the employee chooses to do constitutes the work.”

A slacker’s (or trainspotter’s) dream job, to be sure. There’s sweet silliness there, enough to make me cross my fingers that Goldin+Senneby land their grant, and then cross my fingers and toes for my own chances once I send them my CV.

But don’t mistake silliness for the lack of message. (Sometimes silliness is just the right medium). Goldin+Senneby seem to want to blur the line that demands one economic class must constantly justify its existence, while another is free to create its wealth out of thin air. Why not leverage the means of the latter, in order to feed the former?

Subverting that paradigm might just open one job, in one Swedish railway station, for one person, forever. That’s a start, isn’t it?

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When the going gets tough, the snowflakes sue

It’s really quite impressive how many of us can go around with a copy of the U.S. Constitution in our hip pocket, yet still have no idea what it does and does not say.

Case in point: artist and Trump evangelist Julian Raven painted the above larger-than–life paeon portraiture back during the 2016 campaign. After his candidate won, he knew there was just one place to display it. Alas, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery said “nah.” Art is doubtlessly subjective, and the museum’s admittedly subjective reasoning (“It’s too big,” “It’s too political,” “It’s not very good”) was deemed insufficient by the ruffled Raven. He has filed suit, arguing that…well, it’s not exactly clear what he’s arguing. He cites First Amendment free-speech issues, but the pesky plain text there makes clear that our right is simply this: the government cannot stifle free expression. The fact that no deep-stater succeeded in stopping Raven from putting brush to canvas demonstrates that his rights were in no way infringed.

His painting was displayed to rave reviews at last month’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) conference, so it’s difficult for him to even say that his work is somehow being suppressed. The initial case was dismissed in U.S. District Court, with the presiding judge noting that far from Raven’s free speech being infringed by the Smithsonian, he was attempting to infringe theirs, by forcing them to accept art they didn’t want. That logic failed to impress, unsurprisingly, and Raven is appealing.

But maybe a U.S. congressman might understand how the Constitution works? You wish.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is suing Twitter for $250 million, claiming that the social networking site has violated his free-speech rights by actively censoring his tweets, while simultaneously working to promote anti-Nunes parody accounts, such as Devin Nunes’ Mom and Devin Nunes’ Cow.

Twitter hasn’t yet responded to the suit, for reasons that I can only assume are mind-numbingly obvious: they’re a private corporation, and their responsibility for Devin Nunes’ First Amendment rights is approximately equal to my obligation to train and equip the First Marine Division. Yet somehow the good congressman doesn’t seem to get that.

Or maybe he’s just jealous—of his cow. As of this afternoon @DevinNunesCow has about 100,000 more followers than @DevinNunes.

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The web at 30

The World Wide Web is celebrating a birthday today. Actually, on this date in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim, thank you very much) outlined a somewhat vague proposal for a new electronic information-sharing protocol.

But seeing as how the web is (ideally) a cybernetic agora of thoughts and ideas, then it makes sense to celebrate its conception as its date of birth.

To say that the internet and all its convolutions and offshoots have changed everything is so self-evident, I feel silly for typing the words. We all know it, no matter how ubiquitous information-sharing has become. Those of us who came up before this thing took over remember how different life used to be, and we won’t shut up about it. Those who have grown up in this brave new world have to listen to that—a lot. It’ll be a generation, maybe two, before the internet seems as timeless and invisibly normal as television has since the ’60s or so.

So the question isn’t really how much Sir Tim’s baby changed us, it’s whether those changes are, on balance, for the best.

I’ve wrestled with this. Most days the answer seems pretty clear—I perform my day job largely online. I write, blog, hustle, and side-gig likewise online. I see something shiny, I click, and it’s Amazon-Prime’d to me in hours, not days. At times like these I bless Berners-Lee’s name, and I’d knight him again myself if I could.

Then there are those other times. My connections are glitchy, so I can’t work or side-hustle and I realize, horribly, that I have no alternative tech to get the job done. Or I’m hacked or have some data stolen—it’s happened to all of us by now, hasn’t it?—and I stomp and roar because I didn’t sign up for this and it shouldn’t be happening.

But it is. Hate proliferates online. Elections are stolen. Misinformation spreads and grows sticky, and works its way into collective consciousness.

And even worse. Ever venture downstairs to the Dark Web? Do so at peril to your sanity; it’s ugly down there. It’s supposed to be some anonymous, libertarian Eden…but it’s largely what you’d expect when libertines can be anonymous and they can (largely) dodge repercussions. They’re selling guns, drugs, and people there, and it’s all enabled by the same concepts and infrastructure that gave us Nyan Cat.

