Sunday, July 31, 2011


I remember back 10 years ago just a few weeks after the September 11th attacks sitting on the steps of the Federal Hall Memorial looking at the big flag over the front of the Stock Exchange. I remember thinking, "How patriotic is it really to maintain overseas tax shelters in a time of national crisis?"

Now that extortion appears to have won the day, and that the federal budget will be balanced on the backs of all the rest of us, with not one single penny demanded from the people and corporations who effectively own the United States, I have to ask, is it legitimate anymore to consider our owners to be fellow citizens?

A friend of mine who is no hippy, but a retired executive vice president from a major international advertising firm, looked at this same flag on the Stock Exchange and exclaimed in disgust, "Well of course they fly the flag, they bought it."

Patriots? or parvenus?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

An Ancient Tribal Conflict

Digby argues that our current national conflicts are not about politics, but about tribe. Resentments as old as the republic drive the emotional intensity of these struggles. This idea certainly resonates with me, since I've long argued that these fights have nothing to do with policy or anything like rationality. They are all about grievance and spite, the deep and ancient resentments that one segment of our population have always cherished against the rest of the country, and against the world.

I notice that this is a very hard thing for most (though not all) outside our country to understand. The rest of the world sees this as a policy argument that has inexplicably aroused such angry passion and gone off the rails.

As usual with Digby, it's a long post with lengthy quotes from some other very interesting essays, but it's worth reading.

So fellow Southerners, read this and see what you think. Since I am from Texas and the descendent of Union sympathizers, and I emigrated to New York (like a lot of other Southerners) my point of view is hardly representative.

William Bauly, The Fate of the Rebel Flag, a widely popular lithograph during the Civil War.

Friday, July 29, 2011

St. John Chrysostom on Wealth

"Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth, but theirs."-- St. John Chrysostom (+ 407 A.D), On Wealth and Poverty,

a 15th century icon of St. John Chrysostom

Göran is Gone

His cancer has run its course, and it's over.

Farewell, and God speed.

Giovanni Bellini, Madonna of the Meadow, 1505

Picasso Driving Down Your Street in an El Dorado

He probably did get called an asshole, certainly by the legions of women he discarded.

I give the man credit for staying behind in occupied Paris while so many others fled (credit also to invalided Matisse who stayed behind in occupied Nice dodging bombs).

Love this song. Love the image of Picasso driving an El Dorado.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

So Much for Poor Lazarus

Dives is in Washington DC laughing at him.

Doing my part to spread this. Here's more on this chart, which turns out to be the creation of a left-wing Christian group on Facebook called what else, Christian Left.

Keep all this in mind when anyone uses the term "shared sacrifice,"

Middle class me wonders why my future Medicare benefits should be scaled back so that some hedge fund manager who makes my annual salary in less than a minute can continue to pay a lower tax rate than I do.

Let them eat Ayn Rand...

...preferably au poivre.

And in case you're wondering just who exactly is responsible for this mess, here's another chart:

James Fallows expands upon this chart and on who is responsible for creating this mess.


The proles push back. The first IKEA manufacturing plant in the USA in Swedwood, Virginia voted to unionize on Wednesday in a 3 to 1 landslide. Congratulations!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who's A Christian and Who's Not

There's a little fundamentalist congregation in my neighborhood whose website bids all welcome if they subscribe to a very long list of doctrinal preconditions. There are a lot of fundamentalist and right wing Christians who are subjecting Anders Breivik's long screed to doctrinal acid tests in order to prove that he's not really a Christian, and therefore his violence does not contaminate them.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who calls themselves a Christian is one. I will let The Chairman of the Board decide for Himself who really is or is not a member. Anders Breivik calls himself a Christian, so he is one. I can't imagine the same Christ that I pray to in any way blessing what he did, but, he's still a member, a brother, a part of the mystical Body of Christ on earth, as far as I'm concerned. He's an evil member, but a member. He's a monster, but he's ours.

A Christian, as far as I'm concerned, is anyone who says they follow Christ whether or not they believe correctly or incorrectly; whether or not they do great good or great evil.

Our responsibility as Christians is not to distance ourselves from him or his evil, but to fight that evil, to resist it, to do all in our power to stop it, to undo the harm it has done, and to bear witness against it.


God Will Be Mocked.

The people who truly mock God are not the people who don't conform to whatever template we make for them. The people who mock God are those who kill and harm, or who advocate harm in any form, to those created in His image. People like Anders Breivik and people who have similar sympathies spit in God's face just as surely as did the soldiers on that first Good Friday.

Fra Angelico, Christ Mocked,

I Will Vote For President Next Year ...

... only if Obama and Michelle Bachmann are locked in a dead heat.

With that proviso, this blog still endorses nobody for President.

As I'm sitting here watching with growing alarm at the prospect of my retirement being set on fire so that those who already have much too much can have even more, I agree with Robert Reich that the real issue is jobs, and that there's no jobs because no one is spending money, and businesses have no demand. Instead of doing something urgent to put money in people's pockets and create demand, the twin ghosts of Heinrich Brünning and Herbert Hoover roam the earth demanding that government budgets should be balanced in the face of depressed economies with high unemployment. The historical record on that approach to governing in times of economic crisis is not encouraging. I see a spike in unemployment and no end to this disaster no matter whose budget balancing plan prevails in the end. I am utterly amazed that anyone who calls himself a Democrat would put Social Security on the table as part of a budget negotiation. Social Security funds itself. It is not part of the federal budget at all. The Social Security budget is solvent and will remain so for another 35 years. Both sides are proposing drastic cuts to Medicare. One side wants to eliminate it entirely by turning it into a voucher program. The other side is willing countenance benefit cuts and changes in age requirements that would cause very great hardship for millions of people. And all of this is solely for the sake of preserving tax breaks and historically low tax rates for the top income earners in the USA.

