Long Story Short: Not this guy again
Visitors in Lucas Samaras's Mirrored Room, 1966, on December 15, 1966.
Image courtesy of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Digital Assets Collection and Archives, Buffalo, New York
Of bats and men
When the White House feels that a cabinet-level department of the US government isn’t projecting the proper image, it looks for a spokesman with slavish devotion to Donald Trump, and a resumé of conspiracy theories and racist remarks. At least that’s what it did with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Longtime Trump supporter, conservative political consultant, and noted trash tweeter Michael Caputo was recently appointed HHS assistant secretary of public affairs. The HHS motto is, “Improving the health, safety, and well-being of America." Caputo promptly deleted his entire Twitter account, so he wouldn't endanger the health of civil society.
Old tweets never die
CNN unearthed the East Aurora resident’s deleted tweets, using the WABAC machine invented by bow tie-wearing beagle, Mr. Peabody (Too obscure? Look it up). The important thing to know is that Caputo’s comments fall right in line with the President, who labeled Haiti and parts of Africa “shithole countries.”
Many treasures along those lines were exhumed from the Caputo Twitter crypt. He tweeted that Americans view reporters as “the enemy of the people” for “carrying water for the Chinese Communist Party.” He claimed numerous times that the Democratic strategy for beating Trump in November is hoping for thousands of deaths from the coronavirus. He implied that the virus is a Democratic conspiracy, comparing Democrats to James Hodgkinson, the man who shot House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others during a Republican congressional baseball practice. There are a couple veiled antisemitic tweets, and some attacks on specific reporters and the media in general, which Caputo claims intentionally created a pandemic panic to hurt Trump. Among numerous personal attacks, he calls New York Governor Andrew Cuomo an "asshat."
I was just “tweeting in a spirited manner,” explains Caputo. You can read the Caputo collection of hatefully spirited comments here. Several Democratic members of Congress are calling for him to be fired. “These disgusting tweets are disqualifying for any job in government, let alone Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at HHS,” tweeted House representative Jackie Speier of California, adding “CAPUTO MUST BE CANNED IMMEDIATELY.” House Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland calls Caputo an “anti-Asian bigot & racist.”
Caputo goes batty
Perhaps the most offensive tweets are reserved for the Chinese—and bats. In response to a baseless COVID-19 conspiracy theory that the virus originated in the US, Caputo tweeted, "Sure, millions of Chinese suck the blood out of rabid bats as an appetizer and eat the ass out of anteaters but some foreigner snuck in a bottle of the good stuff. That's it." Then he chides another respondent with, "Don't you have a bat to eat?"
Caputo and other racists often focus on the fact that some Chinese people eat bats (it should be noted that this is not how the virus is thought to have been transmitted to humans). This fixation on bats is a form of cultural arrogance based on racial condescension. Americans eat some things that others might find unappealing too, if you stop and think about it—which we did.
You eat what?
Talk about sucking the blood out of bats: in Louisiana, they twist the heads off crustaceans and suck the juices out, then go to work on their posteriors. In Wisconsin—the tipping point state of the 2016 election—its residents are known for draining the blood from pigs and making sausage from it. And do you want to discuss beef tartare?
Some Americans eat squirrel, elk, rabbit, beaver, ostrich, rattlesnake, pigeon, yak, wild boar, walrus, and caribou, among other things. From the sea, we consume squid, eel, raw oysters, fish eggs, lobsters, and snails. And you want to talk ass? I’m not even going to list the animal organs Americans happily consume (I’m looking at you Rocky Mountain oysters). We also have wet markets here in America, where live animals are sold. And have you ever seen our industrial factory farms? Maybe the HHS should shut those down for the health, safety, and well-being of America.
I have a Chinese friend that tried eating blue cheese at another friend’s urging and threw up. “You could just see the mold running through it,” she says, shivering with revulsion at the memory. Maybe you never looked at the stuff you dip your chicken wings into from that perspective. This mold is served all over East Aurora, and Caputo has likely partaken. My Chinese friend thinks it’s disgusting. You want to know why Chinese eat bats and we eat mold? Here’s a link to an article and podcast explaining why different cultures consume different foods. We could all do with a little more cultural sensitivity.
