An ongoing discussion of politics, law, pop culture, and fine draperies.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Art for Statistics' Sake

So, I was offered a wonderfully welcomed gift for Christmas -- long-desired framing for any two of the handful of unhung/unframed prints I have stacked into piles since we moved into a house filled with walls requiring plaster and paint before anything else is done. The offer reminded me of a painting, or series of paintings I had read about and always wanted to acquire in print form. Some time back, I was flipping through some schmucky artsy magazine that somehow seemed the most desirable thing to read among the pile of Cosmopolitan, Country Living, and Highlights for Children that provided the alternatives. I stumbled upon an article about two Russian artists named
Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid.

Quick sidenote: My relationship with paintings – i.e. the thing that causes me to like certain works of art – is pretty much exactly backwards, based on what the art world and artists want you to think when looking at art. Generally speaking, I like paintings based on what and how much I learn about the painters, their lives, and their times.

For example, Jackson Pollock and the other abstract expressionists probably wouldn't have interested me much had I not been first exposed to them through this very cool exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery some time ago, which focused less on the art itself and more on the personalities of the painters. Also, because the exhibit paired the artists with the Beat Poets and Be-Bop Jazz Musicians of the late 1940s and early 1950s, I could contextualize the work and consider the connections between the visual, the aural, and verbal media that the exhibitor was suggesting. Once I had that frame of reference – historical and cultural – I could then see the paintings for what they were and personally connect with them.

One more quick tangent: Check out
this interesting site, which is apparently dedicated, sort of, to the legacy of Jackson Pollock. I feel like an artist or something …


So then, I mention all this as prologue to the point about Komar and Melamid. I'm reading this article about a project they had undertaken called the
Most Wanted Series, described in an interview with the artists in this article in The Nation. The paintings in this series were produced after the artists polled citizens throughout the world about their likes and dislikes with respect to paintings. The surveys conducted asked an array of questions, from "Do you prefer modern or traditional art?" to "Would you say that you prefer seeing paintings of wild animals, like lions, giraffes, or deer, or that you prefer seeing paintings of domestic animals, like dogs, cats or other pets?" The USA survey asked what sized paintings Americans preferred, revealing:

- dishwasher size: 67%
- full-size refrigerator: 17%
- full wall: 11%
- 19" television": 69%
- a magazine: 24%
- paperback book: 40%

The results were staggering, amusing, and oddly pleasing. Not to be confused with the similarly titled Ice T CD), here was what they came up with for their painting:

"America's Most Wanted (dishwasher sized)"

"America's Most Unwanted (paperback sized)"

They conquered America, turned to a greater world conquest, and observed finally that "regardless of sex, race, education, or income, in paintings, the majority of people preferred landscapes and the color blue." More precisely, as was
reported in the New Republic:

Komar and Melamid found, amazingly enough, that the majority of Americans preferred the same painting. Americans overwhelmingly preferred the color blue. They wanted a landscape with mountains, a river, a bit of forest, and a single tree in the foreground. They desired to see George Washington in the painting, as well as three anonymous figures and two deer. What the majority of people did not want was a painting that was abstract. Even more incredible is that, when Komar and Melamid conducted the poll in countries throughout the world, everyone else wanted the exact same kind of painting, with local variations.
So, Russia's most wanted looks just like America's Most Wanted, only Jesus stands in place of George Washington, and there is a family of bears frolicking in the woods rather than a family of deer drinking from the lake.

While the artists toured Canada, an Alberta Report reporter took the highroad and succumbed to the possibility that "the Komar and Melamid project raises, in earnest, a real paradox in the arts:

Modern art was supposed to be transnational in its appeal to the working classes, but it has united average viewers of different countries only in their contempt for it. It turns out that people in Turkey and Russia and Kenya want more or less what Canadians want: representational painting, preferably landscapes with mountains, lakes and trees. Although in Kenya there's a hippo where the deer are meant to be.

