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We sprung forward in time tonight. An hour just swept away which for me at this time of the year always gets me a little on edge, especially on this first morning. Actually, to be fair, anything that gets me out of my routine gets me a little on edge but losing time of any sort affects me the most. It’s one of those tics that seem to get more and more pronounced with each passing year.

Time!

Came in this morning an hour later and wanted to write the blog quickly to save a little of this precious stuff, this time. Of course, my computer is running oddly and my internet connection seems to be an hour behind still, it’s running so slow. So, my time-saving has gone awry as I reboot this and reboot that. 

Darn you, time!

This is still not going well, technology-wise. Everything is glitchy as I write this so instead of fighting it and getting even more frustrated, I am going to wrap it up and introduce this week’s song for Sunday morning. It is, of course, Time from Pink Floyd off of their classic Dark Side of the Moon album. I realized this morning that I never play anything off this album, as much as I like it, or from Pink Floyd at all.

It’s probably a deep reaction to how ubiquitous this music was in the 70’s and 80’s. You couldn’t go a half hour on any FM station that played rock music without hearing a song from Dark Side of the Moon— or Hotel California, Free Bird, or Stairway to Heaven.

After awhile, you develop an aversion to even those things you like when you are exposed to them all the time. It’s like I really enjoy hot fudge sundaes but I wouldn’t want to have that same thing every hour of the day. Bad example. I could totally eat hot fudge sundaes day in and day out. 

But now I am excited to hear these songs again since time– yes, time– has cleansed away that stench of ubiquity.

So, if you have time, give a listen. If not, get to it. You have time to make up.

I know I do. See ya’.

 



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Beeple- “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”



“I’ve crossed some kind of invisible line. I feel as if I’ve come to a place I never thought I’d have to come to. And I don’t know how I got here. It’s a strange place. It’s a place where a little harmless dreaming and then some sleepy, early-morning talk has led me into considerations of death and annihilation.”

― Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories



I don’t know about the death and annihilation part but somedays I wake up and feel as though I have stumbled into an alternate reality where there are things going on that baffle me completely, that don’t have any basis in the world from which I come.

Like I am a goat farmer from the late 1700’s who has suddenly been thrown through time and ends up in the middle of a Times Square with huge walls of lights flashing, cars whooshing by and jets thundering overhead. 

The place and everything associated with it  just doesn’t line up with anything I know or have ever seen. I am confused, to say the least. Maybe even a little scared because if I don’t know what the hell it is, I have no idea if it can hurt me.

That is exactly the feeling I had when I read that on Thursday a piece of digital art, an NFT— a non-fungible token— had sold in auction at Christie’s for $69 million. The artist’s is Mike Winkelman who goes by the name Beeple and he is a digital artist from Charleston, SC who until October of 2020 had never sold a print for more than $100.

Then came NFTs. Those cuddly non-fungible tokens.

Here’s where I fall through time and space.

I wish I could explain it to you but it feels like the translation of a language I’ve never heard of translated into a language that was just invented and is, yes, unknown to me.

The only thing I understand is the concept of attaching value to an object that is not contained in the value of the raw materials or labor that made it. That is the definition of art and most collectibles. For example, a painting is a token in that it has value attached to it.  But a painting that sells for $100 million dollars is not much different in real world terms from one that sells for $10,000.

The difference is that there is a higher value attached by the market– the potential buyers– that reflects its history, the artist’s reputation, its rarity and provenance and whatever the heck makes a painting worth $100 million. But even then, after the huge piles of cash have been exchanged, the buyer still has a tangible object in their hands.

Probably a closer analogy to NFTs is collectible cards like baseball cards. They are nothing more than a penny’s worth of cheap cardboard with an image printed on one side and some stats on the back. But value is somehow added to them to the point that some are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars while most end up propping up off level tables.

I still don’t know if I am explaining this well. Remember, I just got into this century from the 1788 with goat dung on my boots. Which makes the next part even more difficult to explain.

These NFTs are attached and sold via blockchain technology. Like cryptocurrency. Bitcoin. Ethereum. You know what I’m talking about, right?

I think Yogi Berra would be better equipped to explain this.

I tried at one point a couple of years ago to better understand cryptocurrency but I just couldn’t fully grasp it. It seemed so much like a giant pyramid scheme. But what made it even harder to grasp was that there are actually bitcoin mines.

Yeah, bitcoin mines.

