Steve Powers -- Yet Another Graffiti Artist Hits the Big Time

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Powers has been in the big time for a while now, as you're likely well aware. I'm linking directly to the NYTimes.com's slideshow just 'cause that's the mood I'm in, and because Niko Koppel's article Still Painting Messages on Buildings, but No Longer a Vandal is front page in this morning's Times. Always nice to see artists displacing war, genocide, government corruption and crisis-year election news. Good going, Mr. Koppel!

Although his tag, ESPO, can still be spotted on storefront grates throughout New York City, Mr. Powers, 40, has stopped painting illegally. Working out of his studio in Lower Manhattan, he now shows pieces at a SoHo gallery, has published art books, participated in the Venice Biennale and had his first solo museum exhibition last fall at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Compare and contrast Steve Powers' work with the graffiti-to-gallery class of 1980 or so. It's cold, baby, cold! 20 degrees cooler outside. Short palettes, often black-and-white plus one sizzler. Bold type. Powers' graphic devices come straight out of vintage billboard and wall advertising, with a little carnival art thrown in to sweeten the mix. It's as if he's stepping back from the expressionist -- maybe 'post-Freudian'? -- painting of 80's graffiti artists and propagating a World War 2 aesthetic.

I'm all for ditching primal scream expressionism and fluorescent Sugar-Pop, but what was so good about the 1940's? Damned if I know, but Dublin can't get enough of it.
Mr. Powers has painted approximately 20 murals since January, most of them in Dublin...Mr. Powers returned this week to New York after spending nearly six months in Ireland working on his Fulbright. His idea was to create public artwork with the help of teenagers from troubled housing projects in Dublin and Belfast.
Big ups to Mr. Powers for pulling down a Fulbright and for working with kids growing up in difficult circumstances. I hope there's some sort of follow-up or program continuation planned for them after Powers returned stateside. Sometimes in these situations it's Mission: Accomplished for the missionary grantee and "What the hell do we do now?" for the kids.

Things like this should stick, don't you think? Not saying it's easy or cheap, but once you get kids excited and motivated like that, they need meaningful connections to take them to the next level, or the spark dies. Six months establishes nothing. It would be awesome if Powers could pull a month or two every year in Dublin for follow-up, help the teens establish some sort of self-running organization. He could even open it up to other artists.

More Steve Powers:
click click click

His technique is solid cartoon camp, very Pop-stylish right now. But in my opinion it's razor-sharp writing that really puts him over. It's the iconography of a bumper-sticker T-shirt sound-bite world.

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Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan -- Just Another Bush Lacky, Fessing Up

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Everything in Scott McClellan's 'been told before' tell-all book would have been highly useful five or six years ago. Unfortunately, McClellan spent those years lapping up the gravy of service to the worst presidential administration in American history.

Perhaps he considers it service to his country to unveil his insights regarding Bush administration manipulations, deceptions and incompetence, as though, at this late date, America would somehow benefit. But, of course, it's far too late to do any good.

Thanks a lot, Scott. You were a part of the mess that's been made of America, Iraq and the world. Like many others, you've made your money at America's expense. Now, please just go away.

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Andrea Ray – Désire – Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University -- Read it at ARTtistics

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Andrea Ray's three-part installation Désire pimp-slapped me with acrid accusations of white-bread upper-middle-class political torpor. But if I'm guilty, so is Andrea Ray, and so are you. See what I'm talking about at ARTtistics.

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Caminata Nocturna -- a three-hour simulation of illegal Mexico - to - USA immigration

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Art overtakes life yet again in the form of a 7 1/2 -mile fantasy adventure hike put on by Hnahnu Indians, native Mexicans whose population has dwindled substantially due to migration to the USA -- this according to Reed Johnson's Los Angeles Times article Fake border crossing the new outdoor adventure (through the Daily Herald) :

Dubbed the "Caminata Nocturna" (Night Hike), the three-hour simulation is a combination obstacle course, sociology lesson and PG-rated family outing. Founded in 2004, it's run by members of a local village of Hnahnu Indians, an indigenous people of south-central Mexico, whose population of about 2,500 has been decimated by migration to the United States.

Every Saturday night, dozens of the remaining several hundred villagers take part in the Caminata. Many work as costumed performers impersonating Border Patrol agents, fellow migrants and masked "coyotes" and "polleros," the Mexican guides who escort migrants for a fee.

The 7 1/2-mile hike, which involves quite a bit of running, costs about $10 per person. The money raised from the Caminata, and other park activities such as cabin rentals, rappelling and boating trips, is shared evenly among the villagers.

