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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

I don’t care much.

Actually, I do care. That’s just the title of a song that is a favorite of mine. It’s from Cabaret but it does have relevance for our current time. The play dealt with people who turned a blind eye to the growing authoritarian regime that was taking over Germany in the 1930’s. The cabaret was a symbol for those people who just didn’t want to take a side, didn’t want to think about right or wrongs. People who just wanted to have a good time and hope that things would just work out without them.

Wanted to believe that they didn’t have to care much.

That belief, thinking that one could just ignore the coming atrocity without being touched, proved to be less than effective. Ask the 60 or 70 or 80 million folks who died in WW II.

Let’s not make that same mistake. As appealing as it might seem, you cannot hide and just think that things will work out. There is a great darkness clouding our planet right now, one that is built on the aspirations of authoritarian regimes. The murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and how our administration responded so pitifully yesterday is yet another omen of this creeping darkness.

You must stand against these dark changes because they are taking place at an ever accelerating rate and the window for putting a brake on a would-be authoritarianism is closing. And those who stand with the authoritarians will do most anything to keep their march of darkness moving forward.

Life might be a cabaret but the there is a price to be paid. Vote. Get involved. Make your voice heard.

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The painting at the top is an older painting from 2001 called Three Before the Storm. It fits my mood today. Here’s the song I Don’t Care Much performed by Alan Cumming as the Emcee.

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We have become a nation of expediency.

Virtue, benevolence, and doing what is right has been set aside in favor of choosing to do what is easiest in the short term, even if that very thing is known to be harmful in the long run.

Theft. Corruption. Lying. Intolerance. Ignorance. Injustice. Inequality. Cruelty. Selfishness.

I think most of us agree that all of these things are bad. Except when it serves our expediency.

We are normalizing these things, accepting them because they somehow address some short term concerns. But once accepted, these things are hard to shake off. They become part of who we are, become identifying markers by which we are known to the rest of the world.

We are soon– if not already– going to be widely known for our cruelty, our selfishness, our injustice and intolerance. We soon shall be seen as a nation of corruption, where our promises no longer hold any weight and we are not to be trusted. Soon to be known as the nation that ignores facts and science. A nation that turns it back on the suffering of our neighbors and mistreats those who seek our help.

And all this lost for mere expedience. We have known what is right through the years and have generally moved forward with the promise of a more perfect union, as our Constitution describes it, as a goal.

But we stand at the crossroads now. We can either move straight ahead as a nation of virtues or continue on our current detour that is leading us to corruption, ignorance and intolerance. That path may look rosy now but the final destination may very well break our souls.

The current ruling party has become the party of expedience. They are displaying that they only care for what is right for them for the next election cycle. Every day, they normalize behavior that chips away at our national identity and show that they are willing to sacrifice all virtue for their own selfish, short term purposes.

We still have an opportunity to get back on that higher road on which we once traveled but only if we all band together and demand a return to virtues like truth, equality and justice. Like education, the rule of law, benevolence and righteousness.

But it will take a mighty effort. No expedience here, folks. No excuses. You can’t take a pass this time unless you are willing to admit your complicity when the whole thing burns down. And if history teaches anything, that is the where the current road leads.

So, just vote. And like Willie says: Vote ’em Out.

 

 

 

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Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

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The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Another Labor Day.

If you ask someone what the holiday represents they will no doubt say that it is symbolic end of summer. A last picnic. One last real summer weekend at the lake or shore. If you push them they might finally say that it honors the workers of this country.

But it really was created to celebrate the American Labor Movement, those unions and organizers that brought about all of the changes that Dr. King pointed out in the quote above from his 1965 speech before the AFL-CIO.

Fair wages, a shorter workday, a safer workplace, pensions, unemployment insurance, vacations, maternity leave, paid holidays such as today– all of these things came from the hard and dangerous efforts of union organizers.

As King points out, the owners– the captains of industry— did not agree willingly to these changes. No, they fought with every resource at their disposal including the influence they bought from politicians and the use of violence. The history of the labor movement is littered with bodies of workers killed in skirmishes with the forces of the owners.

Every step of progress throughout our history has been opposed by those in power. But progress and change has always come thanks to the efforts of people like those in the labor movement.

The use of children in the workforce was another thing that was ultimately changed by the labor movement. It’s hard to believe that the scenes shown here in the famed photos of  photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine took place just over a hundred years ago in the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania. Harder yet to believe is that federal labor laws for child labor were not fully enacted until 1938. Earlier attempts at legislation by congress in 1916 and 1922 had been challenged in court by industry and were deemed unconstitutional.

