Monday, July 29, 2019

Take the Money and Run

I may have done a bad thing last week. I visited the Frick Museum in Manhattan, where I saw Holbein’s famous portraits of Sir Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, several Vermeers, a few astonishing Rembrandts, and various El Grecos, Whistlers, and Turners, among others. What could be wrong about such a heady dose of art?


Last week also saw the resignation of Warren B. Sanders from the board of the Whitney Museum, also in Manhattan. The museum was pressured by the withdrawal of their works by artists in protest of Kanders’ role in a company that produces “munitions for police and military forces, including tear gas that has been used on migrants at the US border.”(1) That artist protest was only the latest by artists, actors, musicians, and others against taking money from companies and individuals responsible for pollution, sexual assault, discrimination, and other perceived evil practices. Earlier in July, for example, 
78 British artists . . . said they had called on the National Portrait Gallery in London to cut ties with BP, saying its “role in furthering the climate crisis” made accepting new sponsorship from the company unacceptable.(2)
And eleven days ago, it was reported that the Louvre Museum in Paris 
has removed the name of the Sackler family, owners of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, from the walls of one of its wings amid a growing scandal over its alleged connection with the US opioid crisis.(3)

So what was my problem with the Frick?

Here’s a brief bio of Henry Clay Frick from Wikipedia:
Henry Clay Frick (December 19, 1849 – December 2, 1919) was an American industrialist, financier, union-buster, and art patron. He founded the H. C. Frick & Company coke manufacturing company, was chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company, and played a major role in the formation of the giant U.S. Steel manufacturing concern. . . . He later built the historic neoclassical Frick Mansion (now a landmark building in Manhattan), and upon his death donated his extensive collection of old master paintings and fine furniture to create the celebrated Frick Collection and art museum. However, as a founding member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, he was also in large part responsible for the alterations to the South Fork Dam that caused its failure, leading to the catastrophic  Johnstown Flood. His vehement opposition to unions also caused violent conflict, most notably in the Homestead Strike.(4)
The whole Frick Museum enterprise was based on the money accrued by a capitalist exploiter. The money not only paid for the building but also for the acquisition of the masterworks of art that the building houses. 

Was I wrong to enjoy myself in such a milieu?

One of the paintings I admired at the Frick was by Anthony van Dyck, a favorite of the art-loving despot King of England Charles I, who “appointed him ‘principalle Paynter in ordinary of their Majesties’ and knighted him.”(5) And in turn, I was once again reminded of the dictum of Balzac:
Behind every great fortune lies a great crime. 
Great art has been sponsored throughout history by great wealth—the wealth of monarchs and the nobility, popes and prelates, land owners, merchants, and industrialists. 

Take the Medici family, for example:
They were more than beneficent and ostentatious patrons of the arts; they were also enlightened and were probably the most magnificent such patrons that the West has ever seen.(6)
But they were hardly enlightened and beneficent when it came to politics. They rose to power in Florence by undermining the republican tradition of that city. Although of bourgeois origin, in the 15th century they “set up a hereditary principate in Florence but without legal right or title, hence subject to sudden overthrow” and eventually in the 16th century “renounced republican notions and imposed its tyranny, and its members made themselves a dynasty of grand dukes of Tuscany.”


Back to the present day. 

In the present climate there is great pressure to reject the money of modern would-be Medicis as tainted. The Guardian (UK) reported early this year:
One of America’s most venerated institutions, the Smithsonian museum, which oversees the US National Portrait Gallery, has accepted donations from the US maker of Marlboro cigarettes as recently as 2017.(7)
Should one boycott the Smithsonian?

Tobacco money is tainted; how about pollution money? Should one boycott the New York City Ballet, which calls the David H. Koch Theater home? Named after one of the notorious polluting Kochs, who also give gillions of dollars of tainted money to efforts to undermine our republican form of government.(8)


There’s a wonderful Yiddish joke that goes like this:
My wife is a chemist. She makes dreck fon gelt.

Well, in disagreement with those who reject taking so-called tainted money, I say, “Take it. Take gelt fon dreck!” 

When you don’t take their money, what happens to it? They have more money to invest in their odious pursuits. Which makes the world an even worse place.

Take their money from them—as much as you can. And fill the world with art and music and poetry. 

I don’t think that’s a shitty idea.


(8) To me one of the great telling signs of the falling to pieces of our democracy is the fact that the oligarchical Koch name replaced the original name of the building: The New York State Theater.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Grim Reaper Party


The Republican National Committee has voted to cease using GOP (Grand Old Party) as a designation for the Party. It has adopted, instead, the initials GRP for the Grim Reaper Party as more fitting for its actions during recent decades.


