Monday, February 29, 2016


I've always thought that if the USA was to have a revolution these days, it would either come from the far right, or the far right would come out on top no matter who started it.  I wonder if that is coming to pass now.  The USA appears poised to split along lines of race and class.  It seems that Americans are indeed eager to turn upon each other instead of on those who created and profit from the low-wage high-debt reality that most people live in now.

What I Think of the Oscars

This clip sums it up nicely.

Oscar Gold from Leonardo Gatica on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sadly, This Now Seems Timely

A scene from one of my favorite movies:

Another Reading From John Steinbeck

...from The Grapes of Wrath.
... with a little passage from Scripture embedded in it:

Tom went on, "He spouted some Scripture once, an' it didn' soun' like no hell-fire Scripture.  He tol' it twicet, an' I remember it.  Says it's from the Preacher."
"How's it go, Tom?"
"Goes, 'Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, the one will lif' up his fellow, but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up.'  That's part of her."
"Go on," Ma said, "Go on, Tom."
"Jus' a little bit more.  'Again, if two lie together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him, and a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.'" [Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12]
"An' that's Scripture?"
"Casy said it was.  Called it the Preacher."
"Hush -- listen."
"On'y the wind, Ma.  I know the wind.  An' I got to thinkin', Ma -- most of the preachin' is about the poor we shall have always with us, an' if you got nuthin', why, jus' fol' your hands an' to hell with it, you gonna git ice cream on gol' plates when you're dead.  An' then this here Preacher say two get a better reward for their work."
"Tom," she said.  "What you aimin' to do?"
He was quiet for a long time.  "I been thinkin' how it was in that gov'ment camp, how our folks took care a theirselves, an' if they was a fight they fixed it theirself; an' they wasn't no cops wagglin' their guns, but they was better order than them cops ever give.  I been a-wonderin' why we can't do that all over.  Throw out the cops that ain't our people.  All work together for our own thing -- all farm our own lan'."
"Tom," Ma repeated, "what you gonna do?"
"What Casy done," he said.
"But they killed him."
"Yeah," said Tom.  "He didn' duck quick enough.  He wasn' doing nothin' against the law, Ma.  I been thinkin' a hell of a lot, thinkin' about our people livin' like pigs an' the good rich lan' layin' fallow, or maybe one fella with a million acres, while a hunderd thousan' good farmers is starvin'.  An' I been wonderin' if all our folks got together an' yelled, like them fellas yelled, only a few of 'em at the Hooper ranch --"
Ma said, "Tom, they'll drive you, an' cut you down like they done to young Floyd."
"They gonna drive me anyways.  They drivin' all our people."
"You don't aim to kill nobody, Tom?"
"No.  I been thinkin', long as I'm a outlaw anyways, maybe I could -- Hell, I ain't thought it out clear, Ma.  Don' worry me now.  Don' worry me."

Arthur Rothstein, Younger Members of the Drake Family, Farm Security Administration camp, Weslaco, Texas, 1942

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Sensation at The Advocate

The article on The Passion of Christ, A Gay Vision has become something of a phenomenon at The Advocate online.  The article is now up to 2.5K shares on Facebook and Twitter.  Kittredge Cherry reports that the book is now sold out on Amazon.


As of yesterday, the article now has 3K shares.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Umberto Eco

It appears that the New York Review of Books let down its high pay wall around one of the late Umberto Eco's greatest essays, his essay on Fascism from June 1995.

On the morning of July 27, 1943, I was told that, according to radio reports, fascism had collapsed and Mussolini was under arrest. When my mother sent me out to buy the newspaper, I saw that the papers at the nearest newsstand had different titles. Moreover, after seeing the headlines, I realized that each newspaper said different things. I bought one of them, blindly, and read a message on the first page signed by five or six political parties—among them the Democrazia Cristiana, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Partito d’Azione, and the Liberal Party. 
Until then, I had believed that there was a single party in every country and that in Italy it was the Partito Nazionale Fascista. Now I was discovering that in my country several parties could exist at the same time. Since I was a clever boy, I immediately realized that so many parties could not have been born overnight, and they must have existed for some time as clandestine organizations.
The message on the front celebrated the end of the dictatorship and the return of freedom: freedom of speech, of press, of political association. These words, “freedom,” “dictatorship,” “liberty,”—I now read them for the first time in my life. I was reborn as a free Western man by virtue of these new words.