Fascinating to see the reiteration of this process:
  1. New culture forms from a traumatic wound in the old
  2. The cultural plasma -- the response of the people -- spills out through the wound, coagulates, solidifies, and 'heals' through change, the scarifications sometimes warping the entire organism
  3. The now-changed culture resorts to self-satirization as an immunization against that particular threat
More from the LATimes.com/Heraldextra.com:
A handful of media reports have raised the question of whether the Caminata is a kind of boot camp that trains Mexicans and Central Americans how to sneak into Brownsville, Texas, or San Diego. Hike organizers pump up participants with vaguely worded speeches about Mexican national pride and solidarity with migrants. The Caminata reflects the assumption that poor, desperate migrants have a right to seek work in foreign lands -- an attitude shared by most Mexicans, who adamantly oppose extending the U.S. border wall. But the Caminata seems intended more as a homage to migrants than an overt political statement.
Perhaps, as established as the dangerous ritual of illegal immigration has become to Mexico's national identity, varieties of this performance of the night migration will propagate throughout that country. Imagine a national or religious holiday in which it is reenacted, a new legend concerning an apparition of The Virgin that saves a family, or a kind of Mardi Gras or Day of the Dead -- a Day of the Crossing -- in which the migration to America becomes analogous to death's passage into Heaven.

Of course, an important part is missing from the Caminata Nocturna: the aftermath. In a nation where economic dreams come true, social nightmares are never far away.

Will the Hnahnu Indians add the part about camping out in the bushes below Getty Center in Los Angeles while working for swanky Beverly Hills hotels and restaurants? How about the part where fathers and mothers are seized at the Hormel plant in Iowa and thrown in jail? Gang violence, the drug trade, small town bigotry and building American resentment, too -- these all promise big things for the next phase of Caminata Nocturna.

I could see them getting $20 a ticket, eventually. Disney, you listening?

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ARTtistics -- a new art blog

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I was invited some months back to write for a new Internet publication being sponsored by an art moving and storage company called Mind's Eye. The project reminded me of early television, when companies would sponsor game shows, soap operas, early sit-coms and whatnot. I find the camp association to be kind of cute and, for all any of us know right now, maybe this is the future of the blog medium.

So long as I can write what I want --
and you'd better believe I will -- this should be a fun project. I'm writing with two excellent names in Artblog-ville, which, for me, is a real honor, not to mention a relief, since the project's success is much more in hand due to their proven talents.

This could develop in all sorts of interesting ways, so I hope you'll hit ARTtistics frequently. And I'll still be working this end of the woods, writing about any and all aspects of art and art making, not to mention bloviating endlessly about candidates and culture until nausea overtakes me some time in late October.

Stay tuned.

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Media sophistication at an early age: high school students read "1984" over the school intercom

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This was apparently a prank that took place yesterday in the Massachusetts town of Mattapoisett. As told by Standard-Times staff writer Jennifer Lade:

According to ORR High School Principal Sheila Haskins, one of the students read a passage from something they apparently were studying in an English or history class. Exactly what they read wasn’t clear, but Ms. Haskins said it might have been excerpts from a Fidel Castro speech. That was reflected in police reports.

However, some students (believe the students -- they know what's happening) said it was a passage from George Orwell’s novel, “1984.”

The intercom announcement was likely part of a senior prank, Ms. Haskins said, as today is the final day of classes for seniors.
It bears noting that, as this prank was being unleashed, freshmen and sophomores were taking their NCLB-mandated standardized tests.
Superintendent Bill Cooper said that although the announcement was a disturbance to the ninth- and 10th-graders taking the MCAS, it should not affect the outcome of the test, as students are given as much time as they need to finish.
I realize that there was probably more prank than message in the launching of this event. But, in some cases, art overtakes intention, which for me is part of the exploration aspect of what we do as artists, and, really, of how we live as humans.

We who call ourselves artists labor at a forge whose fires were originally lit by circumstances beyond our control. Through act of will we struggle to repeat an event that first took place at the junction of several forces, our own efforts being but one of them.

Some little genius dreamed up the idea of reading a passage from the last century's nightmare vision of a propaganda-driven class-stratified culture founded on complete and utter deception to ninth and tenth graders taking sham exams that will reveal nothing about what they truly understand.

Whoever the precocious little soon-to-be-graduate is, I hope she / he takes that thinking with them, brings it to the next level, and propagates it like a crazy fire in college and in a long, successful career, perhaps in politics or the arts.

