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Brainiac

In celebration of massive greatness

By Christopher Shea
May 2, 2010

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Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, is taking some heat after the unveiling of the so-called African Renaissance Monument: a 160-foot-tall, $25 million statue that many Senegalese view as a poor use of the nation’s limited resources and a tribute mainly to Wade’s ego. In a style that echoes the most hackneyed of Soviet art, it depicts a chiseled man and scantily clad woman emerging from the earth (literally, a volcano). Perched on the man’s ample bicep is a child, pointing--but of course--to a glorious future.

Foreign Policy uses the unveiling as an excuse for a photographic tour of some of the world’s most egregious political art. Russia may have taken a step back in the game, after tearing down all those Lenin statues, but a Georgian-born artist named Zurab Tsereteli is keeping that country in the running. Tsereteli’s masterwork so far is a 315-foot statue of Peter the Great that towers cheesily on the bank of the Moskva River. This immense Peter steers a curiously under-scale, though still dauntingly massive, vessel. And Mongolia’s statuary worship of Genghis Khan earns a mention from Foreign Policy, particularly a 130-foot-tall equestrian example that came wrapped in 250 tons of stainless steel.

The oddest piece of art, however, may be an attempt by La Gloria, a tiny Mexican town that was home to the boy who may have been the first human to contract the H1N1 virus, to turn his misfortune into tourist dollars. The town fathers erected a statue of their very own Patient Zero, Edgar Hernandez--who, unlike thousands worldwide, survived the illness.

24 rooms in 344 square feet

Boston isn’t quite Hong Kong or Tokyo, in terms of cramped living space, but real estate is certainly at a premium. That means lots of otherwise well-balanced people find themselves beset with square-footage envy. Once you see what the architect Gary Chang has done with his Lilliputian, 344-square-foot Hong Kong apartment, however, you may find yourself thinking two things: First, your own situation could be worse. Second, there are ways of living small that can themselves inspire covetousness.

Lifehacker posted a video with the details. Chang’s bed folds into a wall, of course, but that’s just a start: A series of nested sliding walls allows for 24 different configurations for the one-room space. Pull back on a wall bearing a flat-screen TV to reveal a miniature kitchen, for instance. Or slide back a wall of bookshelves to expose a linen closet; then slide the linen closet back to reveal a tub. Then tug on the wall above the tub to bring down a guest bed. Chang calls his pad the Domestic Transformer.

Can sexting be outlawed?

Last year, in New Jersey, a 14-year-old girl was charged with distributing child pornography after posting sexually explicit photographs of herself on MySpace. Meanwhile, Nebraska, Utah, and Vermont have reduced penalties for sexting, precisely to avoid equating naive or reckless 14-year-olds with the adult criminals envisioned by the authors of the child-porn laws. Among the legally minded, much intellectually energy has been expended trying to draw a defensible line between illegal and ”naive” sexual imagery of this sort.

Writing at PrawfsBlawg, Carissa Hessick, an Arizona State University law professor, suggests that the recent ”crush video” opinion from the Supreme Court may offer a window into how the court might decide a sexting case. In U.S. v. Stevens, the court struck down a law outlawing the sale of videos ”in which a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded or killed.” The law was inspired by a genre of fetish video in which, typically, a woman crushes a small animal with her heels.

In distinguishing child pornography from videos involving animal cruelty, the court argued that what made child pornography unique was the fundamental link between abuse and the imagery. Since the images could not be produced without child abuse, the images deserved zero constitutional protection. Indeed, they constituted part of the original crime.

Now consider how this reasoning might apply to sexting. Could anyone argue that self-photographing girls are abusing themselves at the moment they push the digital-camera button? No, the crime, if there is one, would have to occur during the distribution of the images. ”We might argue,” Hessick writes, ”that the teen ought not have taken the picture, and if the teen is under the age of consent in his or her jurisdiction perhaps they have no affirmative right to sexual autonomy that would include taking such a picture; however, assuming no involvement by adults in the production of the image, then I simply don’t see how the image can be considered a product of child sex exploitation or abuse.”

Therefore, the argument that the court has constructed to exclude child porn from free-speech protections simply does not fit. Prosecutors and legislators, if they choose the debatable strategy of criminalizing ”sexters,” may have to find a new rationale for their actions.

Christopher Shea is a weekly columnist for Ideas. He can be reached at brainiac.email@gmail.com.