I feel like I'm being played here. I'm getting some small but very real gains in gay civil rights with one hand, while the things I've worked for and paid into all of my life are now tossed up for grabs by the other hand. I'm watching both sides now arguing over how best to unravel the social safety net (and destroy the social fabric), and I wish a pox on all of them. I'm watching one side make outrageous and extreme demands while the other talks about how much to cave in.

Fuck all the bipartisanship rhetoric! I want MORE partisanship, not less! I want someone in there standing up to this nonsense instead of letting it set all the terms of the debate! I want someone in there fighting on my behalf and not bargaining away the whole store and the deed to the house. I feel like I'm being deliberately dissed so that the President can somehow impress the "independent voter" with his centrist creds. And then said President has the gall to turnaround and ask for my enthusiastic support for re-election. That's the one thing I've always hated about the Democratic party, that sucker's deal that says "too bad jack, you ain't got no place else to go." I think I'll just go home.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rose Marches

In rallies across the country featuring thousands of people carrying roses, and singing a Norwegian World War II anti-Nazi resistance song, "For Youth," Norwegians publicly embrace their democracy and open society in the face of those who want to destroy them.

Seventy six dead in a country of only about 2 million is a catastrophe. and a very shocking one to a largely peaceful country.

I seem to remember that after September 11th, we were told to hide behind plastic covered windows and duct tape. We've been told over the last 10 years not to have courage, but to be afraid, be very afraid.

While Norway embraces anew its democracy after it was attacked, we decided to trash ours. We sold away our national inheritance for a promise of security from profiteering shysters. Now we just bide our time until some future President declares his/her political opponents to be terrorists, and the rule of law and civil society vanish down a hole forever.

I'm feeling very depressed these days about our once great country.

Margaret Watson

Our fighting Margaret is having serious troubles these days.  She recently lost her post as a priest in her parish in Richmond, Virginia.  Such are the fortunes of the outspoken and brave.  

But I truly appreciate her courage and her willingness to tell the powerful where to get off, even powerful majorities.  

This blog expresses its gratitude and appreciation for all of her work so far, sympathies and solidarity in her current troubles, and best wishes for her continuing work.  May God prosper the work of her hands.

I have a quote from a comment that she left on my Facebook page over on the sidebar just above the famous Chora Anastasis.  It fits especially well beneath Santa Muerte.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Pull Out the Stopper, Let's Have A Whopper"

Congratulations to yesterday's newlyweds! Congratulations to all to come! Today New York! Tomorrow California! and someday soon, Texas!

Niagara Falls last night.

Wedding bells peel from Buffalo to Montauk today.

Quote of the Week

from a BBC report on Norway:

Lars Helle, editor of the daily Dagbladet, said "we must avoid being preoccupied by fear, like the US was after 11 September 2001. Rather, we must look to Spain and England and how the people of those nations recovered their freedom after the horrible terrorist acts of 2004 and 2005".

How depressing that 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, we've become an object lesson in how NOT to act in the face of a national calamity. Bravo to the Norwegians for their determination to maintain an open and democratic society. Perhaps we lost faith in democracy and openness, as well as in each other, long before 9/11 happened.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

And In The Midst of All the Summer Despair ...

Göran lives!

Thanks be to God, he's back with us on the comment threads!

Compromise Away the Farm

It's gonna be damn hard to vote next year.

The Prez is ready to bargain away our retirement to get an agreement, and the Republicans are ready to hand it all over to our creditors.

Michael says that the people who own and run the USA, the richest 1%, decided that the middle class was too big and that it's time to cut labor costs. The remaining 99% wait with baited breath for pink slips. Expect unemployment to remain high at 8% or more for the next 10 years, and expect all the political and social disintegration that comes with it.

The Suspect

Anders Behring Breivik

It turns out that the prime suspect in the worst violence that Norway has seen since World War II is a native Norwegian with no foreign ties. Police still have not yet determined if he acted alone or as part of a group.

The scale and violence of the attack led everyone (including yours truly) to initially conclude that the attack was the work of Islamist terrorists. Norway is not the neutral country most assume it to be. It is a member of NATO. Its military is very much involved in operations in Afghanistan and Libya. Norway is a relatively soft target compared to the USA or France or Britain. It would make sense for Islamist groups to target Norway for an attack either as retaliation, or in an attempt to split the Western alliance.

We were all wrong. Police say that he is a Christian fundamentalist and a racist, but so far there are no indications of ties to any group. The extreme right is comparatively weak in Norway compared to large and well organized groups in Sweden and Denmark, and certainly nothing like the well organized, well funded,-- and well armed -- far right groups in the USA. Like an earlier right wing terrorist in this country, he apparently used a fertilizer bomb, though that is still unconfirmed.