I am standing here with goat stink still on me and I am trying to grasp the idea that bitcoins are mined — created, actually– by people around the world trying to solve the same mathematical puzzle using very large and powerful computers. About every 10 minutes, someone solves a puzzle and is rewarded with some bitcoins. Then, a new puzzle is generated, and the whole process starts over again. As more people become involved around the globe trying to solve this puzzle, it is made more difficult so that it is estimated that it will take ten minutes to come up with the new solution.

Every ten minutes. So, in order to be the first to solve this puzzle and get the bitcoins, one has to have computers that use enormous amounts of electricity. We are talking something on the order of 72 terawatts expended to create a single bitcoin. That is 72 trillion watts of electricity. Every ten minutes.

This first came to my attention when I learned that there was a proposal for a bitcoin mine to be built on nearly Seneca Lake. If I am not mistaken, it would use the water from the lake to run a hydroelectric generator to produce the huge amount of power needed for its computers. 

I still am in the dark on this and can’t even begin to explain blockchain technology. Remember, I am from a time when the Snickers Bar was still a 150 years from being developed and marketed. That’s a technology I can understand and maybe even explain.

So, here I am wondering how a digital file that anyone can download and display is somehow valued by its owner, a person who shelled out $69 million bucks. I really am confused and have all sorts of questions. 

Can this affect my own work? Might my work be stolen– this has happened to other artists– via these NFTs? What does this mean for the future of art? With all due respect to his talent, Beeple is now one of the most valuable artists in the history of art. I think that’s a statement even he would find laughable. Granted, its a lot easier to laugh with $69 mil in the bank. Or is it in cryptocurrency?

Good for Beeple. But the real question is: How do I do this?

The price for goat feed is a lot higher than it was in 1788.

I think I will go outside and bang my head against a tree. Now that I understand.

 

 

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I wasn’t going to comment on the current controversy swirling around the six Dr. Seuss books that are slated to be removed from publication. But hearing so much outrage and misinformation about culture wars and cancel culture from the right who portray this as some act of big government or some other unseen they who controls everything. It made me want to at least point out a few things.

The six books have been pulled from printing by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the foundation that oversees his estate and legacy. There is no they making them do this nor is there censorship taking place. In fact, the company that publishes and distributes the books has stated they would still publish them if Dr. Seuss Enterprises so wished. It was a move endorsed by the Geisel family ( Dr. Seuss’ name was Theodor Geisel) who felt that this was the proper time to take these particular six books out of print because of the racial insensitivity of the stereotypical images that each contained. All were from early in the career of Dr. Seuss as a children’s book author at a time when he was transitioning from having been an editorial cartoonist. At that time, much of this imagery was still, unfortunately, regularly seen through the pages of newspapers across this land. As Geisel aged, his views became more and more progressive and he himself regretted those images though no malice had been implied originally.

Things change through time. Just because certain viewpoints were once widely seen and accepted doesn’t mean that they will stand the test of time. The fact that there was a time not so far in the past when we widely believed that owning another person was okay, that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, that children doing dangerous work in mines and factories six days a week was fine and dandy, that being gay was a mental illness, and so on doesn’t give any validation to those viewpoints.

We evolve, hopefully in a better direction.

This doesn’t detract from the popularity, influence, or availability of Dr. Seuss. The Grinch will still try to ruin every Christmas in Whoville. Sam will still be yakking about his green eggs and ham. They will still hopping on Pop.

Little has changed. It was a small change meant to protect his legacy made by his company. As is their prerogative. Nobody forced them to do this. No cancel culture. No cancellation nor censorship. 

In fact, it was actually a pretty savvy business move since the huge overreaction from those who don’t take a moment to really understand the situation has them rushing out to buy Dr. Seuss books before they are all cancelled. A huge group of his books have surged to the top of the bestseller lists. Much like gun sales surge when any mention is made of gun regulation.

I might have to claim that my work is being cancelled. Not a business strategy I had contemplated before but who knows? Who would I talk to about that?

So, take a deep breath, take in the facts and please try to refrain from being instantly outraged and frustrated at any sort of change. Kind of like a Neanderthal trying to use an ATM.

Oops. Sorry to all my Neanderthal friends out there. You know who you are.

Dr. Seuss’ work has been a part of my world for much of my life and his influence shows through every so often in my own, mostly in a subconscious way. Here’s a post from back in 2010 about a painting that I see every day here in the studio and have for about 20 years now.



Yesterday’s post about the 50th anniversary of Green Eggs and Ham  by Dr. Seuss made me think about a piece that I’ve had hanging around my studio for the past decade. It’s a painting that I did in 2001 that I call Red, Hot and Blue.  It’s an oil on panel piece that is pretty big, almost 5 1/2′ tall in its frame. It could be a small door. It showed in a few galleries after it was first painted and never found a home so it retired to my studio, to keep me company.

