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I thought for this Memorial Day a replay of the post from this day last year was appropriate and says exactly what I wanted to express this morning. We are living in strange times with a leader with little if any impulse control and a need to achieve his desired outcome regardless of the means needed to do so. I am of the opinion that if push comes to shove ( and with his knack for alienating and shoving, it’s a real possibility) he would not hesitate to spend the lives of  many of our soldiers to protect his interests. And there is a building doubt as to whether his interests are our interests.

I think that is why this Memorial Day takes on special significance. We must remember the horror of war that brought about this holiday and not gloss it over. It was not meant for glorification of war. It was a day of grieving and remembrance of souls taken much too early. Give it a thought today.

Memorial Day weekend.  It’s become the symbolic starting point for summer, a time of barbecues and partying.  Fireworks. In those rare instances when we do take the time to consider the day, many of us tend to think of it in terms of patriotism and nationalism.

But it was created from the loss and sorrow of a civil war that ripped this country and many families apart.  It was meant to alleviate the grief of the many families who suffered the ultimate loss, to let them know that the nation shared their sorrow in the memory of fallen family members.

In the nearby Woodlawn National Cemetery, where my mother, along with both my grandfathers and several uncles, is buried, there is a section that contains the nearly 3000 graves of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War in the Elmira, NY prison camp.  Whenever I look at those stones and think of those men of the south, I always think about their families who may not have even known that their sons were suffering in a cold Northern prison.  They were mothers, wives or children who would never see or hug their sons and husbands and fathers again. People whose loss forever left a hole in their lives.

And this sacrifice was for what?  An idea, the preservation of an ideology that probably didn’t affect their day to day lives in the first place? The financial interests of the planters and plantation owners, the wealthy ruling class?

Why are we so easily stirred to war, so willing to sacrifice our own kin and their futures?

There are no easy answers.  Maybe that’s why the holiday has transformed into what it is today– it’s too terrible an image to bear when we look in that mirror and ask those questions.

So for this Sunday’s music on a Memorial Day weekend, I thought I’d play a song that asks for peace on earth with the hope that fewer families in the future will have to see this earth absorb the blood of their sons and daughters.  I know that sounds like a pipedream, a world without war.  But I have to ask  myself: Why not peace?

Here’s U2 and Peace on Earth.  Have a great Sunday and a great holiday.

NOTE: The image here on the left is a new painting, The Kinship, that is part of my show that opens this coming Friday, June 2, at the Principle Gallery.  There is a sense of remembrance in this piece for me that jibes with the real spirit of this day.

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The last few details are getting done and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am talking about the final preparations for my show that opens next Friday, June 2, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. These last days before I deliver the show are always hectic but also exciting in that the whole of the show becomes apparent in its finished state. Seeing how the different pieces play off each other, enhancing and reinforcing their individual strengths, is invigorating for me especially when the show reaches that level of satisfaction I am seeking.

And I feel this show reaches that level easily.

The name selected for this show is Truth and Belief.  It is also the title of the painting at the top of the page, which is 16″ by 20″ on panel. I have written a number of times here about how the chasm that has been widened in recent times between what is true and what is believed by so many people has preyed on my mind. It seems that while the truth may set you free, unfounded belief is a bear trap that holds you in place, unable to move or see anything beyond your current viewpoint. Even though you’re told information that would free you from that trap, you refuse to place any belief in it because those who set your current trap have instilled a sense of fear in you that there is a bigger trap waiting just beyond what you can see.

So you stay in your bear trap and, despite the pain, you continue to hold onto what you believe. And hope that it is true so that one day you might be free.

I don’t know if this analogy works. It’s early.

But I do think this painting works. I see the Red Tree on the hill in the distance as being Truth and the nearer one being Belief. Truth stands on higher ground overlooking everything, including Belief. It can see all. Belief has a more limited point of view but it feels like it can see everything it needs. It feels like Truth, in its own way.

But there is distance between Truth and Belief. You have a ways to go from Belief until you reach Truth.

But it’s a journey that must be made.

