I had a long coversation this past weekend with one of the country's pre-eminent historians of contemporary art about one Richard Prince and his claim to fame and riches.
Richard Prince, you see, may be the wealthiest living artist.
And every cent he has made has been off photographs of photographs, the originals of which he did not arrange or take or create in any way.
The website Priceonomics had an article about Prince that sparked my conversation with the art historian. Seems Prince has made $300 million off his "works" in the past 15 years alone -- "the vast majority of which are either 're-photographs' or adaptations of pre-existing photographs."
What Prince does is steal others' works via camera and then reposition them in galleries, pretending that he is "changing the contect and therefore the meaning of these works," as my art historian friend put it.
I say anyone who takes another's creation and calls it his own is a plagiarist and a thief. Art critics and historians may not agree with me, but they seem to be trying to sanitize something that smells so bad no substance on earth would redeem it.
Nobody's more adamantly in favor of freedom of expression than I am.
There's just got to be something that can be done about the websites, twitter accounts, blogs, etc., that promote terrorism of any flavor, Islamic or otherwise.
Surely there are branches of the CIA and FBI that are focused on disabling these kinds of Internet recruiting/hate-mongering activities, just as they are trying to deal with threats from enemy states or potential enemy states.
It's as important to national security to take out whatever ISIS is fomenting via social media as it is to beat them on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, good for Anonymous, which announced Monday that will will carry out "Official ISIS Trolling Day" on Friday. The group plans to hack Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts belong to ISIS, according to various media reports.
Someone has to make war on these people in an effective online way.
Chinese government officials are becoming ever more visible, smiling, shaking hands, participating in all sorts of conferences, etc.
You'd almost think that something ... well ... fundamental has changed. After all: No more Mao-type uniforms with caps festooned with red stars. No more harsh rhetoric about the superiority of Communism. No more tanks in Tiananmen Square.
But, what you see is not aways what you get, as they say.
And one dead giveaway about what's going on behind the scenes can be found in the hands of babes. Literally.
The Economist reports in the Nov. 28th edition that sales of children's books are way, way up these days. Freedom of expression and thought not so much.
"Publishers have internally appointed censors whose job is to ensure that the Communist Party's line is not transgressed," The Economist writes.
I guess Dr. Seuss just wouldn't fit in.
As a brand-new report at the Amarillo newspaper in 1966, I was often sent by my city editor off in a company car to find and write about unusual people, things and events.
"Go to Spearman, and don't come back until you have three stories," was the kind of instructions I'd receive as he handed over the car keys.
Sometimes I couldn't find three stories in places like Spearman, so I'd look at my Texas map and try to figure someplace nearby that might be more productive.
I remember just such a day when I was somewhere northeast of Amarillo, and I spent the better part of an afternoon looking for a place with an intriguing-sounding name that was on the map but that appeared to be nowhere on the ground.
I finally gave up.
When I complained to my editor, he told me something I'd never known before -- that mapmakers often draw in fake places with fake names so they can see if someone has stolen their work.
And here I was thinking that mapmakers had to be among the most trust-worthy people on the planet.
Of course, over the years I have figured out that once upon a time maps were not very representative, and today they are better, much better.
I'm fascinated by maps, I guess, even ones with significant flaws.
And I guess I'm not alone. The New York Times Book Review section yesterday reported that there are three new books about maps being published this fall before Christmas.
I'm guessing that not a single one of them will tell me how to get to that mysterious missing town northeast of Amarillo.
I was surprised earlier this year at the kinds of fees the Austin public libraries wanted to start charging.
It seemed to me that the fees were arbitrary and probably would keep a lot of people away, not something you want to do if you want to keep a library open these days.
Now comes the Round Rock City Council eliminating fees for non-residents (residents have not paid fees in the past anyway).
Before last May's action, the library charged a card fee of $25 per year for individuals and $40 for families. That seems steep enough to me that I'd have to think about getting a card myself.
So, what's been the result?
The result has been pretty spectacular, according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman. Since last year, the library has seen membership grow 34 percent to 99,000.
Not all of that growth is because the fees were dropped, but Michelle Cervantes, library director, says a lot of the growth is due to the change.
Of course, there are whiners -- people in Round Rock who feel like they're paying taxes for the library while the nonresidents aren't, and that's not fair. But, those nonresidents and a whole lot more are using their streets and sidewalks and are depending on law-enforcement to be available even if they don't pay taxes.
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