I mention it  because it was been called the “Dr. Seuss painting” by several people who saw it when it was hanging in the galleries. They saw something in the way the trees were shaped and colored that gave them the appearance of a Seuss character. I had no thought of Seuss when I painted the piece but when I heard these comments I began to see it. 

The expressive sway of the trees as though they were dancing. The bright primary colors- the red of the foliage and the bright blue of the trunk. Even the two trees in the background added to the Seuss-y feel.

The foliage actually looked like the endangered Truffala trees from Seuss’ cautionary fable about the environment, The Lorax

It was not intended but it made sense. Seuss’ books were about communicating by giving strange creatures and other things we often see as objects, such as trees and flowers, human qualities.  His characters moved with a rhythm that made them feel alive. Just what I was trying to do with my painting.

I’ve often felt that we best see and better understand things that possess human qualities. I remember being taught that the Native American tribes in the area where I grew up gave names to local hills based on the human qualities they had. It made an impression and started me looking for the human form in all things. 

The curve of a tree trunk. The roll of the land. The fingers of clouds in the sky.

To communicate.

So, while it was never intentional, this painting was very much a product of the influence of Dr. Seuss and others. When I look at it today, I don’t see the name I gave it.  I see it as that “Dr. Seuss painting”.

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They (Republicans) didn’t start thinking of the old common fellow till just as they started out on the election tour. The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover was an engineer. He knew that water trickled down. Put it uphill and let it go and it will reach the dryest little spot. But he didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.

–Will Rogers, Newspaper Article 1932



I wasn’t going to comment on this today but listening to the arguments in recent days from GOP politicians has pricked a nerve. The current federal minimum wage for non-exempt employees (like farm workers and tipped employees) is $7.25 per hour. It has been at that level since being 2007 though in fact it didn’t become a reality for workers until July of 2009. 

There is a movement to include a raise to the minimum wage in the current Covid Relief bill with the rationale that the people most affected by the pandemic have been low income workers who are, even in good times, struggling to get by. Work stoppages and interruptions therefore have a greater impact on their lives. 

I am not here to argue whether the minimum wage should be raised in this bill. That’s a whole different argument that is more about politics than the well being of the American worker or small business owner.

For my part, I think it should be raised no matter how it comes about. There are plenty of reasons.

First of all, the effective minimum wage— the dollar amount the lowest wage earners in every business everywhere in this country currently make per hour–is right around $12/hour. That is the level that employers have discovered is the minimum they must pay to attract sufficient workers for their businesses. Even in the states where they have not raised the minimum wage at the state level from $7.25, the effective wage is closer to this $12 figure.

This fight to suppress the wage is actually just performance art that plays to the biases and fears of the GOP base and props up the myth of trickle-down economics.

Yesterday, a proposal was unveiled by Republican senators Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton that would raise the fed minimum rate to $10/hr over the course of four years. Four years. To illustrate how disingenuous this proposal is, you only have to look at Senator Cotton’s home state of Arkansas. where the current minimum wage is $11 per hour.

I am not well versed on the economy of Arkansas but I don’t believe it is the economic engine driving this nation. If a worker in Little Rock deserves $11/hr at a minimum, why should a worker in the same position in city or town in another state earn less? Or maybe Sen. Cotton wants to cut some of his constituents income?

Maybe that’s Arkansas Exceptionalism.

Then, also yesterday, GOP Senator John Thune from South Dakota, speaking against raising the minimum, unveiled a personal anecdote that he felt illustrated how the raise was not necessary. He said that when he was a kid he worked at a restaurant starting at $1/hr and worked his way up to making $6/hr as a cook. He said that raising the rate now would cripple small businesses.

Well, his argument makes the opposite point.

He’s 60 years old so he was working as a kid in the mid to late 1970’s in that restaurant. In that time period the federal minimum wage was $2.30/hr so, let me tell you, $6/hr was big bucks. I worked in the late 1970’s in an A&P factory and worked my way up to a skilled position as a candy cook where I was making $6.35/hr. I was able to make a house and car payment on that income at that time. 

That $6/hr that Thune was earning then was a living wage at that time, one that would be worth approximately $25/ hour today. If his employer in that restaurant was paying a kid, as he termed himself, the equivalent of $25 in the 1970’s, then $15/hr should not be a problem now. 

Another example of how ludicrous Thune’s argument is is to simply look at the income of a US Senator in 1977. It was $44,600 per year. The salary for a US Senator is currently $174,000 per year. By my calculations, that’s roughly four times what it was in 1977.