The European far-right frequently slips beneath the American cultural radar. Americans, both right and left, tend to fixate on European welfare states, creations of the experience of the Second World War when the inherent instabilities and uncertainties of unregulated capitalism uprooted and impoverished millions of people, driving the violent ideological movements that made the War. The American left envies those cradle-to-grave-care systems and the American right despises them. Both sides miss the profound struggles over national and cultural identity taking place in Europe now as those old nation states face a much more cosmopolitan and interdependent world. Out of those struggles emerges a new and energetic far right driven by anti-immigrant xenophobia, renewed antisemitism in eastern Europe, and just plain racism.

It is remarkable how frequently fundamentalism and racism appear together. This is certainly not always the case, but it happens a lot. I think the connection is supremacism. Neither fundamentalists nor racists believe in anything like universal salvation or universal human rights. They both believe in Chosen communities, chosen by God or History or Destiny or whatever. They both believe that their group will inherit the earth and that all others are but usurpers, doomed to be swept away by God or Nature or History or whatever.

Norway's experience over the next few months and years will be grief and shock that something like this could happen in so peaceful and remote a country as theirs. So many people, especially young people, died and leave behind hundreds of bereaved family and friends. The special shock and grief of seeing people so young die so suddenly is probably the worst pain of all. Those families and friends will need all the help and support that their country, and all the rest of us, can give them.

It will be interesting to see if and how this calamity affects the political and cultural conflict here. What exactly do we mean when we call someone a "terrorist?" And if Breivik for whatever reason doesn't qualify as a terrorist to some, then why not? What about the role of religion in matters of cultural identity (a tribal issue)? Should religion matter in cultural identity? Should religions like Christianity that make universal claims even be involved in any way with matters of national or ethnic identity? And there is the whole issue of who speaks for Christianity? Who gets to define what it is? Who owns the copyright? Christianity, like Islam, is ridden with conflict over issues of belief, practice, and identity, conflicts that arise as it faces modernity. Like Islam, Christianity faces the choice between rejecting modernity completely, its cosmopolitanism, its liberalism, perhaps even its science and technology; or somehow embracing it despite the nihilism of the market economy and its culture, and making a productive relationship with it.

And of course, there is the role of violence. An extreme rhetoric of elimination pervades Right wing political speech here. There is a corresponding extreme language of vilification beginning to appear in some left circles in reaction ("for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction," said Isaac Newton). Could we see similar violence in this country? We already have with the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, and many smaller violent incidents since then. Because it is human nature to generalize from the particular, we could see Christians of all persuasions lumped in together and vilified. We could get a taste of what our Muslim neighbors have been going through for 10 years. For all I know, Norwegians could get singled out for extra scrutiny from now on. People and their fears and loathings can be strange and capricious.

Above all, we must be careful when we look at the picture of Anders Breivik, or Timothy McVeigh, or Osama Bin Laden, that we are not looking into a mirror. Those men had nothing but their fears and loathings. We must always be careful that ours do not take us down a similar path.

Roy Lichtenstein, Mirror

Friday, July 22, 2011


Solidarity with our friends in Norway as they endure their worst ordeal since World War II.


This morning, it turns out that the violence in Norway was horrific, 84 dead in the shootings on Utoeya Island and the death toll still unknown in the Oslo bombings. It is officially 7 people, but police say there are still many people missing and expect the toll to rise.

The suspect arrested in the Utoeya shootings turns out to be Anders Behring Breivik, a native Norwegian and a young farmer who is apparently a far-right extremist. He is the prime suspect in both the island massacre and the bombing. Police believe that the bomb was made out of fertilizer, similar to the Oklahoma City bombing. There was no Islamic involvement at all. I can hear the tires screeching as the teevee experts do their U turns (I remember the same thing happened in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing). I was not surprised that Oklahoma City turned out to be a right wing hit. The Ouachita Mountains in the east were swarming with violent white supremacists in those days. I am surprised by this. Norway is heavily involved in military operations in Afghanistan and Libya providing air support with F16 fighter jets. The Norwegians make about 10% of the air strikes in Afghanistan. They are an inviting target for any number of violent Islamist extremists.

And it turns out that the suspect is a Christianist and a racist. Something that has gone under the radar here in the USA, but which Scandinavian acquaintances talk about all the time, is the rise of far right nativist movements in Scandinavia and in other parts of Europe. They've arisen out of strong anti-immigrant feeling throughout Europe directed primarily at people from North Africa and the Middle East, though also at Eastern Europeans. Perhaps that's something we need to pay more attention to.

Here is the suspect's profile on the BBC website.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Hot Enough To Boil A Monkey's Bum in Here, Your Majesty!"

It's hot in New York, and that fragrance on the breeze smells like the old half a tuna fish sandwich she's carrying in her purse.


It's bleeding hot here in New York today 7/23. It's 94F out and it's 10AM. It is officially cooler in Phoenix right now. The expected high for the city today is 101F. Expect that temperature to be 15-20 degrees hotter in the subway stations. ConEd is already doing power cutbacks in Queens and Westchester County.

To make matters worse, a sewage treatment plant in Harlem caught fire and leaked raw sewage into the Hudson, closing beaches in Brooklyn and Staten Island. What's more, Rush Limbaugh now says that the heat index is a communist conspiracy.

Summer in New York City, it's hot and it smells like shit.

I plan to spend the day in the air-conditioned dark with Michael and the cats grading papers.

For those of you enduring similar hardships, here is a little heat-related entertainment:

... and Miss Piggy's version:

Stay cool everyone!