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Another Lent, Another Flame War Over the Passion Series.

The Advocate online featured the Passion Series and Kittredge Cherry's book on it again, a big spread with all the paintings reproduced.

Right now, there is a big flame war going on at The Advocate's Facebook page.  Most of it is the usual "Sick!! Sacrilege!! Apostasy!! Why don't you paint a gay Muhammad?" from the fundamentalists, and "Jesus didn't exist! This is a fucking waste of time!" from the atheists.

What a bore.

On the other hand, The Advocate's Facebook page for the article is now at 332 likes and 133 shares.  And The Advocate online's article has been shared a total of 646 times on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Descent From the Cross

A new painting made for the church of Saint Luke in the Fields in New York as part of a project involving a number of artists to paint a Stations of the Cross for Lent.  The painting is small (22" x 16"), oil on canvas painted in monochrome.
The painting is hanging now in the church behind the pulpit.

These are photos I took in my studio before delivering the painting to the church.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Thurgood Marshall

Today as the USA officially bids farewell to Justice Antonin Scalia, I remember Justice Thurgood Marshall who spent a life's work seeking to transform "Liberty and Justice for All" from a beguiling abstraction into a concrete reality.

I can't say that I share all the gushing reverence for the High Court that's dominated the all the public discussion lately, certainly not since December 2000.


In the midst of all the gushing eulogies over Antonin Scalia's passing is this refreshingly caustic appraisal by Jeffery Toobin of The New Yorker:

Like Nick Carraway, Scalia “wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever.” The world didn’t coöperate. Scalia won a great deal more than he lost, and he and his allies succeeded in transforming American politics into a cash bazaar, with seats all but put up for bidding. But even though Scalia led a conservative majority on the Court for virtually his entire tenure, he never achieved his fondest hopes—thanks first to O’Connor and then to Kennedy. Roe v. Wade endures. Affirmative action survives. Obamacare lives. Gay rights are ascendant; the death penalty is not. (These positions are contingent, of course, and cases this year may weaken the Court’s resolve.) For all that Presidents shape the Court, the Justices rarely stray too far from public opinion. And, on the social issues where the Court has the final word, the real problem for Scalia’s heirs is that they are out of step with the rest of the nation. The public wants diversity, not intolerance; more marriages and fewer executions; less money in politics, not more. Justice Scalia’s views—passionately felt and pungently expressed though they were—now seem like so many boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

The First Socialist Candidate for President of the USA

It isn't Bernie Sanders.

From Eugene V. Debs' speech to the court on being convicted of sedition for opposing the entry of the USA into the First World War, September 18, 1918:

Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means....

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul....

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.

When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing – that relief and rest are close at hand.
Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.
         --Eugene V. Debs 1918

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Fearless Leaders

Trump versus the Pope.

The Pope makes a personal appearance in Juarez, Mexico at the border with the USA and speaks out on behalf of the desperate people driven by poverty and the violence created in their countries by the insatiable American demand for drugs.  He took a lot of risk himself to make this trip.

When asked about Donald Trump's proposal to build the Great Wall of Crackerstan between the USA and Mexico, the Pope replied, "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not a Christian."

The Donald replied, "If and when the Vatican is attacked, the Pope would only wish and prayed that Donald Trump would have been elected President."

Fearless Leader Donald Trump; What a braying Jackass!

As would be expected, white evangelical leaders are rushing to The Donald's defense.