That $6 from the 1970s doesn’t look the same in 2021, does it? I am sure Sen. Thune wouldn’t be too pleased working for that 44K today in the same job. If his income deserves to go up simply because of cyclical inflation over time, why shouldn’t a worker on the lower end of the spectrum deserve the same?

Part of the problem that we’re facing is forty plus years of having the GOP shove supply-side economics down our throats. Supply-side is a cleaned up way of saying trickle-down. which is the idea of giving most of the financial assistance and tax breaks to those folks at the top of the financial pyramid who own businesses and employ workers with the hope that all this cash will flow down to all the less affluent folks below. It was first called trickle-down — as a derogatory term– by the great humorist Will Rogers who spoke of it in newspaper article he wrote in 1932. The excerpt at the top sums it up perfectly.

Money is not water. It does not flow down. Money flows up. Low wage earners more than likely will spend any extra income and, as he says, it will end up in the hands of those at the top soon enough.

But that money passing through the hands of people who need it and will spend it will build up the economy and enrich small business owners. After all, most small business owners need customers with cash to spend and the more people with available income to spend, the better it is for them.

And for folks who make more than the minimum wage who complain that someone making $15/hr somehow diminishes their own oncome and status, perhaps they should be asking themselves why their incomes have been stagnant for so long, why they are working much harder for what seems like less money. Their income, or lack of it, is actually directly tied to keeping the minimum wage low. The low wages of others justifies their own low wages.

Higher minimum wages would ultimately result in higher wages for most wage earners. It would also raise the self esteem of those who work these jobs. Knowing that they might be able to actually live a life beyond scrimping for every small bit every day on poverty level wages is a life changer.

But we still battle the specter of trickle-down economics. It has been yelled at us by the GOP for so long that there are generations of working class citizens who have absorbed this fantastical concept that the rich will somehow benevolently pass the wealth down as fact. The GOP has used this create division. A working class voter is angrier about the occasional welfare queen, that racist concoction of the GOP, getting a few bucks here and there than they are about corporate bigwigs raiding the country’s coffers on a regular basis.

Many have bought into this charade, never knowing a life that was any different. I have lived most of my life in this system but remember a time when there was more income equality. It’s funny but most of the angry people on the right want to return to what they perceive was a better time in the past and many cite the booming 1950s. But they do this without realizing that was a time when there was much greater income equality, with a true middle class, more government spending on infrastructure, and more taxation of the wealthiest among us.

And you know what? There were still plenty of wealthy folks then. Maybe they didn’t have three or four yachts. Maybe only one or two. But they were still rich.

And you know why? Because money flows up.

Repeat that again and again. Then do it again until it is burned into your brain.

Money flows up.

Listen to Will Rogers. The wealthy still end up getting all the money in the end but we all benefit along the way with a better standard of living and more opportunities for a greater number of people to escape poverty and every negative aspect that comes with it.

Let’s get rid of this trickle-down madness, okay? 

I could say a lot more but I have went on too long this morning. Sorry for the length of this rant. Even so, I know that I missed a lot of points that I wanted to make ( such as that areas with the lowest effective minimum incomes tend to be those that struggle most economically overall which bleeds out into that area in the form of lower levels of education, higher levels of poverty, higher crime, and on and on) and didn’t address every argument or maybe even make the points I thought I made. This is all off the top of a jumbled brain so please keep that in mind.

Have a good day, okay?

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Arnold Bocklin- Isle of the Dead



I was working in the studio yesterday with the television on in the background. Born Yesterday, the 1950 film that featured the Academy Award winning, tour-de-force performance of Judy Holliday as a ditzy mobster girl friend who discovers she has a brain was playing. It’s a great film to work by, easy to follow without watching closely thanks to great writing from Garson Kanin and the very distinct voices of its main  characters– Holliday’s snorts, squeaks, and honks, Broderick Crawford‘s rough barks and William Holden‘s smooth, educated eloquence.

I have seen the film several times over the years but had missed, or at least overlooked, one part that jumped out at me yesterday. It was  scene where Holden, who is a journalist paid to educate Holliday so that she can better mingle with the DC power crowd that mobster Crawford is looking to buy into, recites a portion of a famous essay from orator Robert G. Ingersoll. This caught my ear this time because I have recently become aware of Ingersoll and have wrote about his once celebrated but now fairly forgotten life here, back in September.

Ingersoll interested me because, for one thing, his childhood home and a museum dedicated to his life is not too far from me. Once this pandemic is in the rearview I look forward to visiting it. But I am also interested in people who are widely celebrated and have great influence in their own time but seem to fall into the darkness with each new generation. Ingersoll certainly falls into that category.