It is 2:50PM and it's 104F. Tomorrow, we are expecting a high of 108F.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When All Else Fails ...

... there's power pop. The Buzzcocks with Howard DeVoto.

There's the Right Way ...

... and then there's the Vatican way.

Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia resigns after a second grand jury report accuses the Roman Catholic Church of covering its ass at the expense of children. In this case, 37 abuser priests (!) were knowingly kept in positions with access to children.

Rigali will be replaced by Cardinal Charles Chaput of Denver, a hard right winger who expelled the children of a lesbian couple from a Denver area Catholic school.

Despite all of the warfare and squabbling in the Episcopal Church these days, and despite the abundant dysfunctions of the Church of England, I'll take both over Rome every time. Thank you sweet Jesus I was born and raised in the lukewarm embrace of the Methodist Church! Its corruption was the usual normal stuff; embezzling discretionary funds and adulterous affairs with parish secretaries or choir masters, none of this dark occult stuff that Roman clergy are into (evangelical pastors certainly have their wild sides too). There's nothing like unaccountable authority and secrecy for letting the infections fester. Authoritarian opacity is the predator's best friend.

Rome has gone completely verkakte.

Rest Assured ...

When November comes, I'll vote for the incumbent in the White House to keep the roaring flood tide of verkakte from completely swamping the country.

Doesn't mean I have to endorse him.


President Lyndon Johnson enrolls former President Harry Truman as the first Medicare recipient, 1965.

The United States already has a single payer national health insurance program called Medicare. It was first proposed by President Truman in the 1940s as a national health insurance program for everyone. The proposal died in Congress in the face of resistance by the AMA and the insurance industry, as well as Congressional Republicans led by Senator Robert Taft.

Senator John F. Kennedy proposed limiting Medicare benefits to seniors to make the program more palatable to conservatives, and again the program died in Congress. President Kennedy tried again with the same program and again saw it defeated.

It was President Johnson who finally got the program through Congress in 1965. Like Social Security, this is a tremendously successful social program, hobbled recently by limits placed (by Republican policies) on its bargaining power with pharmaceutical companies and health care providers, but still a very great success. It is arguably a better single payer national health program than either Canada's or Britain's systems.

I wonder who all those scooter patriots imagine pays for their scooters? I wonder if those angry hecklers yelling "Keep the gummint outta my Medicare!!" have any idea where Medicare comes from?

No Senator Ryan, a 20% off coupon on private insurance policies is not Medicare or anything like it, anymore than a pizza is the Marines just because you now call a pizza the Marines (hat tip to Rachel Maddow for that one).

Raising the retirement age to around 70 is no problem if your are working in a managerial or professional position, but if you do manual labor in manufacturing, or in services such as housekeeping or kitchen work, then that would be a serious hardship.

Stop punishing the rest of us for the bankers' sins!


Don't Sell Us Out!

Ida Fuller

Ida May Fuller was the first person to ever receive Social Security Benefits. She lived most of her life in Ludlow, Vermont where she worked as a school teacher and a legal secretary. She never married, and died at age 100 in 1975. She retired in 1939 just 3 years after Social Security was created. She received the very first Social Security check, check # 00-000-001 for $22.54.

Social Security is arguably the most successful government program for social amelioration in history, and imitated by many other countries (from Japan to Israel). It not only saved seniors and the disabled from destitution, it helped lay the groundwork for the historic middle class prosperity in the USA from roughly 1945 to 1975.

Getting rid of Social Security is a cherished dream of right wing ideologues going back to the beginnings of the program in 1936. Britain and Italy both tried experiments in privatized Social Security with disastrous results.

Now, it's on a negotiating table.

Remember Ida May.

My message to the President and to the Democratic Party:

Don't Sell Us Out!

Borders Is Finished

My old employer from 13 years back prepares to liquidate.

I have a history with this company.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Scooter Patriots Rule!

Sef-reliant they are!  Rugged individualists!  They really do pull their own weight! Raised themselves by their own bootstraps they did.   No gummint hep whatsoever!  So, stay outta their Medicare!

Damn lazy hippies! Get a job! And get off my lawn!

For President in 2012, Counterlight's Peculiars Endroses ...


At this point, nobody is the best candidate. The Republicans are all in a race to see who can be the most toxic and crazy, and Obama gave away the whole store and the deed to the house. Obama finally lost my vote with putting Social Security and Medicare on the negotiating table. If there's one bedrock thing left that distinguishes a Democrat, it's defending those 2 programs, two of the most successful government programs ever, against right wingers who've wanted to end both since their inceptions (1936 and 1965 respectively, a long time to cherish grudges). Once that's traded away, then there's just no point anymore. Add that to the expansion of the national security state, the failure of mortgage relief policies, the downright indulgent treatment of the financial industry that created the whole mess, and that adds up to more than I'm willing to overlook for the sake of a few gay rights victories and a significant reform of the student loan program.

Ours is a system of legalized corruption, and both parties are getting funds from the same sources. Those funders are clearly and openly buying influence, and now the Supreme Court says that they do not have to be publicly accountable. For all we know, China and Saudi Arabia could be major funders of American political campaigns. We won't find out anytime soon. We know the financial, petroleum, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries are major sponsors of the US government. It has become so prohibitively expensive to run for federal office, that Congress (and especially the Senate) has become a millionaires' club. Politics on the federal level (and increasingly on the state level) is now a rich man's game, and exclusively so. They all belong to the same clubs, come from the same schools, worked in the same law firms. Small wonder that Republicans are such proud plutocrats and Democrats cave so readily. Both parties work for the same employers.

