Banksy takes his art to Bethlehem

Promotional art by Banksy

Banksy opened up The Walled Off Hotel earlier this year along the wall of the occupied West Bank with the “with the worst view in the world.” More recently, he teamed up with producer Danny Boyl to put together a film called ‘The Alternativity’ which features local children and their families singing Christmas carols ‘Jingle Bells‘ and ‘Silent Night’ in Arabic and English.

The film drops just in time with Trump’s controversial move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which he also proclaimed Israel’s capital. The intermixing of art and politics is intrinsic to Banksy’s street art, but he’s hoping this event will have a real-life impact:

“There aren’t many situations where a street artist is much use. Most of my politics is for display purposes only. But in Palestine there’s a slim chance the art could have something useful to add — anything that appeals to young people, specifically young Israelis, can only help.”

Banksy

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A place called home

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Photo by Wells Baum

My dad couldn’t wait to leave Youngstown, Ohio growing up. There was a vast world out there he wanted to explore. He preferred to exit a place he couldn’t change in exchange for one where he could find more creative stimulation and meet different folks.

It didn’t take long for his away to feel like home, as was the case with my own upbringing. After my family moved from Dallas to New York, ‘Big D’ felt small and insular in retrospect. However, it was only upon visiting Youngstown to see my grandmother years ago that I witnessed a more parochial side of America.


In big cities, you’re just another unknown. In small towns, you can’t even hide; your family reputation precedes you from the coffee shop to the church. Being a somebody instills the false notion that everything is going to be ok because your relatives and neighbors share similar interests. But like-mindedness traps people into fitting in without questioning the status quo.

I understood why my Dad felt the urge to leave his hometown to seek new challenges. As Tocqueville observed, “Why raise your voice in contradiction and get yourself into trouble as long as you can always remove yourself entirely from any given environment should it become too unpleasant?”

But small towns like Orange City, Iowa are proving to be more elastic. Locals who left town in search of big city dreams are returning and bringing their changed perspectives with them. That doesn’t mean traditional values are withering, but it does mean that the provincial can come to tolerate ethnic and religious disparities without isolating the other. It’s worth noting that cities carry their own biases; in gentrified cities like San Francisco, the homeless sleep in newspapers just outside the homes or billionaires.

Democracies are supposed to be noisy, pluralistic places that progress through open dialogue. While the internet accelerated communication and appeared to knock down borders, it also led people back into tribes. The only way to salvage openness is to experience the world beyond your original birth place (urban or rural) and then come back with an appreciation for discussing differences face to face.

A tolerance for dialogue and discomfort makes territories on a map more arbitrary than they already appear.

A reversal of fortunes

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We are in an age of dumbness, where going forward means going back to the ugliness of man: a lack of reasoning, a suffering of fools, a mockery of politics as entertainment.

The internet released information from the prison of expertise, but it also unleashed amateurs who spread misinformation and conspiracy theories. While we write the future with technology, the rotten eggs abuse it to cast their primordial nature.

The truth never expires. Neither does the awe of human intelligence when used for the benefit of all mankind.

Stripped of bias

Photo by Wells Baum

Mushy in the middle, stuck amid choices that cancel each other out. We all hear different things.

The pragmatist razor skins down contradictions and chooses the strongest case on both sides.

Rising above sidedness is a lofty goal, the aim of an idealist. But who’s to say one shouldn’t try?

Clinging to the past, never shaping the future. The biggest risk is doing nothing; virtuality is not a panacea for society’s ills.

No ifs, no buts.

A Night at The Garden

On February 20, 1939, 20,000 gathered at Madison Square Garden in New York City to celebrate the rise of Nazism.

Film producer Marshall Curry worked with an archivist to pull together the clips of footage to tell a cohesive story. Not surprisingly, it looks eerily similar to today’s events with some Americans succumbing to such evil. Said Curry:

 They attack the press, using sarcasm and humor. They tell their followers that they are the true Americans (or Germans or Spartans or…). And they encourage their followers to “take their country back” from whatever minority group has ruined it.

History is a GIF loop.

Question the algorithms

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Photo by David Werbrouck

It is a canard to think that math can’t fail. All you need to do is look at the way society constructs algorithms – from job and college applications to Facebook feeds to find out that sorting can be wrong and biased.

In the case of the 2016 election, algorithms did more harm than good. Facebook fed the internet silos with fake news. As Cathy O’Neil author of Weapons of Math Destruction puts it in a 99% Invisible podcast: “The internet is a propaganda machine.”


We’ve adopted the factory mindset of mass-sorting, leaving the anxiety of decision-making up to machines. Humans are pieces of data, waiting to be organized by the least valuable candidate or customer.

There’s too many of us and not enough time to make individual considerations. But a conversation around algorithmic frailty might do us some good. Making generalizations impedes the magic of a discovering an outlier.

Elements that remove the glare

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Photo by Wells Baum

The emerging reality that the ones glaring inside are too noisy to ignore, making space for the meek to inherit the earth.

The powers of nature can too be political. But the elemental energies lend their powers to the working citizens.