The art of the pause
Arts workers are the lemonade master chefs of life’s lemons. COVID-19 has shut down museums, galleries, theaters, music venues, and is even preventing many artists from entering their studios. Yet, the creative impulse always finds a way to emerge. Lots of local arts activity can be found online, from interactive gallery tours to studio visits.
LSS wishes it could list all the arts-related events and public opportunities being offered by local venues and groups, but there are too many to keep track of. What follows is a sampling of visual art.
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG) wants members and the public to remain engaged during the NY Pause, so they are presenting member-exclusive online conversations with Chief Curator Cathleen Chaffee collectively titled: From Living Room to Mirrored Room and Beyond: Four Lectures on Art and the Home. Two have already taken place, and two more happen on April 30 and May 7. Registration is required.
Also, at the AKAG: in an effort to help build community spirit and highlight the broad range of artistic talent in Western New York, the museum’s Public Art Initiative is working with sixteen local artists on a collaborative mural project. You can follow the project’s progress on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and the hashtags #AKPublicArt and #WorksFromHome.
UB Art Galleries has posted an online exhibition of a show that never had a public opening due to timing of the shutdown. It’s well worth seeing: Sally Cook: 1960–Present. Click on the link and you can access this virtual exhibition.
Burchfield Penney Art Center is closed to visitors, but Burchfield Connects offers a variety of online programs including home-education projects, conversations about our exhibitions and collections, artist interviews, and more. Look for new posts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Art has been conducting a series of studio visits with artists, now posted on YouTube. And, of course, Hallwalls’ YouTube channel always has video of past events. Right now, you can see a live feed of John Oswald: stillnessence, another exhibition that has yet to have an official opening. This is not a static image, so check it out.
Buffalo Arts Studio is sharing pictures and video of artists making art at home, along with videos of past events. They invite artists to send pictures and video to firstname.lastname@example.org for posting. If a video is too large to email, artists can post it to the Buffalo Arts Studio YouTube page and send a link. BAS is using the hashtag #BASArtFromHome.
CEPA Gallery is offering the public an opportunity to share your COVID-19 experiences in photos (no, you don’t have to catch the disease). You can see examples, and learn how to submit here.
For art lovers craving media art, Squeaky Wheel offers many film and video works to view at home. Showings change, and you must register. You can learn about the latest showing here.
Carnegie Art Center is offering the public an opportunity to purchase art online, while supporting the gallery by going to the Carnegie Art Festival. Artworks are being offered for very low discounted prices for those on a budget.
Resource:Art is conducting 7 Minutes in the Studio interviews. They come out every couple days, and you can view them on Instagram @resourceartny. They also have a virtual exhibition of local art on the artsy.net.
Calls for proposals
Resource:Art is offering an opportunity for artists to create work for public viewing without leaving home. Proximity: In Search of Signs of Life & Art is inspired by artists across the world, including Spain, Germany, and New York, who have created art for the socially distanced public on balconies, lawns, and porches. Local artists are invited to submit proposals to be included in a week-long public experience. You can view a video on such a project in Germany here, and check out images of the work here. Read about the concept here. Buffalo artists can submit proposals here.
UB Center for the Arts, in collaboration with the Buffalo Institute for Contemporary Art is sponsoring Work* In Real Time. It’s an opportunity for artists to compete in a contest in the spirit of TV’s America’s Got Talent or Shark Tank. In each episode a total of $1,500 along with the invaluable expertise from the panel of artists, professionals, and funders will be awarded to worthy projects. This could be wild.
Call for art writers
Buffalo’s latest art criticism magazine Cornella is looking for submissions for its special COVID-19 issue. Details on the website.
Car culture: Facebook dummies
This is the third in an occasional series of stories chronicling the idiosyncrasies of automobiles and motoring.
Using social media is a little like operating a car. Some motorists only want to enjoy the ride. They drive conservatively and may be a little oblivious to those around them. The equivalent on Facebook are people who post pictures of gardens, baked goods, or cats, while steering clear of potential conflict.
Competitive drivers are inclined to pass cars on the right and treat signals like drag race Christmas trees. On Facebook, these folks strive to one-up others with pointed comebacks, prove people wrong, and get the last word. Competitive types may draw other competitive types and go tearing down the oratorical road.
