Thursday, December 17, 2009

Order your Mandala Calendar

Calendars are being printed and shipped this week; they will be 9"x 9", on 100# paper with a glossy cover. The price of $18 includes tax and shipping. When you click the button you will be prompted to enter the number of calendars you want, and your shipping address.

The original drawings and watercolors will be available for sale as well; please contact Stephanie for prices. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rape and Parenthood

One of the top priorities on my parenthood to-do list, in addition to paying the rent next month, is to raise my daughter so that things like this don't happen to her. Forget all the horse/barn door advice; I'm going with Franklin's recommendation, and signing her up for kung fu classes as soon as she's walking steadily. Not only will some physical confidence stand her in good stead, but apparently, guys really dig kung fu chicks.

Because I don't want to raise my daughter to be afraid of men. I want to raise her with a little bit of common sense. And that includes giving her a few basic facts about life--for instance, "Guys are going to want to f*ck you."

Lord knows, my life would have been easier if someone had been willing to lay things out like that. I was raised by parents who believed that ignorance = innocence = virtue, and that they could protect me from all the bad things in life by sending me to the right schools. They implicitly believed that if you follow all the rules, you'll be okay, even if you have no idea why you're following them.

There are a number of flaws in this logic. One of them is that it's a terrible idea to teach people to be unquestioningly obedient to authority; that's how you get Guantanamo, the Holocaust and corporate America. Another is that however much you try to shelter someone, they're bound to meet people eventually who don't know the same rules.

So it was that I was sent out into the world by my clueless parents with this view of sex: Men would ask me out on dates. Any man who asked me on a date would 1) not be dating any other women, and 2) would want to be my boyfriend. After we'd been dating for several months, this boyfriend would try to talk me into having sex with him.

And I had my pretty, confident, non-judgmental little speech all ready for him.

Twenty-odd years of mayhem and miscommunication later, I don't know exactly what I'm going to tell my daughter when she's old enough to parse my sentences, but in some way it will include the information, "Guys are going to want to f*ck you. Some of them will be decent guys, and some of them will be predators. Many of them will assume you want to f*ck them, too, regardless of what you say about it.

"So it's a good idea to get to know guys pretty well before you go off into dark, secluded corners with any of them. Don't assume that a man believes everything you say, or that he's even listening; a dude in the grip of raging hormones is just watching your lips move while he maps the fastest route to your panties. Predatory men will get you drunk, tell lies, and use any kind of social or physical pressure they can think of in order to get laid. They'll also use all kinds of rationalizations to avoid the consequences of their actions, physical and emotional.

"That doesn't mean that all guys are jerks. It does mean that you have to keep your wits about you. And when you decide to go into a dark, secluded corner on purpose, with a decent guy, please take a condom with you."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Twelve Months of Meditation

As a first tiptoe into entrepreneurship, I am designing a 2010 mandala calendar. It is a 12" x 12" wall calendar, with high-resolution scans of mandalas that I've drawn from 2006 to 2009.

While working on the files I notice that the images do what they're intended to do--they calm me down. The fact that they're hand-drawn, and thus slightly imperfect, has a lot to do with it. Each line, each texture, is a record of an actual experience. They took a lot of time to draw, and you can spend time with them--a whole month, in fact--without, hopefully, getting bored.

The first print run will be small, and I'm hoping to keep the price down to around $20. I'll have a Paypal button for ordering, as soon as the proofs are proofed; if you would like to pre-order, please leave a note in the comments. If I get enough pre-orders I'll be able to do a larger print run. They will ship in time for Christmas.

UPDATE: It's going to be 9" x 9". Apparently, only Big Capitalists can print 12" x 12", because this requires an offset printer, and the upfront costs of offset printing are upwards of three grand. I have no illusions that my fan base is sufficient to purchase 500-1000 calendars, so a small digital run it is.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Art World is Dead. Long Live Art.

By now, anyone who cares is well versed in the Tragedy of Becky Smith's Bellwether.

Once sales dried up by the fall of 2008, Becky called three of her largest collectors, pleading for some business — “I tried playing it cool, and then I tried playing it direct,” she said. She recounted a typical conversation: “I need to sell you something to continue to be here,” she would tell a collector.

“I’m just not buying,” was the reply.