Kenya's Most Wanted:
"A hippo where the deer are meant to be."

another good overview of the project:
"The People's Choice" is not, of course, an attempt to produce populist art. Like the market-research apparatus that it utilizes, its first aim is to produce a public dialogue--or the appearance of one. In light of the poll's banal conclusions, and the wretched art that issued from it, the higher purpose might be seen as dialectical: to begin to imagine an outcome something like the opposite of the one actually achieved. Whatever a real "people's art" might be, it would not look like this. And yet, in a society where public communication and popular taste seem stage-managed by a vast machinery of statistical smoke and mirrors, this is what you get. Or do you?
And they didn't stop at national preferences, as American Prospect observed in 2000:
Komar and Melamid are still at it: Their latest commission – St. Paul, Minnesota's "most wanted" (elk, lighthouse) – was installed this past November at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. The viewer response? "There are a lot of other things I'd prefer to put in my living room," museum-goer Adele Binning told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
American Prospect also recounted Melamid's acknowledgment to Jim Lehrer of "the comedy of creating anything based on the fragmentary preferences of aggregate poll respondents:

"It was our idea to visualize this view of the new kind of dictator, because we grew up in a condition of dictatorship, Lenin, Stalin, et cetera. And when we came to United States, we recognized that another dictator here is the so-called majority."
Some other commentators got really earnest about the project and its implications, noting for instance that "the universality of basic visual tastes" identified by Komar and Melamid fit into some evolutionary framework. New Yorker critic Louis Menand thought twice about it:

Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, in 1993, surveyed people's artistic preferences for color, subject matter, style, and so on. They proceeded to make a painting that incorporated all of the top-rated elements: it was a nineteenth-century realist landscape featuring children, deer, and the figure of George Washington. … exemplify[ying] the kind of landscape that had been characterized as optimal for our species by researchers in evolutionary aesthetics. …
[yet] Komar and Melamid are satirists. They set out to find the visual lowest common denominator, and the work they produced … is preposterous even as kitsch.
Maybe that's the joy of it. If it wasn't preposterous, would we be able to stand it?
After all, we know what happens when
an opportunist gets a hold of the same thesis, wipes away any remains of a smirk, and opens a kiosk in the middle of every mall in America. Were they not avowed Communists, Komar and Melamid could probably stand to recover some of the 10s of millions earned by Thomas Kinkade, in part by taking their preposterous idea and selling it as the real deal.

There is no shortage of opinions on the Kinkade empire, as critic Shaila Dewan observed in her 1999 article in Houston Press, "Study in Green: People love Thomas Kinkade, the Painter of Light. Is that a problem?" (see below for the full article)

However, I highlight one of the many readable points made by Ms. Dewan – just because something is "beautiful" in the eyes of many does not mean that it should be celebrated or emulated. Through art, she suggests, artists should seek to convey their own new ideas and convey them in the most beautiful fashion. As observers, we should seek to be challenged beyond our preexisting, aesthetic comfort-zone, while still demanding from artists the "beautiful."

She notes that:
Left in Kinkade's hands, the subversive potential of beauty drains away instantly. … Kinkade uses [beauty] to persuade his viewers of the glory of singsong family values – not a challenging task … and therein lies its weakness. It doesn't persuade anyone of anything new.
One way or another, beauty or no beauty, a little part of me still strives to find – by eBay or whatever – a framed print of America's Most Wanted … if only to hang in my basement guy's lair alongside my other pieces of guy art, to be enjoyed passively and sardonically in glances between foozball points or hands of poker.

Study in Green:

People love Thomas Kinkade, the Painter of Light. Is that a problem?

By Shaila Dewan
Houston Press
May 27, 1999

It was a certain morbid curiosity that drew us, two artists and me, to the Westin Galleria one afternoon in late March to witness a personal appearance by California painter Thomas Kinkade, variously known as America's most collected artist, the only artist traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and the Painter of Light*. Here was an artist who has five galleries devoted solely to his work in the Houston area alone, whose fans own three, ten, 20 of his paintings (at around $1,000 a pop), and who – here's the kicker – advertises on television. Yet until two days before, I had never heard of the guy.

The three of us, having successfully infiltrated the Laura Ashley set, were soon casting politely inscrutable glances at each other, the message of which boiled down to this: As much scorn as we could easily heap on Kinkade's treacly little paintings, never had more than 600 people paid $15 a head to get my autograph, and never had my friends received a standing ovation the minute they walked on a stage to talk about their art.