As I've always said, the decline of the American Empire is not a pretty sight.

The Plague of Colossi Comes to Brooklyn

Oh joy!  Brooklyn is about to get it's first 1000+ foot tower!  This thing will be even taller than the Chrysler Building.  It will loom mightily over downtown Brooklyn putting everything else in its shade.  As usual, it will be mostly luxury housing, investment bullion for international billionaires from Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States, with about 20% allotted for "affordable" housing (whatever that means anymore).  Sit back and watch those Brooklyn rents and leases rocket to the moon.

More construction and ever more people moving into and around in the city with no corresponding effort to expand utilities and public transportation to accommodate them.  I look forward to more brown-outs in the summer when the mercury climbs to 88F.  The L train is already so packed that people sometimes have to wait for 3 to 4 trains to go by before they can get on during the morning rush.  A subway system built to carry 4 million people a day now carries 6 million people a day. 
Most of our tax money goes to Washington and Albany, two capitals that are always delighted to spend money on New York City.  Visitors should think about that next time they complain about how dirty and crowded our subways are. 

Meanwhile, there are neighborhoods in Manhattan that are literally too expensive for anyone to live in them.  There are parts of Tribeca and Greenwich Village that have been entirely bought up by investors (foreign and domestic) who maybe visit these places once a year, or have a son or daughter spend the summer there.  Businesses in these neighborhoods are perishing from sky high leases and disappearing customers.  While these neighborhoods remain crowded with visitors on the weekends, during the weekdays they are ghost towns.  

There are times when I think that New York and other large cities in the USA are shit storms waiting to happen.  While the Lords of the Universe inhabit palaces that dwarf the Tower of Babel, 90% of the rest of New York's population struggles to pay the rising rents on the tiny fire-traps that they live in now.  The homeless population is at an all time high here with subway stations turning into barracks on cold nights.  That population is getting younger with a lot of kids living out of backpacks alone or in small groups, always with a dog.  Unlike the hippies and slummers of the old days, these kids do not look happy.  They look pretty miserable.  Also unlike the hippies and slummers of old, not all of them are unemployed.  Some of them work in the food and retail businesses and do not make nearly enough money to afford a roof over their heads.  The well heeled are already complaining about the hostility that they feel on the streets.  Eventually those feelings will be much more than hostile.  Public officials and the Famous wring their hands publicly over this situation.  But some people are making too much money to change direction, and governments are too starved for revenue to resist.

There are times when I think Fritz Lang's Metropolis is about to become reality.
Perhaps some day, we'll all be living in the Workers' City deep underground.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

A reading from John Steinbeck

From The Grapes of Wrath:

"Well, if you truly wanta know, I'm a fella that's asked questions an' giver her some thought.  She's a nice country.  But she was stole a long time ago.  You git acrost the desert an' come into the country aroun' Bakersfield.  An' you never seen such purty country -- all orchards an' grapes, purtiest country you ever seen.  An' you'll pass lan' flat an' fine with water thirty feet down, and that lan's layin' fallow.  But you can't have none of that lan'.  That's a Lan' and Cattle Company.  And if they don't want ta work her, she ain't gonna git worked.  You go in there an' plant you a little corn, an' you'll go to jail!"
"Good lan', you say? An' they ain't workin' her?"
Yes, sir.  Good lan' an' they ain't!  Well, sir, that'll get you a little mad, but you ain't seen nothin'.  People gonna have a look in their eye.  They gonna look at you an' their face says, 'I don't like you, you son-of-a-bitch.'  Gonna be deputy sheriffs an' they'll push you aroun'.  You camp on the roadside, an' they'll move you on.  You gonna see in people's face how they hate you.  An' I'll tell you somepin.  They hate you 'cause they're scairt.  They know a hungry fella gonna get food even if he got to take it.  They know that fallow lan's a sin an' somebody' gonna take it.
What the hell!  You never been called 'Okie' yet."
Tom said, "Okie?  What's that?"
"Well, Okie use' ta mean you was from Oklahoma.  Now it means you're a dirty son-of-a-bitch.  Okie means you're scum.  Don't mean nothing itself, it's the way they say it.  But I can't tell you nothin'.  You got to go there.  I hear there's three hundred thousan' of our people there -- an' livin' like hogs, 'cause ever'thing in California is owned.  They ain't nothin' left.  And them people that owns it is gonna hang on to it if they gotta kill ever'body in the worl' to do it.  An they're scairt, an' that makes 'em mad.  You got to see it.  You got to hear it.  Purtiest goddamn country you ever seen, but they ain't nice to you, them folks.  They're so scairt an' worried they ain't even nice to each other."