“Did you hear me? I have this artist you collect who will have to get another job. If I can’t sell you something right now, I’ll have to close,” Becky would say, but the response was the same. “I felt forsaken,” she recalled. “All these collectors who supported me and my artists, they just disappeared. They didn’t care.”
Although I was not the kind of person who ever registered on Becky Smith's radar, I feel about as sorry for her as Chris does. She was something of an idealist; even as she careened into a business that, at its peak, cost her $75,000 a month in overhead--more than most artists earn in two or three years--she thought that it was at least partly about the art. About ideas, creation, passion, beauty, humanity, exploration, the pursuit of excellence, originality and insight. That stuff.

I guess we all do.

I can count on one hand the number of Chelsea art dealers who have ever been polite to me. Polite, as in acknowledging my existence when I say "Hi, I'm Stephanie. You are..?" instead of blankly looking through me for a second before speaking to the person next to me. Polite, as in offering me a glass of champagne and allowing me to accept it, instead of moving it past my outstretched hand to the couple ten feet behind me. Polite, as in saying, "that would be lovely!" when I offer to show them my portfolio after visiting their gallery regularly for a year and a half, instead of "It's a waste of time for me to look at your work."

(Actually, not a single one has ever said "that would be lovely," even though that's my usual response to other artists. As far as I know, there's not a single Chelsea dealer who has any idea what my art looks like, let alone an opinion about it.)

That hasn't stopped them from sending me press releases, once the 'art criticism' business imploded and the art blogosphere took off. Talk about wasted effort. Dudes, get a clue: once you have been egregiously, offensively, unnecessarily rude to me in person, you can inundate me with hype and schmoozing for fifty years and I won't come back. I won't come back to interview you, have a glass of wine, or sneeze on the art. I will ignore you. You are a waste of my time.

But what I realized, after the Fall of Bellwether, was that some part of me still believed that there was some reason to respect these people. That no matter how idiotic, banal, frivolous and inane was the majority of the 'art' I saw in their galleries, nevertheless the New York Art World stood for some sort of quality. Some kind of allegiance to the life of the mind and the exploration of the spirit.

Then I thought, "$75,000 a month in overhead?" That's not art, that's fashion. Fashion, corruption, and excess.

Because a business that generates a $75K monthly overhead for a white room filled with arcane, useless objects can only be sustained by the kinds of people who happily pay themselves multimillion dollar bonuses in taxpayer money after their personal actions torch the global economy. It can only be sustained by the kinds of people who are driven to accumulate infinitely more than everybody else, no matter how many others go sick, hungry or unemployed. It can only be sustained, in other words, by sociopaths.

It's no mystery that I and the New York Art World don't get along. My interests lie in the direction of timelessness and balance.

'Twisted lotus mandala' (study), Stephanie Lee Jackson, 2009

Thus, I have realized that if I am to maintain my integrity as an artist, I have to forget about galleries. Instead I will seek to hang my work in wellness centers, yoga studios, doctor's offices, spas, churches, and any other place that exists to heal and nurture the human spirit, not crush and deride it.

I'm pretty sure this is the right direction to take, because immediately after coming to this conclusion, I started working steadily, despite being blocked for over a year, despite being broke and stressed and taking care of an infant all day.

Does that make me a kitsch artist? Well, it could, except that I'm not going to change into someone else. If people think my art is kitschy, they're not looking very closely. And if there's one thing I've discovered about New York art dealers, it's that very few of them actually know what they're looking at.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

One More Thing...

One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do (Part I)
46. Never acknowledge any one guest over and above any other. All guests are equal.
Particularly, never sit down at a table with three ladies who have gathered for lunch, next to the one you find most attractive, and monopolize the conversation for an hour and a half, by describing your job, your last four jobs, the personalities of the restaurant owners, and the stinginess of the diners regarding tips. Additionally, do not fail to bring any change when the ladies put down an amount of cash equal to twice the amount of the bill, until one of the ladies (not the one you are blatantly hitting on) says, "Could we have some change? We're not leaving you a 100% tip."

Thank you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blaming the Individual

for institutional excess:
never have so many members of the nation’s younger generations been so dependent on their parents and grandparents. Should parents set limits, or is this transfer of wealth a social and economic necessity in the long jobless recession? How has this growing dependence changed the country?
Although the various answers to this question are interesting, it's the wrong question. The QUESTION is, 'how has the country's economy created this growing dependence?'