Brilliant as I view their little act of defiance, these are still children, with lots of growing up to do:
After the intercom announcement, Ms. Haskins gathered the senior students in the cafeteria to speak about appropriate behavior and consequences if they acted out, according to a press release from the Mattapoisett police.

Some students were disruptive and disrespectful to the principal, and police were called. Five officers from Marion and Mattapoisett responded to the school, and all but one of them left a short time later, officials said.

“There was a level of disrespect shown to school officials and police by the students,” Mattapoisett Police Chief Mary Lyons said.

So, what was the most important lesson we learned today, kids? Disrespect only soils the message.

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Washington Post's Kevin Phillips: The Old Titans All Collapsed. Is the U.S. Next?

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Most interesting for me is Phillips' point about the replacement of industry with finance.

The most chilling parallel with the failures of the old powers is the United States' unhealthy reliance on the financial sector as the engine of its growth. In the 18th century, the Dutch thought they could replace their declining industry and physical commerce with grand money-lending schemes to foreign nations and princes. But a series of crashes and bankruptcies in the 1760s and 1770s crippled Holland's economy. In the early 1900s, one apprehensive minister argued that Britain could not thrive as a "hoarder of invested securities" because "banking is not the creator of our prosperity but the creation of it." By the late 1940s, the debt loads of two world wars proved the point, and British global economic leadership became history.
Phillips indicts Greenspan, Rubin and Paulson for refusing to regulate the finance industry. Would it be any great surprise, should this continued lack of oversight prove to have greatly contributed to the wealth of each of them?

Circumstances will eventually force us to rethink the relationship between government and capital. Wouldn't the great majority of us benefit by getting the jump on this now? If America's ability to project power worldwide is fated to subside, as seems the case, couldn't we begin shaping the final form now, rather than allowing it to be shaped for us?

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Keepers of Tradition:
The National Heritage Museum and the Massachusetts Cultural Council

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Linda Patch over at the National Heritage Museum sent me the skinny on an exhibition of the work of 70 Massachusetts artists opening in the very cradle of America, Lexington, Massachusetts. Here's the top of her press release:

National Heritage Museum Premieres
Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts

May 18, 2008 through February 8, 2009

The National Heritage Museum and the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) proudly announce Keepers of Tradition: Art and Folk Heritage in Massachusetts, a major new exhibition opening May 18, 2008 in Lexington. The exhibition will feature over 100 works by 70 Massachusetts artists who preserve and revitalize deeply rooted traditions. Reflecting the populace of Massachusetts, their art takes many expressive forms—from Native American basketry to Yankee wooden boats, Armenian lace, Chinese seals, Puerto Rican santos, and Irish music and dance. Passed down from person to person within both long-settled and new immigrant communities, traditional art involves the shaping of deeply held cultural values into meaningful artistic forms.

These keepers of tradition are recognized in their communities as outstanding practitioners of craft, music, dance, and sacred arts. Yet much of this work is hidden to the public at large, remaining essentially unknown beyond the local community in which it flourishes.

Keepers of Tradition draws upon eight years of field research by MCC folklorists. “This documentary fieldwork has taken us into the homes, kitchens, workshops, dance halls, places of worship, parade routes, and other gathering places where traditional art is produced, used, valued, and displayed,” says curator Maggie Holtzberg.

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Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance --
the complete, rather badly compressed version

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The film is from 1982, part of a trilogy and in somewhat of the spirit of Baraka. Maybe you've seen it; I've only heard of it just now. From the Koyaanisqatsi website, emphasis mine:

The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning "life out of balance." Created between 1975 and 1982, the film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds -- urban life and technology versus the environment. The musical score was composed by Philip Glass.

KOYAANISQATSI attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast! We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another. In our world the "original" is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive.


The film's role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from the experience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning. If meaning is the point, then propaganda and advertising is the form. So in the sense of art, the meaning of KOYAANISQATSI is whatever you wish to make of it.

This is its power.

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Market Forces / Part I: Consuming Territories
at carriage trade

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back into SOHO, they start opening up new galleries.

Amber Vilas emailed me today about Carriage Trade (or carriage trade), which, among other things, says this about itself on its website:

Through presenting primarily group exhibitions, carriage trade will function not as a means to promote the careers of individual artists, but to provide contexts for their work that reveal its relevance to larger social and political conditions prevalent today. A project of the artist / curator Peter Scott, whose exhibitions have attempted to highlight this relevance over the value of any given artist’s work within the hierarchy of the art market, these projects will intentionally combine well known with lesser known artists, and historical pieces (60’s, 70’s, 80’s) with very recent work. ...

