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13 hours yesterday. 29 dead.

You don’t have to be a psychic to see that this was coming.

No, any thinking, feeling person with a lick of sense and their eyes open could see this.

Let’s see, we have:

A nation that was built on immigration based on the lure of opportunity, religious and political freedom for all.

An almost unlimited access to every known type of firearm, protected by a wealthy lobby ( propped up in recent years by an influx of foreign money) that seeks to sell more and more weapons with even fewer restrictions. They have bought the silence of lawmakers for decades.

A growing white supremacy movement that, according to the FBI in a report from over a decade ago, has infiltrated local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation. The vast majority of acts of domestic terrorism in this country come from white supremacists.

An economy that is becoming more and more unbalanced. Wage growth for the lower and middle classes has been sluggish at best while there has been tremendous increase in wealth for the the higher end. The poor are getting poorer and the rich getting richer.

An online social media culture that allows people to live in insular bubbles that allow their worst inclination to fester unabated. It is a world often filled with paranoia, conspiracy and unfettered hatred.

A president** who uses the rhetoric of racism on a level never seen in this nation. I believe, based on thirty plus years of evidence, that he is racist but it doesn’t matter at this point. Either he is a racist or he isn’t and is using racism as a divisive political tool to maintain power. Both are equally repugnant and evil as well as being disqualifying for him as the leader of this nation.

He uses racism that plays to the sense of grievance that resides in much of the less affluent, less educated white population of his base, putting the blame for the shortcomings in these people’s lives squarely on the shoulders of “the others.” The way they see it, they are poor because every job that should be their’s is being stolen by an immigrant. They’re afraid because they believe black people want to rob and assault them while murderous latino gangs run wild on every street. They see every person of Middle Eastern descent as seeking to destroy the white nation they love so that sharia law can be established here. White opioid abusers in poor states are victims in their eyes who need help while black drug users in cities are criminals who deserve severe legal punishment.

I am going to leave it right there. I could go on but what does it do? Yesterday, we had 29 dead in two separate shootings in El Paso and Dayton within 13 hours. Unsurprisingly, the El Paso shooter is linked with white supremacy. Don’t know about the Dayton assailant yet. Though in body armor, he was killed by the police within a minute of the beginning of his killing spree. Yet, with a military style weapon, he still managed to kill 9 people in that short time.

I’d like to be optimistic here but I am afraid that we’re in for a lot more of this, folks. These young white males who feel they are somehow being screwed over by “the others” and are entitled to lash out at the world with violence are not going away anytime soon. They have the weapons, they have someone to blame, they have a community online that endorses their hatred, and they have a person at the helm of the most powerful country in the world who will never speak out against them, someone who will actually seek to rationalize away their deadly actions so that the blood doesn’t show on his tiny, spray tanned hands.

I wish I had answers. I do know that there are none on the horizon so long as we keep electing spineless, amoral slugs who only seek to help their biggest donors and themselves. We want courage and boldness in our leaders but when it is shown, we often seek to destroy those people because if they succeed, we might have to actually address the problems we face. So we settle for the mindless twats we have and the downward spiral they have enabled.

At some point, it has to come to a reckoning. What will it take before we rise up and demand a different outcome?

So, here’s my song for this Sunday. Fitting the day, it is I See a Darkness from Bonnie “Prince” Billy. I have played Johnny Cash’s cover of this song here before but the original feels right today.

On a dark day, I have no more thoughts and prayers to share. I used them up long ago.

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In the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, the emperor was overly concerned his public appearance. Playing on this, two swindlers come into the kingdom and convince the emperor that they are the most magnificent tailors he has ever encountered. These faux tailors tell him that they can weave the most magnificent cloth and make him a remarkable suit of clothing. They say it will be invisible to those who are unusually stupid, incompetent or unfit for the positions they held.

The emperor goes big for this idea, thinking that such a suit of clothing will enable to determine who is wise and should be trusted and who is stupid or unfit and should not be trusted with any position of power. He employs the tailors at great expense to weave the cloth and make him the clothes.

Looms were set up and remained empty even as the swindling tailors said the fabric was being made on them. The emperor sent many ministers and other officials to check on the progress of the suit and the swindlers would take them to the loom where they would exult over the nonexistent fabric. They would describe the beauty of the colors and the pattern and the officials stood in rapt attention, nodding and oohing and aahing even as their own eyes told them that nothing was there.

Not a single person would say that there was nothing there. Nobody wanted to be marked as stupid or unfit in the eyes of the king.