To anyone who entered the job market during a recession, the answer ought to be obvious--while the costs of education, healthcare and housing have skyrocketed since our parents graduated from college, the number of living-wage jobs has plummeted. There is no longer any sane ratio between the price of a college degree and the salary that degree earns you; ditto between the price of a house and the average wage. And I don't even need to talk about health insurance.

The other thing that rarely gets mentioned is that the economy itself is changing so fast that it is impossible to plan a 'career trajectory' that will still make sense five years from now, let alone through 'retirement' (which, for most of our generation, is a fiscal impossibility anyway.) No sooner do you learn one technology, skill or profession than 1) the technology becomes obsolete, 2) your job is outsourced to India, or 3) the industry collapses. Thus, any successful 'career' in this millennium requires an enormous amount of adaptability.

Fostering adaptability is, in itself, not a bad thing (we could all take a lesson from rural China in that respect), but in our certification-happy society, all of us end up further in debt while financing our own retraining. Insecurity generates predation, in the form of absurdly expensive, worthless community college degrees, MFA programs, and arcane graduate degrees. By the time we've attained our certification in holistic health counseling, or DreamWeaver, or Windows OS, the world has moved on to Linux and hypnotherapy.

The fact is, that education, healthcare and real estate are no longer subject to rational market pressures. All three industries have become so enormous, pervasive and mythologized that they are draining us dry, with few 'opt-out' possibilities.

So, New York Times editorial board, give 'dependent' 20- and 30- and 40-somethings a break. We've been sold a bunch of bills of goods, and we have little choice but to sell more bills ourselves, or to curl into a fetal position and give up.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Base Paranoia

Cheers everybody! It's been yonks. Of course I have had opinions unlimited on the healthcare debate, most of which I cannot now recall. But today's Ross Douthat editorial yanked me out of my haze:
It’s the eventual endgame that liberals pushing a “public option” are aiming for: a federal takeover of the health-insurance sector, paid for by rising tax rates, in which the government guarantees universal access while using its monopoly power to hold down costs.
Let's leave aside, for a moment, the fact that the 'radical solution' that Mr. Douthat propounds is nearly identical to the one that I have been touting for years. I want to point out that the rhetoric he employs above indicates why it it is all but impossible to have a coherent discussion about healthcare these days.

Look: at the 'liberals' 'pushing' 'a federal takeover' with 'rising tax rates' to create 'monopoly power.' For Mr. Douthat, and thousands like him, there is no middle ground. Democracy is not a debate; it's a death struggle between opposing forces of freedom and totalitarianism. Any 'solution' is necessarily 'radical' because it involves the total defeat of one extremist point of view or another.

Granted, there are many progressives out there who think that universal single-payer healthcare is the way to go. On alternate Thursdays, I'm one of them. That doesn't mean that I'm incapable of 1) compromise, 2) seeing other points of view; or 3) seeking out alternate solutions which might be a creative hybrid of existing systems. It is perfectly possible to support a public option without simultaneously sending lawyers, guns and money to the secret Communist Liberation Army that is waiting outside the gates of every U.S. hospital.

Let me remind Mr. Douthat, as well as a few of my 'conservative' friends, of one thing--last time I checked, THIS IS STILL A DEMOCRACY. No 'liberal' is going to 'push' a radical solution down the throats of hundreds of thousands of entrenched and well-heeled interests without a great deal of trouble. The term 'public option' includes the term 'option' for a REASON. IT'S ONE OPTION. AMONG MANY.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

On Vacation

I apologize for my long silence; I've had a lot to say, but literally no time to say it. I'm working nearly full time and parenting the rest of the time, while trying to negotiate a mountain of unpaid bills without the resources to pay them.

But once I get my brain decompressed with a visit to extended family in Maine, I will once again be Posting like a Fiend. I promise.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dash Snow Dies; Nobody Notices

Dash Snow, the artist who is best known for creating a hamster nest out of shredded phone books in a London hotel room, is predictably dead of a heroin overdose. Tragically, not only was Michael Jackson's funeral the same week, but global infatuation with trust fund brats who bite the thousands of hands which feed them is at the lowest ebb of the century. Timing is everything.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Speak your truth quietly and clearly

and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

It was only after speaking truth and listening for a few decades that I realized a couple of things; first, that you have to repeat yourself a lot, matching your actions to your words, before anyone believes you about certain things. And second, the reason the dull and the ignorant are dull and ignorant is that they don't listen back.