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I have written a number of times here about the events that are taking place in this country and my frustration at how little effect reasoning and factual evidence have on the followers of the current president. Their stubborn stupidity seems impenetrable to even the most glaring truths.  I am sure that there are many of them out there who still, faced with an ever expanding list of acts of malfeasance, refuse to see anything other than a conspiracy against the leader of their cult.

It turns out that this phenomenon is nothing new. It can probably found in every major movement based on political power or religion. One of the most enlightening essays on the subject of the stupidity of the follower came to us in a letter written in a German prison during World War II by theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Boenhoeffer. The first paragraph of the essay is shown above.

Dietrich Boenhoeffer was a pastor and theological writer who stood in direct opposition to the Nazi regime and spoke out against its programs of euthanasia and genocide. He had an opportunity to stay in the US in the late 1930’s, safe from the reach of the Nazis, but he insisted on returning, believing that if he were to rebuild the German church in the war’s aftermath he must endure it with its people.

He was imprisoned in a German prison in 1943 and later transferred to a concentration camp.  He was implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler and he was hanged in the waning days of the war, in April of 1945.

Dietrich Boenhoeffer’s story is most interesting and his writings live on and have great influence to this day.  One of the terms he coined was cheap grace which also has great meaning today. I’ve included an apt description of this at the bottom of this page..

The following essay is taken from a letter written while in captivity.  I urge you to read it. It may help you understand better your own frustration wit what you see today. And if you are one of those who fail to see what seems so clearly evident to most people, perhaps you should read it then ask yourself how you allowed yourself to be swept up in this grand wave of stupidity.

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use  of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings  at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

‘If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who lives in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

‘Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in must cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really thing are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

‘But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity. than from their inner independence and wisdom.’

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010

 

Cheap Grace-

“But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of “cheap grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before. Cheap grace is a divine get-out-of-jail-free card. Hence, the tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life. The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they publicly identify with fundamentalist values.”

Mike Lofgren

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The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

Friedrich Nietzsche

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I am calling this new painting, a 30″ by 24″ canvas, Maverick. I hesitated about using that particular word for a bit, as it seemed a bit tainted for me by a certain past vice-presidential candidate from outside the lower 48 states. But it’s too good a word to let that person’s use of the word spoil it. A maverick is just a consciously active nonconformist, someone who makes the choice to separate themselves from the herd.

I think many of us would like to think of ourselves as nonconformists or mavericks. But I don’t know how many of us ever really deserve that label.

I know that I certainly don’t see myself as one, at least in the true sense of the word. I find myself all too often bending to the will of the crowd and staying in line. Oh, I still try to have my way and to do what I want in the manner that I want but I try to keep it low key without flaunting it or unnecessarily stepping on toes.

Maybe if you were able to use an adjective in front of the word. An anxious nonconformist or a fretting maverick. Maybe then I would put myself in that category.

And even then, probably not. I mean, what kind of maverick cares what they are called? They just want to do their thing without any hassle and the opinions of others be damned.

And that’s kind of what I see here with the Red Tree on a rocky outcropping away from the other multi-colored entities that seem to be primarily focused on the issues of themselves and their neighbors. Looking at the lower part of this piece reminds me of a microscope image of the endoplasm of an amoeba as it pulses and churns. It all seems inward and involved only with what is around it. It can’t see much beyond its own cell walls whereas the Red Tree, having freed itself from those struggles, is able to focus on other matters- the sea, the sky, the sun, and its place in that realm. A perspective that encompasses things well beyond itself.

Well, that’s my opinion. If you’re a maverick you most likely won’t give much of a damn what I think. Good for you.

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anvil-and-hammerLast night I heard journalist/historian Jon Meacham say in reference to [he-who-shall-not-be-named-here] that character is destiny.”

He pointed out that in his studies of past presidencies, ascending to the office of president only magnified the man’s character already in place.  At the end of their term, the person leaving the office is at their core the same person who entered.

It is not a comforting thought.