It is very early in the election cycle, and I reserve the right to change my mind. But at this point, rather than throw my vote away on a spoiler third party candidate, I'd rather not vote for anyone for president. At this point, it might be more productive to concentrate on Congressional and state elections. Whereas federal Dems are all fluffy bunnies, state legislative Dems can sometimes fight like terriers, probably because they don't have quite so many corporate ties and don't come from the same charmed circles as federal politicians.


Robert Kuttner speaks for me.  Obama is going to have to work for it if he wants my vote next year.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Nation "Conceived in Liberty" Almost Perished From the Earth

In these years marking the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, it is important to remember that most of the rulers of the 19th century world openly supported the South and very much desired the end of the United States and all that it stands for. We forget how close Britain and France came to intervening in the war on the side of the South, and enforcing a peace treaty which would have recognized the Confederacy as an independent nation.

Consider this from the Earl of Shrewsbury,

"I believe that the dissolution of the Union is inevitable, and that men before me will live to see an aristocracy established in America."

The hard fought victory of the North in 1865 revived the sagging spirits of revolutionaries and progressives in the late 19th century world ranging from John Stuart Mill, to Giuseppe Mazzini, to Karl Marx. As the historian James McPherson pointed out, most of the world in the 1860s looked like the South with a ruling propertied class over a large class of indentured labor. Slavery for most of the rulers of Europe was but a technicality, a legal and semantic distinction. It was the North that was the odd one out. The Emancipation Proclamation turned the war into a fight to end slavery, and dramatically turned public opinion in Britain and France (if not their rulers) to the Union cause.

The United States was once a revolutionary state dedicated to liberty and equality, and was seen as such by so many imperial powers who desired its end. Something to remember as we become just another oligarchic republic with an empire in a long list of so many in world history.

Alexander Gardner, photograph of the recovery of Civil War dead titled The Harvest of Death

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Henri Fantin Latour at the Met

Paul Cezanne was a brilliant pioneer who blazed new trails for other artists to follow. Henri Fantin Latour was not. All of his life, he painted in a conservative, even conventional style. His paintings of flowers and fruit were prized by English collectors, so much so that there were times when they weren't available in France. This conservative painter had a lot of very unconservative friends. He was close friends with Manet and Whistler. He knew some very edgy Symbolist poets, among them Paul Verlaine and his even more famous boyfriend, Arthur Rimbaud (it's hard to get any edgier than that in Fin de Siecle Paris). Fantin Latour painted them together in a group portrait of literary types who are all forgotten except that now famous couple.

Conservative and conventional as his work was, he had the respect and esteem of his more famous colleagues. Manet sat for a portrait by Fantin Latour while at the height of his scandalous successes at the Salon Exhibitions.

Fantin Latour is one of the great second string painters of the 19th century, an age full of great second bests. His work may not be as demanding as Cezanne's, but it's not hard to see why it earned such respect. It is beautifully painted, and an inexhaustible delight to look at.

The Met has a number of paintings by Fantin Latour which have only been on display recently, within the last few years. Since the demise of modernist orthodoxy, these paintings have been leaving the storage areas where they languished for decades to delight us again. Many pioneers of modern painting from that era would be pleased at the revival of his fame.

These are some of my photos of a few of Fantin Latour's paintings in the Met.

A very beautiful example of what made him famous, flower pictures

A detail of the same picture showing some marvelous passages of painting.

A beautiful portrait of an unidentified woman from about 1885

And finally, one of my badly cropped photos of a still life of roses and other flowers.

A shout out to my old friend in Saint Louis, Thomas, who is a longtime fan of Fantin-Latour's work.

The Actual Policy of the United States Government

This really is the policy of the US government as proposed by both political parties, and soon to be written into law.

When real life goes beyond satire.

Mel Brooks, that great genius of our time, is looking more and more prophetic every day.

Cezanne at the Met

I took my camera to the Met again yesterday. I met students to help them out with an assignment in the 19th century galleries, and I took some pictures too. I apologize for their quality. Although I'm amazed at the quality I can get from my new digital camera, I'm no professional, and Steve Bates who usually photographs my work is in no danger of losing this client.

I spent a lot of time in the Cezanne gallery, a gallery that is perpetually bare of people even when the rest of the 19th century galleries are crowded, as they were last night.

Cezanne intimidates people. He intimidates me. For years, I rarely spent much time in this gallery because of these demanding uncompromising paintings. I can think of few things more truly "adult" than Cezanne. He's definitely not for kids. There's nothing obscene or violent in his work (that says a lot about how we think of adulthood these days), but his paintings demand a certain attention, engagement, and experience that kids just can't manage. If he wasn't so central to the creation of modern art and design, he'd join my list of artists that I'd never teach to anyone under 25. Cezanne came to art relatively late in life, and didn't become the artist that we think of as "Cezanne" until well into his 40s. He spent his old age as a recluse in the south of France, shutting out the din of the world while he obsessively pursued the growing disconnect that he could see in his own work, between the experience of looking at the world, and painting it.

I've warmed a lot to Cezanne as I get older. A trip to the Cezanne gallery is now a very great pleasure for me. Perhaps I finally have reached the level of age and experience necessary to really savor his work and to see the passionate, and even violent, sensuality that is there in those apples and pears.