Truthful statements with which I tested these propositions: "I'm an artist." "I'm moving to Mexico." "I'm moving to New York." "I love you."

It was a full decade before my nuclear family stopped tacitly expecting me to get over this 'artist' delusion and go to medical school. I had lived in Mexico for three years, and Brooklyn for two, before people stopped sending me invitations to events in Northern California with 'RSVP' on them. And some people I just stopped loving.

One thing I've learned, from running doggedly against the wind of other people's expectations for years, is that 'individualism' is a myth. Success requires community support. Look at the 'acknowledgments' on any CD, film, flyleaf, or program; the more financially and artistically successful the creation, the longer the thank-yous. The visual arts are no exception, except that visual artists tend to be even more bashful and egoistic than the average actor. Thus we have trouble asking for help, and resist acknowledging the help we get.

Moreover, the institutions which are allegedly in place for 'supporting' visual artists, such as schools, museums, galleries, and non-profit organizations, act as parasitic forces on the vast majority of artists. The art school I attended sucked its students financially dry while sabotaging their careers. Most juried exhibitions are funded by the application fees of rejected artists; grants and residencies are often awarded for political reasons rather than artistic ones; museum collections are still heavily weighted toward the white, the male and the wealthy.

It's easy to say that all of this shouldn't matter. A Real Artist will transcend all of that. And this is, to a certain extent, true. Creative people will find ways to survive, albeit not always comfortably.

But I drove myself to the verge of exhaustion, bankruptcy and despair by believing that people believed me, and now I'm wondering if it's worth it. Because if 'art' is not assessed according to the values with which it is created, it might as well not exist.

To be continued.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Go Placidly Amid the Noise and Haste

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

Ever since I can remember, the Desiderata was on my mother's dressing table, framed. I didn't think of it as a 'poem,' so much as just 'the Desiderata.' I absorbed it wholesale while having my hair dried as a child, and when I grew up and left home, it only seemed natural to print up a copy, frame it, and hang it by my own dressing table. My last ex-boyfriend from hell once suggested that I take it down and put up some other, different inspirational words, since 'those have been there long enough.' What a nitwit. The ex-boyfriend is long gone, the words are still there.

But lately, in this time of economic struggle and career confusion, I've been thinking about the ways in which my principles have shaped my life. Have they been good ones? Should I keep them? Or should I go in search of some other principles, ones which might bring me--well, if I can't have fame and fortune, solvency would be nice.

So I am inspired to re-examine the Desiderata in light of its specific effects on my life, hitherto. Line by line. If you get bored, there's the whole wide Internet out there. Hie thee hence.

As it happens, I do go placidly amid the noise and haste, and always have. Even when rioting in San Francisco in the early 90's, I was placid. That's probably why I didn't get arrested. I carry with me a serenity that is like a rope attached to an anchor in the center of the earth. When other people are panicking around me, flailing and gibbering and generating drama, I get progressively more placid and serene, in order to balance them out.

This is probably really annoying to people who aren't emotional parasites, which is probably why I have had a lifelong habit of attracting emotional parasites. (Present company excepted; emotional parasites don't read.) In latter years I have found that allowing myself to occasionally freak out--to show weakness and confusion, to admit that I am not, in fact, the Buddha--has allowed me to grow closer to healthy people, and keep the people at bay who like to put serene people on pedestals, then knock them off those pedestals and stomp on them.

Lesson learned: stay away from folks bearing pedestals.

I do indeed remember what peace there may be in silence. If a person has a problem with silence--that companionable silence of sitting in the same room, reading or working alongside one another for hours on end--that's a Red Flag. As in, "I can't do my Pilates workout/work in the garden/have sex with you, with you sitting there reading/sleeping on the couch/sewing like that. Stop it."

Silence is all the more peaceful when one of these individuals has left the building forever.

To be continued.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

At Last, Some Light in This Recession

Crocs are going under, not a moment too soon.
"The company's toast," said Damon Vickers, who manages an investment fund at Nine Points Capital Partners in Seattle. "They're zombie-ish. They're dead and they don't know it."
Normally, I am a fan of indestructible footgear, but you look at a pair of Crocs, and you think 'landfill.' Those are some ugly shoes. I have only ever seen one person wearing Crocs who was able to get away with it; she was a student at SVA, and I think her outfit involved some sort of fifties-style dress with cherries and an apron. The Crocs were red, and they looked properly satirical.