Lewis Hine -Penn Coal Co Ewen Breaker Pittston 1911Imagine your child (or your nephew or grandchild) at age 12. Imagine them spending 10 or 12 or even 14 hours a day, six days a week in one of the breaker rooms of a coal mine like the one shown here on the right. Hunched over in the gritty dust of the coal, they picked the coal for differing sizes and to sort out impurities. Imagine the men who are shown in the photo with sticks poking your child, perhaps kicking him to speed him up. Imagine all of this for  seven and a half cents per hour.

There was no school books for these kids. No soccer. No violin practices. No college preps. Just a future filled with misery and drudgery and most likely a black lung. Imagine that. And think that it was all taking place less than a hundred years ago and it ended because of the labor unions and the brave and conscientious people who fought for them.

I know there are problems that arose in the unions over time. They are not perfect by any means. But that doesn’t take away from the incredible progress that they provided for our nation’s worker. Despite their shortcomings, the idea of workers uniting to have one strong voice is as important now as it was a century ago. Perhaps even more now that corporate power and political influence is as great as any time in our history.

So celebrate the day at the shore or in a picnic. Have a great day. But take one single moment and think of those kids in that Pennsylvania mine and the people who fought to set them free.

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. For some of their names see labels 1927 to 1930. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street. (See label #1949). Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania.

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I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got there. But you saw further and clearer than I, and you opened the seas before my ship, whose track led me across the waters to a place I had never dreamed of, and which you were even then preparing to be my rescue and my shelter and my home.

― Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

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Well, my annual show at the West End Gallery comes down in just a few days. This year’s edition is called The Rising and Thursday is the last day to see the show.

It is a show in which I feel a real sense of pride. When I am prepping for a show, my goals for it are often vague and undefined. I feel that I want certain things for it and from it but when I try to verbalize these goals, the words evade me. I find myself like the sailor in the Thomas Merton quote above: I was not sure where I was going, and I could not see what I would do when I got there. 

I knew it was going somewhere. I just didn’t know where. I let intuition and reaction guide me and it often worked out fine.

But this show, much like my June show at the Principle Gallery, felt more preordained and focused and less haphazard in it’s final edited version, the one that hit the walls of the galleries. I still allowed for the role of intuition and the unconscious in the process of painting each piece. That is a necessity.

But where I could make conscious decisions, I did just that. I chose to simplify forms and chop out the fussiness of detail. Deepened colors. As much as I like them and appreciate their popularity, I reduced the number of small paintings and went with works that were a bit larger. It streamlined the look of the show on the wall, made it feel less cluttered, and gave each piece a bit more room in which to expand.

They weren’t big things but enough to make the work in the exhibit to be presented with fuller impact. I felt like this and the Principle Gallery show were my most mature and complete exhibits to date.

The response to the show has been great which is gratifying on many levels. A number of the original paintings from the show have flown the coop to their new homes but there are a few replacements that I feel fill the void they leave behind. One new piece is shown above. It’s Star Navigator, a 24″ by 8″ canvas that feels very much like it jibes with the words of Merton at the top.

I hope you can make it out to the West End Gallery in the next few days, if you haven’t had a chance to see The Rising.

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These words from Adolph Gottlieb, the late Abstract Expressionist painter, ring true for me. I believe that art should acknowledge the presence of powerful forces that guide our lives, good or bad. As he points out, it is this awareness that fueled the myths and symbology that have lived with us since time immemorial.

For me, it is displayed in the underlying darkness of much of my work which is evident in even my most optimistic works. This darkness gives the work, at least to my way of seeing it, a sense of tension, a counterbalance that keeps the work centered. The most optimistic work still has a wariness in this darkness that acknowledges the dangers ahead and the hardships endured in the past.

Triumph of any sort is seen as a transient emotion, one that is to be savored in the moment and recalled in the future but short-lived in the present. The darkness is always hovering nearby, presenting a potential threat or a challenge or even a dramatic change that comes with both the possibility of utter defeat or a new triumph. It is this mystery that makes the darkness so appealing and necessary.

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For some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I have been humming this tune since sometime yesterday afternoon. Maybe if I look closer at the lyrics, I can figure it out.