I’ve wondered, more than once, if we all wouldn’t be better off if we just shut the damn thing down (isn’t there a big red button in Sir Tim’s basement?), and we schlepped back into the analog. But that’s fantasy, right? This genie has gorged, and its big ass won’t fit back in the bottle.

So what have we got? Well, we’ve still got Tim Berners-Lee. He’s marking this anniversary by calling for a new international compact to address the worst ways in which our mutual connectivity is being abused. He’s got some good ideas, as he’s always had, and we can only hope they’ll gain some traction.

Because yes, this thing is here to stay. Best we hope for is that it goes back to being a blessing, somehow, and stops being such a burden.

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AI-generated art as an economic commentary

Imagine if you will an algorithm, an AI, employed in the creation of chimerical floral forms—all as a dual exegesis on one of the world’s first economic bubbles, and one of its most recent.

And if that’s all too heady for your imagination, then chillax, you needn’t conceptualize it; it’s an actual creation (in the form of a video installation), designed and presented by London-based machine-learning artist, Anna Ridler.

It’s called Mosaic Virus, an evolving animation of an array of pseudo-tulips. They look like they could be cultivated variations, for the most part, but none have ever existed in nature…and some of them, occasionally, mutate into far-out formations that could never grace this earth.

Why? The AI that paints and repaints the flowers, that governs their growth, is slaved to the sine-like fluctuations of the bitcoin market—the crypto-currency that’s busy creating a few fortunes, but mostly draining away thousands of others.

Why again? Because this all hearkens back to a much earlier bubble, arguably the world’s first.

Tulip Mania” was the investing and collecting craze that overcame Europe in the 1630s. Less than a half-century after the tulip flower was introduced from Ottoman Turkey, it became the target of an unhinged buying binge, pumping up prices until the cost of a single bulb might surpass 10 years of wages for an average worker. Much of this was due to a mosaic-virus infection, after which Ridler’s work is named, that resulted in never-before seen color patterns in the tulip fields in and around Amsterdam.

Just as tulip mania reached fever pitch, and tulip bulbs had become currency-like commodities in their own right, the market collapsed, erasing millions of guilders worth of wealth overnight.

This very much ‘analog’ bust is mirrored in the digital one that’s looming just ahead. There’s the same illusion of rationality that’ll seem insane in retrospect, when the newly destitute recognize the ethereality of the perishable asset on which they’re pinning their hopes and dreams.

Anna Ridler captures not just that, she also captures–and subjugates–the ghosts-in-the-machine that pump up the bubble and will surely make it burst.

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Jay Inslee, the issue candidate

The 2020 presidential field is already crowded, and growing ever more so, so it’s probably far too early for any earnest handicapping. Even a modest “meet the candidate” effort becomes a frantic two-step, with more hopefuls announcing, forming exploratory committees, or being speculated upon and about, by the hour, by the day.

I won’t even try. But I will tip an admiring hat to the 23rd governor of the great state of Washington, Jay Robert Inslee, who formally declared his candidacy today.

I make this exception—which I insist on distinguishing from an endorsement—because Inslee makes clear in his announcement video (embedded below, or found here if my embed eludes you) that he’s coming to the race with a laser focus on a single, defining issue: climate change.

We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we’re the last that can do something about it.- Jay Inslee, March 1st, 2019.

Inslee is a baby boomer—he was born in 1951—but I believe he speaks here for all our cohorts, everyone alive today, or at least those of us who accept the overwhelming evidence before us and recognize the existential threat we face.

This all positions him as an issue candidate, and he’ll probably be (erroneously) framed as a single-issue candidate. That’s a tricky proposition—it risks an illusion of irrelevancy on the stump when the kitchen-table issues, or any other issues, are debated. Inslee might own the climate-change battlefront, but the pundits will tend to turn to Sen. Sherrod Brown, for example, for the blue-collar connection; or to Sen. Elizabeth Warren to discuss economic justice.

And while that’s not necessarily good for a candidate, I’d argue it’s good, maybe even vital, for the race. Precisely because this field is so crowded, we need aspirants willing to stake their entire claim, or at least the lion’s share of it, on an issue they’re willing to designate as the defining one.

Now is indeed the time to make climate change that issue. Collectively, we’re fiddling…and Rome is most assuredly burning. Jay Inslee’s candidacy is an urgent plea to stop the music, and to get busy saving ourselves.

That may or may not win the presidency, but on the first of March, 2019 that matters not at all. What matters is getting that issue where it belongs: at the center of our debates and in the forefront of our consciousness. Jay Inslee’s announcement today seems sure to make that happen. Regardless of where his run takes him, for this alone we’re in his debt.

