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Bully/Jerk -- It's Not the Same

Tue, 2014-10-07 13:21
When my kids were little we would play a game called "Degrees". I would throw out a topic like "hunger" and we would list words that described hunger by degrees... peckish, hungry, famished, starving... like that. For "rain" it might be mist, drizzle, shower, downpour. It was no Dodge Ball or Red Rover, but it killed some time on a car ride. It also taught my kids that they could and should pick and choose words that most accurately describe something... or someone. This skill seems to be lost on many adults who are quick to assign the label "bully" to someone who is several degrees away from deserving that title.

The word "bully" is a loaded (or used to be loaded) word that is now used so often, that it's intended meaning is beginning to lose its impact. I can hear the cries going up now "WHAT!? How can you even say that?! Bullying is bad! We need to bring more awareness to it! Talk about it more! Seek it out and vanquish it!" I agree, bullying is bad -- so bad in fact that I think the very title of "bully" needs to be reserved for those who really, truly are... bullies. More and more I see that noun, that very specific title, being leveled against kids who were undoubtedly out of line, or did not use good judgment, or were being thoughtless, but were not being bullies. Being an insensitive boob is not the same as being a bully. Being a cretin is not the same thing as being a bully. Using strength and/or power to intentionally harm or intimidate someone is being a bully.

I am not downplaying the physical and emotional damage that derives from bullying. I know full well that bullying is a very painful, prevalent reality for kids of all ages. Bullying can lead to depression and even suicide and can have long lasting effects into adulthood. I understand that and I think, like most folks do, that bullying needs to be identified, stopped and prevented.

Here's the thing, over the past few years, with good intentions, parents, teachers and administrators are using "zero tolerance" to label any behavior that is not supportive, kind and compassionate as "bullying". The reality is, not every kid is a nice kid, and even a nice kid can say and do stupid or insensitive things once in awhile. Conflicts are going to happen. Assigning every jerk in the class the title of "bully" diminishes the word and desensitizes kids to what bullying really is. If Joe, who unthinkingly camel kicked Kurt while walking through the hall, is sent to the office for "bullying behavior," and Pete, who deliberately gave Sam a swirly in the bathroom stall is also sent to the office for "bullying behavior," then Joe the dopey camel kicker is no worse than Pete the malevolent swirly giver. Employing "zero tolerance" means treating them both as bullies. To kids "zero tolerance" is evolving to mean "it's all the same". A drizzle is the same as a downpour. It's all rain.

If every uncomfortable encounter a kid has with another kid is labeled "bullying" it not only diminishes the episodes of true bullying that kids have experienced, it also allows parents to dump the whole situation on the school to handle. If I as a parent, hear about an encounter my kid has had with a jerk, I talk to my kid about how to handle the jerk. If I as a parent hear about an encounter my kid has had with a bully, I am going to contact the school before it goes any further and insist that they intervene. Labeling a difficult situation "bullying" puts the onus on the school to handle. The school shouldn't have to use up time and resources mediating every unpleasant encounter. If the actions warrant the word "bullying" absolutely the school should step in. However, due to "zero tolerance" policies, immature oafish behavior is treated the same as premeditated intimidation. Much like every "good" experience does not deserve to be called "awesome," every encounter with an oaf is not an encounter with a "bully".

My kids have all had other kids be "mean" to them. In almost all of the cases, after hearing the stories, I said, "that kid was being a jerk". Only once did I agree that one of my children was indeed being "bullied". Another kid was targeting, singling out, and deliberately making my kid's life miserable for the sake of gaining power and control. In all the other instances, and there have been several, I have said "they are being jerks and you will always have jerks in your life. You cannot control anyone else's behavior. Only how you respond to it." Equally, we have had talks where my kids have said "Mom, I said such and such to a kid at school. Was that being mean?" Being a kid means being inexperienced when it comes to social interactions, and as they hit adolescence it actually gets worse instead of better. Young kids will say and do things without thinking. Adolescent kids will say and do really stupid things without thinking. Kids can be careless, thoughtless and tactless, but that is not the same thing as being a bully.

I do not shrug off asshole behavior with the excuse "boys will be boys" or bitchy behavior with the excuse "that's just how girls are". I think those responses to kids behaving badly are cop-outs, used by parents who don't feel like parenting. I think teachers and parents should not let rude or insensitive behavior slide. It does need to be addressed and handled, but call it what it really is though... rude or insensitive behavior. By using "zero tolerance" to label every jerky or snarky kid a "bully", you not only unfairly label a kid, you allow the bully, the true bully, to be placed in better company than he deserves, because kids, including the bullies, are being taught that there is no difference between being a jerk and being a bully. It's all the same.

Cell Phone Video Captures Police Smashing Window, Using Stun Gun During Traffic Stop

Tue, 2014-10-07 12:41
A northwest Indiana police department is facing a federal lawsuit after a family claimed an officer used excessive force on them during a dramatic traffic stop captured via cell phone video.

Lisa Mahone was driving, along with her boyfriend Jamal Jones and two children, to visit Mahone's ill mother at Stroger Hospital on Sept. 24 when they were pulled over by Hammond, Indiana, officers for a seat belt violation, the Post-Tribune reports.

According to the lawsuit, officers pulled them over in a "highly aggressive" manner, placing spike strips in front of the car and asking for both Mahone's driver's license, as well as Jones' identification.

Jones told the police he did not have a driver's license because he had recently been ticketed for not paying his insurance, per Mahone's complaint, and when he went into his bag to show them the ticket, officers reportedly refused to look at the ticket, ordered Jones out of the vehicle and pulled out their guns. Jones refused to exit the vehicle "because he feared that the officers would harm him."

Around this time, Mahone's 14-year-old son began recording the exchange, using the camera on his cell phone. His footage, uploaded to YouTube on Oct. 5, captures Mahone talking to police on her phone in an attempt to explain the situation, as well as the ongoing exchange between Jones and the officers.

The video shows the officers breaking the car's passenger window, spraying glass into the vehicle, and pulling Jones out of the car to arrest him. Officers also appear to use a stun gun on Jones while he is in view of the car. Mahone's 7-year-old daughter can be heard crying in the background.

The Chicago Tribune reports Jones was cited for resisting law enforcement and refusal to aid an officer. Mahone was also cited for a seat belt violation.

Mahone's lawsuit accused two named officers, as well as "other unknown officers," of using excessive force in the traffic stop. Both named officers have previously been cited in lawsuits alleging the excessive use of force and arrest without probable cause, according to the complaint.

In response to the lawsuit, Hammond Police stood by the officers' actions, saying in a statement reported by Fox Chicago that the officers "were at all times acting in the interest of officer safety and in accordance with Indiana law. ... In general, police officers who make legal traffic stops are allowed to ask passengers inside of a stopped vehicle for identification and to request that they exit a stopped vehicle for the officer's safety without a requirement of reasonable suspicion."

A Hammond police spokesman added in a prepared statement to CBS Chicago that the officer did not break the window and remove Jones until some 13 minutes after the traffic stop began. The spokesman also claimed Jones was seen to "repeatedly reach towards the rear seats of the vehicle," causing officers to fear that there was a weapon in the car.

The vehicle was never searched for weapons, Mahone's attorney, Dana Kurtz, told Fox.

Mahone's complete complaint is below:

Complaint against Hammond Police by jpuchek

Watch Marriage Equality Go From Minority Issue To Majority Right In Just A Few Years

Tue, 2014-10-07 12:40
On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to conduct same-sex nuptials, following a decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court the year before. The state issued hundreds of marriage licenses, couples tied the knot and the rest of the nation waited. And waited.

In the summer of 2008, gay couples in California were briefly granted the right to get married, only to have it taken away in a voter referendum later that year. The California referendum passed just days before Connecticut became the next state to legalize same-sex marriage. More than four years passed between the first and second states embracing marriage equality, but the movement would move much faster from that point on. In the previous two years alone, gay marriage has advanced from a minority issue in a few, mostly blue states to a full-blown majority right in 30 states across the nation, as well as Washington, D.C.

More than 60 percent of Americans now live in states that allow same-sex nuptials, HuffPost's Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel reported Monday in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear appeals from states challenging lower court rulings that had recently legalized gay marriage. With 11 more states now beginning or set to begin allowing same-sex marriages, check out how the equality movement has grown below.



GIF created by Jan Diehm

Reboot Illinois poll finds Quinn has moved ahead of Rauner in Illinois governor's race

Tue, 2014-10-07 11:32
A new Reboot Illinois poll shows Gov. Pat Quinn edging ahead of Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.

The poll, conducted Oct. 6 for Reboot Illinois by We Ask America, showed Quinn leading Rauner 44 percent to 40 percent. It's the first of four Reboot Illinois polls to show Quinn ahead of Rauner, who had dominated the race in nearly two dozen polls from various sources dating back to March.

Quinn was especially strong in Chicago and the Cook County suburbs in the new Reboot Illinois poll. His success in Cook County and Chicago in 2010 helped him overcome poor showings downstate and in the collar counties and win by less than one percentage point.

As always, the new poll is merely a snapshot in time, not a predictor of the Election Day outcome.

"Pat Quinn has passed Bruce Rauner, but there is plenty of maneuvering space left for both candidates, especially in light of nearly 35 percent of voters not that confident they are choosing the right candidate," said We Ask America Chief Operating Officer Gregg Durham. "There has been some real upheaval in the location-based crosstabs where Quinn is solidifying his Chicago and suburban Cook County base."

Check out the poll at Reboot Illinois to see just how confident respondents were that they chose the right candidate.

Another poll conducted the same day found that Democrat Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is maintaining a strong lead among likely Illinois voters over opponent Republican Paul Schimpf. About 56 percent of respondents said they would vote for Madigan, while a little more than 31 percent said they would choose Schimpf. Almost 5 percent said they favored Libertarian candidate Ben Koyl and nearly 8 percent were undecided. How did those numbers break down across geography and demographics?