But you would think that any company which lives by fashion would understand that satire has a very short dateline. What on earth did they expect, that after selling 100 million pairs of hideous, non-bio-degradable shoes in seven years, that people wouldn't get sick of them? Already?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bad Mommies

Gosh, a lot has changed since I was twelve years old.
Bridget Kevane, a professor of Latin American and Latino literature at Montana State University, drove her three kids and two of their friends — two 12-year-old girls, and three younger kids, age 8, 7 and 3 — to a mall near their home in Bozeman. She put the 12-year-olds in charge, and told them not to leave the younger kids alone. She ordered that the 3-year-old remain in her stroller. She told them to call her on their cell phone if they needed her.

And then she drove home for some rest.

About an hour later, she was summoned back to the mall by the police, who charged her with endangering the welfare of her children.
When I was twelve, the lady down the street knocked on our front door and said, "I see you have a girl about baby-sitting age. Can she come over on Thursday?"

We didn't know this family; they'd moved in a couple of months earlier. Their kids were three, four and six. The three-year old was adopted, after having been removed from an abusive home. She was recovering from some sort of accident involving Drano, and its corrosive effects on two-year-old intestinal tracts.

All I remember about my first twelve-year-old babysitting experience was that at least one of the kids climbed a tree, that paying attention to three kids at once was a challenge, and that everything was fine. I became their favorite baby-sitter, because I played. The girl down the street just talked on the phone and ignored them. "She didn't last," the kids informed me.

I got paid $1.25 an hour. By senior year in high school, I topped out at a whopping $2/hr., except for the H---ls, who paid me twenty bucks an evening, even though their toddler went to bed before I got there and never woke up. Mr. H. drank Scotch while driving me home and made passes at me, which I did not notice as such, because married men with children must leave their wives before dating seventeen-year-olds, and I was no home-wrecker.

BTW, the mall-dropping-off incident happened in Bozeman, Montana.
An outsider, or someone used to a bigger, more crowded way of living, might be shocked to know that I left children that young in the care of two twelve-year-olds. But these kids were a pack. They grew up together in a neighborhood full of children. They walk to and from their local schools together, play together, and frequently spend time at each other’s homes.
My brother got paid $10/hr for mowing lawns. When I started applying for Real Jobs at the age of sixteen, four years of babysitting wasn't considered actual work experience.

According to the majority of commenters on Judith Warner's column, leaving five kids at the mall in Bozeman is 'child abuse and abandonment.'


Judith Warner thinks that this incident illustrates pervasive societal hatred of educated women. I think it illustrates a backlash in parenting philosophy since the laissez-faire seventies, plus an unhealthy dose of mass-media-induced paranoia. Plus a bad case of the butt-inskis.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Toward a Sane Conservatism

No, it's not an oxymoron, although the way the right wing has been behaving lately, you'd never know it.

Contrary to the assumptions of a few of my dear readers, I do not wish a 40-year stint in the wilderness on the Republican Party. I just wish that so-called 'conservatives' would develop a greater capacity for cognitive complexity. As poor, beleaguered David Frum can attest, most of the right wing is currently undergoing a fatal Failure to Discriminate among some all-important conceptual nuances. So, a primer:

Limited government is not synonymous with corrupt, incompetent government.

Regulation that cripples industry is not the same as regulation that cripples predators.

Listening is not a weakness.

Government-funded is not the same as government-run.

Rationing can be, and is, imposed by privately-run health insurance corporations.

Corruption and waste may be implemented by the military.

America is not a particularly free country.

And last, but not least: Obama is not a progressive.

If Obama were a progressive, DADT and DOMA would be dead in the water. Single-payer healthcare would be right in the middle of the table. Indefinite detention without charge would be off of it. Marijuana would be decriminalized. Credit card interest rates would be capped at 13%. We'd have seen those photos. Dick Cheney would be in handcuffs. Gas would cost $4 a gallon. Banks would have been nationalized. Agribusiness would have lost all subsidies.

I would go on, but it hurts too much.

So, ye self-identified 'conservatives'; be grateful. Our current President is the closest thing to a true conservative we've got.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Palin's Pathology

I have never been in the business of making political predictions, but here goes: Sarah Palin will run for President. I don't think she'll get very far, but I'm sure that this is her fixed intention.