In June, 2012, a Supreme Court decision upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, but allowed governors to refuse an expansion of Medicaid in their states. No state with a Democratic governor refused the expansion. Many states with Republican governors did. Charles P. Pierce points out that because of 
the fanatical refusal of Republican politicians, specifically Republican governors, to associate themselves with anything that had anything to do with President Barack Obama . . . these governors violated one of the fundamental tenets of state government that date back to the dawn of human greed: they refused FREE MONEY!(1)
Here’s a map showing the latest state of play of Medicaid expansion:(2)

Pierce goes on to cite a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research:
Our analysis provides new evidence that Medicaid coverage reduces mortality rates among low-income adults. Our estimates suggest that approximately 15,600 deaths would have been averted had the ACA expansions been adopted nationwide as originally intended by the ACA. 


The New York Times reported this week that, embracing regulation of exhaust emissions, 
[f]our of the world’s largest automakers have struck a deal with California to reduce automobile emissions, siding with the state in its fight with President Trump over one of his most consequential regulatory rollbacks.(3)
This victory in the fight against air pollution and greenhouse warming is only a rearguard action, however, since Trump plans to plow ahead with his desire to “all but eliminate an Obama-era regulation designed to reduce vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming.” 

I have written before(4) about the dire health consequences of air pollution, so there is no need to go over the preventible deaths associated with it. Since there can be no argument here about the automobile industry fighting against regulation, that excuse for rolling back emission standards won’t fly. What we have left is (once again) a Trumpian determination to undo the work of the Obama administration without a moment’s concern about the health of our citizens and the state of the planet. So what if more people die—and the planet burns?



Congressional opposition to U.S. support for the brutal Saudi/UAE war in Yemen has been growing in the past few years. It has underpinned the work of a network of peace, human rights, and humanitarian aid groups who are moved to end what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The war has killed thousands of civilians through air strikes and put millions at risk of famine. William D. Hartung(5)
Congress had passed resolutions that would have prevented “the sale of billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”(6) But Trump, after shedding crocodile tears about “the conflict’s toll on innocent civilians,” vetoed the resolutions. The United States, Trump declared, is “working to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end.” 

Probably by facilitating the Saudi bombing of the Yemeni population out of existence.


And finally, to bring it all home again, there’s Attorney General William “I will lie about the Mueller Report” Barr deciding that it’s time the federal government recommenced killing people:
The federal government will resume executing death row inmates after nearly two decades without doing so, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.                                                                      Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of five inmates convicted of murder and other crimes. The executions have been scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020.(7)
Maybe Trump can get his pal Crazy Roy Moore to nail one of his Ten Commandment plaques to the wall of the Oval Office. You know, one of those plaques that reads, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Then Trump can be reminded to have have his administration adhere to the suspension of governmental killing. 

Oops, sorry. We all know that Trump never reads anything.

Let the killings begin!




Shortly after I posted this, the following showed up on Yahoo News:
Arizona is poised to resume executions after a five-year hiatus brought on by an execution that critics said was botched, a subsequent lawsuit challenging the way the state carries out the death penalty, and the difficulty of finding lethal injection drugs, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said.(8)
Needless to say, Brnovich is a Republican.



Saturday, July 20, 2019

Twenty Additional Aphorisms

Excess of moderation is also a fanaticism.

Beware of enterprises requiring new locution.

What would a needle be doing in a haystack?

It doesn’t need any brain function to move one’s mouth.

Chickens have enough problems crossing roads. They don’t have time to debate precedence with eggs.

If we all cultivated our own gardens, who would we sell the excess produce to?

He who had the last laugh had to have the joke explained to him.

Multitasking is nature’s way of allowing you to screw up more than one thing at a time.

If the lion promises not to eat me, I will promise not eat the lion.

A smart thief knows when to steal away.

So many gurus; so much folly.

Tell a person your secret, and you are forever at his mercy.

Be thankful for loss of faith. Now you can judge the world anew.

A ringing telephone is a question.

Putting the cart before the horse makes the horse happy.

Is a return ticket optimism or despair?

One should have a set routine, but a simple one. Like getting out of bed before showering.

If you want someone killed, do it yourself. Hiring an assassin is an act of cowardice.

The fool thinks the knave a fool. The knave thinks the fool a knave.

Self-control is merely a respite between indulgences.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


Got an email from Amazon the other day asking me if I could answer a question from a prospective customer about a watch I had purchased. 