Discover the Cult of Lincoln at Springfield's Historic Pasfield House Inn

Tue, 2014-10-07 11:02

My 10-month-old son and I recently went on a three-week road trip down Route 66, from Chicago to Santa Monica. We stayed in an array of accommodations, from boutique hotels to roadside motels, from Wigwams to Wagon Wheel cabins. One of our favorite nights was spent at the Pasfield House Inn in Springfield, Illinois. As a history buff I was pretty excited to visit Springfield, former home of Lincoln (easily in my top 5 of U.S. Presidents) and a slew of iconic Route 66 spots like the Cozy Dog Drive-In (home of the world's best corn dogs). Oh, and the chilli. Mustn't forget the chilli. Springfield actually passed a resolution in the early '90s declaring itself the "Chilli Capital of the Civilized World." 






When we arrived it was very late, but the owner of the Pasfield House, local historian Tony Leone, didn't just leave a light on to make us feel welcome, he personally greeted us with that famous Prairie State hospitality. We felt immediately at home. Then we walked into the Georgian inn, a Springfield Landmark, and were blown away by its well-appointed antebellum style. The home was built in 1896, by the grandson of one of Springfield's most wealthiest citizens, and it's been lovingly preserved, under the care of Mr. Leone since he purchased it in 1996. The massive renovation undertaking was finally completed in 2002. It's now a 6-suite bed and breakfast that just oozes charm.






From the granite-top kitchenettes to the the relaxing jacuzzie baths, every detail has been meticulously thought-out and well-considered by Mr. Leone. I could have easily spent an entire week there, and I was informed that in fact the inn sees quite a lot of visitors, especially repeat guests, who visit while on a Lincoln-inspired pilgrimage. You see, there's a veritable "cult of Lincoln" comprised of history buffs who follow in the footsteps of the sixteenth President and learn as much about his life as possible.






The connection between the Pasfield House and Lincoln is interesting. George Pasfield was a banker who met Lincoln when they both lived in Springfield. They bonded over their experiences aboard a New Orleans flatboat. Pasfield and Lincoln were both involved in establishing the state capital in Springfield and Pafield became the patriarch of one of the wealthiest families in Springfield. Owning acres upon acres of land around the State Capitol.






Talk about location! The inn is within walking distance to the Illinois State Capitol and downtown Springfield. It was also close to the Cozy Dog, so we had corn dogs and french fries for breakfast, because when in Rome... Next time, I'm also going to definitely do the Lincoln Ghost Walk Tour, a spirited 90-minute, 10-block tour of Lincoln's life and death.






Leone has been accumulating accolades for this impressive restoration, as it reflects on the grandeur of Springfield's bygone time, helps encourage and inspire others to rehab historic buildings, and serves as a "catalyst for reinvestment in the once declining neighborhood near the State Capitol."



A little about Leone:



Tony is a local fixture in the Springfield community and for many years he participated in state and local politics. He was the Republican Caucus Clerk of the Illinois General Assembly for over 14 years, during which time he was involved in political fundraising and event planning. This certainly served him well once he started making his foray into the hospitality business. The Pasfield House is a popular venue for weddings, themed dinner parties, fundraising galas, cooking classes under the tutelage of gourmet chefs, and other events.






Leone is a charming character who loves Springfield and wants to promote it to the world. His incredible bed and breakfast is, in my opinion, reason enough to get tourists to the town, and once there, they'll be pleasantly surprised at just how great the Illinois town is. It's got a little something for everyone. Lovers of Lincoln, history buffs, Route 66 aficionados, and foodies will all find something to fall in love with.



Speaking of charming, here's Shelby Stouffe, Assistant Manager at the Pasfield House. She's a fabulous local girl, who's a delight to chat with. 






From its landscaped gardens to its lush interior design, the Pasfield House Inn is a destination in and of itself. I can't wait to go back. 

Why Isn't Anyone Talking About Nick Jonas' Hairy Ass?

Tue, 2014-10-07 10:41
Nick Jonas has spent the better part of the last month promoting his new single, "Jealous," and his upcoming DirecTV series, Kingdom, with a dizzying media tour that has included not only interviews with several gay publications but stops at several gay bars.

At HuffPost Gay Voices we've written about how Jonas happily showed off his abs at these bars, engaged in some light flirting with the patrons and has generally spent the last few weeks going out of his way to prove that his affinity for his gay fans is more than a mere marketing ploy (or if it is marketing ploy, it's one to which he and his team are fiercely dedicated).

Then, just when we thought Jonas had given all he had to give to us, we were gifted with his photo shoot in Flaunt magazine, which included several shots inspired by Marky Mark's iconic 1992 Calvin Klein underwear campaign. The images hemorrhaged their way across the Internet (and for good reason: They're hot and nostalgic, two things we can rarely get enough of) but, for me, at least, they're not the most interesting thing to come out of the Flaunt shoot.

The image I keep coming back to is this one:



It's a beautiful photo, but it's also one that you'll rarely see in mainstream media because of one thing: the small patch of hair fanning out across Jonas' lower back and creeping down his ass crack.

An appreciation of body hair in our culture has waxed and waned over the years. Today the male bodies presented to us (and especially to young men and women) as enviable and desirable are often hairless. I can't remember the last time I saw a contestant on The Bachelorette with a full chest of hair (not that I watch that show). Even the werewolves on Teen Wolf are hairless (not that I watch that show either).

And when we do see body hair in magazines or movies, it's always controlled and coiffed and constrained to the chest and stomach. Remember the funniest scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin? It was when Steve Carell got his torso waxed. Whenever that scene plays, we hold our collective breath as Carell undergoes his metamorphosis, mesmerized by the agony (and his hilarious reaction to it) but also relieved by the taming of the beast before our eyes and his implied transformation from wild man into gentleman.

Hairy backs and asses are even bigger jokes. If you have one (and many, many men do), you can't be the leading man; you're someone's gross dad or lecherous bad date.

Until now?

Nick Jonas is certainly no one's creepy uncle, and he's not a niche figure who doesn't get a lot of traction in Hollywood. He's a 22-year-old bona fide celebrity whose tax return may very well list his occupation as "heartthrob." So when I saw his hairy lower back and ass, which could have been erased easily via Photoshop, I got excited because I felt I was seeing what maybe, just maybe, could be interpreted as a breakthrough.

I can already see the comments section of this blog post filling up with responses like "Who cares?" and "Why is this news?" And you're right: This isn't "news." No one else even seems to be thinking, much less writing, about this photo. But before you write me off as just another garden-variety perv (which is totally valid most of the time), I hope you'll consider how important visibility is for creating change.

As more and more queer people come out and we gain more and more "possibility models" (as Laverne Cox has so eloquently put it) in the media, we feel more permission to be exactly who we are, and I believe the same is true for body image. Imagine being a 22-year-old guy and feeling ashamed about your own hairy back or hairy ass and seeing that image. Or imagine being an 18-year-old young woman and seeing that photo and having to readjust your idea of what sexy is. Even in queer culture, with our bears and otters and cubs and wolves, we're no stranger to shaming bodies -- our own and each other's -- and tiny, but visible, moments like this one are important for us too.

I'm not claiming that this photo is some kind of furry panacea for all that ails us. Of course Nick Jonas' body conforms to (or surpasses) societal norms in many ways, and seeing it could inspire body shaming or set unrealistic expectations for some people. I'm also not claiming that men shouldn't shave or wax or laser their bodies if that's what they prefer, but I would like to at least raise the question of why hairlessness is the preference for so many of us and address the stigma that often comes with being hairy. And let's face it: Jonas isn't exactly hirsute, but I believe there is something radical about that patch of hair -- however small, however innocent -- climbing out of his jeans in the pages of Flaunt. And I think it's worth pointing out and talking about, because this is how our culture begins to change -- one image at a time -- and because I want to celebrate progress -- however modest -- wherever I find it, even (especially?) if it's in Nick Jonas' hairy ass crack.

Also on The Huffington Post:

Creating a More Empathetic Medical Workforce

Tue, 2014-10-07 10:08
Co-authored by Kara LaBarge, B.S., a second year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, where her research focus is racial and ethnic disparities in pediatric pain management.

In the last few weeks, thousands of new students have started medical school.

Medical education has recently broadened its narrow focus from just-the-facts, to a patient-centered model of care, meaning that unlike the old days when we made decisions for our patients, today's doctors are trained to think about the patients' needs and values. In order to be effective, doctors need to be knowledgeable about medical facts, but also need to know how to communicate effectively, and be empathetic. In essence, the new generation of doctors is being trained to be nicer doctors.

But there's something wrong. Students are not graduating from medical school as empathetic physicians. Over the course of their training, they become less empathetic, as opposed to more empathetic, and the reasons for this are unclear.

Maybe it's because in the first two years, students have their heads in their books memorizing facts. The stress and anxiety about passing exams may make them less empathic because they are simply emotionally drained.

Things get worse in the clinical years. You would think these budding future physicians become more empathetic when they finally talk to patients. But instead they become hardened. I understand how this happens. Sometimes, in order to care for a patient, you need to distance yourself from the situation. I work in labor and delivery. As a mother, I can't fathom the pain of delivering a baby who died late in the pregnancy, yet it happens, and I need to care for these women. I can't let myself be overwhelmed by the sadness of it all. I wouldn't be able to care for my patient effectively. This emotional distancing, coupled with stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, plus lack of empathetic role models slowly chip away at student's empathy.

