JFK, George Quintana, and tumblr

Our tumblr page is called “Thunderlads After Hours.”  If you are a tumblr user, you will be familiar with the service’s “Dashboard” feature.  All the posts on all the tumblr pages you follow appear before you in a constant stream. We follow lots of people, so we see lots of images when we log on there.  Below are a few we’ve seen there.

This is the avatar for a page we follow that goes by the name “Jack Ruby Tuesday“:

President John F. Kennedy projected a public image that was in many ways the opposite of the image Colonel Harlan Sanders projected.  They both came to international prominence in the 1960s and have remained familiar ever since, and each is strongly associated with a three-letter abbreviation.  So I think this image is worth a chuckle.  Because it simply replaces Colonel Sanders’ three-letter trademark “KFC” with Mr Kennedy’s familiar “JFK,” I think it is much funnier than the image on this T-shirt.

Also, this image caught my eye a few days ago:

I’d say this picture is sensational in more than one sense of the word.  The artist worked under the name George Quintana, though his given name was George Quaintance.

We see the people we look at, we look at the people we’ve seen

In the latest issue of The Nation, Alexander Cockburn argues that the reason Wisconsin’s Democratic US Senator Russ Feingold lost his seat in this month’s election was that too many voters associated him with the Obama administration and its habit of appeasing the Republican Party.  How can the senator regain his reputation?  Cockburn recommends that he challenge Mr O for reelection, presenting himself as an independent candidate in 2012.  Cockburn does not claim that US voters in general are looking for a populist candidate who will call Wall Street to account; rather he says that exit polls show that the public at large has no definite idea as to what it would like to see next.  But more respondents in those polls blamed Wall Street for the country’s economic woes than any other force, and Feingold’s record makes him a plausible champion of real reform.  Perhaps if someone like him made a case for curbing the power of the financial elite, public opinion would start to move in that direction.  Perhaps the existence of a populist candidate might give rise to a populist movement, which might in turn reshape the public’s perceptions of what is possible in US politics.

Barry Schwabsky’s  essay about painter Nancy Spero (1926-2009) is occasioned by a new book about her visual work, the reissue of her book on The Torture of Women, and an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou.  Schwabsky focuses at length on Spero’s decision to exclude male figures from her work.  Schwabsky points out that many critics who ceaselessly attacked Spero for her supposedly narrow range saw nothing narrow about the decision many of her contemporaries made to renounce representational art altogether. For Schwabsky, these critics missed the fact that Spero was, “after Matisse, the great painter of the dance.”  He enlarges on the comparison: “Matisse, speaking of his chapel in Vence, explained, “This lightness arouses feelings of release, of obstacles cleared, so that my chapel is not ‘Brothers, we must die.’ It is rather ‘Brothers, we must live!'” Spero’s late work embodies this same sense of release. “Sisters, we must live!” could be its motto.”   Even Spero’s protest, as in The Torture of Women, is never merely angry, never a counsel of despair; rather, she always affirms that life is still to be lived, “that judgment has yet to be rendered.”

Benjamin Barber looks at the US political scene and worries that Americans are losing their grip on reality.  More precisely, he fears that in our public life we no longer make much distinction between facts and opinions.  This development, Barber argues, is lethal to democracy:

The trouble is that when we merely feel and opine, persuaded that there is no possible way our opinion can be controverted or challenged, having an opinion is the same as being “right.” Being right quickly comes to trump being creditable and provable, and we lose the core democratic faculty of admitting that we might be wrong, and that our views must be judged by some criterion other than how deeply we hold them. Our polarized antidemocratic politics of personal prejudice is all about the certainty that we are right paired with the conviction that nothing can change our mind. Yet democracy is wholly contrary to such subjective certainty. To secure our liberty in a world of collectivity, we must remain endlessly sensitive to the possibility that we might be wrong. And hence to our reciprocal willingness to subject our opinions to corroboration—and to falsification. We teach evolution not because it is “true” in some absolute sense but because it is susceptible to falsification. Creationism is not, which is why evolution is science while creationism is subjective opinion—a fit candidate for belief but inappropriate to schooling.

Barber has spent a great deal of time replying to the so-called “Public Ignorance Objection” to direct democracy, arguing that if the public does not have the knowledge needed to govern itself, that is likely because it has had no occasion to gain that knowledge.  Let the people govern, and they will have an incentive to acquire not only the information that statecraft requires, but a set of habits that can translate that information into workable policy.  It’s a bit of a disappointment he didn’t have space to develop that theme here, but could only describe the problem.

Georgia O’Keeffe Paintings

I was introduced to Georgia O’Keeffe’s work during my undergraduate work.  I was totally fascinated by her paintings of the insides of flowers. 

Her skeleton paintings use to seem haunting to me.  Now I think they have a certain strength to them.  This one looks like a hawk. 

This painting is completely new to me.  I love her bold use of color here. 

I really enjoy looking at her close up paintings of flowers.  They inspired me to take close up photos of flowers, and some of those turned out really well. 