This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite paintings in the museum, Still Life with Eggplants from 1893 to 1894. This is a painting full of amazing drama.

This plate of pears appears to be riding the crumpled tablecloth like a surfboard catching a wave. Also, I'm amazed that he uses so much straight-out-of-the-tube viridian, and makes it work. Viridian is a strong, and in my opinion, ugly green that I usually use mixed with other colors.

These pears are full of sex, and it's all in the use of color. Even the shadows are hot red. There's more genuine sex appeal in these pears than in all the tits and asses on the internet.

Who would have thought that a rumpled patterned tablecloth could be so dramatic? The pattern and the folds of the cloth dance and fight it out for our attention.

More sex sublimated in fruit in this wonderful little still life of apples and pears from 1887.

Amazing apples. The painting is not flashy virtuosity, but it's certainly not crude. They are the end results of a gratifying labor of love.

Cezanne knew Mont Saint Victoire in Provence since his childhood, and he painted it many times over the course of his life. This is one of his last paintings of the mountain from about 1902 to 1906. It is was painted just a few years prior to Picasso's first experiments in what would become Cubism. The elderly Cezanne in his last years seems to be just a step ahead of the younger artist at this point.

Here is a detail of the mountain. The sky is just as dense as the mountain. The mountain is just as insubstantial as the sky. I was surprised at how much I discovered in this painting while photographing it. I never paid much attention to the sharp structural brushwork in this picture before. It is both precise, and almost violent.

Here is another detail of the painting showing an idea that would deeply influence later painters, the idea that colors have a kind of structural value. Strokes of pure color laid next to each other shape the painting's compositional architecture.

And finally, there is this very great portrait of Madame Cezanne that gets better and better the more I look at it. The growing struggle to reconcile form and experience meets a very meaningful and beloved subject, the artist's wife. Her head tilts slightly to the left, and that simple gesture sends the rest of the painting reeling. A garden wall seen in perspective now becomes a violent diagonal slicing through the tree, and threatening to behead the woman. Her arms and hands folded in her lap have their echo in the tree branches behind her. Together with the tree, she forms another more complex diagonal across the painting that checks the speed and violence of the garden wall diagonal, returning the whole painting to the calm self-possession that we see in Madame Cezanne's face.

Madame Cezanne's mute uncommunicative face remains the steady center of a painting that threatens always to disintegrate into chaos as Cezanne struggles to bring it to order.

Like so many of the transformative radicals of art, Cezanne thought of himself as a conservative. The last thing he wanted to do was precisely what he did, show younger artists a way to end the great tradition of French Classicism. Cezanne revered that tradition and wanted to bring it into modern times by breathing new life into it. As he worked on this quixotic ambition to "paint Poussin from nature," he gradually discovered how much our experience of nature has changed with the advent of modernity. We could no longer take for granted, as generations of previous artists did, the relationship between the world of actual experience, and the world on the canvas.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Holy Warriors

The only meaningful difference between these holy warriors ...

... and these holy warriors ...

... is a shave.

When In Doubt, Take Hostages.

I agree with Paul Krugman, if you're shocked and surprised by the House Republicans threatening to blow this whole muthafuckah up if they don't get what they want, then you haven't been paying attention for the last 20 years. Clearly, the President wasn't paying attention. They won't settle for anything less than $ 1.7 trillion in gold and a plane to Rio.

These folks have been around for about 60 years. They first announced their presence to the world when the Republicans picked Eisenhower over Robert Taft in 1952 and they loudly complained. They haven't stopped since. The John Birchers that William F. Buckley threw out of the Conservative movement (and were too extreme even for my GOP Dad) are now in charge of the whole show with lots of corporate money and a whole cable TV network selling them. They now make the agenda and set the terms of the whole debate that EVERYONE now accepts either out of laziness, self-interest, or cowardice.

I think this all boils down to tribal politics, and always has. Obama handed them just about everything except his own head, and they wouldn't take it. Obama gave away the whole store and the deed to the house, and they still said no. Obama lost my vote next year, and they still said no. No President from anything other than their own tribe will ever be legitimate in their eyes, especially a black one. The Faithful Remnant of the Chosen cannot possibly negotiate with such.

Big Capital historically backed far right parties in many countries in order to stop threats to its interests from the left. Bankers, industrialists, and others imagined that they could control the far right, that they, with all of their money and influence, were always the ones in charge, and could yank the leash when the loonies got out of hand. And then, they always wake up one morning to find that the lunatic that they thought worked for them is standing over them holding a gun to their heads ordering them out of bed and threatening to burn the whole house down. So it is now as the very corporate powers that helped put the far right in power anxiously wait to see if their creatures let the country slide into default and take the world to the precipice.

That '70s

"I am not going back to that filthy decade without lots of Purell!" -- Francine Smith from "American Dad."

and yet, some of us miss it.

Vicious and Rotten at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas in 1978. Vicious is bleeding from being clocked in the face with a beer bottle. He still played the whole show, what a trooper! Sid was no Django Reinhardt, and usually had his amps turned off, but he was the ultimate punk. To my everlasting regret, I had an invite to go see this and turned it down.

I wish I could say that I was the gay Sid Vicious making it with Pete Shelly to the music of George Clinton, but in reality I spent most of the decade being a neurotic nebish deep in The Closet making very tentative forays out of it. I never heard any of this stuff until after I went to art school in 1977.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Happy Bastille Day, Grandmere!