There is no expiration date on the freedom of the communal tact. The amalgamation of hope carries with it the elements of uncertainty. But it also slides confidently with a gust of wind.

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gif by Wells Baum

The running contradictions in your head


A tangle or an analogy,

The justice of the individual or the institution,

The questioner or the lemming,

The power of the strongest or the hidden clout of subjects,

“We’d all be tyrants if we could,”

But we wouldn’t last very long if nature had its way,

If heaven is only a mile away,

Heaven on earth is in your heart.

Listen to In Our Time, Plato’s Republic

‘Forgetting makes us happy’

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Image by Wells Baum

“Forgetting makes us happy’ proclaimed Nietzsche. But it is in the pursuit of something better that we fail to realize the good we already have.

Look no further than at today’s barbarism. History is a gif loop; it dares to be repeated as we grow frustrated with the kindness of our cultured past.

The future thrives on the protection of ideals and ideas, even if they defy the laws of nature. Humans are inherently coercive and imperfect. But books exist to keep us honest. They remind us of the valor of doing the right thing.

Is it worth defying history and throwing in the towel to start all over again? ‘Destroy and rebuild it;’ it is the stain of bad tendencies that linger.

Never forget.

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Image by Wells Baum

On criticism

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The doer wants acknowledgment for their work. They want people to scream their hosannas. But criticism is democratic.

Not everyone likes Radiohead’s last album. Every Trump tweet draws liberal contestants. Where you fall in the Messi versus Ronaldo or Jordan versus Lebron debate could be a preference based on your birth date. Opines literary critic and poet Adam Kirsch:

“Everyone brings his or her own values and standards to the work of judging. This means that it is also, essentially, democratic. No canon of taste or critical authority can compel people to like what they don’t like.”

As an artist, athlete, CEO, US president, some criticism is better than none at all. My newest book Train of Thought has zero reviews. I’d rather have one star and a bad review just to confirm that someone had a look.

Criticism is integral to an informed democracy. Even the maker is a critic. Their rebuttals are neither valid nor invalid but mere reason. Conversely, the reviewer is also a professional; even a stream of invective is a manifestation of analysis and interpretation.

Perhaps it is the inner-critic that is the most annoying of all. It’s the one that wants both artist and analyst to say and do nothing but remain in a state of paralysis.

What’s most important therefore is the opinion itself. Consent is an illusion reserved for lemmings. Now feel free to criticize this post in the comments below.

How status and likability affect your health 

gif via Tony Babel

Popular people live longer.

As social animals, the number of friends predetermines our well-being, all the way down to modifying our DNA.

Loners may pass away sooner, but it’s not a matter of popularity. The number of people we know means nothing if they don’t actually like us back. There’s return on relationships.

Think back to high school: were you amiable or sworn to attention?

The same question applies to our behavior online. It’s rare to have both status — millions of followers — and likability. And the difference between the two is subtle.

Explains UNC psychology professor and author of the forthcoming book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World:

“Likability is markedly different from status — an ultimately less satisfying form of popularity that reflects visibility, influence, power, and prestige. Status can be quantified by social media followers; likability cannot.”

Trump has thirty million Twitter followers, a majority of which follow him to see what the lightning rod of criticism says next. Both the attention and scorn make him miserable. If you’re looking for happiness in the credibility of numbers, social media may be the wrong game to play.

Happiness is tied to likeability, not our number of followers. If we want to extend our lives, it pays to be both well-known and well-liked. Hint: try to be nice to people, share upfront, and don’t be surprised if they remember your name.

Shadow of a doubt


The software and hardware companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook want us to trust them. The theory is that our information is better kept stored with them in a private cloud rather than with the government. Outside America, however, the NSA can collect our information without a search warrant.

The internet companies are not only American-based, their manifest destiny makes them look like hegemonic colonizers.


“This is a dilemma of the feudal internet. We seek protection from these companies because they can offer us security,” says Maciej Cegłowski. “But their business model is to make us more vulnerable, by getting us to surrender more of the details of our lives to their servers, and to put more faith in the algorithms they train on our observed behavior.”

We are all citizens of tech companies, trading privacy for free communication. But the users are the ads and coders are the kings; the latter which convert our interests and attention into ad revenue.

Technology platforms appear to be doing more harm than the good. Most recently, they’ve facilitated fake news and ushered in FOMO-hitting mental health issues.

The internet is as indispensable as water but it’s also a perceivable threat when the few that run the show are creating new problems while hesitating to solve them.

Are You Lost In The World Like Me?

We reach for the phone to find ourselves. We’d rather outsource our frustration and boredom to a widget than deal with our anxieties directly.

The mobile phone makes it easier to cope (read: ignore) the world going on around us. It’s easy: we just don’t pay attention; plus, we can crush dissent with our own filters. But echo chambers confirm prejudice.

There’s chaos in the cosmos, disorder in peace. If we can’t tolerate ambiguity, then we’ll succumb to the fickleness of weather patterns.

Perhaps the lost are found, the only ones looking up.