This painting is new to me as well.  I particularly enjoy the shape of the house

Mental Illness and Criminal Responsibility



Threshold of a Crime

Amy Crehore in the News

An interview with Amy Crehore appears online in Sadie magazine.  Another interview is on newsstands in Inked, a magazine that caters to men who like pictures of girls who have lots of tattoos.
Black Ball Finale

Black Ball Finale

She talks about her art, about ukuleles, and about “Dreamgirls and Ukes,” her upcoming solo show at Thinkspace gallery in Los Angeles.  If you’re going to be in LA anytime between 13 February and 6 March, you should go.  (Yes, I know the instrument pictured here isn’t a ukulele.)

On her blog, Amy Crehore posted a link to an interview Thinkspace did with her as part of their promotion of the show.  

While I’m at it, I should mention that in the 90s Amy Crehore was in the band The Hokum Scorchers with her friend, ukuleleist Lou Reimuller.  She promises that the Hokum Scorchers will play at Thinkspace opening night.  And in 1981-1985, she and a guy named Tom Campagnoli were behind some really trippy comic books called “Boys and Girls Grow Up.”

Obama imagery


One recent post showed a photo of President Obama tying a bow tie; another discussed the intense fascination with his physical person that seems to have gripped so many people.   That led some of us to compare our favorite pictures of Mr O. 

The original

The iconic image of Mr O so far is probably Shepard Fairey‘s “Hope” poster.  In October, Fairey himself contacted boingboing.net with a link to a collection of spoofs of his poster.  A few I can’t resist copying appear after the jump. (more…)

Some nativity scenes

By Gerard David:

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Albrecht Durer:


The Nation, 22 December 2008


Giorgio Morandi, Natura Morta, 1916

It’s usually the reviews that feature most prominently in my notes about The Nation.  That’s because the notes are about things I might want to look up again, and The Nation‘s articles and columns are usually of strictly timely interest.  This week’s issue is no exception.

In this issue, Arthur Danto reviews a retrospective of Giorgio Morandi‘s paintings currently showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I’ve always had a fondness for Morandi’s subdued color schemes and restricted perspective.   Danto claims that the objects in Morandi’s still lifes seem much more active than is typical for the genre; sometimes they seem “to interact and jostle” as if competing for space on the table.  He cites this 1961 painting as an especially crowded one.  He may be onto something; for example, this 1914 piece does seem to point forward to the Futurists.  But more often when I look at Morandi I see pictures like the one I’ve posted here, quiet images that neither call out for attention with flash nor resist the viewer with trickery, but, rather, allow those who are so minded to take whatever look they wish.   

Throughout a review of a reissue of Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination runs the question of what it might mean for literature to have, as Trilling always insisted it should have, a serious moral purpose.  Trilling tries to answer the question with a remark about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an answer the reviewer finds unsatisfactory:

“No one who reads thoughtfully the dialectic of Huck’s great moral crisis will ever again be wholly able to accept without some question and some irony the assumptions of the respectable morality by which he lives, nor will ever again be certain that what he considers the clear dictates of moral reason are not merely the engrained customary beliefs of his time and place.” One response to this might be to say that anyone capable of this kind of “thoughtful” reading is not likely to be a prisoner of social convention in the first place, and vice versa. The passage risks both patronizing the imagined reader and imputing an unrealistic power to Twain’s book. In such passages, the adjective “moral” appears overworked, now indicating the merely conventional social codes, now referring to the wider human vision offered by the critic.

A fair criticism, one must admit.  Humanists from Plato on would have to plead guilty to the charges the reviewer levels against Trilling here. 

Elsewhere in the issue, Katha Pollitt quotes New York University historian Linda Gordon, a founder of Feminists for Obama, calling on feminists to keep up pressure on Mr O, since that’s what their opponents will be doing.  She also quotes an op-ed by economist Randy Albelda calling for increased investment in health, education, eldercare, and other industries that employ many women as part of any economic stimulus plan.  Alexander Cockburn points out that in the aftermath of the Mumbai shootings, several top Indian officials were driven from office in disgrace, a stark contrast with the failure of any senior American to so much as admit error in the aftermath of 9/11.  Stuart Klawans reviews recent films Milk, Australia, and Wendy and Lucy.

Chronicles, December 2008

Giotto painting reproduced on the cover of this issue




Giotto painting reproduced on the cover of this issue


Three articles about Christmas in this issue of Chronicles.  Editor Thomas Fleming, who I seem to recall occasionally describes himself as having been raised an atheist, then converted to arch-traditional Roman Catholicism, describes in the third person the attitudes of an unnamed man who was raised anatheist, then converted to arch-traditional Roman Catholicism.  As a boy, this anonymous person disliked Christmas.  The months-long buildup, the morning moments unwrapping toys that could never live up to the expectations that buildup engendered, the endless anticlimax of the day as of adult relatives hung on and bored him with their chatter.  Far better Halloween, an ordinary day that ended with a burst of total anarchy.  As he grew, he preferred the moral atmosphere of Halloween to that of Christmas.  The Christians he knew pretended that death was nothing to be afraid of and embedded that pretense into the holiday, while Halloween began by taking the cold terror of death and everything touching death for granted.  Evidently this preference remains with him in his religious phase, as the terror of death gives Easter its power.

