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November 10, 2006

Banksy gets big — real big


The artist Banksy (whose work is pictured above and below) has been here before, in June and again in September of this year.

His return is on account of an October 22, 2006 article in the London Sunday Times about the enormous sums of money his work is suddenly generating, especially in the U.S. where his September show in Los Angeles, "Barely Legal," brought in three million dollars in sales.

Here's the Times piece.

    Spray paint Pimpernel with the art of getting rich

    Ever since the graffiti artist Banksy smuggled a dead rat into the Natural History Museum and mounted it as an exhibit in a glass-fronted box, his mischief-making has been surpassed only by his talent for making money. Lionised by Angelina Jolie’s hip crowd in Tinseltown, the once scruffy street urchin from Bristol astonished the art world last week by breaking his own auction record.

    The secretive “guerrilla artist” pocketed £58,000 for his version of the Mona Lisa, with spray paint dripping from her eyes, and £50,000 for six prints of the model Kate Moss, executed in the lurid hues of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe series. A year ago an edition of the Moss prints was on sale at his rat-infested warehouse in west London for a mere £1,500.


    Who is Banksy? Nobody really knows. He has been named as Robert Banks and is believed to hang out in east London’s arty milieu of Hoxton. But he now calls himself Robin Banks, an anarchic joke that has been given new meaning by the willingness of frenzied bidders to throw money at him. When one of the few journalists to have a face-to-face interview with him demanded, “How do I know you are Banksy?” he replied, “You have no guarantee of that whatsoever.”

    “Banksy” is also the nickname of Gordon Banks, the England goalkeeper and hero of the 1966 World Cup, but this possibility was ruled out by another interviewer who described the elusive prankster as a dark-haired man in his early thirties, lightly bearded and wearing “nice trainers”. Banksy insists that even his parents think he’s a painter and decorator. Asked why he clings to anonymity, he said: “So I can do my work without being impeded by arrest.”

    Some people, it is true, would like to see him safely confined. What began with belly laughs when he infiltrated the penguin enclosure at London Zoo and painted, “We’re bored of fish”, followed by his message in Bristol Zoo’s elephant enclosure, “Keeper smells”, shaded into outrage when he began painting on live animals. Last year he placed subversive artworks in four New York museums and did an unauthorised decorating job on the Israeli West Bank wall.

    His stunt spree this year included replacing up to 500 copies of Paris Hilton’s debut album with remixes and his own cover art depicting the model topless, and sneaking into Disneyland to leave an inflatable doll dressed in the orange uniform of a Guantanamo Bay detainment camp prisoner.

    All of which has made him one of the few Brits to have cracked America. “These days everyone is trying to be famous, but he has anonymity,” marvelled the actor Brad Pitt. “I think that’s great.” Pitt and his squeeze, Jolie, opened their arms and wallets to Banksy at his Los Angeles show Barely Legal last month, along with special guests Keanu Reeves, Jude Law, Christina Aguilera and Macaulay Culkin.


    Helped by an Asian elephant, painted with a pink and gold flock wallpaper motif, the show was a hit and earned Banksy a reported $3m. But was it a moral sell-out by the self-styled anti-capitalist who claims he is not motivated by money? As usual, Banksy, who did not deign to turn up at the show, had a disarming answer: “Hollywood is a town where they honour their heroes by writing their names on the pavement to be walked on by fat people and peed on by dogs. It seemed like a great place to come and be ambitious.”

    Banksy has always created enough mayhem to stay just ahead of such criticism. His dead rat prank in 2004 was a classic. Disguised as an employee of the Natural History Museum in London, and bearing a stuffed rodent clad in wraparound sunglasses, he mounted his exhibit with a nail, but had to use heavy duty glue when it would not hold. It was nearly a repeat of his earlier flop, when his illegal exhibit at Tate Britain came crashing down because the glue was too weak. But this time it remained intact for several hours before staff noticed the graffiti legend above it: “Our time will come.”

    Last year Banksy grew more ambitious, targeting the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Website images show him in a Toulouse-Lautrec fake beard and pensioner’s clothes as he installed his own works, complete with name plaques and explanations, on the hallowed walls. They included a tin of Tesco tomato soup and a Victorian lady in a gas mask. “They’re good enough to be there, so I don’t see why I should wait,” he declared.