Some themes to be addressed in upcoming shows include issues of propaganda in mass media, the effect of neo-liberal policies on the built environment and social relations, as well as the concept of “mistaken identity” and likeness within the realm portraiture.

Here's a piece of carriage trade's description of their current show, Market Forces / Part I: Consuming Territories:
Market Forces addresses the euphoric consumer culture of the last decade that manifested itself in a seeming overflow of goods and services and an explosion of luxury housing development that now dominates the urban landscape. The term is derived from laissez-faire economic theory and refers to a hands-off approach to the "natural order" of supply and demand. Used in this context, it is meant to invoke skepticism concerning the almost religious belief in, and militant protection of, our god-given right to consume. This two-part exhibition is intended to be as inclusive as the market is pervasive, with work that addresses the influence of consumerism on personality, labor, politics, and the built environment. Market Forces / Part 1: Consuming Territories will examine the profound effects of unregulated markets on the built environment and the psychology of the individual through their relentless quest to consume ever more territory and "claim" space.
The timing of this is kind of funny for me. I've been re-reading Postmodernist literature and Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, so it feels like a Marx bomb went off someplace. But it bears noting that, with millions yet again feeling the pain of an unbounded, overreaching aristocracy, it's high time a few courageously creative minds gave the economic system that powers history a serious re-thinking.

Check out Market Forces at 94 Prince St. 2nd fl, New York, NY 10012.

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Shaping Post-Imperialist America

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In this post from last year I invited you to imagine a post-imperialist America, ultimately with the challenge of imagining and then making its art.

For me this challenge, and its usefulness as an exercise, came from recognizing that America's worldwide dominance has greatly affected our culture, our perceptions, and Western art of the past century.

This dominance was, of course, never a necessary condition. Yet the sense of its intrinsic rightness, a belief that somehow a world-dominant America is self-justifying, still sneaks up on me, as I'm sure it does on many of you, in spite of what is now commonly known about America and American history, a history that continues to be written by all the wrong people through the commission of acts that, were they the acts of our own children, would bring us deep, debilitating shame.

You can't blame patriotism for these disconnects between our impressions and reality. It's insane not to believe in the greatness of one's own people and to stand passionately for their welfare when threatened. But I do blame the misuse of patriotism by a highly effective propaganda machine that's been in operation since long before I appeared.

I blame the misuse of patriotism for the ignorance of many who, like Pennsylvanian Nash McCabe, believe at their core that wearing a flag pin is meaningful in any sense, that decorating their car with a yellow ribbon magnet -- the great majority of which profit Chinese corporations -- is a substantive support for America's troops abroad.

America's worldwide dominance was always and only a confluence of temporal circumstances, held aloft by a handful of factors that each derived strength from the massive American workforce and from a sometimes tenuous balance between unbridled avarice, governmental oversight, an expanding market, and, I'm sure, other factors that reach well beyond my education.

The precipitous drop in US credibility worldwide, brought to you courtesy of your Republican Party and the Bush administration, has accelerated what, in my opinion, is the inevitable decline of American dominance.

Tom Friedman, in his Op-Ed piece Who Will Tell the People?, provides telling evidence that this decline is well under way. Here's a snippet:

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”
As I said, I view America's decline from world dominance as inevitable. If all we had to go on was world history up to the year 1776, we'd have sufficient evidence for its great likelihood. The only questions for me are how far and how precipitous must this decline be, and what will America be like when this decline bottoms out?

It's clear to me that part of the reason for our more precipitous decline under the Bush administration has been their wholesale support for the avarice of corporations that benefit from a ridiculously expensive war, and for the financial corporations that benefit from increasingly limited governmental oversight. These two factors, created by a government in bed with corporations, have tag-teamed America's economy to a near-standstill, while the aristocracy at America's helm has become phenomenally wealthy.

If we want to shape post-imperialist America in a way that guarantees continued economic suffering for most Americans for decades to come, all we need to do is to continue to elect government officials like Bush, McCain and Clinton, who bed down with big corporations as a matter of course.

These are the same officials who misuse patriotism in order to distract America's teeming swarms of Nash McCabes, and keep them marching lock-step behind the very corporations that exploit their every weakness for financial gain.

A better way might be to begin electing officials who can educate Americans out of faith in little bits of lapel-plastic and big strips of yellow magnet, and into a faith in themselves and in ideas.