The weavers brought the clothing to the king and convinced him that the suit was so light that it felt like wearing nothing at all. When the emperor cried that there was nothing there, they called in his court and, being afraid to be seen as either a fool or unfit, they exclaimed how marvelous the clothing appeared on the emperor. Emboldened by the silence of his court, the emperor decided to parade his new suit through the streets.

The people of the kingdom had heard of the amazing fabric that would be invisible to the stupid and the incompetent. So as the emperor strode naked before them, they cheered with rousing approval.

That is until a small child exclaimed, “ But he hasn’t got anything on!”

The crowd tried to shush the child but soon a whispered buzz was going through the crowd. The child was right!

The crowd cried in unison, “He hasn’t got anything on!”

The emperor shivered and blushed.  Knowing that it was true, he continued his parade with his toadies holding up his nonexistent train behind him as he marched.

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It’s a great story, one we all have heard in some form. It is a tale that can be applied to the current occupant* of the white house and the political party that is acting like the emperor’s court. Except in this case, the tale is in reverse.

Here, the occupant* is wearing an outfit cut from a fabric that his courtiers are pretending is invisible.

It is a special fabric, woven with stupidity and fear. These two things are the warp and weft of the fabric that makes up all the things that comprise the evils of this world– racism, superstition, envy and greed.

The occupant* proudly wears his suit made from the loudest shades of stupidity and fear and uses it to determine who he trusts–those who claim they see nothing.

They are kind of like Sargent Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes– I see nothing! At best, seemingly benign but, in actuality, enabling the awfulness taking place.

And for those who say, “For god’s sake, trust your eyes! He wears that awful fabric and is preening in it like a prize hen!“?

Well, you know the drill.

Attack and demean. Distract, divide and dehumanize.

At least, that is how it goes for now. As the occupant* consolidates his blindly loyal toadies into the justice and intelligence communities, the penalties may very well become much more harsh than they already are.

That child who dared to state the obvious might very well end up in a “camp” somewhere.

Trust your eyes, people. This emperor, our occupant*, is wearing the cloth of a racist and a would be tyrant.

 

 

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For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

William Butler Yeats,

From To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

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I can’t say that I am a big Bill Kristol fan, the conservative political analyst, but yesterday he deftly used the excerpt above from a W.B. Yeats poem to describe the Mueller hearing of the day before. It so well described an honorable man dealing with the current occupant of the white house* and his minions in congress* that I wanted to know a bit more about that particular piece of verse.

It turns out that the poem from which those lines come is titled To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing that was included in a small volume of poems called Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-13.

The poem is at the bottom of the page and at first I thought it referred to someone in Yeats’ universe, a writer or artist or playwright, who had put their all into their work for years and years only to never be recognized for that work while others– who this person at least equals in talent and effort– gain greater recognition. That seems like a logical interpretation.

Turns out there is a different story behind the poem.

It has to do with an Irish art dealer named Hugh Lane who was trying to establish a public art gallery that would bring modern art of that time to Dublin at the beginning decades of the 20th century. He proposed to give the city his collection of 39 modern masterworks from Renoir, Manet, Degas, Monet, Daumier, Pissarro and Morisot so that they might establish a museum/gallery. The painting at the top from Renoir, The Umbrellas, was part of his collection.

To that time, Dublin had yet to display the new art of the age and its city fathers and religious leaders were not swayed by the offer. They viewed the new art as being decadent and with an air of libertinism to it. This turned into a heated public battle in which Yeats and others in the Irish artistic community fought to bring the new art culture to the country. They eventually lost and the collection ended up in the possession of the National Gallery of Great Britain after Lane died in the sinking of the Lusitania by German U-boats in 1915. He was returning from NY where he had sold two great pieces to what would become the Frick Collection. The Lusitania was only eleven miles from the Irish coast.

The battle for Hugh Lane’s collection has been fought continuously for the past century between the National Gallery and the Irish government. There are a lot more details so I am not going to get into the whole affair here. There is great article in the Guardian that goes into everything that transpired.

I just find it interesting how Yeats could turn a poem that dealt with the loss of a public debate about art and philanthropy into a poem that feels like it could be applied to many people who are in creative fields and may never realize the recognition their work may well deserve.

Or to a prosecutor dealing with shameless liars.

Here’s the whole poem:

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

 

Now all the truth is out,

Be secret and take defeat

From any brazen throat,

For how can you compete,

Being honor bred, with one

Who were it proved he lies

Were neither shamed in his own

Nor in his neighbors’ eyes;

Bred to a harder thing

Than Triumph, turn away

And like a laughing string

Whereon mad fingers play

Amid a place of stone,

Be secret and exult,

Because of all things known

That is most difficult.