Empathy matters. For improved patient satisfaction and for improved medical outcomes. Physicians who were trained with empathetic skills in a fertility clinic were found to have higher patient satisfaction and communication skills than those who were not trained. Patients were more satisfied with the information given to them by their physician, as well as with how the physician explained that information to them. Likewise, another study found that patients treated by physicians with higher empathy ratings were more likely to have better medical treatment outcomes than those treated by physicians with lower empathy ratings.

So what can be done to prevent this deterioration in empathy in medical trainees?

One method often used to increase empathy is perspective taking, which can be taught in one of two ways. In experiential learning, students are asked to either imagine what it would be like if they were the patient. Essentially, the students are asked to walk in the patient's shoes. The second method is to simply lecture the students on active listening and communication skills. These methods, which may sound so basic, really work. Studies have shown that these lessons, easy to slip into a student's hectic schedule, make both patients and doctors-to-be happier.

Another possible intervention targets students earlier in training. All medical students spend time learning anatomy on a cadaver in the anatomy lab. The cadaver is dehumanized. The cadaver is a tool for learning anatomy, yet it is often forgotten that this educational tool was a person, who gave their body to train the next generation of physicians.

At our institution, at the end of the first year of medical school, students participate in an anatomy closing ceremony. Medical students recognize the anatomy donors and their families with musical performances, readings, and a flower ceremony. The cadavers regain their personhood as medical students say a word of thanks before placing a white rose into a vase in memory of their donor. Some students even have the opportunity to speak with family members of their donors about their anatomy experience. We don't know for sure, but maybe these reminders such as these before the end of first year could help combat students' loss of empathy over time.

In the changing face of medicine, we need to incorporate more empathy and human experience into medical education in order to create more compassionate doctors. The evidence supporting better communication is strong. It's hard to argue that greater patient satisfaction, better medical outcomes, and even reduced litigation are not important. The challenge is finding effective, sustainable strategies. The myriads of patients that these soon-to-be doctors will one day serve deserve it.

It's Time For America To Talk About The Price Of Water

Tue, 2014-10-07 07:39
This story originally appeared on Ensia.

This summer, a 90-year-old water pipe burst under Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, sending a geyser 30 feet into the air and a flood of troubles over the UCLA campus. Raging water and mud trapped five people, swamped 1,000 cars and flooded five university buildings — blasting the doors off elevators and ruining the new wooden floor atop the Bruins’ storied basketball court.

As the campus dried out, though, Angelenos seemed less upset about the replaceable floorboards at Pauley Pavilion than they were over another loss: 20 million gallons of freshwater wasted in the middle of the worst drought in California history. L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti took heat for his earlier campaign promise not to raise water rates in a city with a long backlog of repairs for aging water pipes.

Five days after the L.A. pipeline rupture, officials in Toledo, Ohio, declared the tap water for half a million people unsafe to drink, tainted by toxic algae spreading in the warm waters of Lake Erie. As residents of one of the most water-blessed regions in the world waited in lines to buy bottled water, an issue that had held little political urgency rose near the top of Ohio’s gubernatorial and legislative races. Former Toledo mayor Mike Bell held back an “I told you so” for council veterans who’d resisted rate increases to pay for upgrades to the city’s 73-year-old water-treatment plant.

In Los Angeles and Toledo and across the U.S., historic drought, water-quality threats heightened by warming waters and poorly maintained infrastructure are converging to draw public attention to the value of fresh, clean water to a degree not seen since Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. The problems are also laying bare the flawed way we pay for water — one that practically guarantees pipes will burst, farmers will use as much as they can and automatic sprinklers will whir over desiccated aquifers.

Squeezed by drought, U.S. consumers and western farmers have begun to pay more for water. But the increases do not come close to addressing the fundamental price paradox in a nation that uses more water than any other in the world while generally paying less for it. And some of the largest water users in the East, including agricultural, energy and mining companies, often pay nothing for water at all.

As a result, we’re subsidizing our most wasteful water use — while neglecting essentials like keeping our water plants and pipes in good repair. “You can get to sustainability,” says David Zetland, a water economist and author of the book Living with Water Scarcity. “But you can’t get there without putting a price on water.”

Cheap, Abundant Illusion

Water is the most essential utility delivered to us each day, meeting our drinking and sanitation needs and many others, from fire protection to irrigation. Incongruously, it is also the resource we value least. This is true generally for both the way we use water and the price we put on it.


Utility expenditures for a four-person household in 2012. Graphic courtesy of Michigan State University Institute of Public Utilities.

On the global scale, Americans pay considerably less for water than people in most other developed nations. In the U.S., we pay less for water than for all other utilities. That remains true in these times of increasing water stress, says Janice Beecher, director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, whose data show the average four-person household spends about $50 a month for water, compared with closer to $150 for electricity and telephone services.

Water’s historically cheap price has turned the U.S. hydrologic cycle abjectly illogical. Pennies-per-gallon water makes it rational for homeowners to irrigate lawns to shades of Oz even during catastrophic droughts like the one gripping California. On the industrial side, water laws that evolved to protect historic uses rather than the health of rivers and aquifers can give farmers financial incentive to use the most strained water sources for the least sustainable crops. In just one example, farmers near Yuma, Ariz. — the driest spot in the United States, with an average rainfall of 3 inches per year — use Colorado River water to grow thirsty alfalfa; under the law of the river, if they don’t use their allotment, they’ll lose their rights to it.

For both municipal waterworks and those that carry irrigation water to farms, the illusion of cheap, abundant water arose with the extensive federal subsidies of the mid-20th century. The Bureau of Reclamation built tens of billions of dollars worth of irrigation and supply projects that were supposed to have been reimbursed by beneficiaries; most were not repaid. After passage of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act in the 1970s, the feds doled out billions more dollars, this time to local communities to help upgrade water plants and pipes. Since ratepayers didn’t have to bear the costs, they didn’t balk at treating water destined for toilets and lawns to the highest drinking-water standards in the land.



Americans got used to paying wee little for a whole lot of pristine water. At the same time, many utilities delayed the long-term capital investments needed to maintain their pipes and plants. Water boards are often run by local elected officials, making decisions uneasily political. A board member with a three-year term might not vote for a water project that would pay off in year six. Officials who tried to raise rates risked being booted out of office. It was easier to hope federal subsidies would continue to flow. They did not. A Reagan Administration phase-out of water-infrastructure grants began 25 years ago. Over the past decade, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water infrastructure funding has declined (with the exception of 2009, the year of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), and policy has shifted from grants to loans.

Unfortunately for water utilities, the timing coincided with the arrival of requirements to scrub dozens of newly regulated contaminants out of drinking water and record numbers of water mains and pipes bursting due to age and extreme temperatures, both hot and cold.

Playing Catch-Up

In recent years, municipalities have begun raising rates to play catch-up. Since 2007, city water prices have risen at rates faster than the overall cost of living. Even so, the water sector reports it is not enough to pay for an estimated $1 trillion in anticipated repair costs for buried water pipes and growth-related infrastructure costs over the next 25 years.

When it comes to meeting needs associated with growth, many of the most promising solutions are found on the demand side. Americans still use more water per person than anywhere else in the world. But the U.S. today taps less water overall than it did 40 years ago despite population and economic growth, thanks to increased efficiency and awareness. From irrigation to manufacturing to toilet flushing, everything we do takes a lot less water than it used to.

Because utilities’ funding relies on revenue generated by water sales, efficiency has many utilities up a creek and churning blame. Earlier this fall, The Washington Post published a story, reprinted in newspapers around the nation, that blamed “federally mandated low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets” for water utilities’ financial woes. Conservation, the story said, was the cause of higher water rates and new fees.

The reality is just the opposite, says Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to sustainable water use. Everyone is beginning to pay more for water — but communities that conserve have lower long-term costs than those that don’t. In many cases, simply saving water can eliminate the need for costly new sources, Dickinson says. Growing, water-stressed cities including San Antonio and Perth, Australia, have saved ratepayers more than a billion dollars in long-term capital costs by helping them slash water use in half. An analysis by the city of Westminster, Colo., found that reduced water use by citizens since 1980 saved residents and businesses 80 percent in tap fees and 91 percent in water rates, compared to the costs of acquiring the new water — close to $220 million on Colorado’s Front Range.

Efficiency will be the answer in many communities, although it cannot save the day in financially strapped cities that are losing population. Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy depends in part on its ability to sell water, but it has lost a quarter of its population over the past decade. Under pressure to reduce more than $90 million in bad debt, the Water and Sewerage Department in the spring began ordering shutoffs for customers who had fallen behind on their bills, prompting a global outcry and a warning from the United Nations.

Pictures of American families bathing and brushing teeth from five-gallon buckets hold a mirror to the nation’s hydro-illogical cycle: We subsidize water for the largest users in the United States, including agriculture and energy plants, yet we do not ensure a basic amount of water for the poorest citizens.

Agriculture at the Table

Likewise, efficiency doesn’t solve water-quality issues like Toledo’s, where ratepayers could be looking at $1 billion for a new drinking-water plant advanced enough to filter out the pollutants brewing in Lake Erie, their water source. Donald Moline, commissioner of Toledo’s public utilities department, says the cost issues are opening up much-needed dialogue with the agricultural community on its contribution to nonpoint-source pollution in Lake Erie. Fueled by farming, septic systems, urban runoff and other causes, nonpoint-source pollution is the largest contributor to water-quality problems in the United States. “It used to be we just weren’t allowed to get into the agricultural causes, but given the science of this, we can’t ignore that piece,” Moline says.

Indeed, concerns over both quality and quantity make agriculture an increasingly important part of the conversation about how we value and price water, says University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon, author of the books Water Follies and Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It.