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Damned fools and poets

Sometimes the words only flow in the form of verse. And oftentimes that’s very much appropriate….

.

All these impulses behind the wheels.
All those ganglia in motion, under instinct;
afloat on chemistry and wetware mechanics:
self-deluded unto autonomy
yet lizardly aware of all substrate -
and so content in retrograded detail.
Just a little more virus in Gaia’s time-sick vein.

Inhale a bit too much of that spark.
Too much of any history poisons you
but a sip sets you soaring.
And the taboo taste of your granddad’s grave dirt
surely tastes a lot like your own. Because…

tall things topple; we’re in an era of overbalancing:
fissures fizz out and transoms go missing.
Artifice appends the advance of geology.

For there’s no choice but to
drift down one muddy stream
or another
or to disdain the breath
while spanning the depths
whilst the sea pulls you home
like your mother.

Every damned fool and poet shouts a warning.
Not a damned one stays til morning.

.

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Deconstructing the art and spectacle of Ivanka Vacuuming

Performance art can be a challenge to interpret. By its very nature it represents a forfeiture of control—by relocating the creative process from the studio to the stage, and by producing and reproducing iterative art before a mutable audience, the artist-performer engages in a constant collaboration that can’t help but result in an ever-shifting message. Observers are left to wonder how much of that is part of the artist’s original intention, how much is serendipity, and how much is unintended static and unwanted noise.

That ambiguity is on display (and was apparently written into the script) with Jennifer Rubell‘s conceptual performance piece, Ivanka Vacuuming, presented by Washington’s CulturalDC at the Flashpoint Gallery through February 17th.

The performance consists of a smartly dressed woman, said to be an Ivanka Trump lookalike (debatable), vacuuming a pink rug in a sparse, pink-shaded back lit room. A table is prepared for the audience, set with a mountain of homogeneous white crumbs, which they’re invited to sprinkle on the carpet, thus queuing up yet more hoovering chores for “Ivanka.”

CulturalDC calls the piece “boundary-pushing,” which is apt enough, without directly addressing the messaging or subtext. Ivanka Trump herself did so obliquely, responding to news of the performance by tweeting, “Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up. I choose the latter.” Other members of the first family also took exception by tweet, with varying levels of indignation.

The umbrage might be appropriate, if the artist’s intention was to demean. Interestingly, that’s not at all clear. Rubell seems to lovingly embrace the confusion, calling the work both “complicated,” and “icky.” Her public comments on the piece make no effort to clarify what, exactly, she’s trying to convey with Ivanka Vacuuming. “It’s funny, it’s pleasurable, it makes us feel powerful, and we want to do it more,” she said. “We like having the power to elicit a specific and certain response. Also, we know she’ll keep vacuuming whether we (throw crumbs) or not, so it’s not really our fault, right?”

The fact that the creator asks the question is indicative of the layers of meaning we might infer here—and whether or not she can answer her own query almost becomes irrelevant. At the most pedestrian level it’s pure schadenfreude: we who have cleaned countless floors can symbolically engage with an icon who has likely never cleaned anything—and not just that, we can even make it worse for her.

Or maybe we, the audience are the damnable elites here? With all that pink—could Rubell have been positioning ersatz-Ivanka as the anonymous, ubiquitous feminine? She could have chosen any manner in which her subject could have been puppeteered—why vacuuming? It’s an epitome of domestic drudgery, and has a 1950s aura of benign repression. Every male audience member who tosses down crumbs just might be hearkening back to that. And every female who does so might ponder the other ways in which she girds the patriarchy.

We’re left with a number of questions, all centering around this one: Is Ivanka uber-woman, or every woman? And we’re given no answers…possibly because it’s not for us to know.

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Brazen art theft in Moscow

We’ll say it again: we in no way condone art theft, but we can’t help giving a little hat-tip to the more ballsy art thieves out there.

On Sunday, Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery fell victim to perhaps the most direct, no-nonsense sort of pilferage, when a man braved a bustling crowd of art lovers and helped himself to a 1908 mountainscape by Russian artist Arkhip Kuindzhi, titled “Ai-Petri, Crimea.” The painting is valued at $182,000. The heist was uncomplicated: the as-yet unidentified man approached the painting, which was not fitted with alarms but was covered by CCTV surveillance, he removed it, and calmly walked off with it. Bystanders barely reacted, and are said to have assumed he was a museum employee. The thief made good his escape, but was later betrayed by a police tip-off, and is currently in custody. He has denied culpability, and says he doesn’t remember where he was on Sunday. The painting has been returned to the museum.

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