Not comforting when you consider the inaugural address he gave, one that George Will (the epitome of conservatism and not liberal in any sense of the word) called most dreadful inaugural address in history.  It so mirrored the inherent dishonesty of his character that the Washington Post actually felt compelled to fact-check it.  It was, as with everything he says,  filled with falsehoods and fear-instilling hyperbole and devoid of all sense of hope or unifying grace.

I’m glad I didn’t watch a single minute of this dark day in our history.

I will not legitimize this faux presidency.

This may offend some people.  Well, most of these same people decided with this election that what they believed was greater than the truth, that facts no longer mattered.

So, in keeping with that rule, while his presidency may exist, I do not believe it to be legitimate.

Unlike [he-who-shall-not-be-named-here] I am willing to take responsibility for my words and actions.  If by some miracle, he changes his stated course and works tirelessly for the good and rights of all Americans, I will admit my mistake.  Gladly.

But given the thought that character is destiny, I don’t think you’ll be hearing my apology any time soon.

Cheri asked me earlier in the week if I was going to be watching the inauguration.  I told her that I would rather place a body part on an anvil and play the Anvil Chorus on it with an 8 pound hammer.  I am not saying what body part to which I was referring.

I could have meant my hand. Get your mind out of the gutter!

To illustrate my point here’s a clip from The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles as they perform the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

 

 

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john-dean-time-1973-cover

Time Magazine Cover 1973

In Trump, Dean says he has observed many of his former boss’s most dangerous traits—obsessive vengefulness, reflexive dishonesty, all-consuming ambition—but none of Nixon’s redeeming qualities.

–McKay Coppins, The Atlantic interview with John Dean, January 17, 2017

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Think about that– all of Nixon’s worst traits without any of his redeeming qualities.

Without any of Nixon’s redeeming qualities.

That’s from an interesting article I read online yesterday from The Atlantic.  It was an interview with John Dean, best known for being the White House Counsel for Richard Nixon during the early 1970’s Watergate period.  He was called the master manipulator of the Watergate break-in and  cover up and spent only a short sentence in Federal custody in exchange for his testimony against Nixon.

He is a man who knows corruption and abuse of power from a unique perspective. So, his words on the prospects for the next four years with [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] gave me pause this morning.

I found it very unsettling and confirming of many things that I have been thinking on my own. Best summed up in one line: He is not only convinced that [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] will be worse than Nixon in virtually every way—he thinks he’ll probably get away with it.

We are looking at an authoritarian personality with basically no checks and balances on his every whim, a realization that will fully come into perspective once he enters the White House.  There is nothing to stand against him– only an inept and weak-willed House and Senate filled with people who would be better described as entrepreneurs than statesmen.  By that I mean they are more interested in serving their own short term self interests than the long term betterment of the nation.  More concerned with their own finances and maintaining their status than with concepts such as justice, rightness or ethics. They offer little, if any, resistance to a like-minded entity.

Plus, the effectiveness and power of the press has been marginalized, cut into narrower and narrower slivers of influence and constantly berated and belittled. There is no small group of trusted news organizations that can fully keep the nation’s eye focused on the work– good or bad– being done in its name.

Add to this a public that has lost all sense of shame and the ability to be shocked.  We accept and even expect the worst behavior from our fellow humans.  The behavior of [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] in his life prior to and during the presidential campaign, as well as his time as the president-elect, have been a sideshow of human awfulness.  It has been filled with outright lies, provocations and the boorish of a sore winner .

His is a character which knows no shame, has no self control and is ultra-vindictive, needing to respond to every perceived slight. One that has never shown empathy nor displayed any selflessness.  He has always denied responsibility for his words and actions, choosing every time to find someone else on who he can place blame.  He cannot tolerate any opposition– you are either with him fully or his enemy. Hardly the uniting force we need.

You know, I can’t think of a single trait in his character that I find admirable or would advise a child to emulate.

Yet, his actions and character is overlooked, accepted and even embraced by a great many people, some who claim to be people of faith.

He is now the face, the voice and the definition of our nation.

And of our collective shame.
When you put these things together– a borderline personality with no checks on his power, an ineffectual press and an uncaring public — it leads to one thing– an authoritarian state.