Fareed Zakaria's recent Newsweek article The Rise of the Rest looks at America's decline in the world in terms of a dichotomy in which this decline is viewed as the negative against, I suppose, the positive of non-decline. He resorts to the 'ring dem bells' patriotism through the back door of America's no-longer-terribly-unique immigration model.
More broadly, this is America's great—and potentially insurmountable—strength. It remains the most open, flexible society in the world, able to absorb other people, cultures, ideas, goods, and services. The country thrives on the hunger and energy of poor immigrants. Faced with the new technologies of foreign companies, or growing markets overseas, it adapts and adjusts. When you compare this dynamism with the closed and hierarchical nations that were once superpowers, you sense that the United States is different and may not fall into the trap of becoming rich, and fat, and lazy.
I'd point to the closing hierarchy of America's aristocracy, and to the infrastructure issues raised by Tom Friedman, as reasons to be a bit more skeptical.

More interesting is Zakaria's blindness to the fact that America is already quite rich and fat. Our aristocracy is in fact financially bloated beyond all recognition. The problem for the rest of us is that it isn't also lazy, which would at least render it benign. Instead we've got an inconceivably rich aristocracy that is beyond morbidly obese, that nonetheless labors night and day, like a massive cancerous tumor, to make itself even more rich and fat, through extracting every scrap of wealth it can from the labor and bloodshed of the lower classes.

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General Ricardo Sanchez, Commander of US Forces in Iraq 2003-04, charges the Bush administration with "gross incompetence and dereliction of duty"

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In this snippet from the Time article, Sanchez is talking about one particular decision after major combat operations:

That decision set up the United States for a failed first year in Iraq. There is no question about it. And I was supposed to believe that neither the Secretary of Defense nor anybody above him knew anything about it? Impossible! Rumsfeld knew about it. Everybody on the NSC knew about it, including Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and Colin Powell. Vice President Cheney knew about it. And President Bush knew about it.

There's not a doubt in my mind that they all embraced this decision to some degree. And if it had not been for the moral courage of Gen. John Abizaid to stand up to them all and reverse Franks's troop drawdown order, there's no telling how much more damage would have been done.


In the meantime, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars were unnecessarily spent, and worse yet, too many of our most precious military resource, our American soldiers, were unnecessarily wounded, maimed, and killed as a result. In my mind, this action by the Bush administration amounts to gross incompetence and dereliction of duty.

Read it all in Time.

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Jack Goldstein -- The Jump

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Jack Goldstein -- Shane

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Continued aftershocks from Aliza Shvarts' abortion hoax media manipulation massacree...

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It's been a few weeks now, but Charles Lane over at the Washington Post still doesn't get it.

Whether Shvarts is telling the truth or, as Yale claims, was simply engaged in bizarre "performance art," the real issue is this: Where did she get such a gruesome, pornographic idea? And who taught her to confuse it with art?
It sounds like Lane's understanding of contemporary art is lodged high up in the cultural gastrointestinal tract of the 1960's. Someone needs to put a message in the background of beer commercials and Family Guy cartoons so that more people see it, in large block letters: Anything Can Be Art.

The real question is, why is Lane spending precious punditry moments chasing after this runaway horse weeks after it busted out of the corral and all the other pundits have moved on to other things? Sounds a bit like The Republican Chorus featuring Hillary Clinton: "Keep ranting about Jeremiah Wright! He's the closest thing to an I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it moment against Obama that we'll ever get!"

Funny thing is that, at least in the political sphere, "The Rubes" have wizened up.

Maybe it's just that this was a slow week for indignation, so Lane found himself sifting through old press clippings, looking for some pundit fodder. He continues:

Whether a monstrosity or a dishonest provocation, Shvarts's "project" was the reductio ad absurdum -- or ad nauseam -- of ideology and pedagogy that have been standard fare in the humanities at Yale and on many other campuses for years. Her supervisors -- Yale's fall guys -- probably didn't tell her no for the same reason that, in 2003, a New York University professor initially approved a student's proposal to record two students having sex in front of the class. (The NYU administration later nixed it.)

Here's a cute trick: a little Latin can make any self-righteous, anti-education rant sound just intelligent enough to win over the inattentive.

Pundits -- sure, I'm one, too -- like to use cute tricks to keep people distracted. It's all about entertainment, which is why you should never take a pundit seriously, particularly the self-righteous variety.

Thanks to pundits like Lane and the audiences who don't realize that punditry is a joke -- all of whom were likely the real targets of Ms. Shvarts' abortion hoax piece -- she may very well be torching pricey cell phone minutes fielding enthusiastic offers from galleries, curators and other deep-pocketed art-world types.

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