Contributor Thomas Piatak defends Christmas, not against the severe theology of Fleming, but against opponents of public piety at Christmastime.  Apparently it was Piatak who coined the phrase “The War Against Christmas.”  While Fleming inveighs against a religious Christmas that soft-pedals or denies the hard truths of lifeand thus denatures Christianity, Piatak fears a secular Xmas that is “devoid of religious or cultural significance or indeed of beauty, with nothing left but multiculturalist pap and tawdry sentimentalism.”  As examples of this creeping insipidity, Piatak cites a case in Columbus, Ohio in 2003, when the school district banned a performance of Handel’s Messiah unless equal time were given to “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells.” 

Columnist Aaron D. Wolf has little use for the idea of a secular “War Against Christmas,” though he does agree that such a thing exists.  He tells us of wishing a store clerk “Merry Christmas.”  “She looks directly at me, smiling, eyes narrowed, and nods.  “Yes.  Merry CHRISTMAS!”… It wasn’t a bright, elven (sic) “Yes!  Merry Christmas!”  She spoke with a knowing, in your face, liberal America air of defiance.”  Later: “That Merry Christmas seemed more like a countercultural protest statement, that kind that says, yeah, you’re one of us, or yeah, I’m one of you.  One of you… what?  Believers in Christ Jesus?  … Or perhaps it was one of you proud white Americans.”  Wolf’s suspicion that many of those most exercised about the “War Against Christmas” are in fact not very much devoted to Christ at all, but are only interested in sticking it to educated secularists, gains verisimilitude from the high December sales of mugs bearing the slogan “Don’t be a Pinhead.”  


The Nation, 1 December 2008

Nick Turse looks into American forces’ conduct of the war in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta in the period from 1 December 1968 to 1 April 1969.  Turse concludes that the facts were much worse than has generally been known in the USA.  Civilians were targeted more systematically than has been acknowledged, more of them were killed than has been acknowledged, and a coverup of the some of the worst atrocities continued for decades.  Turse quotes a contemporary letter signed “Concerned Sergeant.”  The otherwise anonymous soldier denounced the operations to which he was attached and estimated that the rate at which unarmed civilians were being killed amounted to “a My Lai a month.” 

Ever since Studs Terkel died, The Nation has been memorializing him.  In this issue, his editor, Andre Schiffrin, remembers their attempt to put together an oral history on the topic of power.  The project failed because none of their prospective subjects would even admit that he held power, let alone give insight into what it was like to use it.  That’s hardly surprising when Schiffrin describes the key to Terkel’s work.  His subjects talked to him, Schiffrin explains, because “he approached people with utter respect.  Those he talked to immediately felt this and poured their hearts out.”  Powerful people usually seem to expect to be approached with utter respect, if not indeed with abject servility.  That so many people from so many backgrounds found it a shock to be approached with respect is a sad commentary on our society. 

Hoosiers and others marveling at the fact that Indiana voted for Obama will enjoy Mark Hertsgaard’s piece about Luke Lefever, a plumber (a real one!) who volunteered for the Obama campaign in Elkhart. 

Siddhartha Deb reviews several novels by Elias Khoury.  At first, Deb praises the “fragmented” style of Khoury’s work as suitable to his native Lebanon, but at the end he suggests that the time may have come for a smoother style of writing and, apparently, a more settled view of Lebanese identity.

This brings us to Barry Schwabsky’s review of Art Worlds by Howard S. Becker and Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton.   Becker’s newly reprinted 1982 book is a sociological study of various milieux from which products came that could be called “art,” while Thornton, also a sociologist, spent her time in “an art world that claims the right to call itself the art world.”  Schwabsky puts the question:

In the sociologist’s art world, hierarchies, rankings, and orders of distinction proliferate.  Status and reputation are all, and questions about them abound.  Why does the seemingly kitschy work of Jeff Koons hang in great museums around the world while the equally cheesy paintings of Thomas Kinkade would never be considered?… How do conflicting views on the value of different kinds of artworks jell into a rough and shifting consensus about the boundaries of what will be considered art in the first place?

That’s quite a weighty question.  As for the Koons/ Kinkade riddle, my suspicion is that perspective drawing and the rest of the conventional skills of representational art are not really all that difficult to master.  Some years ago I read an essay by Eric Gill called “Art in Education: Abolish Art and Teach Drawing,” in which he argued that given a chance virtually any child could and would learn these techniques.  I haven’t seen any scientific work testing this hypothesis, but it doesn’t seem fantastic to me to think that if all children were introduced to art in the same way that, let’s say, Thomas Kinkade was, that some large percentage of the population would grow up to paint pictures very much like his.  If that is so, then the problem with Kinkade isn’t that he’s cheesy, but just that they are nothing special.  If a collector wants to attain a high rank, s/he can hardly buy paintings that may be very pleasant but that could be equalled by, let’s say, a third of the adult population.