    Soon after, his version of a primitive cave painting depicting a hunter pushing a supermarket trolley was found hanging in the British Museum. The archivists rather spoiled the effect by adding it to their permanent collection.

    Then Banksy surpassed himself by tackling Israel’s 425-mile wall. With the help of Palestinians, he painted nine subversive images, including a ladder going over the barrier and one of children digging a hole through it. Why did he do it? In a telephone interview with The Sunday Times, he explained: “If you are slightly obsessed about painting on walls, you are likely to want to paint on the biggest wall in the world.”


    The Palestinians, he recalled, had cheerfully sent him up the wall, “waiting for the whitey to fall off” and abandoning him at the first sign of Israeli soldiers, who let off warning shots. His hosts were bemused by his efforts. “When I painted a living room scene with a window looking onto an alpine view, they said, ‘So, when are you going to paint Ariel Sharon dead in the armchair?’” Another local remarked that he was making the wall beautiful. Banksy thanked him. “We don’t want it beautiful,” the man spat. “Go home.”

    Typical thanks. Even in his native Bristol, the aerosol messages of the 16-year-old Banksy did not receive sufficient appreciation from the populace, who were “thick as s***”, he complained. Mind you, he only managed to muster an E in GCSE art. A lack of inspiration? “That, plus I had also discovered cannabis.” By one account, he was expelled from school and went to prison.

    At any event, he found his vocation on the street where he lived. “At the end was a giant billboard, and underneath it girls were doing tricks and cars were dumped. The billboard showed a toothpaste tube three times bigger than the houses, and none of the money from those adverts went back into the street.”

    Driven by such parochial concerns, he became a celebrity outlaw in a town that has been Britain’s graffiti centre since the 1980s. In July he received a surprise endorsement from Bristol city council when one of his illegal images of a naked man was put to a public vote and retained by an overwhelming majority.


    Now the enfant terrible has his work cut out demonstrating that that he has not joined the establishment. He rebuffed Charles Saatchi’s attempt to buy his collection and claims to violently dislike contemporary art. (His slogan on the steps leading to Turner prize exhibits warned: “Mind the crap”.) Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin leave him cold: “I have never seen so much produced by so few that says so little. I think they only get away with it because there is a cartel of a small number of artists and art critics who go out drinking together.”

    It is hard to square this with a newspaper report that “Banksy’s friend, Damien Hirst” lent him the one work not for sale at the recent Los Angeles show. But then Banksy’s hero is Harry Houdini, the illusionist who liked tying himself in knots.

    The writing is on the wall for graffiti in the sense that aerosol art has reached a limit to its inventiveness, but people like Banksy are packaging its derivatives and selling them to the rich as an off-the-shelf lifestyle that Pitt and Jolie can safely embrace.

    Bansky professes to hate proper exhibitions: “I have never wanted work hung in a walled room to be seen by people eating vol-au-vents.” Yet he is flattered that the illustrious galleries

    where he covertly dumps his work have added them to their permanent exhibitions. “I’m the only one from my generation there,” he says proudly. “In some of these places you are meant to be dead 200 years first.”

    He claims not to crave adulation: “I don’t have any desire for fame for me as a personality. I want to create pictures that are famous.” On the flipside of such modesty is a canny media operator whose anonymity is a form of reverse exhibitionism that draws attention to himself.


    Some art critics hate him. “His work seems mindless,” says one. “It’s not art, it’s not even close. It’s visual pollution.” This sounds like the Keep Britain Tidy spokesman who maintained that Banksy was a vandal: “How would he feel if someone sprayed graffiti all over his house?” Perhaps that’s the real reason for his anonymity.


[via Stephen Bové]

November 10, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

iLoad — 'Copies CDs at high speed onto an iPod without using a computer or requiring an Internet connection'


That's different — but wait, there's more!

"Music and track data is transferred as well."

From the website:

    The CD-to-iPod Music Transfer System

    The iLoad™ is the first device that allows you to load a CD directly onto any type of docking iPod (not included) in minutes without the need for a computer or Internet connection.

    The portable device converts music on a CD into a compressed MP3 file format and transfers the files directly to the iPod you connect to it.