Thomas Kinkade makes the ultimate Republican paintings. Unlike Norman Rockwell, to whom Kinkade compares himself, he depicts the world as he would like it to be rather than as it is, steeping everything in a pickling fluid of hazy golden light. His cozy cottages glow with hearthfire (his galleries are equipped with dimmers so you can see how the paintings seem to light up in the darkness). His gardens bloom lavishly. Trellises dangle above clear rivers, dew-coated stone bridges span twinkling streams. Mountains, untrammeled by timber companies or pollutants, rise in salute of America the Beautiful in all its God-fearing glory.

Like his paintings, Kinkade's rehearsed version of his life story seemed too idyllic to be true: He married his childhood sweetheart, taught himself to paint, risked his life savings to do his first print (which sold out and is now worth a lot of money), had four daughters and inscribes the first initial of his wife, Nanette, in secret places on his paintings in acknowledgment of her contribution to his life. His collectors and dealers believe that Kinkade is close to the Lord, and he encourages the notion that his business is actually a ministry: When you buy one of his paintings, he told the crowd, you "light a candle."

Which is not to say that his work appeals only to Christians. Media Arts Group, Inc., the company that has made Thomas Kinkade's name into a "lifestyle brand" a la Martha Stewart, has deals with Avon, Hallmark, La-Z-Boy and most recently, U.S. Home (which will build houses based on those in Kinkade's paintings). His collectors are women (79 percent), homeowners (87 percent), empty nesters (66 percent) and rich (46 percent average $80,000 annually). The company trades on Kinkade's appeal for "just about everyone"; every American wall is a sales opportunity, and national trends toward "nesting" and "cocooning" are viewed as favorable to Media Arts's business climate.

It didn't take much for Kinkade to sustain his audience's conviction that he's the real thing. His cute daughter dispensed chintzy prizes (Beanie Babies she decorated herself) to the couple who had been married the longest and the couple who had the most kids. I was surprised she didn't also give a prize to the person who owned the most Kinkades, although the artist did ask for a show of hands on that issue too. Kinkade made a small (I think it was $2,000) donation to a local charity in the form of one of those giant, camera-friendly checks.

Kinkade's success irked me, the way it irks me that the Alley Theatre's schmaltz-laden musical Jekyll & Hyde could go on to enjoy a critic-defying success on Broadway (not to mention the way it irks me that the Alley spells theatre as if that were somehow better than theater). Yet it also humbled me. Here was an artist whose work real people craved, people who saved their money to buy the latest limited edition (Kinkade's originals, apparently worth a few hundred thousand dollars apiece, are not for sale; instead, they are reprinted on canvases and highlighted by hand). I felt like an art snob. I thought about buying stock.

Of course, much of the credit for Kinkade's success goes to his efficient marketing machine, which works overtime to assure the collector that she is getting something important. Unlike installations, ephemeral art, site-specific works, tubs of Jell-O, naked people coated in liquid latex, and other contemporary art statements that have made appearances in Houston of late, Kinkade's paintings have clear monetary value and a strict hierarchy of price. In a marketing scheme whose pretension is akin to theatre, Kinkade has standard numbered prints, artist proofs, gallery proofs, publisher proofs, international proofs, atelier national and international editions, renaissance editions and studio proofs. Kinkade understands that Walter Benjamin was wrong when he predicted that mechanical reproduction would decrease an image's value: He's got calendars and address books, Hallmark cards and tapestries. One in 20 American homes, according to the company's Web site, is graced by a Thomas Kinkade image.

This doesn't mean, of course, that artists should start watching reruns of The Joy of Painting and setting up their easels en masse on misty mornings. The idea that art should, as Kinkade so cleverly does, give the public what they want has already been made mincemeat of by Komar and Melamid, the Soviet emigres who poll viewers to find out what colors, scenes and elements they want in their art and make paintings such as America's Most Wanted, which features a lot of blue, a nature scene and a portrait of George Washington. It's a really ugly painting.