–William Butler Yeats, Poems Written in Discouragement 1912-1913

 

 

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I am not feeling celebratory on this Fourth of July.  I have strong feelings about the ideals of this nation and the recent events here challenge my belief that those ideals can prevail or even merely hold on. There is just a bit too much irony in today celebrating our independence from what we viewed as the grip of cruel tyranny in 1776. We are weakening our country when we accept cruelty and selfishness as an aspect of our governance and national character. And make no mistake about what I am saying, selfish cruelty is weakness and we are witness to that currently. Here’s a post from several years back that I run every now and then on this day, speaking to our better ideals. Enjoy your 4th.

Jasper Johns “Flag”

Another Fourth of July.

Parades. Picnics. Fireworks. Red, white and blue. That’s the shorthand version of this day. The actual meaning of this day is much harder to capture, probably more so for Americans than for those from other countries who view us from a distance. I think we sometimes lose sight of the idea and ideal of America in our day to day struggle to maintain our own lives. But even that struggle is symptomatic of the basis of our nation, reminding us that anything worth preserving requires work and maintenance.

For me,  America is not a static ideal, a credo written in granite that will always be there. It is vaporous and always changing, like a dense fog. But it is an inviting fog, one that is warm on the skin and invites you in with hazy promises of possibility.

And maybe that is all America ever was and will be– the promise of possibility.

Maybe it is the sheer potential of a better and safer life, the possibility of remaking one’s self, that defines our ideal America. We are at our best when we are open and inviting, offering our opportunity and empathy to all. We are a long way from our ideal when we close our doors and try to capture the vapor that is America all for ourselves. It is not ours to hold– we are simply caretakers of an ideal, one that brought most of our ancestors here.

Maybe this doesn’t make any sense. Since it is such a hazy thing, this amorphous fog that is our ideal, we all see it in different ways. This is just how I see it.

Here’s a video of the song America from Simon and Garfunkel, as performed by David Bowie. This is not a flag waving, chest thumping anthem but it speaks as much to the meaning of the American ideal in that simple chorus — all gone to look for America— as the very best Sousa march.

Have a good day.

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There is just way too much to do this morning as I am finishing up work on my upcoming July show at the West End Gallery. But even though my time is spent on this work, the events taking place in this country occupy my mind a lot of this time. I am not going to go into it at this point but I wanted to share a video that speaks to it in a way.

It is from one of my favorites, the ultra talented Rhiannon Giddens, and was produced in the aftermath of the Charleston, SC church shooting in which 9 church members were murdered. It’s probably hard to remember, there have been so many mass shootings in the years since that we barely notice anymore when only 3 or 4 or 5 people are killed.

The song is Cry No More and the words at the top appear at the end of the video. They serve as a powerful reminder that we get what we put up with and that to be silent is to accept this status quo. All the tears in the world accomplish nothing unless they are followed with a powerful and unified voice.

So, cry no more. Know your history. Know your mind. Speak up. Be loud.

 

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading with disgust about our treatment of children being detained at our southern border. Watching federal lawyers trying to defend this mistreatment made my skin crawl, especially after reading about things like the dog pounds and freezers being implemented at these “camps.” One man, formerly held hostage for 30 months by Somali pirates, said he was treated better by his captors than these children are being treated by our government.

These places are not meant to be mere detention centers. They are cruelly meant to be places of punishment and dehumanization. It is our shame. And if we allow it to continue, it will be our crime.

We can do better. We must demand that we do better. This is being done in our name and we can’t pretend it isn’t happening. If we turn a blind eye to this now, what will be the next and most likely greater atrocity?

It made me think of a post from 2015 that detailed  happenings here during World War II when over 400,000 foreign fighters were in this country as POWs. Even as our stated deadly adversaries, they were treated much better than a toddler in one of these camps. It’s a fascinating episode in history and one that raises many questions abut who we have become as a people here in this country.

POWs Marching to camp in Aliceville Alabama

POWs Marching to camp in Aliceville Alabama

Fear sometimes produces acts of courage and honor.  Unfortunately, more often than not it brings out the worst in people, producing acts of shameful stupidity that stand out in history. Watching the many US state governors over the last couple of days, all spouting about how they will not allow Syrian refugees into their states (even though they don’t have the power to do so)  brought this thought to mind. NJ guv Chris Christie even went so far as saying he wouldn’t accept a 3 year old Syrian orphan. Classy move for a classy guy.

But I shouldn’t be surprised. This behavior is not new to us here in the States. In the beginning years of WW II in Europe, public opinion here was heavily against accepting any Jewish refugees fleeing the war there.  We even went so far, in 1939 when the Holocaust was underway, as barring the MS St. Louis, a German freighter carrying Jewish refugees, from entering our country when they came to our ports. Our ships even went so far as firing warning shots to keep them from docking. The same went for Cuba and Canada.