    An entire CD, or only the individual tracks you select, can be transferred in approximately 8 minutes or less, and the device has an internal database that automatically adds artist, song and album information to the iPod as the music is loaded.


    A built-in audio output jack allows you to connect a set of your own headphones to listen to tracks and decide whether to transfer them, and the controls are top-mounted for easy access.

    The transfer system also charges your iPod while plugged in, and the unit can be connected to a computer via USB to download new music title, artist, and album data as it becomes available on a weekly basis.

    Small enough to pack in a suitcase, backpack or briefcase, the system is lightweight and easy to use, simplifying digital music transfer in the home, at the office or when traveling without access to a computer — and there is no software to install.

    Transfer cable included.

    6-3/4" x 7-1/2" 1-1/2".

    Plugs into AC.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's nothing I find more amusing and interesting than when the accessory costs as much — or more — than the thing accessorized.


The website's got an interactive demonstration and a video with more information about how the device works.


November 10, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'In a business where no one knows anything, anything can happen'


The line above describing the movie industry is by David Carr, from his story in this past Wednesday's New York Times about Billy Ray, writer and director of "Shattered Glass," and his visit to the just-concluded American Film Market in Santa Monica, California.

I have always believed that screenwriter William Goldman's iconic description of Hollywood — "Nobody knows anything" — applies far beyond the borders of the cinematic space.

To say it's true of the internet is an enormous understatement, bordering on parody.

November 10, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Got Vineyard? Personalized Winery Cheese Board


Say what?

From the website:

    Personalized Winery Cheese Board

    Hand crafted from a recycled wine bottle, this unique serving piece features a personalized label from your very own vineyard.

    A great gift for wine lovers, it's wonderful wall decor, too.

    4-3/4" x 12" with 4-1/2"-long cheese spreader.


November 10, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: MoleMate — 'Is it melanoma? Get an answer on the spot'


This new device from Astron Clinica in England is targeted at general and family practitioners who may not be confident in their ability to distinguish cancerous and benign skin lesions.

Long story short: It combines a hand-held scanner (above) with software to analyze hemoglobin, melanin and collagen up to 2mm under the skin and professes to detect suspicious lesions before they are apparent as such to the naked eye.


Does it offer a benefit to patients, or does it simply send more to the dermatologic surgeon for biopsies?


And does it dismiss as benign lesions that are precancerous?

My crack research team was unable to unearth any scientific papers published in refereed journals with such data.


The best they could do is a "Mostly say hooray for our side" press release from the manufacturer.

Since it's just being introduced in England, don't look for it here anytime soon.


For more on melanoma surveillance, revisit my post of August 6, 2005.

November 10, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sudoku Pen


From the website:

    Sudoku Pen

    The brainteasing numbers game has gone digital!

    Solve over 10,000 mini puzzles using the built-in keys on this cool pen-and-puzzle combo.

    Includes two levels of difficulty, sound feature, and timer.

    A perfect stocking stuffer!

    Refillable black ink.

    Batteries included.

    6" long.


November 10, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Book Your Mongolian Vacation Now'


Who knew that Mongolia (above) is expected to experience a 122% increase in tourism circa the year 2100 as a result of global warming?

Not moi.

The biggest winners 94 years hence will be Canada (up 220%) and Russia (up 174%), likewise due to the balmier environs there.

Here's Richard Morin's Washington Post "Unconventional Wisdom" column of August 18, 2006 with the details.

    Book Your Mongolian Vacation Now

    Vancouver and Bangor are unlikely to replace Vera Cruz or the Bahamas as sun-and-fun destinations for international tourists.

    But they just might — thanks to global warming.

    An international team of economists predicts that by the end of the century, the expected rise in temperature will make many current tourist hot spots a bit too toasty, while making some currently chilly places warm enough to entice fair-weather travelers.

    The United States is predicted to be one of the tourism winners, with international tourism increasing an estimated 13.7 percent over what it would be if the atmosphere weren't warming up, said researchers Andrea Bigano of the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in Milan, Jacqueline M. Hamilton of Hamburg University, and Richard S.J. Tol of the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin.