This particular essay, After Visiting the Tomb of Napoleon, was wildly popular in its time. It was written in 1882 and was recorded via the new technology of voice recording– invented by Thomas Edison, a big Ingersoll fan– by Ingersoll himself and other famed public speakers. It was sold on gramophone recordings so that families could hear the words of Ingersoll in their homes, a wild concept at the time.

It goes a s follows:



After Visiting the Tomb of Napoleon
by Robert G. Ingersoll, 1882

A little while ago I stood by the grave of Napoleon, a magnificent tomb of gilt and gold, fit almost for a dead deity, and gazed upon the sarcophagus of black Egyptian marble where rests at last the ashes of the restless man. I leaned over the balustrade and thought about the career of the greatest soldier of the modern world.

I saw him walking upon the banks of the Seine contemplating suicide; I saw him at Toulon; I saw him putting down the mob in the streets of Paris; I saw him at the head of the army of Italy; I saw him crossing the bridge at Lodi with the tricolor in his hand; I saw him in Egypt in the shadows of the pyramids; I saw him conquer the Alps and mingle the eagles of France with the eagles of the crags. I saw him at Marengo, at Ulm and Austerlitz. I saw him in Russia, where the infantry of the snow and the cavalry of the wild blast scattered his legions like winter’s withered leaves. I saw him at Leipsic in defeat and disaster, driven by a million bayonets back upon Paris, clutched like a wild beast, banished to Elba. I saw him escape and retake an Empire by the force of his genius. I saw him upon the frightful field of Waterloo, when chance and fate combined to wreck the fortunes of their former king. And I saw him at St. Helena, with his hands crossed behind him, gazing out upon the sad and solemn sea.

I thought of the orphans and widows he had made; of the tears that had been shed for his glory and of the only woman who had ever loved him pushed from his heart by the cold hand of ambition.

And I said I would rather have been a French peasant and worn wooden shoes. I would rather have lived in a hut with a vine growing over the door and the grapes growing purple in the kisses of the autumn sun. I would rather have been that poor peasant with my loving wife by my side, knitting as the day died out of the sky, with my children upon my knee and their arms about me. I would rather have been that man and gone down to the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust than to have been that imperial impersonation of force and murder known as Napoleon the Great.

And so I would ten thousand times.



The essay talks of visiting Napoleon’s grave and recalling all the highpoints of his celebrated life. But after taking it in, including all the human suffering that took place due to this man, Ingersoll decides that he would rather live the life of a French peasant that lived a poor life but one that had love and family in it.

Hearing and reading this brought two things to mind. The first was a conversation I had while walking down King Street in Alexandria with another artist, many years ago now. This artist was much more celebrated than me, his work selling for much higher sums than mine which made it appealing to those in power, both in government and in the corporate world. He rubbed elbows with that crowd much more than I. As we walked, he talked about the proximity to power there in Alexandria, how you could almost feel it in the atmosphere.

He asked if being that close to it made me wish that I could access that kind of power. I didn’t even think a bit about it, answering no immediately. I knew that I was an artist for just that reason, that I didn’t want to feel the weight of responsibility that I knew I would take on in such a position. If I were to change people’s lives it would have to come on my terms, as a gentle influence and not with the power of force and will that has the potential for death and destruction in the lives of others.

To the best of my knowledge, my painting has never killed anyone nor caused anyone to lose their homes or livelihood. That sounds like a goofy thing to say but it has great comfort for me. I already worry about so much that to add the wellbeing of a whole constituency would be a burden I couldn’t bear. 

My answer surprised my companion who seemed much more open to the idea of having power. This morning, this memory along with the Ingersoll essay made me think about the 500,000 Americans who have died in the past year due to covid-19. It’s a figure that is most likely at least 10% higher when you consider excess mortality figures and take into the fact that the mitigation efforts put in place for covid-19 have more or less eradicated deaths normally seen from the seasonal flu.

But even if the figure is right, half a million folks dead and half a million families affected is a sobering thing. To be somehow responsible for even a portion of those lives would be a burden I certainly would not want to bear. I think of the former president** and his administration’s laissez-faire response and it rings a bell similar to those lines from Ingersoll. To have such a thing take place under one’s watch and to only selfishly concern yourself about one’s own desires– the cold hand of ambition as Ingersoll called it– would be Napoleonic, to say it one way.

Criminally cruel and negligent is another way.

No, I wouldn’t want the life of Napoleon or our former president. I would rather gladly live the life of a French peasant with wooden shoes. Or a simple artist painting away as the snow fell outside his studio  in the woods. 