Irrigation costs differ significantly for American farmers depending on whether they operate in the West or in the East. Reclamation Reform Acts in the 1980s and 90s began to shift the costs of major U.S. irrigation projects — which move river water around the West — from federal taxpayers to western farmers, whose bill depends on an arcane mix of water rights, allocations and contracts. But in the Colorado River basin, century-old water law can still create a tragedy of the commons in which farmers risk losing their allotment if they don’t use it. To solve this waste-encouraging dilemma, Glennon advocates a regulated system of markets and trading that would allow farmers to sell their water allotments to cities in times of drought or let a manufacturer pay to convert a large farm from flood to drip irrigation in exchange for the saved water.

Groundwater presents yet another paradox of price: Rising energy costs and declining water levels in troubled aquifers such as the Ogallala in the U.S. Great Plains have helped motivate many farmers to use less water. Agricultural and industrial water users pay for the wells, pumps and energy to draw water up from belowground, but in much of the country they still pay nothing for the water itself — which in some cases has provoked a race to the bottom that can dry up neighbors’ wells and even collapse the ground underfoot. In one hot spot in California’s San Joaquin Valley, U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that steady groundwater pumping in the nut-tree region south of Merced is sinking the ground nearly a foot a year, threatening infrastructure damage to local communities.

In August, the California legislature passed a package of laws to regulate groundwater pumping for the first time in state history. But the laws won’t slow damage to aquifers without meaningful limits on groundwater withdrawals or a charge for extraction, says Zetland, the water economist. Both are tough to pull off in politically regulated systems. Florida has required permits for large groundwater withdrawals since 1972. But governor-appointed water boards are reluctant to deny them, which has aggravated aquifer depletion, drying springs and coastal saltwater intrusion in some parts of the state. For decades, various Florida councils, committees and commissions have concluded that a small fee on groundwater withdrawals — between a penny and 20 cents for every 1,000 gallons — would reduce pumping and fund water-resource protection with “minimal adverse economic impacts” to industry and agriculture, according to one analysis by Chase Securities. But the agricultural lobby keeps the idea from getting very far in the state legislature.

New Approaches

Going forward, water infrastructure, supply and quality challenges intensified by the droughts, floods, temperature extremes and other influences of a changing climate will require new approaches to not only price, but also ethics: using less and polluting less, recycling more, and sharing costs among all users.

At the local utility level, higher prices and tiered price structures, in which households that use more pay more, are both working to encourage conservation. Utilities are also turning to new types of bonds to cover long-term projects, such as the 100-year “green bond” sold this summer by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority to finance environmentally friendly stormwater solutions.

Water-science and engineering groups such as the American Society of Civil Engineers make the case that the U.S. infrastructure crisis is severe enough that local communities cannot solve it alone; they suggest that federal investment is crucial to forestall significant costs in emergency repair and business losses.

Market fixes and agricultural partnerships are also part of the answer — especially if water law can evolve to do a better job of protecting the environment and local communities. Over the past two decades, drought-addled Australia has built the world’s largest water market, trading $2.5 billion per year and allowing the government to buy back overallocated rights and return water to nature. Price trends are up — both utility customers and agricultural users are paying more for water — while overall consumption is down. However, feared adverse social impacts may be coming to pass; researchers from Griffith University in Queensland found governments trading “with little regard or knowledge of Indigenous interests, and many Indigenous people believe that contemporary water resource management is amplifying inequities.”

Human rights advocates often oppose water markets on the grounds that we should not commodify an essential human need. But U.S. water use and price have been so skewed for so long that market solutions may be the only politically feasible way to right them. If we are to subsidize anyone, perhaps it should be the poor: A sustenance level of water for those who need it — free or dirt cheap — and higher prices for those who want more and choose to pay. “I argue for a human right to water,” says Glennon. “If we can’t guarantee that in the richest country in the world, we are a sorry lot.”

Key tenets as U.S. water law and policy evolves, Glennon says, are making sure the environment and communities where water originates are not harmed. “It’s glacial, but we are finally seeing people do things differently,” he says. “Across California, you see block rates and municipalities paying people to rip out lawns. Price is going to give us the opportunity to do some things before crisis becomes a catastrophe.”

The Easy Fall Haircut That Works For Everyone

Tue, 2014-10-07 07:33
Embracing fall fashion might start with trading your sandals for boots, but it ends with updating your hairstyle. So if you're thinking about saying bye-bye to beachy locks, celebrity stylist Mara Roszak says there's one haircut in particular that makes for a perfect autumn 'do: the lob. Yes, the chic, sophisticated shape loved by many famous faces is here to stay.



What Roszak likes most about this modern haircut is that it's fresh and looks more pulled together than flowing layers. If you're already rocking the popular chop, she suggests asking for a few tweaks at your next salon visit. "Cut the back a little shorter than the front and style with a clean part for a sleeker feel," says Roszak.



Roszak swears the lob isn't going anywhere simply because it's so versatile. Not only is it easy to wear and style for all face shapes, but it also works for various hair textures. "There are plenty of versions of the cut and it can be customized for different hair types," she says. Roszak recommends more blunt cuts for hair that is on the finer side and a cut that's more pieced-out at the ends for thicker strands.



Perhaps the best part about the lob is that the style is deceptively low-maintenance. Roszak explains that a quick blow dry with a round brush after shampooing and conditioning does the trick. You can use a 1 ¼-inch or 1 ½-inch curling iron (depending on the length of your hair) to create loose movement and voilà! You're ready to head to the office or hit the town.



Of course, the cut is manageable when it comes to styling, but it should grow out pretty seamlessly as well. "Just get a cleanup every couple of months," says Roszak, "and in the colder, drier months, use a deep treatment like L’Oreal Paris Advanced Haircare Total Repair 5 Damage Erasing Balm to keep hair healthy and hydrated."



If you're considering taking the chop but are nervous to lose length, Roszak points out that you can still pull your hair back. "There is always a time and a place for long hair, but right now it's really about the bob and long bob," she promises.



Pizza Farms Actually Exist, And They're A Little Slice Of Heaven

Tue, 2014-10-07 06:00
What do you imagine when you hear the phrase "pizza farm?" A field of thin, crispy crusts? Tomato sauce lightly fading out to the horizon? Sprouts of mozzarella cheese randomly dotting the landscape? Light oil glistening in the sun?

You're probably imagining this!



Or this!



Or this!




It's okay, we all are.

Just the phrase "pizza farm" sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Automatically you imagine machines cultivating slices of cheese and pepperoni pizza.



And even though that's not exactly how pizza farms work (sorry to burst that bubble), the reality of pizza farms is still pretty exciting!

A pizza farm is a farm that serves pizzas made from ingredients grown right there in the area, either on the farm's property or on neighboring properties. Sometimes the crops and livestock pens are even organized into "slices," made into the shape of a giant pizza, as is the case at "R" Pizza Farm in Dow, Illinois.

Pizza farms exist all over the country, but have recently become concentrated in the Midwest, specifically in Minnesota and Wisconsin.


"R" Pizza Farm, Dow, Ill

Most of these farms host pizza nights where the pizza of your choice is cooked in an outdoor brick oven, then you picnic on the farm and stuff your face full of pizza. People come from all over the country, road tripping to pizza.

One of the more notable farms is A to Z Produce And Bakery in Stockholm, Wisconsin, which has been doing this since 1998. A to Z's pizza nights start in February and go through October. They happen every Tuesday night, no matter what the weather conditions. Of course, for those brave enough to hit up a pizza farm in the Midwest in February, you can always get it to go, and some pizza farms have indoor facilities.

Are you hungry yet? Well, here are a few more reasons you and your tummy should get better acquainted with pizza farms.



1. BYOB

Who doesn't like a bring your own booze situation? Drink what you want, save a bunch of money -- everyone wins. (Of course, a designated driver is a must.)







2. PICNICS

There's not much better than hanging out in the fresh air, away from the city, with good food and good friends. So throw down a blanket, bring some lawn chairs, whatever you need, and let's eat, drink and be merry.









3. FRESH, HOT PIZZA

Literally (well, not quite) FRESH out of the ground. You can't get fresher pizza than this. The good news is this will be the freshest pizza you've probably ever had. The bad news is every pizza from that point on will basically seem old.

It's so fresh, you'd swear pizza was made like this:




4. FASTER THAN FARM TO TABLE. IT'S LIKE FARM TO... TUMMY.

Farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage these days. These are restaurants that get a significant portion or all their ingredients straight from local farms. With pizza farms, you pretty much bring the table to the farm.


A to Z Farm And Bakery in Stockholm, WI



5. YOU'RE SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES

Supporting mom and pop businesses is very important. Many of these farms employ a small group of workers, and in the more rural areas, employment may not be as accessible. Much like tourist-heavy destinations, these farms grow to depend on visitors to help support the local economy.





6. GETTING PIZZA BECOMES A ROAD TRIP

Since these pizza farms are located in rural areas away from the city, this gives you a chance to take a road trip. Plot some extra stops along the route, see the sights, but never forget the ultimate goal: PIZZA. Come on, PIZZA ROAD TRIP??

Let's pause a second so you can stop smiling and drooling.

And how about class trips? How about instead of the farm museums, we take kids to the pizza farm. That's what they suggest at Cobb Ranch in Madera, California, possibly one of the oldest pizza farms in the country. Talk about tricking students into learning.

Mmmmmmmmm, delicious, tasty learning.









Pizza farm. Pizza road trip. Farm to tummy. How many sexy new food porn buzzwords do we have to unleash on you before you're convinced?

Want to read more from HuffPost Taste? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.

Pizza Farms Actually Exist, And They're A Little Slice Of Heaven

Tue, 2014-10-07 06:00
What do you imagine when you hear the phrase "pizza farm?" A field of thin, crispy crusts? Tomato sauce lightly fading out to the horizon? Sprouts of mozzarella cheese randomly dotting the landscape? Light oil glistening in the sun?