    "Climate change would shift patterns of tourism towards higher altitudes and latitudes," they wrote. "Tourism may double in colder countries and fall by 20 percent in warmer countries.... For some countries international tourism may treble whereas for others it may be cut in half."

    The biggest winners: Canada, which they predict will experience a 220 percent increase in international arrivals by 2100; Russia (174 percent); and Mongolia (122 percent). The biggest losers: Mauritania, where they say international arrivals will drop by 60 percent; Mali (-59 percent); and Bahrain (-58 percent). "Currently popular destinations that are high up there include Macau (-48 percent), Aruba (-42 percent) and Jamaica (-39 percent)," Tol said in an e-mail.

    These researchers used a mathematical simulation model developed by Hamburg University researchers that predicts tourist flows to and from 207 countries based on characteristics known to affect leisure travel. The factors included population growth, the economy and temperature. Then they plugged in estimates that global warming will cause the world's temperature to rise about three degrees Celsius by 2100, or about five degrees Fahrenheit, to see its effect on tourism.

    Just five degrees? Could such a relatively modest rise in the world's thermostat really produce such big changes?

    Absolutely, Tol said. "Three degrees centigrade is not as little as it seems. You would need to travel 1,000 miles south to experience the same warming."


But perhaps you don't want to wait until 2100 to visit Mongolia.

I can understand how that could be.

Well, guess what?

In this past Tuesday's (November 7, 2006) Wall Street Journal, Patrick Barta's article was headlined, "The Final Tourist Frontier: Mongolia."

It's for people like you, impatient about having to chill — as it were — for the next 94 years before heading north.

Here's that story.

    The Final Tourist Frontier: Mongolia

    Remote Land of Extremes Is Luring More Vacationers; A Genghis Khan Theme Park

    For a few days earlier this year, 33-year-old Daniel Natoli rode around the Mongolian desert on the back of a camel and slept in a nomad's tent. It was hot, dusty and uncomfortable.

    After the first 10 minutes on the camel, "I didn't think I could cope with ten more," recalled Mr. Natoli, a former corporate relocation specialist from London, as he hunted for souvenirs in Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, on a recent afternoon. Then again, "it was a real experience that I'll remember," he said. "I don't know anybody else that's been to Mongolia."

    These days, that's becoming less and less true. Once one of the world's most remote — and least-visited — destinations, Mongolia is enjoying one of the world's more improbable travel booms. The number of tourists, while still small at about 350,000 a year, is growing more than 10% annually. In the U.S., student travel agency STA Travel says it has seen a more than 35% increase in Mongolia bookings over the past year. Hilton Hotels Corp. is opening a 240-room hotel. Several other hotel and golf projects are in the works.

    Investors are even building a 13th-century-themed Mongolian family park, complete with a towering monument to Genghis Khan, to capitalize on the latest influx of business and adventure travelers. The project will include a golf course, along with staff members who tote 13th-century weapons.

    Mongolia is only the latest in a number of remote countries that have seen a surge in tourism and vacation investment over the past few years. Investors are also showing up in Borneo (which is divided between Indonesia and Malaysia), Tibet (part of China), Cambodia and once-shunned parts of Eastern Africa — places that were once too hard to get to, or plagued by political instability.

    But now, after several years of a global real-estate boom, hotel and vacation properties have become too expensive in traditional hotspots like the Caribbean and Europe. Mobile phones, Internet booking services and budget airlines have made farther-off areas seem closer, increasing their attraction.

    In Mongolia's case, the mini-boom has received a boost from a surge in mining investment, which has brought a number of expatriate managers to the country for the first time over the past three years. In Ulaanbaatar, developers are finishing work on a string of Western-style high-rise condominium projects for expatriates.

    Mongolia is working hard to promote itself. Before the 1990s, Mongolia was a Communist nation that strictly regulated its tourism industry, discouraging large numbers of visitors. That started to change when Communism faded, and in 2000, Mongolia passed a law making tourism a new priority for the national economy. Among other things, the law created tax holidays for companies that made tourism-related investments.