... Where ever you are.


And now for one of the Glories of France:

The Quintet of the Hot Club of France: Django Reinhardt in the center with the guitar, Stephan Grapelli to the left on the violin.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On A Mental Health Break

I'll be back when I've got something to say, and when I want to do this again.

Until then, enjoy!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Need A Vacation.

I'm shutting down for a few days. Comments are off.

If you absolutely need to contact me, then do so by email or Facebook.

The Truly Remarkable Thing About the United States ...

... is that it has had only one civil war.

The Far Right Rules Our World

They set the terms for all of the public debates on everything, and we all accept those terms as given.

They say what "Christianity" and "religion" are, and everyone lazily and thoughtlessly buys it. They also define the terms for what an "atheist" is, and we all buy it, including atheists.

They determine what "patriotism" means, and again, we all lazily and thoughtlessly buy it, accepting it as the time-honored norm, when it fact it is only time honored back to 1980. (By the standards of today's über-patriots, Thomas Jefferson would be shot for treason).

They set the definition for what "marriage" is, when in fact the "timeless institution" of the single nuclear family headed by a father with a mother who stays home dates only back to the late 19th century. Again, we all buy into it as accepted "fact" when it's not fact at all.

The far-right determines what is "conservative" when conservative thinkers from Edmund Burke to William F. Buckley would hardly recognize what passes for "conservative" these days. They determine what is "left" with the line being set lower and lower every year. By today's standards, President Eisenhower was a flaming Bolshevik. Again, we all thoughtlessly accept their terms.

The Far Right really does rule our world.

Maybe we should stop letting them do so.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

"Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find."

(chorus from "Hail Columbia," written in 1789 for George Washington's inauguration)


God save the United States!

Hans Hofmann, Veluti in Speculum

I took some pictures of this painting which was made in 1962. The title translates "As in a Mirror."

I'm not normally a huge fan of Hofmann, but I've always loved this picture. I figured after Johns' White Flag and those marble sculptures of Daniel Chester French we could use some color.

Hofmann painted this in his studio down on 8th Street in Greenwich Village, the same one that Jimi Hendrix would later use as a recording studio.

This painting is full of little delightful and unexpected surprises, and is worth looking at closely.

When Is The Flag Not a Flag?

When it's a painting by Jasper Johns.

I took some photographs at the Met Museum of one of my favorite works by Johns, White Flag from 1955.

I think it's very beautiful in a chilly intellectual way. It's painted on 3 separate panels in encaustic, pigment mixed with wax. Johns built up the layers by applying not only paint, but also shredded bits of newspaper and cloth in the semi-transparent wax paint. He also mixed in some oil paint with various types of white pigment.

This is the largest of Johns' flag paintings and the first of his monochrome pictures. The flag in this country is a sacramental object with all kinds of rules and protocols for its handling. I remember being trained in Boy Scouts in the exact procedures for raising and lowering and folding the flag. Sometimes Torah scrolls and the Reserved Sacrament get less respect than the American flag.

Johns painted this at the height of the Cold War during those waves of anxious nationalism and paranoia that swept through the country when it found out it no longer had the monopoly on nuclear weapons. Johns knew that as an intellectual, an artist living in New York, a former Southerner, and (at the time) a deeply closeted gay man, he was near the top of everyone's list of suspects.

He responded by turning something that had a whole lot of meaning for people into something to be regarded aesthetically.

So what do you think? Is he subverting the flag and its meaning? Or might he be trying to re-examine and re-imagine our feelings about it and what it stands for?

Happy July 4th weekend!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Independence Day Anxieties

Frederic Edwin Church's Twilight in the Wilderness, painted in 1860, a year of profound anxiety about the future of the United States.

I’m feeling apprehensive this Independence Day weekend, and I’m not alone. I’m struck by the anxiety across the political spectrum that the USA is coming to some kind of end. The religious right has no monopoly on apocalyptic anxiety. The left, including the secular left, has its own eschatology and jeremiads. How much of this is real? People have been predicting the imminent end of the USA since before the ink was dry on the Declaration of Independence. I wonder if a big part of this is age. Am I really afraid of the end of the USA? Or am I afraid of the demise of the cultural references that I grew up with? This is an inevitable consequence of a youth-obsessed culture where time still marches on and no one is young forever. And yet, there are things out there that make me wonder.

The USA always struggled with itself over the question of imperialism, at least since the invasion of Mexico in 1846 (opposed by an obscure Congressman named Abraham Lincoln, and by the first Senator from the new state of Texas, Sam Houston). Now, I’m afraid that struggle is about to end, or has already ended, and imperialism won. I’m afraid of the USA becoming just another empire in a long list of those giant ephemeral things that have come and gone. I’m afraid that the republic, or what’s left of it, will vanish when our empire inevitably perishes, as all empires must. We now have a huge security state, much of which is designed to evade the rule of law. The President, and the security bureaucracy that he commands, have sweeping arbitrary powers, the power to declare people outside of the protection of the law and to be disposed of without any due process. It is as inevitable as tomorrow’s sunrise that someone will eventually use those powers to destroy political opposition. No one will notice or care until that knock on the door by an agent with a list of names. By that time, it’s too late. Our democracy appears to be hollowed out by money and corruption. What appears to me to be a slow motion coup rolls through the state legislatures taking over governments and repealing people’s rights, shrinking the political franchise to their supporters. It looks like we are selling out our birthright for a cheap promise of safety and a lottery ticket.