You're probably imagining this!



Or this!



Or this!




It's okay, we all are.

Just the phrase "pizza farm" sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Automatically you imagine machines cultivating slices of cheese and pepperoni pizza.



And even though that's not exactly how pizza farms work (sorry to burst that bubble), the reality of pizza farms is still pretty exciting!

A pizza farm is a farm that serves pizzas made from ingredients grown right there in the area, either on the farm's property or on neighboring properties. Sometimes the crops and livestock pens are even organized into "slices," made into the shape of a giant pizza, as is the case at "R" Pizza Farm in Dow, Illinois.

Pizza farms exist all over the country, but have recently become concentrated in the Midwest, specifically in Minnesota and Wisconsin.


"R" Pizza Farm, Dow, Ill

Most of these farms host pizza nights where the pizza of your choice is cooked in an outdoor brick oven, then you picnic on the farm and stuff your face full of pizza. People come from all over the country, road tripping to pizza.

One of the more notable farms is A to Z Produce And Bakery in Stockholm, Wisconsin, which has been doing this since 1998. A to Z's pizza nights start in February and go through October. They happen every Tuesday night, no matter what the weather conditions. Of course, for those brave enough to hit up a pizza farm in the Midwest in February, you can always get it to go, and some pizza farms have indoor facilities.

Are you hungry yet? Well, here are a few more reasons you and your tummy should get better acquainted with pizza farms.



1. BYOB

Who doesn't like a bring your own booze situation? Drink what you want, save a bunch of money -- everyone wins. (Of course, a designated driver is a must.)







2. PICNICS

There's not much better than hanging out in the fresh air, away from the city, with good food and good friends. So throw down a blanket, bring some lawn chairs, whatever you need, and let's eat, drink and be merry.









3. FRESH, HOT PIZZA

Literally (well, not quite) FRESH out of the ground. You can't get fresher pizza than this. The good news is this will be the freshest pizza you've probably ever had. The bad news is every pizza from that point on will basically seem old.

It's so fresh, you'd swear pizza was made like this:




4. FASTER THAN FARM TO TABLE. IT'S LIKE FARM TO... TUMMY.

Farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage these days. These are restaurants that get a significant portion or all their ingredients straight from local farms. With pizza farms, you pretty much bring the table to the farm.


A to Z Farm And Bakery in Stockholm, WI



5. YOU'RE SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESSES

Supporting mom and pop businesses is very important. Many of these farms employ a small group of workers, and in the more rural areas, employment may not be as accessible. Much like tourist-heavy destinations, these farms grow to depend on visitors to help support the local economy.





6. GETTING PIZZA BECOMES A ROAD TRIP

Since these pizza farms are located in rural areas away from the city, this gives you a chance to take a road trip. Plot some extra stops along the route, see the sights, but never forget the ultimate goal: PIZZA. Come on, PIZZA ROAD TRIP??

Let's pause a second so you can stop smiling and drooling.

And how about class trips? How about instead of the farm museums, we take kids to the pizza farm. That's what they suggest at Cobb Ranch in Madera, California, possibly one of the oldest pizza farms in the country. Talk about tricking students into learning.

Mmmmmmmmm, delicious, tasty learning.









Pizza farm. Pizza road trip. Farm to tummy. How many sexy new food porn buzzwords do we have to unleash on you before you're convinced?

Want to read more from HuffPost Taste? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.

Same-Sex Marriage and the Dangers of Dawdling

Mon, 2014-10-06 22:41
Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided not to decide any of the pending cases involving the constitutionality of laws denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry. In all of these cases, federal courts of appeals had held the challenged state laws unconstitutional. What does it mean that the Supreme Court declined to review those decisions?

At the outset, it is important to understand that the Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction. That is, it selects the cases it will decide. On average, it agrees to decide only about 1 percent of the cases that are presented to it for review. For the Court to agree to hear a case, four of the nine justices must vote to put the case on the Court's docket. If the Court does not agree to hear a case, then the judgment of the lower court stands. In general, the justices vote to consider a case if one of two conditions is met: (1) if the lower courts are divided on the issue, or (2) if the issue is of such importance that it merits the Supreme Court's attention even if there is no division in the lower courts.

Because all of the federal courts of appeals that have considered this issue have agreed that state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, the key question is whether the issue is sufficiently important to warrant the Court's attention. No one doubts that the same-sex marriage issue is of that level of importance. Nonetheless, the justices exercised their discretion not to decide the question. Why?

One thing seems clear to almost all observers: In light of the Court's five-to-four decision a little over a year ago in Windsor v United States, in which the Court held the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, it is virtually certain that the five justices in the majority in Windsor (Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) would take the next obvious step and hold state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage unconstitutional as well. Indeed, that is why lower federal court judges have been almost unanimous since Windsor in reaching that result.

With that understanding, it is obvious why none of the four dissenters in Windsor (John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito) voted to hear this round of cases. Why would they want the Court to hear the cases when they know full well that the majority would reach the "wrong" result?

But why did the justices who were in the majority in Windsor also vote not to hear these cases? The answer, made clear by Justice Ginsburg in recent interviews, is that they would rather let the issue percolate further in the states and the lower courts so that by the time the Court finally addresses the issue it will be much ado about nothing. Why put the Supreme Court out on a limb, when they don't have to? Why risk a "backlash" against the Court for making a controversial decision when they can just dawdle until it's no longer controversial at all?

Perhaps the best precedent for this sort of behavior was when the Supreme Court delayed thirteen years after its 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which held "separate-but-equal" racial segregation unconstitutional, before it finally got around to invalidating the most emotionally inflammatory form of racial discrimination -- laws prohibiting interracial marriage. By the time the Court decided Loving v. Virginia in 1967, "only" 17 states still prohibited interracial marriage.

There are two serious problems with this strategy. First, just as the Court's hesitation on miscegenation meant that thousands of interracial couples could not lawfully marry in many states in the United States, the Court's hesitation here leaves thousands of same-sex couples in states throughout the nation without the opportunity to marry. That is no small cost to those individuals, to their families, and to their dignity.

Second, and even more important, the "inevitable" decision to invalidate all state laws denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry is not, in fact, inevitable. It is all too easy to imagine a scenario in which one of the five justices in the majority in Windsor dies before the Court finally takes up the issue, a Republican is elected president in 2016, and the five-to-four majority to protect the right to marriage equality fades into oblivion. Then a new five-to-four majority, including the four dissenters in Windsor and their new companion appointed by, say, President Christie or President Paul or President Cruz, find that there is, after all, no constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

At that point, the tens of thousands of same-sex couples who will marry in the next year or two will find the legality of their marriages suddenly open to question. And going forward, for years to come, supporters of marriage equality will be back to slogging it out, state-by-state, in a long, slow, bitter, and ugly process.

This scenario may be unlikely, but the five justices who know right now that laws forbidding same-sex couples to marry are unconstitutional should not have left us in this position. This was an unnecessary and, in my view, a reckless risk for them to take.

Behind the Scenes With Singer-Songwriter, Macy Gray

Mon, 2014-10-06 17:30
When I sat down with singer-songwriter Macy Gray in the private Barrel Room of City Winery just before her performance there, I was reminded of what it means to be a one-of-a-kind.

From the moment she walked in the room, even before she spoke with her unique voice and rhythm, it was clear that Macy Gray moves to her own muse. Six feet tall and wearing sun glasses, she entered the doorway with a commanding presence, but it was as if she were unaffected by space and time. Almost 30 minutes late, she drifted to the table and made herself comfortable opposite me and the mic without much fuss.



Our interview table in the private Barrel Room set with Dip Flight of Hummus, Babaganouj, Muhamarra with Warm Pita and Buffalo Mozzarella Flat Bread with Fresh Basil and San Marzano Tomato Sauce made from a crust of yeast from the City Winery wine.

Macy answered questions naturally and at ease, as if talking to me were the only thing she had to do that day. We chatted fluidly and got on well, talking about how she came into her own as a woman and artist in her 40s. Incredibly, she started as a songwriter, uncomfortable with her own voice. When she wrote songs for a friend who didn't show for a recording session, she decided hesitantly to record them herself.

In the podcast below, we talked about her creative process, her new album, "The Way", the changing music business, how she keeps her voice in shape, being teased about her voice in during her early school years and her distinct - sacrilegious even! - take on spaghetti.

Enjoy listening below and hearing directly from her about the importance of focusing on what you are good at, and not sweating the rest.

<img src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/huffpost/WebOpener.jpg">

Mon, 2014-10-06 16:39




Recall the famous New Yorker cover “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” by Saul Steinberg. All of America is shown from the vantage point of western Manhattan. In the distance lies the country’s West coast and not much else. New York City, naturally, is dead center.


This is the cartographic delusion that rules the art world. At this year’s Whitney Biennial — a powerful commercial launching pad for young artists, in much the same way “Saturday Night Live” is for comedians — more than 70 of the 100 or so chosen painters, sculptors, videographers and the like worked either in California or New York.



Plucked From Obscurity

The following artists all hail from a different corner of America. None of them had been exhibited outside of their region before the Crystal Bridges show.




Andy DuCett
Midwest



Hiromi Moneyhun
South



Justin Favela
West



Vanessa L. German
Northeast


This “Steinbergian view of the country” is anathema to Don Bacigalupi, president of Crystal Bridges, the ambitious museum of American art in tiny Bentonville, Arkansas, founded in 2011 by Walmart heiress Alice Walton. Speaking from his vast, glass-walled place of employment, Bacigalupi discussed the museum’s new counterpoint to the Steinbergian worldview, an exhibit instantly coined “the anti-Whitney Biennial” by the press upon its opening last month. The elevator pitch for State of the Art: one hundred works, no big names and an insane road trip.