And I would ten thousand times.

Have a good day in whatever position you are.

 

 

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Texas

 

Austin Texas February 2021



There could be only one result . . . If men insisted on being free from the burden of a life that was self-dependent and also responsible for the common good, they would cease to be free at all. Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom. It was to be had on no other terms.

Edith Hamilton, The Echo of Greece [1957]



I was looking for a song to play for this week’s Sunday Morning Music and I stumbled across a Chris Rea song from the 1980’s, from an album of his that I listened to quite often back in the day. I searched the blog’s archives to make sure I hadn’t played it before or too recently.

I found that the last time I used a Chris Rea song here was last April. It was the title song, The Road to Hell, and it was used in a blog post about how people were using the word freedom in those early days of the pandemic as an excuse for refusing to accept any responsibility or accountability to their fellow citizens. For example, their right to get their hair cut–or wear a mask, god forbid!– was greater than any responsibility they held for the safety and welfare of those folks that they came in touch with.

In that post I employed some quotes from the late Classicist scholar/mythologist Edith Hamilton that described the lack of responsibility and accountability that marked the downfall of the Athenian empire. There was the quote at the top along with this:

When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.

Her words really struck me last April in that it was the same shirking of duty and responsibility that we have been experiencing here in recent times, a trend that really stood out during our time of greatest need. People wanted to say they were free but only with the implication that it meant that they were free from all, responsibility, accountability, empathy, or conscience. 

That might be some sort of libertarian wet dream but that ain’t freedom, folks. At least, not for a country as wide and as varied as we are.

I’ve said it before: Freedom ain’t free.

Reading this blog post from last year reminded me of the situation that has been taking place in Texas. Now, I don’t claim to know all the intricacies of Texas power ( or political power) system so I can’t really make any informed commentary but it sure seems like what took place in recent times there pretty much lined up with Edith Hamilton’s words.

Put plainly, people entrusted to provide necessary services grabbed all the cash they could while doing as little as possible to maintain or improve the system or to accept any sort of personal responsibility for the citizenry they served.

The privatized power system was a cash cow that was there to be milked until it fell over and died. Then they thought they could simply walk away, buckets of cash in hand.

That’s how it looks to me but like I said, I don’t jack about what really goes on down there. But privatizing something so important as the power system without having a mechanism for accountability seems like a recipe for disaster. And this disaster, while labeled as a natural disaster, was more of a man-made disaster, one of great negligence.

I don’t think this is the same sort of freedom that Texans think they were told that this would provide.

End of commentary. Well, close to the end.

Anyway, this post reminded me of another Chris Rea from that same album, a song called Texas. It’s about a guy in, I Believe, Ireland who dreams of Texas, fantasizing about its size and wide open spaces. He sees it as a place of escape. A place where a man can be free. 

Hopefully, his idea of being free is not the same sort of freedom that we’re seeing come to fore at the present. 

Anyway, here’s the song Texas set to a wonderful slideshow of the natural beauty and wonders that make Texas an exceptional place. That exceptional is code for one of my Texas friends. He’ll get it. 

To my friends in Texas, glad to see the cold weather moving past you now. Now comes the hard work of cleaning up and restoring some sense of normalcy. Let’s work on our empathy and our responsibility to those around us so that we can all weather the next storm.

 After all, freedom ain’t free, my friends. Have a good day.



 

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If you only had brain in your head you would be as good as man as any of them, and a better man than some of them. Brains are the only things worth having in this world, no matter whether one is a crow or a man. 

― L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz



Watched the end of the impeachment trial yesterday. Sad day for this country and for every American as the former president* was acquitted.

Acquitted but not exonerated in any way.

It was actually more of an embarrassing day for republican voters who see themselves as being American first then republican. I believe there are a few still remaining out there. These folks witnessed and understood the criminality– which their party leader readily admitted was present in the words and actions of the president– that put our democracy in peril, knew that it went against everything that our country once claimed as virtues.  But they saw the majority of their craven senators say that it didn’t matter, that their partisanship and short term self-interest was more important than doing what was right for the future of our nation.

These senators seem intent on following the road to disgrace to its bitter end.

Their votes to acquit made this political in a proceeding that, at its heart, was not apolitical. It was necessary and for the majority party to have not went down this path would have been betraying their sworn oaths to the Constitution and to the future generations of this country. The House Managers laid out a compelling and convincing evidentiary argument that won the day.