While I didn't see Kinkade's landscapes, homes and (for the adventurous) "impressionistic plein-air works" as particularly interesting in and of themselves, I was interested in how his work related to contemporary art's much-lamented "failure" to reach a "mainstream" audience. (The presumption is, of course, that art should reach a mainstream audience, which I'm not so sure about.) According to critic Dave Hickey, who has been at one end of the debate over this issue for several years, the problem has been contemporary art's rejection of the beautiful in favor of the virtuous. Since beauty sells, Hickey wrote in 1993, ridiculing the art world for its horror of commercialism, beauty is suspect. The network of museums and nonprofit art spaces – "therapeutic institutions," Hickey calls them – fails to avail itself of "the subversive potential of visual pleasure."

Of course, to carry Hickey's love of mass culture and commercialism to its very extreme (which I don't think Hickey really wants to do) is to get stuck with Thomas Kinkade. Left in Kinkade's hands, the subversive potential of beauty drains away instantly. If, as Hickey argues, Robert Mapplethorpe used beauty to persuade viewers of the glory of gay sex, then Kinkade uses it to persuade his viewers of the glory of singsong family values – not a challenging task. If beauty is a rhetorical tool, Hickey says, one can distinguish among "the most beautiful image," which simply appeals to the most people, "the most effective beautiful image," which makes the most extreme set of values palatable to the most people, and the "most efficient beautiful image," which sneaks transgressive content into the homes of the elite and influential. Kinkade's work falls under the first category, and therein lies its weakness. It doesn't persuade anyone of anything new.

Hickey's beauty juggernaut has gone on long enough, and been influential enough, to have given rise to a backlash. In the extended multicultural symposium that was the art world of the late '80s and early '90s, Hickey's theories could be used as an excuse to go home early. Because of that, they've recently been attacked (wrongly, I think) as patriarchal and exclusionary. Although Hickey never has to my knowledge advocated a universal beauty – to him, visual pleasure is a tool artists forgot to use rather than an absolute measure of quality – he has been assailed both for asserting white, male privilege in resuscitating beauty and for pandering to the masses. The former charge rings hollow; the latter somewhat true. Writing in a Los Angeles art magazine whose latest issue was primarily devoted to beauty-bashing, Peter Lunenfeld called Hickey's position defeatist: "If you can't beat the middlebrow, why not join it."

Hickey attacks the fact that artists decline to give the market what it demands as a petulant refusal to acknowledge the audience, and accuses the nonprofits set up to handle this nonmarketable art of neutering art's power – and in both cases he is providing a valuable service. The resentment comes, I suppose, because Hickey has not critiqued the market itself in terms of the escapist, Republican pablum that can gain ascendancy there. Is it really fair for Hickey to champion the tastes of the people and ignore Thomas Kinkade? It's true that the market has room for many, many opinions, but market forces tend to push product in one direction. Hickey may use the market as a whip for an art world that depends in no small part on market-free but agenda-laden charity funds. But he can't claim that all that sells is good.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Opening to the Future?

The Rockland Free Press reports that energy magnate
Matthew Simmons has assembled a group that plans to buy the former MBNA complex on the South End of Rockland's waterfront. Simmons, who has already contributed to Rockland's rebirth by injecting millions of dollars into the rehabilitation of the Strand Theater , now plans to use the waterfront facility to site a Water Institute, which he describes as a place:
where research scientists could work in a collaborative environment on energy issues related to fresh and salt water, may take two to three years to come to fruition. “The idea was on hold until we got the building.… Now I can gear up and spend more time on it. In the meantime we can make the building a viable commercial success. It will be good for the midcoast.”
The Courier Gazette provides this account of the planned agreement.

In a case of interesting timing, last Sunday's NY Times Magazine included a cover story that posed the philosophical question following its headline,
What Should A Billionaire Give -- namely, "Why should a billionaire give?"

Pondering the author's self-interest v. altruism conundrum is all well and good, but in the end, I won't worry about Mr. Simmons' motives so long as the ends provide Rockland with reasonably open access to its harborside and a good faith effort to use the property as a means of injecting an economic development ethos into the city's imagination.