They didn’t know how to comport themselves. Many were shocked and curious as to why we’d traveled across the country.

In concert, the three elements make the exhibit nothing short of historic. For 10 months, Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood crisscrossed the country, dropping into the studios of 960 artists. The studio visit is a mythologized rite of passage — portrayed in movies as the moment an artist’s fortune changes — and most of Bacigalupi’s and Alligood’s hosts had never experienced one. “They didn’t know how to comport themselves,” Bacigalupi told The Huffington Post a few days after the opening of the exhibit. “Many were shocked and curious as to why we’d traveled across the country.”


With good reason. “This is not the way exhibitions of contemporary art are curated,” Alligood admitted, citing “a bit of fear” in the curatorial community and in museum leadership. The risks lie not only in the process (just try explaining a year of slow emails with “We’re not going to be in the office, because we’ll be in Idaho or Omaha,” as Alligood put it), but in shirking the typical approach to museum fundraising, where a star artist or piece is used to entice sponsors. Instead, Alligood said, “I had to say ‘Trust us.’”





Crystal Bridges, designed by the renowned architect Moshe Safdie, differs fundamentally from other museums of its size in that it is privately owned. Funded by Walton, it operates in service of her stated goal to transform a region. And indeed, Bentonville — a city nestled in the Ozarks, an area known primarily for its natural beauty — has changed around the museum. Where once the big attraction was the Walmart Museum, featuring a five-and-dime styled after Sam Walton’s original store, the downtown now brims with pint-size galleries, posh restaurants and an outpost of the boutique art-themed hotel chain 21c. A representative for the city’s chamber of commerce said that hotel and restaurant tax collection has increased by more than 12 percent each year since Crystal Bridges opened its doors.


The tourists aren’t your average art fiends. More than 1 million people have visited Crystal Bridges so far, and according to museum records, a good number of them have been real first-timers — meaning they've never stepped into a museum before in their lives. This statistic informed Bacigalupi’s vision for State of the Art, which he sees as a chance to do justice to contemporary art, a field he believes is unfairly maligned. “If we think about the stereotypes that attend it,” he said, “that it’s difficult to understand, that it’s something a child could do, that it may not have anything to say to us as a society — we wanted to counter all of those notions.”


He also expanded an idea he’d floated to Alice Walton while interviewing for his current post. At the time, Bacigalupi was director of the Toledo Museum in Ohio, the epicenter of “a very lively and very deeply rooted art scene,” he said. “I thought with this new museum, there might be an opportunity to focus the lens around practice happening in all parts of the country.”




The curators discuss how the artists interpret their cultural heritage in their work.



Walton is seen as something of a hawk in the art world — keen-eyed and dangerous, with a tendency to buy from insolvent institutions with beloved collections. She’s a natural disruptor, according to Alligood. Where some founders might have bristled at a long road trip toward a dream, Walton welcomed the plan. Omnipotence helps. “At other institutions, you have to convince a lot more people to make the gears turn,” Alligood noted.


From the start, the exhibit demanded a new process. Bacigalupi and Alligood canvassed hundreds of art professionals embedded in local scenes for names. From a total of 10,000 promising artists they chiseled a short list of 1,000. These they partitioned into four regions: Northeast, Northwest, South and West. Every week for nearly a year, the two men flew to a hub in one of these regions, rented a car and got going. Often, they visited a dozen or more studios in a day, capturing video and audio footage of the artist at each stop. They drove into dodgy city neighborhoods and one-road towns where the GPS didn’t work. No two studio spaces were alike, from front porches to basements to an overgrown bay in an abandoned Coca-Cola factory. The oldest artist they visited was in her eighties, the youngest a 10-year-old boy whose mother was on the list. (When he heard who was coming, he left his work out where the men couldn’t miss it, before leaving for school.) Another artist died a few weeks after the visit.





After each stop, the men composed a code they could later use to remember the work they saw, a process Bacigalupi likens in the exhibit catalogue to writing a haiku. The phrases, each three words long, describe the essentials of an artist’s work. (The catalogue lists some tantalizing ones — for example, “psychotropic video travelogues.”) The duo also scored the artists, Olympics-style, on a 10-point scale measuring qualities chosen with the audience in mind: virtuosity, engagement and appeal.


Bacigalupi considers this travelogue as vital as the exhibit, calling it “a database for the future about research at this moment in American practice.”


HuffPost’s look into State of the Art interweaves some of this data with our own profiles of four artists, none of whose work had been shown outside their geographical region before Crystal Bridges swooped in. Justin Favela, a Las Vegas artist, mines his Chicano heritage, as well as the high-low culture of Sin City, to produce outsized piñatas that wouldn’t look out of place in a photo shoot by David LaChapelle. In Florida, Hiromi Moneyhun uses only an X-Acto knife and memories of the paper-cut illustrations she loved as a girl in Japan to turn out large, mind-bendingly intricate structures. Twin Cities artist Andy DuCett turns the old trope of “Minnesota nice” into performance art, with a cast of actual moms. And Vanessa L. German makes "power figures" from trash for the children in the depressed Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where she lives.


The concerns of these artists are at once regional and global. Together, they form what Bacigalupi calls “a truer image of the country.” Even Saul Steinberg might agree: It’s a fine view.


To explore all of the 102 works in State of the Art, visit the exhibit website or download the museum’s dedicated app, available for Apple or Android devices.






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Japanese-Born Artist Brings Fantasies To Life In Enormous, Paper-Cut Masterpieces

Mon, 2014-10-06 16:15
This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

Northeast | West | Midwest | South

***



Hiromi Mizugai Moneyhun, 37



When she was a girl in Japan, Hiromi Mizugai Moneyhun fell in love with the paper-cut illustrations in the children’s books of the time. But it wasn’t until she moved halfway across the world, to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, that she tried her hand at the intricate art form herself.

Moneyhun, a self-taught paper artist, is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and Moneyhun was one of 102 people to make the final cut.

Her enormous works do not sacrifice detail for size. She cuts the mythical-looking creatures and oversized faces with an X-Acto knife, in her living room. Seen in person, the shadows are as mesmerizing as the pieces themselves, playing on the gallery wall like a scene from a Balinese puppet show. Below, Moneyhun tells us about the simple appeal of what she does.




"UKIYO Floating World," paper. Courtesy of the artist.





What is your artistic background?

I’ve been drawing since I was a child, and I’ve done a little bit of tattooing. About four years ago, I had a lot of free time. My husband’s mom had a stroke. My husband was working, and I had to stay home to care of her. It was hard. So I thought, I have to do something for myself, something fun.

I had always thought I wanted to try paper cutting because I grew up reading children’s books with paper-cut illustrations. It’s not an uncommon medium. So one day I just tried cutting out paper.

What were your materials?

Regular paper. At first it was a hobby, and I just used whatever was lying around the house. I had an X-Acto knife already, so I used that and I’m still using it today. My supplies haven’t really changed. But as time passed, my figures became more intricate. At the very beginning, it was simple, only outlines. Now, it’s a lot of line patterns. My figurative images are all of my daughter. She’s 10 now, but I use images of her when she was a baby.



"Visionesses I," 2013, paper. Courtesy of the artist.



What drives you?

Of course, it’s fun. I really can’t stop doing it, as I’m always getting more and more ideas. I start with a subject, and then I have some kind of message for each subject, each series.

How did Crystal Bridges come to know of you?

The curator of my local museum, MOCA Jacksonville, put my name on their list of artists. He had been familiar with my work ever since I had a group show in Jacksonville, and he kind of supported my art. He give me advice, and told me he couldn’t really take my art to the museum yet because I was a new artist. But he said to keep showing my work.

And now you’ve made it to a museum.

To tell you the truth, the day Don and Chad came to see my work, I wasn’t sure what they were doing there, who they were and what Crystal Bridges Museum was. Because it’s in Arkansas, I just hadn’t done much research at that time. But when they came, I could tell they were serious art people. I just did my best explain my work to them. I didn’t really think about it until a few months after their visit. It was kind of a long few months to me, and I thought, OK, I’m not in this exhibition.

Hiromi Moneyhun, Paper Cut Artist from Wishbone Media LLC on Vimeo.

Moneyhun discusses her intricate papercuts.




When did you start to understand the scope of Crystal Bridges?

After their visit, I kept researching and getting more information from articles. I found a New York Times article. So I started to understand little by little that, wow, this a big deal. Showing at a museum is an artist’s dream, and Crystal Bridges is really a beautiful museum.

Has anything changed for you in how you think about yourself as an artist, having seen your work in a museum?

I feel other people take me seriously for my art, so that’s changing, but as for myself, I feel no change. I just want to keep on making progress.



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This Sculptor Is Using Trash To Inspire One Of Pittsburgh's Toughest Neighborhoods To Make Art

Mon, 2014-10-06 15:55
This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

South | West | Midwest | Northeast

***



Vanessa L. German, 38



In an abandoned house in Pittsburgh, kids gather after school to turn the day's frustrations and joys into artwork. They call the space the Art House, and they owe its existence to a woman named Vanessa L. German.

An artist, German is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and German was one of 102 people to make the final cut.

Working out of her house in Pittsburgh, German crafts beguiling sculptures she’s dubbed “power dolls,” from items otherwise doomed for a trash heap: collections of spoons, for instance, or the old, glittery high heels of a drag queen. She also acts as a sort of den mother for the neighborhood kids, whose constant visits to her porch to watch her work led her to establish an after-school studio down the street. As with the three other artists in our series, she’s new to the national stage. Below, we chat about her enduring faith in the unexplainable.




"White Naptha Soap or, Contemporary Lessons in Shapeshifting," 2013; mixed media assemblage.
Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York





How did you get into art-making?