57-43 is a victory in a way. It was an acquittal but, as I said, not an exoneration. No innocence was implied or proven. The majority of the country recognizes and approves of the guilt attached to this vote. I say majority because the 57 senators who voted to convict represent 76.7 MILLION MORE Americans than the 43 dissenting senators.

The people know. 

Let’s move on now to the Sunday morning music for this week. I was working on the small painting at the top the page yesterday while listening to the impeachment proceedings. I don’t know what made the idea of a person standing in the field as scarecrow come to mind but it appeared around the time the voting was taking place. I can’t quite put my finger on the feeling I get from it or its origin but it seemed to fit the moment.

Maybe it cam from the quote at the top from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz? If they only had a brain…

The piece itself reminded me of the old John Cougar Mellencamp song, Rain on the Scarecrow, from 1985. He started his career with the cheesy stage name of Johnny Cougar before attaching his actual Mellencamp last name and eventually getting rid of the Cougar altogether.

In 1985, he was still John Cougar Mellencamp. He had a great trio of albums in the late 1980’s starting with this album, Scarecrow, followed by The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy. They were all strong. complete albums. This song has been a favorite from when I first heard it back then. I also want to note that John Mellencamp is a talented painter as well.

But here’s Rain on the Scarecrow to go along with the new piece at the top which is simply called Scarecrow.

Be careful out there and have a good day.



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The impeachment process is not meant to determine criminality leading to statutory charges.

It is by definition a political act.

It is meant to determine whether the impeached elected official should be removed from office or, if the impeached person is no longer in office, be barred from ever holding public office again.

That’s the simple premise of what we are watching right now in this country.

The Republican senators have made it clear that they have no desire to give any weight to the very real evidence presented on the Senate floor, if they listen or watch at all. There are multiple reports of some reading newspapers and playing video games while the proceedings go on. The majority of them will cast a purely partisan vote to acquit, a decision that was made beforehand for many of them.

The Republican senators will cast their votes on the outcome of this impeachment trial not on a determination of what is right or wrong but based on their own political aspirations and loyalties.

As I said, a political act.

But what we are witnessing goes far beyond the political, beyond one’s own desire for power and future offices. 

No, we are seeing actions, both by the terrorists who stormed the Capitol and those who incited and designed the attack, that are anything but political.

It is pure criminality, from the smaller scale of the personal assaults that took place to the grand scheme to overthrow a lawful election and, by extension, the existing government.

This is an existential choice about our nation’s future. An acquittal is future permission for other would-be dictators to do whatever they want to hold on to power, to use the vast tools at hand to serve their own desires.

These Republicans who believe they could be that next dictator or at least a power player under that person are playing with fire. That kind of power is not controllable or predictable. They might be granting permission and setting the stage for a future coup from forces that they might not be able to envision with their limited imaginations.

Who’s to say that the next violent insurrection– and possibly successful based on lessons learned from this failed attempt– won’t be a leftist revolution? One that gains a toehold in legitimacy via the permissions granted by these Republicans who can barely see past the end of their noses into the future. 

All I am saying here is that this trial needs to transcend the political. It needs to uphold our past and our future. It need to provide accountability.

There needs to be accountability for what has happened. Without that, there can be no reconciliation nor unity going forward. How could there be? Why would anyone trust or unite with those who say that overt incitement to violence is allowed in order to hold on to power? How do you trust someone who says it’s okay for their supporters to attempt to kill you?

I am certainly cynical of the Republicans doing anything but that which fits their personal agenda but I remain hopeful.

There. Like it or not, I have had my say for the morning. Let’s have a song, okay?

This morning, I am playing a song from famed folk singer/songwriter Malvina Reynolds, who you might know her best from her song Little Boxes which was used for the opening credits of the series Weeds. This song is No Hole In My Head and it has to do with how we have to be careful about the info with which we fill our heads. There are a lot of folks who want to fill it with trash, as you know. Maybe me, who knows? It might even be the reason we’re where we are as nation today.

I am playing two versions here, the original from Malvina Reynolds (1900-1978) and a brand new, less folksy one from the evergreen Tom Jones. The man is 80 and still wails the hell out of everything he sings. Plus he still looks to push his art, to stay current and not dwell on his past glories. Check out his other new tune Talking Reality Television Blues, which contains a similar message to No Hole In My Head. in how we are shaped by what we see, hear, and read. He’s a marvel. Gives me hope. 

Pay attention today and in the future. We need everyone to participate. And have the best day you can.



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Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

The Ballad of East and West, Rudyard Kipling



Showing another new Little Gem from the West End Gallery show, this one titled Across the Divide.