I'm certain of this because I'm equally certain that Palin is a clinical narcissist. I've known a few, up close and personally, and once you've had your dearest dreams and your greatest projects trampled to smithereens by one of them, you start to pick up on the Red Flags. was easy to learn that there has always been a counter-narrative about Palin, and indeed it has become the dominant one. It is the story of a political novice with an intuitive feel for the temper of her times, a woman who saw her opportunities and coolly seized them. In every job, she surrounded herself with an insular coterie of trusted friends, took disagreements personally, discarded people who were no longer useful, and swiftly dealt vengeance on enemies, real or perceived.
The most important thing to understand about narcissists, beyond the fact that they literally Destroy Everything, is that they are perfectly capable of making monumentally stupid decisions--decisions that a retarded, violent sixteen-year-old boy in a state of hormonal overdrive would reconsider--despite their exceptionally high IQs. That is because their priorities are ordered so as to grab for the maximum ego gratification in every moment, regardless of the long- or even short-term consequences. Thus:
By all accounts, Palin was either unwilling, or simply unable, to prepare. In the run-up to the Couric interview, Palin had become preoccupied with a far more parochial concern: answering a humdrum written questionnaire from her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman. McCain aides saw it as easy stuff, the usual boilerplate, the work of 20 minutes or so, but Palin worried intently.
Can you actually imagine this? Imagine that you are about to be interviewed on national TV while running for Vice President of the United States, that you know next to nothing about the issues you are likely to be asked about, and instead of studying your a** off, so as not to humiliate yourself, you obsess about a tiny project that one of your aides could easily do FOR you?

But anyone who has ever tried to complete a major project on a deadline with a narcissistic colleague will recognize this scenario. The more urgently you have to focus, prioritize and work as a team, the more the narcissist creates dramas out of trivialities. It reaches the point where more than half of the group's energy is deflected into placating the narcissist's fears, obsessions and demands, when all of that energy is required to get the job done.

If you manage to successfully navigate the crisis, moreover, the narcissist will be sure to take the credit for it; if catastrophe results, they will loudly blame everyone but themselves. It doesn't really matter to them either way, because their primary objective--sucking all the focus onto themselves--has been met.

Narcissists do not care about Facts; they care about getting what they want, Right Now. Ergo the Odd Lies:
I should reiterate that Palin's lies are not the usual political ones. They are stark assertions of fact that are demonstrably and provably untrue...The point is not that this is a grave sin. It isn't. Most of her lies aren't (with a few exceptions). They are just a function of someone who makes stories up all the time, who says things that may momentarily impress but that are inconsistent with past statements and with, you know, reality.
I am a gullible person. It simply doesn't occur to me that people would lie to me. I take most statements utterly at face value, even when they are at flagrant odds with what I know to be true. I will stand there and wonder, "huh. I wonder why she would say that? Maybe I'd better reconsider my entire world view," before it will dawn on me that maybe she just MADE IT UP.

So when it finally sinks in that yes, your business partner DID just tell a blatant lie about you, in front of you, to a person who has the power to make or break your career, you tend to remember the moment. You tend to spend a lot of time analyzing the events that led up to that moment, and the motives of everyone involved. You do so because if it ever happens again, you will have to kill yourself.

And when you finally conclude that your partner's motives were nothing more than to 'momentarily impress,' you are impressed, all right. political principle or personal relationship is more sacred than her own ambition. To be sure, Palin is “conservative,” whatever that means, but she can be all over the lot in the articulation of her platform.
Most narcissists are incapable of listening, in any but the most superficial way. Other people's concerns don't really exist for them, except as possible levers with which to manipulate. They will appear to listen; they will earnestly tell you what you want to hear, then do exactly what they please, over and over and over again. And they will be genuinely surprised and betrayed when you get upset about it.

I read a lot of punditry by gullible people like myself--people who spend their energy worrying about Palin's political philosophy, her religious beliefs, her positions on abortion, taxes, big government and foreign policy, as though these were the most important things about her. I see people seriously speculating as to why she'd shoot her career in the foot by resigning her governorship if she really intends to run for President; I see them making prescriptions of what she ought to be doing and learning to prepare herself for the job. And I think these people are grossly overthinking it.