    Now, Mongolia draws a large number of academics and intellectuals who are serious students of the country's history, culture and wildlife. It's also pulling lots of adventure-seekers and eccentrics — both from Asia and the West — who just want to get far off the beaten track. Some travelers get to Mongolia via a train tour called "VodkaTrain" operated by Sundowners Travel, an Australian company. In marketing materials, VodkaTrain describes Ulaanbaatar as "the only capital city in the world where you can freeze, melt, survive a dust storm only to fall down a man-hole with no cover — all in one day!"

    There certainly are downsides to Mongolia — that is, for people who are expecting it to be easy. To get anywhere, for instance, visitors often have to travel for hours across bumpy — or, in some cases, nonexistent — roads. Winter weather can be brutal. Ulaanbaatar isn't exactly St. Tropez, either. Pollution can wrap the traffic-choked city in a blanket of smog, especially during the bleak winter months. To get around, many visitors have to hail random cars from the street because taxis are hard to find.

    Other services are spotty, too. Although ATM machines are common in Ulaanbaatar, many tourists are surprised to find they usually accept only Visa cards. To change money at the international airport, visitors are whisked into a room where a man in a dark suit pulls stacks of bills from a briefcase. Many hotel employees don't speak English.

    But there are also big upsides to being in Mongolia. Many top hotel rooms are still running at $100 or less a night, and investors can pick up condos for less than $100,000. More important, visitors get to experience all that makes Mongolia unusual, including the chance to meet some of Asia's last nomads, drink fermented mare's milk, and eat ox tongue in Ulaanbaatar cafes.

    Meanwhile, more amenities are on the way. Hilton's new project will be the first international-chain hotel in the country when it is completed in May 2008. The property is being developed by local investors but will be managed by Hilton.

    "It is evident from the increasing inbound flights, especially from Japan and Korea, that Mongolia is a growing market for both business and leisure," said Koos Klein, president of Hilton International for the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions. Hilton officials add that the company was attracted to Ulaanbaatar by the opportunity to be a "trailblazer" in a "must-see" travel destination.

    Shangri-La Asia Ltd., the Hong Kong-based luxury hotel chain, has also expressed interest in building a hotel near the center of town. Ulaanbaatar is "obviously an area we want to get into because it's an up-and-coming" market, said a Shangri-La spokeswoman.

    Some in the travel industry say Mongolia is already getting too crowded with tourists. Jan Wigsten, marketing director of a Mongolian travel company called Nomadic Journeys, said that in some places, tent camps and other developments are popping up everywhere, trashing the landscape. In one case, developers built a giant restaurant in the shape of a concrete tortoise in the middle of the Gobi desert. "That shows a lack of understanding of the kind of tourist here," he said. "It's a big country, but it's already reaching saturation point in some areas."

    Government tourism authorities have responded by limiting the number of tourist camps that can be built within close proximity to one another. They have also tried to promote more winter activities so that not all visitors arrive during the crowded — and short — summer months. Among the offerings: A winter festival in which camels march around and compete in races.

    Even with the latest surge in activity, most visitors still go home feeling like they went to the end of the earth. Laetitia Tardivat, 31, who traveled with Mr. Natoli, said she had dreamt of traveling to Mongolia ever since she was 14 and read about Genghis Khan. On the trip, she and Mr. Natoli also milked cows and set traps for marmots, a common Gobi rodent. Ms. Tardivat said she "fell in love with" her camel, which she nicknamed White Lightning, and enjoyed falling asleep with the sunset in the vast desert. "Being on a camel in the desert makes it feel much more real," she said.

    Besides, she said, "it's nice to be somewhere out of civilization, where you're discovering something."



Be more chill.

November 10, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The problem of toilet paper storage — and the solution


Now, don't get your baggies in a twist, this isn't about disposing of the stuff.

It's about where to keep it while it waits its turn on the firing line — as it were.

Note to self: bag that metaphor.

Now, where was I?

Ah, yes.

Some people (now I wonder whom he could be referring to?) order the stuff in bulk, 24 or even 48 rolls at a time.

That's whole lotta paper goin' on.

Where you gonna keep it if you're the Tiny Living type?

Now there's a solution.

From the website:

    Bath Tissue Storage

    You want to save money, but where to put it all?

    This convenient storage unit hangs over the door or in a closet by included hooks.

    Holds 15 rolls.

    13"W x 24"H.




$19.99 (toilet paper not included).

November 10, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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