Me and my family...we were just always making things. My mom was a fiber artist, she did costumes. She was the kind of person who could take materials and turn them into something together that you could never believe. I just thought, that’s the way you live. We didn’t have a whole lot of money, and there were five kids in the family. If we wanted something — new toys, new books...what my mom would tell us is, “You’re going to have to make that yourself.” What I found when I was young is it felt really good to make things.

And now you make dolls for the children in your neighborhood.

As a kid we didn’t have a lot of dolls to play with. Dolls were expensive, and so they were always literally special things. The figures [I make] are not all just [for] children. Some of them are about protecting the spirit of imagination. I just have a sense of magic, and I always have.

But I will make figures for anything. I have friends … I call them ghost mothers, because they’re women who you think are childless, but really their kids have been murdered. They don’t talk about them. I’ve made some power figures for them, really ensconced and weighted with a slew of blue things. I make those figures for the grief to be lifted off their hearts, so they are not paralyzed by their grief, but able to honor their experience.

Where do you find materials?

I live in the 'hood. People do renovations and literally dump everything in the alleyway, so I can find great materials off the street. People are always dropping things off at my front porch. Somebody’s grandma died and she collected those travel spoons, and they gave me her collection. Somebody else, his partner was a drag queen and she left all her drag shoes. Huge, beautiful, glittery, stacked drag queen shoes.



Details of some of the materials German works with in her sculptures. Courtesy of Vanessa German.



How did the kids in the neighborhood become a part of your art practice?

I work in a small basement in my house. The basement ceiling is what they call a Pittsburgh basement … too low for some of those sculptures. I have to pull them out to my front porch [to work]. I live at an intersection where there are buses and people would stop and say, “What are you doing? Is it art? Will people pay you for that?” Kids would say the same thing, but they would want to help me. “Miss Vanessa, can we help you?” I’d say, “No, I’m working right now. Your mom works at a hotel; this is my work.” I’d say, “You can watch, but you have to stand at the fence.”

They would do the thing kids do where they would swing on the fence. They’d do that and jump over and they’d say, “Oops, Miss Vanessa, I landed in your front yard.” They thought they were so cute and funny, and inch themselves until they were closer and closer, and then say, “Can I touch this flower, Miss Vanessa? Oh Miss Vanessa, you dropped a shell.”

I tried letting one of the kids help on my sculpture, but I realized I have a sense of touch that allows me to work with a facility that they don’t have. My girlfriend at the time was a scene designer. She’d given me this old scene design paint. So I picked up a bunch of slate from a house that got demolished down the street and let them paint. Eventually they felt really comfortable and they’d come home from school and change into play clothes, come to my house, and invite their friends walking down the street.

It was fascinating to me to see you didn’t have to teach them. Just like anybody, they had things inside of them.

German on discovering materials that resonate with her.




What’s happening with the kids now?

People got evicted across the street, so I called public housing and asked if we could use that property. Eventually, they said yes. We’re calling it the art house. There’s a kitchen, a bathroom, a place where they can wash their hands.

They know where everything is and know what they’ve been working on, and we work together. I make sure the house has snacks in it. A lot of kids come home and there’s nobody. They need a safe place. It’s not just that people get murdered at night. It’s that kids see an accumulation of things happen. There’s a lot of fighting, people yelling and cursing. It builds up this history of ugliness and meanness inside of them. My goal [with the Art House] is to be consistent, and open the door when I say I’m opening the door.

It was something I’d never heard of before, Crystal Bridges. I honestly thought it sounded like the name of a country music singer.”



What was it like to see your work at Crystal Bridges?

Everybody says the same thing, but it’s kind of a wonder to drive in and park the car. Walking to this concrete colonnade, all of a sudden, a museum springs out beneath you. You take an elevator four levels down into a ground. It’s built into a hollow over a stream.

It was something I’d never heard of before, Crystal Bridges. I honestly thought it sounded like the name of a country music singer. Of course, I Google it. Even in the research that I did do, they hadn’t talked about what they were doing, just how beautiful the museum was and how there were people who really didn’t appreciate [Alice Walton] buying some great American art and leaving it in Arkansas where not a lot of people from New York would get to it.

The visit from Don and Chad must have been mysterious, if you had no concept of their museum.

I had been in environments before where I was around artists who were really nervous about something called a studio visit, but I didn’t understand what they were nervous about. I didn’t go to art school. I had no frame of reference.

I talked to them about all the parts of the process, about how I pick objects that look like artifacts, like precious objects from 100 years ago. I think because I work in a basement and I go down to work, I have this idea that it’s like my secret world. There’s something about having someone there, something really affirming about it to me. You can imagine, getting visited and then getting an email that says, “We’d like you to be in this exhibition,” with a link to a New York Times article.



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The ‘Mom Booth' Turns Real-Life Mothers Into Performance Art

Mon, 2014-10-06 15:52
This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

South | West | Northeast | Midwest

***



Andy DuCett, 35



Growing up, Andy DuCett liked to rearrange his furniture so much, his parents placed a limit on how many times he could do it in a week. His obsession with disorientation lives on today in installations that use familiar objects, like chairs, in unusual ways.

DuCett, a Minnesota-based artist, is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and DuCett was one of 102 people to make the final cut.

Below, DuCett examines the roots of his Crystal Bridges contribution, the “Mom Booth” — a deceptively simple piece of performance art that turns the typical museum information booth on its head. Staffed by museum volunteers who are also mothers, the booth is a detergent-scented twilight zone where a presiding mom might ask visitors to help fold her fresh laundry (which she’s brought in), or cluck at a fallen Lego piece (which she covertly dropped). The idea is to invite contemplation of a truly Midwestern sentiment: Mothers guide us all.



DuCett with the moms of "Mom Booth," 2013/2014, interactive installation. Photo by Marc Henning.





When did you start to understand the scope of State of the Art?

The initial email was very mysterious. It was, ‘Hey, we’re these two guys and we would love to come visit your studio.’ It was like, ‘Wait a minute, is this one of those art scams?’

Finding out who they were slowly is a great metaphor for the museum. It’s the best-kept secret. From the initial conversation to learning about the museum, every step of the way got more exciting.

How was the visit itself?

Chad and Don worked off each other really well. If [the visit] was a Venn diagram, they overlapped really nicely. I can’t remember how long it lasted. You could tell me it lasted two hours, and I’d believe you. You could tell me 10 minutes, and I’d believe you. There was definitely something exciting about it. It wasn’t a local institution, wasn’t somebody that you knew. There was this mysterious set of circumstances that led people from a different state, from a museum you hadn’t heard of, that when you did your research you were impressed by, to show up at your door.


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What’s the elevator pitch for your work?

If I look back at my practice, it’s evolved a lot. [Early] assemblages grew out of my training in painting. They were arranged in a very specific way. Capital-A Art. You don’t touch it, you just look from a distance and ponder it.

[I used] everyday objects, cultural ephemera, very quotidian stuff — chairs and end tables and lamps, video game consoles, just things that harken back to the stuff of life. People wanted to [interact with] them. They were activated in life, whereas sculpture is more inert. So in 2012, I got an opportunity where I had a solo exhibition at a place called the Soap Factory [titled “Why We Do This”]. Twelve thousand square feet of raw space, beautiful beams, just gorgeous. It was a little unnerving! Rather than just show the end table or the lamp mixed in with a bunch of things, I wanted to show them in context so someone could be immersed in that space.

Why use everyday materials?

People have a lot of ideas about what contemporary art means. I’m not trying to democratize the whole thing, but at the same time, I want someone to get interested in it enough to peel back the layers, to have this fun or poignant or thoughtful or meaningful experience, go back home and unpack it, digest it as they lie in bed, and then want to come back to that in the same way they would do with a non-artistic experience.

For instance, my favorite day at the grocery store is free samples day. The king of free samples day is the pizza oven. That smell just hits you when you walk in. I was walking through a grocery store, got a slice from a local pizza institution, walked away, and just turned around and said, “I have a strange request.” Six months later, they donated 50 or 60 pizzas to my show at the Soap Factory, and the owner and his girlfriend were there handing out a slice, so it added a smell component and a textural nuance. You understand what this means in the grocery store context, but what does it mean in this context?

“I did mom training when I was down in Arkansas. They had earnest questions. I really appreciated it, but I told them... I can’t tell you how to be a mom.”



What inspired the Mom Booth?

One of the through lines in my work is the idea of collage. My parents put an embargo as a kid on how many times I could rearrange my bedroom. They were scared I’d wear out the carpet. I was dragging furniture around two, three times a week. I would relish those first couple of disorienting moments when you wake up and you’d be in a different place, and then you’d say, wait that’s my dresser, these are my things.

With the Mom Booth, I still feel like it’s a form of collage, a slippage between colloquial and high art. [It] was an actual commission from the curator of contemporary art at the Minnesota Institute of Art. The museum was putting on their first contemporary art show. It was called “More Real Art In The Age of Truthiness,” a play on Stephen Colbert’s concept. A lot of the work in the show was asking you to make distinctions between fact and fiction. This was for an established audience going to this museum for years and years. So, decades of people getting used to what they expected in a museum — of where the art lives and where the art doesn’t. I had shown a range of projects to Don and Chad, and the one they really liked was the Mom Booth, [placed] right next to the information booth, where you go to ask questions like, ‘Hey, where’s the restroom?’ In the museum, where are spaces that museumgoers wouldn’t expect to encounter art?

Are you worried about your work being ephemeral?

It would be ignoring somewhat what I’m trying to do if I don’t let it go away in some sense. If you think about a Sol Lewitt drawing, it’s instructions of how to create this piece long after he’s gone. There could be something worked out in helping to generate new work and how to expand something like the Mom Booth.

What sort of direction did you give the volunteers at the Mom Booth? Is the idea just, ‘Be mom-ish’?