The title refers to the the river that separates the two opposing shores. There is a political commentary implied in the blue and red of the two shores representing the colors of the political divisions here in the US.

There’s a lot of talk about the need for unity, about how we need to come together as a nation, but it seems as though there is a wide and mighty river between us, one that may never be traversed.

Like the opening line from the Kipling poem– and never the twain shall meet.

I would like to think that there is common ground that we share as citizens of this nation but it’s had to see at the moment. That river looks pretty darn wide.

I was about to start on a spiel about the need for compromise but I am going to skip it. Most of you out there who read this are intelligent people who understand compromise and how important its place is in big country with a wide variety of people. You know that everybody doesn’t get exactly what they want all the time, that we all have to sacrifice at some point for the greater good.

Sometimes we give and sometimes we get, depending on our needs and situations. 

And that is a simple, workable concept until you factor in ignorance, racial hatred, and greed.

Then things go awry and you get to this point where we are now, with a wide and deep river running between us. 

I still have hope and I see it in this piece. There’s too many things here that unite us if we only allow to set aside our biases, judgements, and prejudices.

I know that’s asking a lot but is it, really?

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The Cowardice



“Call him tyrant, murderer, pirate, bully; and he will adore you, and swagger about with the consciousness of having the blood of the old sea kings in his veins. Call him liar and thief; and he will only take an action against you for libel. But call him coward; and he will go mad with rage: he will face death to outface that stinging truth. Man gives every reason for his conduct save one, every excuse for his crimes save one, every plea for his safety save one; and that one is his cowardice. Yet all his civilization is founded on his cowardice, on his abject tameness, which he calls his respectability.”

― George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman



I’ve been plowing for an hour already this morning and it’s not even yet 7 AM. It looks like there is a lot of work today outside the studio. Even so, I wanted to stop to make one comment on what I have been seeing lately. Well, actually it’s been evident for years but it has really coalesced in recent times.

Cowardice.

Complete and abject cowardice.

I used the Shaw quote at the top to illustrate my point but in this case I believe that Shaw, that great observer of the human condition, might be wrong. Most of these people know they are cowards and don’t even have the spine to react with faux righteous indignation when the word is yelled in their face.

I am, of course, speaking of the modern Republican party. Not the party of Lincoln. There is a moral bankruptcy there that is staggering and it is all driven by the fact that there is not a soul in that party willing to match action with words in doing what is right.

What they know is right. They know that they are plowing ahead on lies and lunacy at this moment.

And that is the difference between courage and cowardice. Courage is knowing what is right and what must be done then doing that thing while accepting the consequences of doing so, even if it puts that person in personal peril.

The type of cowardice we are witnessing is beyond the opposite of courage. A coward who admits his cowardice has the potential for redemption. That’s not what we’re seeing here.

Nearly all the members of this party party understand what is right and wrong. They know what they should do in service the oath they have sworn to their country. But they refuse to do so and create all sorts of excuses and obfuscations, trying in vain to either validate or cloak the reprehensible motives that seem to be behind this party today.

And they barely utter a peep in response to those who point out their gutlessness, that call them cowards to their faces.

I don’t see anybody in this party willing to change that anytime soon and that is a sad state of affairs for their constituents and for this nation. I often have thought that this time is a perfect opportunity for someone of that party to step boldly and bravely step forward, to state the beliefs and goals that they hold that are righteous and to outline a new direction for that party. Someone to call out the bonds that now exist between this party and white supremacists. Someone willing to extend a hand to others and make their tent more inclusive instead of relying on chicanery to suppress votes.

Why not just make their party in a way that they can simply get more votes from everyone, from all creed and colors? Is that asking too much?

Maybe so. That would take courage and a total rejection of the cowardice that now encompasses this party. It would be almost Lincolnesque.

Then maybe they could again proudly call themselves the Party of Lincoln.

I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I also want to point out that the Democrats are not immune to cowardice, that they too often suffer from a lack of courage. In fact, it has been their unwillingness to boldly do what they know is right when they solely possess the moral high ground that has allowed the darker aspects of this political world to rise. They sometimes seem timid and fearful of exercising the power they have campaigned for so long to possess.

If they truly have the moral high ground and do things that benefit the greater portion of the population, things that makes the lives of everyday folks better in some way, they have nothing to fear. 

I don’t have any answers, of course. I am a simpleton sitting in the woods, getting ready to go out and plow. But I do have one bit of wisdom to share:

Both courage and cowardice are contagious and you are a carrier.

Choose your malady well.



I know I said I was taking some time off from doing this and I am and will. I just needed to vent a bit this morning. Hope you understand and thank you for reading.

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