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Pull the string and I’ll wink at you, I’m your puppet
I’ll do funny things if you want me to, I’m your puppet
I’m yours to have and to hold
Darling you’ve got full control of your puppet
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Pull another string and I’ll kiss your lips, I’m your puppet
Snap your finger and I’ll turn you some flips, I’m your puppet
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Listen, your every wish is my command
All you gotta do is wiggle your little hand
I’m your puppet, I’m your puppet
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I’m just a toy, just a funny boy
That makes you laugh when you’re blue
I’ll be wonderful, do just what I’m told
I’ll do anything for you
I’m your puppet, I’m your puppet
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Pull them little strings and I’ll sing you a song, I’m your puppet
Make me do right or make me do wrong, I’m your puppet
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Treat me good and I’ll do anything
I’m just a puppet and you hold my string, I’m your puppet
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Darling, darling, pull the strings, let me sing you a song any day
I’m your puppet baby, you can sing for me all night long
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Yeah, that kind of reminds me of something I saw recently.
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Of course, I am having a little fun. It’s all I can do to not go into a rage after watching yesterday’s press conference in Helsinki. It was one of those events that will resonate forward through history and not in a good way. As presidential historian Jon Meacham said this morning, we are in the middle of this now, not at the start nor the end, and there is another shoe yet to drop. Yesterday shows that we have long passed a tipping point and it the only thing protecting our future now is our own action.
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Be a real citizen and don’t just take up space– pay attention. Ask your congressmen and senators questions and let them know how you feel. Make sure you are registered to vote and hit the polls hard. Encourage others to do the same.
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Speak up at every opportunity because it may be your last chance. I seriously mean that.
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The song, of course, is I’m Your Puppet from James and Bobby Purify back in 1966 , written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn.

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Wake Up

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When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.

–Pearl S. Buck

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I am tired this morning. Really tired.

It’s a feeling of exhaustion that feels physical at the moment, most likely from having a few nights in a row of not enough sleep along with days with not enough physical activity due to circumstances beyond my control. But I know that part of this fatigue is emotional and anxiety based.

It’s an exhaustion I am sure many of us here in the US are suffering from at this point in time. We see an unraveling of what we believe is our national identity. We once saw our nation as being a welcoming and generous land that was strengthened by the diversity and energy of those who aspired to become citizens of this country. Our history is filled with the great accomplishments of those who were forced to flee their homelands and come to this land.

This was a country that stood against tyranny and oppression. We fought and died in wars against these evils. We united with other like minded nations to stand as a monolith against the dark actions of  the evils perpetrated by despots.

The inalienable rights of all humans were part of who we were.

Right was our might. The beacon that Lady Liberty holds high in NY Harbor held real meaning to the rest of the world. Our ideal was the world’s ideal and this country was a light of hope in an often dark world.

It is easy to argue that we didn’t always live up to the ideal image that we held. We often fell short. But so long as we maintained that ideal as a beacon to guide us, to move us somehow forward, we felt assured that goodness would somehow prevail.

But it seems to me, as I believe it does to many others, that this ideal is crumbling before our eyes.

Our might is no longer right.

We have replaced our generosity with a meanness of spirit that turns a blind eye to the suffering of the most vulnerable among us. Instead of fighting tyrants and despots, we now attack our most loyal allies while embracing our longtime adversaries, praising them, defending them and ever more employing their tactics to control our own people.

The use of misinformation, outright lies, fear and intimidation is on the rise. There is evidence of corruption that is on an epic scale. Regulations and rules meant to protect the majority of us have been stripped away to benefit the wealthiest, who have seemingly purchased outright control of our government.

The ideal that we once held seems like a distant memory. And that is exactly what is will be if we do not exercise the only power remaining with us, the power to vote. And even that is under assault.

Like I said, all of this makes me tired, makes me want to tune out and not pay attention. I hear this all the time from a lot of different people. And if you’re okay with a world without us maintaining that ideal image we once held, I guess that’s okay. But be warned that this a slippery slope and we are already losing our balance. What seems like a small thing today quickly becomes something consequential when you knock down the barriers that once hold them in check.

And when these now small things become bigger and more terrible in their scope, what will you say you did to stop it when there was still a chance? Will you say you were so tired of it all and opted to look the other way? That’s been done before. Take a look at the films of people who lived in Nazi-ruled countries, folks who lived near Death Camps and claimed they had no idea what was going on. It’s an ugly thing to behold.

Inaction and willful ignorance are enablers of all things evil.

So, I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all tired.

Well, that’s too bad because unless we stay awake, stay involved and do all that we can do, that ideal we once held is doomed. Lady Liberty might as well be replaced by a statue of the current president holding both arms high above his head. Instead of holding a beacon of freedom, he will be giving us all the finger- one hand outward towards the rest of the world and the other inward towards us, the American people.

Believe me when I say I don’t want to write this. I’m an artist. I would rather write about art or movies or music or literature. Anything else. But I feel compelled to do what little I can to keep folks awake and involved.

Myself, included. So, please, wake up. Don’t tune out now. Don’t give in to fatigue.

There is still hope.

 

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