Finally, there’s aggressive drivers, the ones that don’t like any motorist ahead of them on the road. They honk if a car takes more than 1.5 seconds to move when a signal changes, and cross double yellow lines to pass vehicles already going the speed limit. Aggressive Facebook users are sporting for a fight and quick to resort to insults.
There’s another way Facebook is like driving. In a car, you encounter other vehicle operators from behind a windshield, isolated in your steel cocoon. On Facebook you’re behind a screen. Either way, you’re shielded from direct contact. Get behind a wheel or a keyboard, and you may behave in ways you wouldn’t in face-to-face contact.
In a post about Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, a friend rhetorically asks, “Who knew that because crash test dummies are modeled on men the mortality rates in car crashes are higher for women?”
Well, I knew, for one, since I read it in a Consumer Reports article. “The dummies are based on 171-pound, five-foot-nine-inch man which was standardized in the 1970s,” I respond, pointing out that, at six-foot-two-inch, 231-pounds, I am as far from that “standard” as a five-foot-four-inch, 110-pound woman, leading me to conclude that the tests are biased against everyone who deviates significantly from that profile, not just women. Obviously, testing for every size and weight permutation would be too costly.
Competitors, start your engines
When challenged, competitive Facebook operators, tend to lean in: "too costly?" my friend responds, quoting my words like a mother finding condoms in her pre-teen’s sock drawer, “What about women's increased injuries and lost lives?” This question is a roundabout way of accusing me of misogyny, sidestepping my point that the single dummy puts women and men who don’t fit that profile—and some women do—at risk. My friend suggests that a class action suit against car makers is the answer.
I shift into competitive mode, masterfully undermining his argument by explaining that they would need dummies from infant size to maybe six-foot-nine-inch tall, weighing from ten to perhaps 350 pounds, in order to test all sizes of people.
“Yes, testing would be expensive and take a long time,” he retorts, revving his rhetorical engine, “Not designing for better safety costs nothing on the front end but can be extremely expensive in the long run.”
It’s the old “upfront cost” argument; I’m spinning my wheels, so I concede that a class action suit is the only answer and predict it would lose. And that’s where the conversation ends, or so I thought. Mr. Competitive brings it up again in another person’s thread days later to reinforce the claim that I fail to recognize my privileged status as a male (an au courant Facebook-debate dodge).
The seed was planted, however. I found myself wondering: just how many crash tests would it take to examine the full range of human heights and weights?
I run the numbers
Crash tests are conducted under rigorous scientific and safety standards and are very expensive. Using three-inch and twenty-pound increments, from a four-foot-five-inch, eighty-pound person, to a six-foot-nine-inch, 340-pound individual, there are ninety-eight reasonable weight/height permutations. And that’s without considering young children.
Because male and female weight is distributed differently, each height/weight combination requires two dummies. Every vehicle model goes through six different crash types, with a dummy in the driver, passenger, and rear seat positions. Testing male and female dummies in each position brings it to thirty-six crash tests per height/weight variation, or 3,528 total crashes.
How much would it cost car makers to destroy 3,528 cars? Nothing, because they don’t do the tests. Two different agencies conduct them: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), funded by taxpayers, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an industry-backed nonprofit. Insurance customers foot the bill. And, by the way, because the two agencies each conduct the same tests, that makes 7,056 cars destroyed per model.
The real solution
Here’s what most people don’t realize: since car makers know that crash tests will be conducted with a single dummy (and less often a second child-sized dummy), they build cars to protect that exact height and weight, so bigger people like me, and smaller people, including many women, are not accounted for. Instead of doing over seven-thousand tests, NHTSA and IIHS should have a range of dummy heights and weights that they randomly rotate. Car manufacturers would not know which test dummy will be used, so they would have to design for all body sizes.
Will it take a class action suit to achieve this? Maybe. But consumer advocacy groups like Consumer Reports are already pressing for changes, and Perez’s book may fire up feminists. Someday, car-buyers small and large may be better protected.
Meanwhile, I look forward to posting this blog on Facebook, and tagging my friend. Vroom, vroom!
Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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