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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Let me apologize to those of you who come here for a little break from the outer world, to see some art and hear some music. I know that is why I write this blog, to help myself better formulate and share a world that seems far removed from the worries and horrors of reality. But I am not immune to the intrusions of the world and because these events affect me, they affect my work. So I feel compelled to comment, to vent, to bellow…

I don’t want to write anything about the mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas. Like the shooting itself,  it seems senseless. Why not just rerun one of the many other posts I have written in the aftermath of other mass shootings that have taken place in America?

It’s the same old crap.

There are lawmakers who send out thoughts and prayers to the victims and families. Yeah, a lot of good those thoughts and prayers have done in the past. But I guess they’re easier to produce than the resolve and action required to do something that might prevent the need for future thoughts and prayers.

Then there are the politicians and talking heads on the cable news channels who will say that this is not the time to talk about gun control, to address the problem. Where did that defense come from? I might be wrong here but it seems to me that this might be the very best time to discuss a problem, before fatigue and memory fades. And we do get tired from seeing these things and our recollection of these events do fade.  But let’s not talk about it now. We are governed by lawmakers who are much more loyal and dedicated to their donors rather than their constituents and the country as whole. Statesmanship and compromise are seemingly something from a past era.

As is normal in these events, the NRA and the lawmakers who help themselves to their ample funds will suddenly be nowhere to be seen for awhile. Crickets…

Then, of course, gun company stocks shoot ever higher because of the fear that this time there might be real change in gun control. So investors know that the American public will rush to gun dealers and grab even more guns in the hysterical belief that more guns will somehow protect them. Fear is a great sales tool and yesterday was a very good day for gun companies on the stock market and in the gun shops.

Then there are those who will come out and say this is an act that goes against everything this country stands for. Yesterday, I heard an interview with a popular country music duo and in it they said that this was an attack on America. All I could think  is that this is America now, this is who we are, this is the face we send out to the world. We come across as gun crazy, easily swayed and distracted, afraid, and prone to reactionary violence.

This is America.

And usually there are those twits who will say that if there had been more guns the event could have been lessened somehow, like they would suddenly become some movie action hero who would stand, impervious to a hail of bullets, and calmly plunk the shooter with a single shot. Well, this event is the ultimate disclaimer to that stupidity. Even if every cowboy in the crowd had been packing two guns on their hips and one in their boot, they would have been equally helpless against this onslaught. Unless there were sniper rifles on the ground  ready to go into action, any sidearm would be useless from a shooter located a 1/3 of a mile away and above them.

The new element here is Bill O’Reilly saying yesterday that these shootings are simply the “price of freedom.” That’s a new one on me. I tend to think of them as being the price for stupidity, irresponsibility and delusion.

Maybe that is freedom for O’Reilly. And maybe in America now, that has become the definition of freedom.

I don’t want to believe that.

But until I see some evidence to the contrary, I am beginning to think it’s true.

Tomorrow, back to regularly scheduled programming. I promise.

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It was heartening to see the huge turnouts yesterday in  protests against the recent upsurge in white supremacists, neo-nazis and other hate groups. In Boston, a crowd estimated in the range of 40,000 hit the streets in response to a Free Speech Rally organized by an alt-right group whose own crowd ended up being counted in the dozens, not thousands, with estimates ranging from 20 to 100.

The organizers of the event claimed that they were against white supremacy, bigotry and neo-naziism and that they were there to simply exercise their First Amendment rights. The problem is that they have consistently aligned their cause and their political power with the groups that espouse these very things. You can’t build your coalition with these people then simply say they aren’t part of what you are as a group. You willingly let them in the tent knowing who they were– they are part of your circus.

The other part of the free speech argument is that everybody forgets that free speech is susceptible to reaction. You are free to say whatever you want but you must know that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your expression has cause and effect.

That was shown this past week with the public unmasking of the white supremacists from the events in Charlottesville. Many lost their jobs and faced public ostracization and shaming when they returned home. I am sure there are some out there who see this as being unfair but that is part of the bargain– their freedom to express their views doesn’t not take away the right of anyone else from reacting to it. Reaction is expression and is, so long as it remains non-violent, a First Amendment right.

I go through this on daily basis as an artist which means I am also a small business owner. I have the right and freedom to say or paint whatever I want. But I understand that by doing so I risk alienating potential collectors. It’s not a problem for the most part but I am sure there have been instances when I have expressed political opinions here that have rankled those who lean more to the right. And maybe they won’t buy my work or even like it anymore. That is their right and I accept that risk because I think being fully honest as to who and what I am is a big part of my work.

So, for this Sunday morning music I chose  a song that really fits the subject. It’s Stand! from Sly and the Family Stone. You can’t go wrong with Sly. I urge everyone to stand and express themselves fully. Just leave the guns and clubs at home. If you need them to express yourself, you should ask yourself what you’re really standing for as a human being.

Have a good and peaceful Sunday.

“Stand!”

Stand 
In the end you’ll still be you 
One that’s done all the things you set out to do 
Stand 
There’s a cross for you to bear 
Things to go through if you’re going anywhere 
Stand 
For the things you know are right 
It’s the truth that the truth makes them so uptight 
Stand 
All the things you want are real 
You have you to complete and there is no deal 
Stand. stand, stand 
Stand. stand, stand 
Stand 
You’ve been sitting much too long 

There’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong 
Stand 
There’s a midget standing tall 
And the giant beside him about to fall 
Stand. stand, stand 
Stand. stand, stand 
Stand 
They will try to make you crawl 
And they know what you’re saying makes sense and all 
Stand 
Don’t you know that you are free 
Well at least in your mind if you want to be 

Everybody 
Stand, stand, stand

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White Supremacists surrounding Counter-Protesters at Statue of Thomas Jefferson- UVA

“Less well known is the paradox of toleranceUnlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

Karl Popper, “The Open Societies and Its Enemies,” 1945

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I would like to be here this morning talking about cooperation and tolerance, about extending a hand of peace and understanding to those whose ideals and beliefs veer far afield from my own, which happens to be based on the equality and betterment of all people.

Well, that ain’t gonna happen today.

That was all blown to hell yesterday by a surreal press conference where the pOTUS* basically defended and sanctioned the behavior of  white nationalist/supremacist groups. To be blunt, he provided comfort and cover for Nazis.

In the time since I have heard moral outrage from the left and right as well as some who try to create an equivalency between the white supremacists and those who came to shout them down. One group came brandishing symbols of hatred and bigotry along with helmets, riot shields, masks, body armor, clubs, mace and guns– all supposedly to peacefully protest the removal of a Confederate statue. All the time chanting racial epithets and Nazi-era slogans.

On the other side were counter-protesters who were basically unarmed. True, there were a few sticks and pepper sprays but if you really watch the skirmishes, the neo-Nazis are overwhelmingly more armed and aggressive. And I didn’t see a gun on any of the counter group. Can you imagine the outrage on the right if a group of black men in camo carrying assault rifles had showed up like the white militia groups that acted as security on one side of the white supremacists flank?

But I have also seen many people argue for the legality of the white supremacists right to free speech, as much as we may dislike that.  We basically allow and tolerate hate speech in this country. While I understand and accept the legality of it, there is a counter-argument to that in the form of the Paradox of Tolerance–if you don’t stand up to intolerance at some point, if you allow those who would harm or take away the liberties and rights of other citizens, then you risk being destroyed by your tolerance by the intolerant.

We have been brought to an extremely dark place by a small, weak minded man who would willingly provide aid and comfort to the very people who stand against most of the basic tenets that we as a nation hold dear– equality, liberty and justice for all. We are at  a point where we must decide if we are willing to risk the existence of this  country as the land of liberty by turning a blind eye, thinking that it won’t affect us, and allowing these groups of hatred to flourish and grow or if we will make a united stand now.

Do we want to stop this before it becomes stronger and even more dangerous?

There is no turning away, as tempting as that seems. That is, in itself, a tacit endorsement of their brand of hatred. We have an administration and a pOTUS* that has lost all moral standing, having shown us yesterday who and what they really are.  So it is now upon us as citizens to protect the future of this nation. It is a responsibility and a duty. Make no mistake, there is no gray area here, no place for equivocation. You have to pick a side.

If we don’t stand up, don’t take action, the ugliness and the violence will grow. You will not dissuade these people with rational argument nor will they simply get bored and move on. A quick examination of history and of these groups’ beliefs and goals should provide proof of that. It will take the force and power of the collected citizens of this country to suppress this hatred.

My question to you today is: What side are you on?

 

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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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