Company guard during a coal miner's strike, Birmingham, AL, 1930s, photograph by Walker Evans

Dorothea Lange, Florence Thompson and Her Children, California, 1935

Something that seems straight out of the pages of Steinbeck, homeless encampments that are self-governing communities with close neighbors who watch out for each other, from The Atlantic.

Desperation and Despair Pushing the Political Tectonic Plates

Edward Hopper, Sunlight in an Empty Room, 1963

The plate tectonics of American politics and society are shifting under our feet.  In what direction and to what end remains to be seen.  We may be about to see the biggest change in 50 years; perhaps the biggest since the post World War II consensus came undone with the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.  Whatever is coming, the days of the political status quo for the past 35 to 40 years are numbered.

A clue to some of the factors driving these changes came in a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that the mortality rate for middle aged whites (men and women) with no college education spiked at an alarming rate for almost 20 years.  They were the only demographic group to see an increase in mortality.  All other demographic groups in the USA saw a decrease in mortality.  Internationally, the USA is alone in this.  Mortality rates are declining for the same middle aged demographic with limited educations in other developed countries.
This is the biggest spike in mortality for any group since the height of the AIDS crisis.
The primary causes of death are drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.  The study goes on to try to account for this.  They conclude that rapidly deteriorating living standards tied to growing difficulty in finding decent paying employment are the major factors driving this spike.  We may be looking at an effect of NAFTA and other trade agreements that dumped cheap foreign goods into the American market and exported manufacturing jobs to countries with no floor under wages.  We may also be looking at the results of the systematic dismantling of American manufacturing due to outsourcing and foreign competition, along with the effects of the declining power of labor unions, and of the destruction of the old blue collar middle class.

Drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide; whole populations are dying a lonely death from hopelessness and despair.  It is hard not to feel alarmed by this.

Just to be clear, the mortality rates for Blacks and Latinos remain higher than that for whites, but those rates are declining while the rate for low wage whites is climbing.  Perhaps these rates are approaching a grim kind of parity.

I think it's safe to say that this growing desperation and despair drives at least some of the anger and the radicalism that we see in right wing politics these days, but that also drives anger and divisions on the left.

The spectacle of an entire population discarded so coldly and brutally offends our basic sense of fairness and decency.

Charles Blow in an essay in the NY Times points out that minorities of color in the USA never had any illusions of American fairness or decency.  To them it was glaringly obvious that the freedom and prosperity of the white majority depended on their oppression and poverty:

America has a gauzy, romanticized version of its history that is largely fiction. According to that mythology, America rose to greatness by sheer ruggedness, ingenuity and hard work. It ignores or sidelines the tremendous human suffering of African slaves that fueled that financial growth, and the blood spilled and dubious treaties signed with Native Americans that fueled its geographic growth. It ignores that the prosperity of some Americans always hinged on the oppression of other Americans.

Much of America’s past is the story of white people benefiting from a system that white people designed and maintained, which increased their chances of success as it suppressed those same chances in other groups. Those systems persist to this day in some disturbing ways, but the current, vociferous naming and challenging of those systems, the placing of the lamp of truth near the seesaw of privilege and oppression, has provoked a profound sense of discomfort and even anger.