The refugees from this voyage of the damned were returned to Europe where a number died in concentration camps.

Again, another classy move that we try to keep swept  under the rug of history.

I wonder what these governors would do if they were faced with the situation that took place here in WW II with the Prisoners of War (POWs) who were brought to this country? A lot of you probably aren’t even aware that there were POWs on our shores during that war.

But they were. And not just a handful.

I first became aware of it years ago when I was working as the finance manager at a Honda dealership. An older lady that I was working with said I reminded her of her late husband who was an Italian who came from the area of the Italian Alps. I asked how she had met him and she told me that she first saw him when he was marching down the street of her hometown in Alabama. He was a POW heading to the camp outside of town where she later met him at a event there. Maybe he was even one of the POWs from the photos shown here.

Imagine that happening today.

But imagine the outrage today if we were faced with bringing over 425,000 POWs here. That’s right over 425,000 foreign fighters were here during WW II. Most were German but here were also Japanese and Italian troops. The same troops who were responsible for many of the millions upon millions of troop and civilian deaths that took place during the war were just down the street in Anytown, USA.

POWs in UtahAnd not just down the street. There were about 700 camps located in all but a few states and most of these allowed the POWs to be hired as workers in all fields except those that dealt directly with the war effort. They were out and about in many communities. It is reported that great deal of the slack caused by a shortage of manpower lost to the war was taken up by POWs, especially in the field of agriculture.

And it wasn’t slave labor. They were paid the same wage (paid in scrip that could be redeemed at stores within the camps) as our own troops would have been paid. In fact, they were treated just like our own troops. In fact, their accommodations and food were often superior to the those being experienced by our troops still in the heat of battle. And better than our own citizens who were people of color who were still experiencing segregation and open discrimination.

And definitely better than our citizens of Japanese heritage were being treated at the internment camps where they were held during the war. Another shameful, fear-based move.

POW Theatre Production at Aliceville Alabama Camp WW II

POW Theater Production at Aliceville Alabama Camp WW II

There were classes, art studios, gymnasiums, camp newspapers and musical and theatrical performances put on by the POWs. Throw in an activity director and you’ve got yourself a kind of Aryan Catskill Resort. In one bizarre incident, Adolph Hitler even sent payment to sponsor an art exhibit at one camp.

Think about that. During the worst war in the history of mankind, the greatest enemy ever known to mankind sent a check to the US for an art show for his troops. If there had been a Fox News (or television, for that matter) at the time, I can only imagine all of the talking heads that would be exploding all over the screen.

Some of those POWs stayed here and integrated into our country and some went home to try to rebuild their own countries. There is a lot more that could be told and it’s a great story. I urge you to learn more. Below is a great story from the wonderful RadioLab from earlier this year [2015] called Nazi Summer Camp. It’s about a half hour long but if you have time you will find it informative and entertaining. It’s a half hour that will not remind you of the shameful behavior of some of our leaders.

https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/radiolab/#file=%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F455649%2F

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.

-Voltaire

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[I watched a few minutes of interviews with some backers of our president* at his rally last night. I was struck by their absolute confidence even as they spoke words that were far removed from reality. This certitude worries me. How do you establish a working relationship with someone who simply denies all tangible proof that is contrary to their beliefs? It reminded me of this post from five years ago. My uncertainty now is much as it was then.]

Much of my work seemingly has a journey or a quest as its central theme. But the odd thing is that I don’t have a solid idea of what the object is that I am seeking in this work. I have thought it was many things over the years, things like wisdom and knowledge and inner peace and so on. But it comes down to a more fundamental level or at least I think so this morning. It may change by this afternoon.

I think I am looking for an end to doubt or at least coming to an acceptance of my own lack of answers for the questions that have often hung over us all.

I would say the search is for certainty but as Voltaire points out above, certainty is an absurd condition. That has been my view for some time as well. Whenever I feel certainty coming on in me in anything I am filled with an overriding anxiety.

I do not trust certainty.

I look at it as fool’s gold and when I see someone speak of anything with absolute certainty–particularly politicians and televangelists– I react with a certain degree of mistrust, probably because I see this absolutism leading to an extremism that has been the basis for many of the worst misdeeds throughout history. Wars and holocausts, slavery and genocide–they all arose from some the beliefs held by one party in absolute certainty.

So maybe the real quest is for a time and place where uncertainty is the order of the day, where certainty is vanquished. A place where no person can say with any authority that they are above anyone else, that anyone else can be subjugated to their certainty.

To say that we might be better off in a time with no certainty sounds absurd but perhaps to live in a time filled with absolute certainty is even more so.

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