Even more alarming is the secession talk. I think Governor Rick Perry is a cynical opportunist who doesn’t believe a word of his own schtick, but that he appears to strike such a nerve with so many people is alarming. I should point out that Texas is definitely not the only state right now with a secession movement. There are even secession movements within states (Arizona and California among others). Many far right thinkers, and even some elected officials, are raising again a question that was supposed to have been settled by the Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment. Are we citizens of the United States first, or of our state first? Which takes precedent? That question is answered clearly in the Fourteenth Amendment. We are Americans before we are Texans or Ohioans or Floridians. Now, the ghost of Senator Calhoun of South Carolina is being raised from the dust to champion anew the already lost cause of nullification. This is potentially an existential threat to the USA. Its very nature and existence as a nation state is now again an open question in some very large and influential areas of opinion.

We forget that our Declaration of Independence is a revolutionary document, and was seen by most of the rest of the world as dangerous and incendiary. It was banned in most other countries. In some countries, owning a copy was considered sedition. Some ecclesiastical authorities banned it as sacrilege. Calhoun and other Southern intellectuals thought of the Declaration as a kind of antique, a relic from a now past revolution. Today, very powerful factions want to turn the United States into Europe of a century ago; governments of, by, and for very powerful ruling classes who owned and ran everything. To my mind, this is fundamentally contrary to everything the USA stands for and I hope will re-awaken our old revolutionary spirit.

The idea that all people have the right to determine their own destinies, to make up their own lives as they go along, that all citizens claim freedom and dignity as a birthright, and have a say in the governing of the communities they live in is still very revolutionary, especially now as our once revolutionary state becomes just another empire among so many. Our perpetual struggle with our own imperialism is coming to some kind of an end. What kind of end I don’t know. I hope our republic will still be there when it’s over, but I’m not sure.

I hope Lincoln’s promise “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” shall remain for us and for our posterity.

Daniel Chester French in the Metropolitan Museum

I took my camera to the American Wing of the Met, which is still mostly closed for renovation, and photographed two major works by Daniel Chester French that I've loved for years. These are two marble copies of memorials made by French at the request of the museum. The originals are in cemeteries in Massachusetts.

The first is the Melvin Memorial. This is French's copy of the centerpiece, a figure of Victory who seems to be emerging out of the stone veiled by the American flag. This was made for the tomb monument of 3 brothers who all died together in the Civil War. The monument was commissioned by the surviving 4th brother about 40 years after their deaths. French's copy in the Met is less a copy, than a much altered variation on the monument. French moved the figure of Victory from left to right in the copy.

What a sculptor this guy was! I love the beautiful rhythmic harmony of the hair and drapery, and the way the body fits in so perfectly. I also like the off-center composition that focuses our attention on that solemn and mysterious face.

I really enjoy French's work, and the work of the American Renaissance in general. One of the things I enjoy most about it is the pronounced element of sexuality in all of this work. Yes, we fixate a lot on sex these days, but our libidos play a much larger role in creativity than we, or the generations of the late 19th century, liked to acknowledge. And that has been true, and will be true, as long as we are human. Unlike a lot of 19th century artists, French does a very fine job of integrating those very personal and physical passions into forms that are supposed to articulate public ideas.

Everyone's favorite monument by French is the Milmore Memorial. The original is in bronze, and still stands in a cemetery outside Boston. It was made for the tomb of another sculptor who was a close friend of French, Martin Milmore, who died at 39 from liver disease. Martin's brother Joseph, a stonecutter who frequently collaborated with his brother, also lies buried in the tomb. While I've not seen the bronze original in person, I think French's marble copy for the Met is wonderful.

The centerpiece is usually known as "Death and the Sculptor" showing the angel of death interrupting a very young sculptor working on a large sphinx. Martin and Joseph Milmore did indeed carve a large Egyptian sphinx as part of a Civil War monument that still stands in the same cemetery as this memorial. Frankly, I think French's version of the sphinx is much better than Milmore's original.

I'm not quite sure why French decided on so young a figure. I doubt that this is supposed to be a portrait of Martin Milmore at any time in his life, but instead a vision of promising talent cut short by untimely mortality. The stone strut between the figure and the back plane is always a giveaway that this is a marble copy of a bronze original.
Yes, I think he's hot. So much NeoClassical art, including public monuments, is full of hot young athletes. French carved a lot of them. So did Frank McMonies. We notice these days, but I doubt anyone (publicly or in print anyway) noticed the sexuality in these figures back then. It was an unspoken assumption widely accepted at the time that men were not sex objects. Eakins could go skinny dipping with his male students and no one would notice (maybe they should have), while taking the figleaf off of a female model got him fired from the Pennsylvania Academy.

Here is the head of the young sculptor with that wonderful startled expression.

The Angel of Death, a great Victorian death figure, probably the best, with heavy drooping rhythms and the head with filed down "veiled" features in the shadow. She holds poppies in her right hand.

She stops the artist in mid work.

And the high point of the drama is in the encounter of the hands as Death takes his chisel and stops him forever.

I don't think this monument lost anything by being transcribed into marble. It may have even gained a whole new resonance and mystery, a kind of deathly pallor and veiled quality that bronze can't have.