"Structural inequality has leapt the racial barrier" Blow argues.  The white working class and the non-white working class really are in this together and both are reaping the consequences of decades of policy decisions that enriched some people at their expense.

Decades of GOP tactics that channeled rising anxiety about declining wages and living standards into xenophobic and racist passions are now starting to backfire on the Republican Party establishment.  Aging blue collar whites are terrified of demographic, cultural, and technological sea changes.  They are afraid that the world that they always knew will die with them, and that they will find themselves even more profoundly discarded in the strange new world that emerges all around them.  These fears drive the rude ferocity of the Trump campaign and the apocalyptic brutality of the Cruz campaign.
The truck drivers, factory workers, and mechanics are no longer willing to sit patiently while being lectured at about market fundamentals.

Their children and grandchildren have their own reasons to feel alienated from the political status quo.  The twenty and thirty somethings do not share their parents' terror of demographic, social, and technological change.  If anything, they welcome it.  This new world is the one that they grew up in and know, and they swim in it happily.  They have no living memories -- and don't want any -- of the Cold War and its culture.  That bogey-word "socialism" means Scandinavia, national health insurance, and paid family leave to them; not the Soviet Union and the state-owned command economy that their parents and grandparents knew.  The young ones are over-educated, under-employed, and underpaid with huge crippling debt loads that will follow them for the rest of their lives.  In addition, they have nothing like the guaranteed fixed pensions of their grandparents to look forward to.  They have to carve some kind of savings out of wages that just barely pay the rent and the student loan payments.  They will find that those 401K plans that their employers provide at relatively low cost are anything but secure and are inadequate to a life post employment.  These disappointing prospects and struggles to stay afloat are the frustrations that drive the passions behind the Bernie Sanders campaign.
The kids haven't faired at all well in the politics of patronage and plutocracy.

I think the official corporate media, the official designated spokespersons, the over-paid punditocracy, and academia missed this huge tectonic shift taking place right under their feet, and now notice it because it threatens them.  Who knows how this will all come out.  We could see a new birth of liberal democracy, or we could be on the verge of a fascist episode.
We'll all find out eventually.

Another New Painting in the David Wojnarowicz Series

Here are pictures I took of the painting in my studio the other day.


As early as the age of 15 when he ran away from home to escape a violent alcoholic father, Wojnarowicz hustled for money, usually out of desperation. Sometimes tricks beat, drugged, and raped him. Some others looked after him. Wojnarowicz's relationship with his clients could be complex; most thought of him as just another punk for rent, but with some he formed enduring friendships. He was in love with one of them. He continued to hustle into his 30s.
Even at the height of his fame, he never made much money as an artist or in anything else. The most he made in a single year was around $36K, not much money even by the standards of 30 years ago in New York. He paid suppliers, the occasional landlord, doctors, and lawyers usually in barter. He had no health insurance. He squatted in most of the places he lived in, including photographer Peter Hujar's old apartment on 2nd Ave. and E 12th Street where Wojnarowicz spent his last years.

I also intended this painting to be an homage to the photographer Phillip Lorca diCorcia, and to Edouard Manet.

Justice Scalia is Dead

May he rest in peace.

My deepest sympathies to his family and friends.

As for how I feel about it, I'm a gay man and a member of a public employees' union.
Draw your own conclusions.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Here We Go Again

Facebook once again rejects an advertisement for Kittredge Cherry's book, The Passion of Christ; A Gay Vision featuring my one and only religious painting series.

How many artists do you know who can piss off both the frothing fundamentalists, and the Randian atheists who rule Silicon Valley?

In 2014, they refused our ad because of "extreme" subject matter.  This time, they called it porn.

The purgatory of the anodyne...


The ban is lifted and the ad is up!  Thanks to Kitt Cherry's courage and persistence!


Now that the ad is up, we are starting to get hate mail from the Christian Taliban again.  ho hum.