I didn’t say Fascist or Nazi. We haven’t taken that path. Yet. But we have all the earmarks of an authoritarian governance, one that look democratic in nature and has a facade of freedom.  Remember, Russia is considered a democratic nation but no one considers it anything more than an authoritarian state.  And an authoritarian state faced with circumstances beyond its control, say a terrorist attack here in this country, can spiral into other darker forms pretty quickly.

And [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] has an authoritarian personality, much like Nixon but without any sense of shame. As  noted in the article:

“I used to have one-on-one conversations with [Nixon] where I’d see him checking his more authoritarian tendencies,” Dean recalled. “He’d say, ‘This is something I can’t say out loud…’ or, ‘That is something the president can’t do.’” To Dean, these moments suggested a functioning sense of shame in Nixon, something he was forced to wrestle with in his quest for power. [He-who-will-not-be-named-here], by contrast, appears to Dean unmolested by any such struggle.

Dean also sees an extreme that is cause for concern in this upcoming president: “I don’t think Richard Nixon even comes close to the level of corruption we already know about [he-who-will-not-be-named-here].”

The final two paragraphs are not much more encouraging:

Add to all this the realities of the current political landscape, and Dean says [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] will almost certainly weather whatever storms he faces during his presidency. “Unless [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] is a such a disaster that the public rises up and changes control of Congress in the mid-term elections, he is very safe.”

Dean is less sure, however, of how the republic will look at the end of a [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] presidency. “By nature, I am an optimist,” he told me. “But [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] as president is going to be about surviving disaster.”

We all never thought this could happen.  The majority of us thought our collective logic would take care of such a prospect.  But we were dead wrong.  We think that the idea of justice and the constitutional checks on the power of the presidency will prevail over rash actions that might happen in the near future.  But there is no assurance of that in this climate.  Our hope, as Dean points out, is in taking back a measure of power in 2018 via the mid-term elections to create a check on his power. And working onward from there.

It ain’t gonna be easy, folks.  Once a critter like that gets hold of something to their liking, they don’t want to let go. It’s going to be a fight so we must learn to relish the battle and be relentless.

Round One begins today. So buckle up, put in your mouth guard and let the good times roll.

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dr-seuss-new-years-day-cover-1931I thought that the image from this cover painted by Dr. Seuss for Judge magazine for its first issue of 1931 might fit today’s situation here in the USA, at least in the view of many folks.  It shows a New Year’s reveler waking up to find a creature in his bed.  The prior night–the year before– it had looked pretty good.  Lots of fun and lots of promises of all the things it would do for him. But here in the bright light of the New Year he realizes that the party is over now and he is left with a monster on his hands — and little idea of what to do with it.

What comes next with this strange creature we have found in our bed?

I also thought long and hard about what music I wanted to use for this first Sunday Morning Music of 2017.  I wanted it to be as optimistic as possible given the circumstances of having a strange critter in our bed.  I thought that the first version of Singin’ in the Rain might fit the bill just perfectly.

It was from 1929 and was a number one hit for performer Cliff Edwards, better known as Ukelele Ike, who had a number of hits through the 20’s and 30’s.  While the name Ukelele Ike may not seem familiar in any way I have no doubt you have heard his voice at some point.  He was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio and is the voice of the song When You Wish Upon a Star.

This version is from one of the first musicals from MGM in the talkie era, The Hollywood Revue of 1929.  You most likely know the song from the later and great musical of the same name ( which featured the recently passed Debbie Reynolds) but this is a great version.  It has a forward looking outlook despite the wet and dreary circumstances of the moment.  Just what people would be needing in the years after 1929.

And 2017.

Remember that it’s an old piece of film and try to look past the somewhat crude production values of the time.  It was cutting edge back then.  And it’s still a great piece of film now.

Oh, I also enclosed another Ukelele Ike number from a 1935 film, Starlit Days at the Lido.  It’s an early Technicolor film so it looks worlds different than the first film.  The song is Hang on to Me which is also a great song for the moment.

Enjoy! Take a look then let’s get to work and get that thing out of our bed!

 

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