I did mom training when I was down in Arkansas. They had earnest questions. I really appreciated it, but I told them [...] ‘I can’t tell you how to be a mom.’ It was more like set design, where I provided a place for them to perform. I heard that one of them brought in her clean laundry that needed to be folded. And visitors would be walking around, and she’d be like, ‘I’m really busy. Could you help me?’ Or one would throw Legos on the ground, and when someone would walk by, she’d wag her fingers and say, ‘Why did you drop those?’ Some would sit and knit, just stare ahead, smile over their glasses. Maybe that look was more than saying things.



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'Lowrider Piñata' Encompasses The Beauty And Violence Of Latino Culture In One 19-Foot Beast

Mon, 2014-10-06 15:29
This story is one in a series of four profiles on unknown American artists, selected for an exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (click here to explore the full series). Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood split a map of the U.S. into four regions before setting off on a journey to find the best artists currently working in America. Each artist profiled here hails from one of the following regions:

Northeast | South | Midwest | West

***



Justin Favela, 28



A piñata is a singular party prop, made to be beaten into shreds. Its complex character — both celebratory and suggestive of violence — is what drew Justin Favela to push the bounds of the form, to figure out what happens to a viewer when you festoon unlikely plaster shapes (say, a life-size lowrider car) with ribbons.

Favela, a Las Vegas-based artist, is one of the subjects we picked from State of the Art, an unprecedented exhibit featuring contemporary art from across the country. For nearly a year, two staffers of the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Arkansas — president Don Bacigalupi and curator Chad Alligood — traveled thousands of miles in search of great American artists based outside of New York City’s art-world epicenter. It was a curatorial adventure unlike any that’s come before, and Favela was one of 102 people to make the final cut. His “Lowrider piñata” is currently on display.

Last week, Favela ducked into a storage closet in Caesars Palace — where he works as an administrator at an art gallery — just long enough to share his recipe for making a giant piñata.




"Lowrider Piñata," 2014. Paper, cardboard, and glue. Photo by Steve Marcus





Setting up a studio visit with a renowned museum can’t be an everyday experience. How did you feel when Crystal Bridges first contacted you?

At first I was a little confused because I had just been in a group show in Fayetteville [Arkansas], right next door to Bentonville, so I thought for some reason they were friends of my friends. When Chad showed up to my studio, it took me a minute to figure out what was happening. I was kind of shocked and surprised as to how big a deal it was after they left and I looked up Crystal Bridges online. I knew that it was a museum in Arkansas with a crazy-looking building, but then I learned more.

Not knowing what’s going on must be kind of a blessing, though, because you’re not stressed.

It was a fun studio visit. I just kind of showed them my work. At the time I had just made a giant, 6-foot-long turkey for a lighting studio in town. I had that and all these piñatas hanging around. The car was there, but it was in pieces. It was flat because I had showed it earlier — I think the year before. It was just so big that I had to take it apart and save the parts.

How did it feel to know that broken-up piece made it in?

I was overjoyed, of course. I almost threw up. It was amazing. I just couldn’t believe it. I knew that they visited other people in Vegas, and thousands across the country. When I found out I’m the only person from the whole state that made it into the show, it was just overwhelming. It was very real.

When did you start making piñatas?

When I was in college. I’ve had a history with piñata-tying since I was a kid. I never really liked it, just because I was a calm kid, and piñata time is very celebratory but also very violent. Just the idea that we’re going to put a blindfold on you and you’re going to hit this thing and you’re going to perform for us. Can we just get the candy? What’s going on here?

One of the first piñatas I did was kind of morbid. I made a life-size donkey out of fabric and wire, kind of like papier-mâché. I hung it from the ceiling, and it looked like this droopy dead donkey. I kept thinking about the piñata as a way to represent my background. It’s a fun medium, and it’s about violence. When I initially thought about the car, my friends and I were just brainstorming what symbols would represent Chicano or Latino culture. Eventually, we thought of a lowrider car.

“When I found out I’m the only person from the whole state that made it into the show, it was just overwhelming. I almost threw up.”



How do you make a piñata that’s car-sized?

I’m really bad at numbers and measuring, so I took a photo of the car and projected it onto a wall. It’s the size of what a car is supposed to be. With the projection, I get the right measurements. For those tracings, I cut the cardboard out and start making the shell out of whatever I have — cardboard, Styrofoam and then papier-mâché to make a real piñata shell. [The lowrider] is 19 and a half feet [long].

What is about the piñata that keeps you hooked?

Most of the things I do are covering something up with something else, but covering it up and either decorating it or just making it brighter and more visible. So taking a donkey and covering it in paper, or taking a car and making it fluffy. It’s like covering up the truth, but at the same time, it’s highlighting that it’s not a real thing.

A lot of my work is very accessible. It’s very easy to understand. Everybody knows what a piñata is. So people already understand what it’s for, and just taking that, and kind of messing with it, is kind of exciting. I like to make people laugh, so when something as celebratory and fun as a piñata is made into something that makes you think of something differently, I think that’s what I like about it.

Has the exhibit changed anything for you?

This has given me the confidence to say, “Yes, I’m an artist.” Yes, I want to be an artist, and I want to do whatever it takes to be an artist.



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Robert Morris University Becomes First To Recognize Video Games As Varsity Sport

Mon, 2014-10-06 14:37
CHICAGO (AP) -- As a teenager, holed up in his bedroom, illuminated by the glow of his laptop, Youngbin Chung became addicted to video games. Ten-hours-a-day addicted.

His grades tanked. His parents fretted.

A few years later, the 20-year-old from the San Francisco area leads a team of headset-wearing players into virtual battle in a darkened room at a small private university in Chicago. He's studying computer networking there on a nearly $15,000 a year athletic scholarship -- for playing League of Legends, the video game that once jeopardized his high school diploma.

"I never thought in my life I'm going to get a scholarship playing a game," said Chung, one of 35 students attending Robert Morris University on the school's first-in-the-nation video game scholarship.

Once regarded as anti-social slackers or nerds in a basement, gamers have become megastars in what are now called esports. In professional leagues, they compete for millions of dollars in prizes and pull in six-figure incomes for vanquishing their enemies in what have become huge spectator events packing tens of thousands into sports stadiums around the world.

Games have evolved from the days of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong into something much more complex. They demand hyper mental acuity and involve multiple players communicating with each other in teams, plotting strategy, predicting opponents' moves and reacting in milliseconds.

Robert Morris, a not-for-profit university with about 3,000 students, believes those are not so different from the skills one uses on a football field or a basketball court and that spending money to recruit these students, too, will enrich campus life and add to its ranks of high-achieving graduates.

"It's coming; it's coming big time," Associate Athletic Director Kurt Melcher said of the esports trend and what he's sure is its looming recognition by a bigger chunk of the collegiate sports world.

Hundreds of other colleges and universities have esports clubs, but Robert Morris is the first to recognize it as a varsity sport under its athletic department. The scholarships, which cover up to half off tuition and half off room and board (worth a total of $19,000 in a typical three-quarter academic year) are for a single game, League of Legends, in which teams of five on five use keyboards and mouses to control mythical fighters battling it out in a science fiction-like setting.

The first practices started last month in a $100,000 classroom outfitted with an expansive video screen, computers and an array of eye-dazzling gaming paraphernalia.

The space is dimly lit and window blinds are drawn to keep glare off monitors. In the darkness, dozens of students wearing microphone headsets flit fingers and thumbs over the controls with blistering intensity and concentration. Death comes in a multitude of forms and is often sudden. Accordingly, the hum of game chatter is punctuated by the occasional whooping cry of victory or anguished sigh of defeat.

The Robert Morris Eagles will play teams in two leagues that include the likes of Harvard and MIT with hopes of making it to the League of Legends North American Collegiate Championship, where the members of the first-place team take home $30,000 each in scholarships.

Melcher dreamed up the scholarship idea while searching online for the video games he used to play.

Some soccer players were bemused, but he said there was no real pushback from the university, which already has scholarships for everything from bowling to dressing as the mascot.

Some 27 million people play League of Legends each day, according to developer Riot Games Inc.

This year's professional championship is Oct. 19 in Seoul at the stadium South Korea built to host the 2002 soccer World Cup. The 45,000 seats are expected to sell out. The top team will take home $1 million.

The traditional sports world is still trying to figure out what to make of the phenomenon.

ESPN has dabbled in esports coverage, but network President John Skipper recently declared it a non-sport.

"It's not a sport," he said at a conference in New York. "It's a competition, right? I mean, chess is a competition, and checkers is a competition. ... I'm mostly interested in doing real sports."

Still, he added, "You can't really ignore it."

You Can Now Video Chat Your Dog Thanks To This Brilliant Teen's Invention

Mon, 2014-10-06 14:25
At age 12, Brooke Martin of Spokane, Washington came up with a new way to stay in touch with her golden retriever. Now-14-year-old Brooke, armed with her resulting invention, iCPooch, just competed against some of the most renowned entrepreneurs in today's tech world -- and won.

Last Thursday, Brooke was named the victor of GeekWire's first-ever "Inventions We Love" challenge for iCPooch, an automated dog-treat dispensing device and app that lets owners two-way video chat with their pets via any Android, Apple or Kindle device.

The app automatically connects your two devices, so your pet doesn't have to "pick up the phone." iCPooch also lets you automatically deliver a treat to your furry buddy through a device similar to a Pez dispenser.

As one of five finalists in the competition, Brooke presented her invention onstage at the 2014 GeekWire Summit. Brooke's savvy idea and impressive stage presence won over the Summit attendees, who voted via Twitter. She beat out impressive competitors like John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile. As her prize, she'll be featured on a GeekWire radio show and podcast.

[h/t GeekWire]

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