Because the answer is staring them in the face. Just being the Governor of Alaska is tedious and boring when, in your fantasy, you see yourself being addressed as Madame President, holding court to adoring foreign leaders, and orating in front of cheering crowds. That's it. That's all. That is the sum total of thought or motivation that has gone into Sarah Palin's decisions since she was cynically inflicted on the national scene in a moment of desperation.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's 3 AM. Do you know what your money is doing?

I have to admit, when I saw the headline, "Madoff Takes Responsibility," I snorted. Dude, it's too late. The only way that Madoff could potentially redeem his debt to society would be to donate his brain to science, in the hope that we can isolate the Sociopathy Factor, and eliminate his kind from future generations. Lame journalism reached a new nadir as the writers solemnly decribed the millions of dollars worth of assets that are being liquidated in order to repay billions of dollars in judgment. His wife only gets to keep her $2 mil in cash, poor thing.

Neither am I particularly a fan of the legions of articles and comments that blame Madoff's victims for being victims. These people, some of them, are having a hard enough time without being excoriated for projected character flaws by others who, at bottom, are just afraid it might happen to them.

But then, I have to wonder--what did these people think their money was up to?

Back when I was an eager, idealistic adolescent, I realized that as a member of a First World nation, the biggest effect my existence has on this planet, for good or ill, is what I do with my money. I can recycle, compost, agitate against plastic bags and for 'green' energy every waking moment of my life; I can work in a 'healing' profession, I can be kind to strangers, children and homeless people. But when global economic conditions are such that a $25 micro-loan can make the difference between starvation and prosperity for an entire Third World family, I have to accept that my point of maximum global leverage is financial, even if I'm at the extreme low end of the income curve in my social circle.

That means that when I get an IRA rollover when I leave my civil service job, or a windfall from a relative, I need to be careful what I do with it. Not only because I ought to be planning for 'retirement' (as if--I'll be painting, blogging and giving meddling health advice until I drop), but because all of my vaunted values are mocked if my money is off pillaging rain forests and propping up brutal regimes while I sleep.

Like many people, I am not consumingly fascinated with the ins and outs of finance, trading or big business. I'm perfectly happy to park my money with a dependable expert and check on it every now and then. But it seems only common sense to park it with some people who are going to do a rainforest and brutal-regime filtering process before they use it. That is why, for the last ten years, my miniscule IRA has been invested with Sentinel Investments, formerly Citizen's Funds, a sustainable investment firm that looks at the real-world consequences of its actions, not just the bottom line.

(N.B.: Sentinel Investments is not paying me a dime for writing this post; in fact, they don't even know I'm writing it.)

I haven't suffered financially more than anyone else for doing this. The paper value of my IRA dropped by about half when the stock market did, but during the years when the market was doing well, it did better. The fact is, not only is myopic greed a lousy principle on which to run a society, it's not even a good investment strategy. You might make a buttload of money smuggling guns to thugs, but you still run the risk that a rival thug might torpedo both your profit margin and your boat captain.

So in the end, I have to assign at least some responsibility to Madoff's bilkees. Not for not understanding investment banking; for trying to get a lot of money without ever thinking about what money is for. Money is not a moral force, in and of itself; it is merely a tool for doing things. And it behooves those of us who have it to take responsibility for what those things are.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Black Art

Received in the mail today, in an imposingly funereal envelope:

For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you. The Black Card is not just another piece of plastic. Made with carbon, it is the ultimate buying tool.

The Black Card is not for everyone. In fact, it is limited to only 1% of U.S. residents to ensure the highest caliber of personal service is provided to every cardmember.

• Limited Membership

• 24 Hour Concierge Service

• Exclusive Rewards Program

• Luxury Gifts

• Patent Pending Carbon Card

•Annual Fee $495

Say, wouldn't it be fun to actually get one of these, use it to go on a whirlwind tour of the major continents, and then declare bankruptcy? I could easily write up an Artist Statement about the insidious destructiveness of capitalism, the cultural meme of excess, and the arrogant disconnectedness of the First World. I could ironically call attention to global warming by contributing directly to the problem, flying around the planet on a carbon card.

I would, of course, extensively document my travels and the ensuing bankruptcy (using cutting-edge photographic, video and computer equipment, which I will also charge to my Black Card account), and then someone like Larry Gagosian, Mary Boone or Jeffrey Deitch will have plenty of performance artifacts to sell to the kinds of people who would get this card for real. If they do their job well enough I'll even be able to resuscitate my credit rating, so that I can do it again and again, finally achieving a successful art career.

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