I went to my order page, clicked on to the home page of Flying Fashion, the watch’s merchant, and posted the following direct from the page: 
Please note, that Flying Fashion provides its own warranty for the products by us; the manufacturer’s warranty may not apply to products purchased from Flying Fashion. 
Flying Fashion two-year limited warranty covers manufacturing defects. Flying Fashion Brands will, at its option, repair or replace the product, or provide a full refund in the event a manufacturing defect is discovered within the two year time period.
This limited warranty does not cover any improper use of a product.
I then went to the product page to see my posted reply and found that mine was the second response. Here’s the first:
Three year international. 
Note. It took me less than three minutes to read this question, research the answer via Google, and reply. 
We will overlook for the moment the self-congratulatory air of the response and focus on the substance of the posting. The response is perfectly factual. Except as I pointed out in a comment on that response:
I believe that answer would be true for a watch purchased from an authorized dealer. Manufacturers generally do not cover watches brought on the gray market. The merchant would need to provide its own warranty.
So, a perfectly factual (if fatuous) response—but totally useless in the context. 

The watch for sale on Amazon is not offered by an authorized dealer (who could provide the manufacturer’s warranty), but by a so-called gray market* merchant, who provides its own warranty.

Facts alone do not make an answer; relevance to the context does.


The dramatis personae:
Lisa MacLeod, Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister of the province of Ontario.
Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League.
Here is an expurgated account of an encounter between the minister and the owner:
The Ottawa Citizen reported that MacLeod saw Melnyk at Saturday’s concert near Barrie, Ont., yelled at him that she is his minister and swore at him.
"I am your minister and you’re a f—ing piece of s–t and you’re a f—ing loser," MacLeod said, as recounted by Melnyk to the newspaper.**
What I am interested in here is not the original expletive-laden encounter, but Ms. MacLeod’s follow-up response—her apology (of sorts):
she apologized to the owner of the Ottawa Senators for being "blunt" — which came after she reportedly hurled a profane tirade at Eugene Melnyk at a Rolling Stones concert.
Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Lisa MacLeod described the encounter as her giving Melnyk "feedback" on the management of the hockey team. 
Now we’re only halfway through the year, but I think that Ms. MacLeod’s description of her obscenity-ridden rant as “feedback” is the frontrunner for the Euphemism-of the-Year award. 


For the last of our responses-of-the-day we travel from the Canadian capital to the metropolis of Carbon Hill, Alabama (with a population of 1,928, according to a 2017 nose count). Two members of the city council resigned because of remarks by the mayor, Mark Chambers. According to newspaper accounts, Chambers 
posted a comment on Facebook about "killing out" socialists, "baby killers" and gay and transgender people.***
Despite protests from city residents Crawford has refused to resign, and even said he plans to run for re-election. 

One resident, Rawsy McCollum, said, "If you can impeach the president of the United States, you should be able to move the mayor in this little 1-red-light town.” 

Ms. McCollum said the mayor responded with an apology—and with the complaint that his comments “shouldn't have been public.”

The moral of the day: If you keep your murderous homophobic comments behind closed doors, you don’t have to apologize for giving “feedback.”


* The so-called “gray market,” unlike the black market, is perfectly legal and legitimate. The goods are real—not counterfeit—being sold by merchants who have obtained the goods from distributors or the manufacturers themselves outside the normal channels of distribution.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Three Thoughts for the Fourth

There are many lessons that we should have learned from the 20th Century; one of them is that tanks have no place in cities.

Warsaw 1944:

Budapest 1956:

Prague 1968:

Beijing 1989:


On the other hand, Brett Arends, a columnist for Market Watch, is upset that the tanks won’t roll through the nation’s capital on July 4th: 
I’m pretty disgusted that they can’t roll these Abrams babies through Washington, D.C., in a massive parade. Turns out our government roads and buildings are so bad they can’t take the strain. 
Think about that: Apparently our “enemies” have stronger roads and buildings than we do. What is this place, a Third World “hellhole”?

“I want to see these military beauties because I paid for them,” he says.

Arends notes that the government will spend $686 billion tax dollars on the defense budget:
That’s our money.We should get something for it. A parade seems the least they can do. . . . I want all these toys we’ve paid for on display.
You can read Arends’ satirical article here:


What would Independence Day be without a flag controversy? 

Marcus Lemonis, identified as a “Chicago entrepreneur” and the CEO of something called Camping World Holdings Inc., is brazening it out against Statesville, North Carolina, a modest burg with a population of 27,000. 

Lemonis has hoisted an American flag above a Camping World property in Statesville and is being fined $50 dollars a day for having done so—because the flag, which is 40 by 80 feet, exceeds the legal limit of 25 by 40 feet. 
Lemonis admitted the flag’s size was illegal but said he would rather go to jail than remove the flag. 
      "There's no question that I violated that ordinance.”*

But Lemonis asserts, "The ordinance doesn't matter to me.”

After all, how dare the laws of the town reduce his ├╝ber-patriotism by 68.75 percent?

Not as resonant as 
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
       But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

the words
“It's just not going to come down. I would rather go to jail,” he did wail.
will likely not long be remembered. 



I have previously written about flags and patriotism: