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Posts Tagged ‘Covid-19’

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“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

Jorge Luis Borges, Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983

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Marilee Shapiro Asher

Interesting article in the Washington Post yesterday about DC artist Marilee Shapiro Asher who at age of 107 is successfully recovering from a rough bout with covid-19. It was so rough that her doctor called her family saying that she would most likely not last twelve more hours. But the doctor underestimated Marilee and probably wasn’t aware she had already beaten another pandemic, having contracted the Spanish Flu in the Pandemic of 1918 at the age of 6.

That’s a great story in itself but for me, I was as interested in the fact that Marilee is still working as an artist at age 107. She began her artistic career as a metal sculptor in her 20’s and had her first show in 1938–82 years ago. Over the years she has worked in sculpture, painting, photography and now in digital art. In her late 80’s, when the physical demands of working with the large metal sculptures she was known for ( she has work in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian) became too much for her she enrolled in a digital art program. Her fellow students were almost all in their early 20’s.

She had her last show of her sculpture at the age of 100 and is looking forward now to a possible new show of her digital creations. At 107.

It’s obvious that art gives her a purpose that fuels her drive to live. It’s not an unusual story. I have encountered a number of stories of artists who have seemingly prolonged their lives through the purpose they find in their art, many productively working into their 100’s.

I find this encouraging.

Marilee had someone in the family to follow in taking up her late interest as a digital artist. Her mother, Bonnie Harris, took up painting at the age of 79 and worked at it until her death at age 92. Self taught, her folk art paintings garnered much notice and are in the permanent collection of several museums, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Collection of American Art, The Phillips Collection and the Folk Art Museum.

Like I said, I find this encouraging. And these days, when there is so much happening that want to make you worry, it’s nice to know that these artist found purpose in their work and used lives that spanned the awfulness of pandemic, war and social upheaval as the inspiration and raw material for their work.

Get well, Marilee, and keep on working. Thanks for the inspiration.

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There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the virtues of capitalism and the free market versus the perceived downsides of socialism. The free market is always put forth as some sort of beacon of purity that allows the market to determine which businesses fail or succeed.

Survival of the fittest. The perfect maxim for the view we take of ourselves as rugged individualists.

But the big boys, the huge corporate entities, don’t really practice this form of capitalism. No, it’s not really the free market if whenever there is a crisis– be it natural or self-inflicted or as in this case, a mix of he two– they always have a safety net to cushion the fall. Bailouts by the bushel and the sorts of extravagant handouts that would make a socialist blush keep the big boys afloat. Hardly a string attached and, in many cases, they don’t even have to touch the huge warchests of cash they have amassed in the past decade or so.

As it has been said, too big to fail. Hardly adhering to code of the free market.

As this crisis has once again shown, there is only one real free market in this country.

It’s right there on Main Street in every village and city in the country. Small merchants are the bravest people in the business world, operating in the real world in real time without safety nets of any sort. Added together, the numbers of true small businesses make up a huge chunk of our economy and are the businesses that most of us deal with more on a day to day basis than the big boys, either in dealing with them or in working for them.

But nobody is throwing big wads of cash at these people now or, in the limited cases where there is some relief, making it easy for them to access it. No, they are out on the line by themselves, along with their employees, acting like true free market warriors.

So, what I am asking you today is to make sure that you make an effort to support your local businesses at this time of crisis, when they are teetering on the brink. If you have the financial ability at this time, please help the little guys in your town by ordering some take out, buying gift cards or shopping their online sites. For some, especially the restaurants which employ tons of people and are especially hard hit, this is their only lifeline during this crisis.

In this region, for Corning’s Market Street/Gaffer District merchants, have a wonderful program currently operating called Buy Now, Shop, Later. If you go to their page by clicking here, you can access a menu of all the shop, restaurants and galleries in the Gaffer District that are offering gift cards. The money from your purchases of each gift card goes immediately to that merchant. And to make it even sweeter, Corning Enterprises, a subsidiary of Corning Inc dedictaed to nurturing local small businesses, is making a matching donation to each merchant during this crisis.

For example, if you buy a $50 gift card to the West End Gallery ( obviously a favorite of mine and one that you could says employs me) you would receive a $50 gift card to be used anytime, now (they have a website!) or later , and the West End would receive a payment of $100. That additional bump is an enormous help to any small business. especially those that run on a tight budget but are still serving the public and paying as many employees as possible.

In Alexandria, VA, where another favorite of mine, the Principle Gallery is located, a group representing the many great restaurants of that beautiful city, Alexandria Restaurant Partners, is offering gift cards to many of those restaurants. 50% of gift card sales will be donated directly to a dedicated employee relief fund. And as a special thank you for your support, all gift card purchases of $25 or more will receive a 20% bonus gift card that may be used for food or drink purchases at any ARP restaurant.

So, buy a $50 gift card and you’ll receive that $50 card, a $10 bonus card and $25 will go the relief fund for restaurant employees who have been affected by the many closures. You can access their site by clicking here.

This only highlights what you can do to help in two areas. But there are loads of great restaurants and shops in every area that are holding on right now and need and would greatly appreciate your help, if you have the ability to spend a few dollars now.

Think of it as a bet or, better yet, an investment. By doing this small and simple thing, buying a few gift cards, you are showing faith that they ( and you!) will still be there on Main Street (or Market Street or King Street) with open doors and smiling faces when this damn thing passes.

Now, that’s free market thinking.

 

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“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence… In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”

Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong

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For those of you too young to have been around back then, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong was a book from Dr. Laurence J. Peter that came out in 1969 and was a huge bestseller. It was one of those books and ideas that became ubiquitous in their time. It seemed like everywhere I looked back then, that book cover was staring out at me from book racks in every grocery store, card shop and bus station.

Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something, even then.

In the book, a blend of practical business management principle and mild satire, Peter described every organization as a pyramidal hierarchy in which each member was eventually promoted up the pyramid to a position where they would be proven to be incompetent. The real work of the organization was always done by those within the pyramid who had not yet risen to their own personal level of incompetence.

Those not yet proven to be incompetent were like the mortar that strengthened and bonded the blocks of the pyramid.

It was one of those ideas that seemed so simple that it was hard to believe that nobody had voiced it in that way before. And just looking around at almost any organization, private or public, seemed to offer ample proof of its validity.

Why am I talking about this? I think anybody who has been closely following the US government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis could easily see it as the principle in action.

It is one of the first things that jumps to mind when watching the daily press briefings lately. They are maddeningly difficult to watch with their evasions, lack of information, blame placement, contradictions, empty promises and self-congratulatory puffery often along a raft of outright lies.

Not a shred of reassurance anywhere to be found. For me, it almost always brings on an unpleasant mix of disgust and rage combined with dread.

The dread can be explained by another line from Peter’s book: “Any government, whether it is a democracy, a dictatorship, a communistic or free enterprise bureaucracy, will fall when its hierarchy reaches an intolerable state of maturity.” 

That maturity is the point when most of the level of the hierarchy have been filled with incompetents and this administration has spent much of the last three-plus years removing apolitical professionals who had been competently handling many important positions within the pyramid. These are the people who had yet to reach their own level of incompetence, people were doing the real work that kept the governmental pyramid standing. In their place, they inserted political lackeys, people ill-equipped to handle even the most mundane requirements of their posts let alone a global crisis that requires the ultimate in competence from every level of the pyramid.

Watching closely as I have, it sure feels to me like every position in that pyramid is so packed with incompetence that there is little, if any, room left for the still competent to do the dirty, real work required to keep the pyramid standing.

Thus, the dread.

Here are a couple of other little snips from The Peter Principle that one might think were written solely for the here and now:

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.”

“Incompetence plus incompetence equals incompetence.”

“If two wrongs don’t make a right, try three.”

I know that writing this doesn’t accomplish anything. But it’s something I have to do once in awhile if only to try to organize what I am seeing in a way that I can comprehend so I can figure out how to look to the future.

And I do still look to the future, even with a little hope. But that hope is my own and owes nothing to the efforts of these incompetents who sit atop the crumbling pyramid.

Hey, have a great day! And be careful out there.

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I am going to be hopeful this morning. But first, let me make share one short analogy about the current situation. After looking at the charts that show the projected curves for this pandemic, I see that most show us not reaching our peak infection rate until sometime in June or July.

That means we are still in the opening phase of this whole episode. It’s unfolding, not like 9/11 where within hours our world was shocked and forever altered, but in slow motion. We are left to wait and for those among us who are young and feel healthy, or just feel young and healthy, the idea of having to put these lives on hold seems ludicrous in the face of what seems a like crawling threat. Why shouldn’t we go out to the bars and restaurants? Why should we do anything differently?

Here’s the analogy: It’s like the hours before a tsunami, when the ocean waters begin to recede to gather further off shore. Those on shore who recognize the danger that’s ahead react. They begin to move away from the shore toward higher ground. But those who are sitting in the oceanside cafes sipping drinks with umbrellas and chunks of pineapple in them, seem not to notice.

They see the waters pulling back and they think that the sea is simply calm today. They can’t understand why those people are running away from the shore. They ask their waiter, who is heading out the door himself to run inland, what the problem is, why is everyone reacting this way? The waiter says that the tsunami is coming and they should move.

Some will move. Others, will after a bit grudgingly and slowly move inland. But others will say that this is ridiculous. The water is fine, the sun is shining bright, my drink is tasty, and I am young and healthy. What could possibly happen? You others are just crazy.

But the waters are coming back. Lots of water. It’s not a matter of if but when and how many of us get swept away. Maybe it won’t be as large a tsunami as we fear. Maybe. But to stand on the shore in ignorant defiance simply because you can’t yet see its approach is a fool’s gambit.

Alright. That was a little longer analogy than planned but hey, what else do I have to do?

here’s the hopeful part. Ten or twelve or fourteen days ago, I was putting out some sunflowers seeds for the birds that feed outside our house. I tossed a handful and realized I had almost pelted a small goldfinch that was standing on the ground only a few feet away. This was unusual as most birds retreat to the surrounding trees until I am done. But his little guy, its drab yellowish coat telling me it was a female though it could be a nonbreeding male, just stood its ground. I spoke to her for a moment and she stayed put, pecking at the seed that surrounded her. Looking closer, I could see that something was amiss with one of her wings.

We watched her from the window for quite a while and she couldn’t fly. She hopped well and kept feeding throughout the day, staying in place even though all the other goldfinches had flown away for the day. The next morning I located her in the woods just behind the feeder resting in a small dip in the snow. I went towards her and she stayed in place, not trying to fly away so I left a little seed just a foot or so from her.

I thought that she surely couldn’t last long sitting in the snow with a broken wing. But we decided to give her a little time. Late that day she was back around the feeder hopping a bit and pecking at seed. Still no sign of being able to fly at all.

The next day she was gone. We kept looking and couldn’t locate her. Perhaps she had been swooped up by a hawk or owl or some other nocturnal predator. A fox? We just hoped that she was safe.

But  a few days passed and as I was putting out seed one morning, I almost threw seed on a goldfinch in another feeding spot across the yard. But his finch lifted up and haltingly flew away, bobbing up and down as its injured wing tried furiously to lift it. I went inside and we watched  her for a while. It was our goldfinch. She was able to fly just enough to get up into the trees and onto the feeder where she would sit for hours at a time., eating seed every so often and basking in the sun.

She’s here every day now. Her flight is still limited but it’s better and he moves with confidence. She stays on a nearby limb when we are putting out seed. I smiled like a fool the other day when she retreated from me and flew awkwardly  but competently high up into the white pines, some 50 or 60 foot above me. I think she knows she’s safe and has a pretty good gig even with her little wing.

That’s my little bit of hopefulness. Here’s Jimi Hendrix and his classic Little Wing. It’s surprisingly hard to find an original version online so if the Amazon Music box doesn’t appear I have included a version from Sting that I also like. It ain’t Jimi but there times when you have to make do with what you have, right?

Have a good day and be hopeful. And be careful.

https://music.amazon.com/albums/B003BG4KHE?trackAsin=B003BG2JZ4&ref=dm_sh_5e5d-9800-dmcp-c176-c13ea&musicTerritory=US&marketplaceId=ATVPDKIKX0DER

 

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“Life” is of course a misnomer, since viruses, lacking the ability to eat or respire, are officially dead, which is in itself intriguing, showing as it does that the habit of predation can be taken up by clusters of molecules that are in no way alive.”

― Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything

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It’s interesting how things reveal themselves to you in different ways.

The painting above, The March, was painted about a year ago and was part of my Multitudes series. It’s a piece that always made me uneasy and even a little frightened. There was something ominous in the massed figures and the way they were marching forward.

It was not a parade of celebration.

No, it had a purpose and intent that felt to me like it was skewing toward the darker side of our nature. It was like it portrayed some evil force marching towards us. In fact, when I wrote about this piece last March, I used a line from the Ray Bradbury book, Fahrenheit 451, as the introductory quote: “Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.

And looking at this piece this morning, I stand by those initial feelings but they seem even stronger and more prescient given the march of the Covid-19 virus around the globe. I look at this painting now and see the faces and green coats as personifications of infection. There is a zombie-like pallor to the faces, the color of death. And as author Barbara Ehrenreich points out in the quote at the top, viruses are not truly living organisms. They are undead predators waiting for a host to further their march.

So, this painting has become more focused and narrowly defined for me personally. It’s like it has been waiting for the proper moment to reveal itself and its meaning. It doesn’t make me feel any better but at least I know what I see in it now.

It’s a scary time, these late winter days in March. There are certainly rough times ahead, both from the virus and the hardships created by it that we are going to face. I would like to say that I have confidence in those people who we have entrusted to lead us through times like this. But we are led by a person who lacks all empathy and is only concerned with his own situation. He has greatly weakened the agencies needed to face these situations, slashing budgets and even dismantling the Pandemic Response team back in 2018. He has filled his administration with inept and corrupt political lackeys, not with capable professionals in their fields who would dispassionately respond to crises like this. They would act with the public’s best interests foremost in their mind, without having to first worry about offending the childish sensibilities of the egomaniac in charge.

We are not confronting this with what we would consider an A Team leading us.

I am worried. Worried for my family and friends, Worried for my nation. Worried for this world.

And as the month of March slogs forward, the viral march moves on, as well, with an orange faced idiot in a red hat acting as the drum major.

Be well, my friends. Good luck to us all.

 

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