Out with the old

It appears that last summer's
Matinicus Lobster War has achieved a measure of finality, at least for the time. The matter, which I addressed some time back, involved one lobsterman's territorial battle with a group of lobstermen over the privilege to fish waters off the island of Matinicus. It appears that shotguns and cut lines have yielded no more than a $300 fine for the 74 year old fisherman.

In a follow-up to a previously mentioned story, it also appears that CC prosecutors and celebrity lawyer Tom Connolly have agreed to erase the stain of terrorism charges from Connolly's record in exchange for community service and a public apology. Maine Things Considered had this audio report. The lawyer, who gained fame for taking up the cause of convicted murderer Dennis Dechaine in the late 1980s and for revealing details about President Bush's DUI conviction during the 2000 presidential campaign, apparently will make amends by undertaking community service in the name of toy gun safety and donating $500 to the Bruce Roberts Christmas Fund.

In With The New

Looks like the lawyer charged with drafting a Winthrop couple's pre-nup may not get a Christmas card from his deceased client's family this year. Not to mention the sa-weet deal on a used Grenada they had lined up for him …

The little I recall from Family Law I tells me that Courts generally aren't too fond of prenuptial agreements and will strictly pour through them when their enforceability is challenged. As with employment non-compete agreements, anyone who wants to deprive another party of rights that Americans generally regard as sacrosanct better get a good lawyer if she wants to emerge from a court's inquiry with their intended meanness intact.

Permit me to cross reference a piece blogged over at
Words Matter, suggesting that Lewiston stands on the verge of the rebirth so long predicted for it. I guess that the years of TIF creation, mill rehabbing-as-office/retail/restaurant space, and PR spending a-go-go, are starting to pay dividends -- in part due to the advent of Portland commuters into the city's social scene. Interesting related note that I sadly can only reference in passing, as The New Yorker featured a story about Somalis living in Lewiston but carrying on the difficult clan-tensions that divided their homeland. The link only goes to an online exclusive slideshow, as the magazine opted against posting the whole story on the website. I guess I'll have to search out a Dec. 11 issue or wait for Lexis to post it next week.

Scarborough appears poised to become the host of Maine's first large-scale
Smart Growth development, after years of struggling through a referendum and a lawsuit. The Press Herald provided this editorial on Wednesday, recognizing:
One of the hard lessons of Dunstan Corner is that fighting sprawl will require trade-offs. Density in already-populated areas will have an impact on neighborhood traffic conditions. It will bring more students to certain schools. It could even affect property values.

If developers are going to be able to do these kinds of projects, they need towns and cities to have clear zoning rules and to stick by their approvals -- even if that means limiting citizen petition rights.

The payoff will be development that occurs where it makes sense, near existing sewer, water, school and police and fire services. Every dense development in an already populated area will mean less demand for houses in the countryside, preserving open space.

All that is good public policy, but it won't be to everyone's liking. Making the kind of fundamental changes required to alter the existing pattern of development in Maine means big changes.

If sprawl is to be stopped, people have to live differently than they do in other parts of the country. But then again, isn't that what we're trying to preserve in Maine?

Here's a provocative piece by Doug Most in last Sunday's Boston Globe Magazine that questions Tom Brady and David Ortiz for their practice of sharing tips with their counterparts on other teams. Taking a hardline, Most opines:
Helping a Little Leaguer who’s struggling to throw strikes is admirable. Helping an opponent in the pros is not. Obviously, players today are friends. They share the same agents, same endorsements, same colleges, same tax brackets, and they go out to dinner when they visit for games. They might have even played for the same team at some point, thanks to free agency. That’s all fine. But their friendship mustn’t weaken their competitiveness. It’s called Sports, not Games, and it’s big business. Winning and losing do matter. The difference between the Patriots finishing second instead of first means millions of dollars to the team and the city, not to mention heartache to the loyal fans.

Now, that's not very sporting, is it?

The Christian Science Monitor features a piece headlined
New Hampshires Live Free or Die spirit turns less prickly.

Congressional Democrats have apparently drafted a
manifesto of sorts describing their plan for fixing America.

The Boston Herald's Michael Felger provides a decent feature on
Vinnie Testaverde and his impact on Tom Brady.

BH columnist Howie Carr gets cutesy about
Mitt Romney and his apparent capitulation to the PC police.

A South Bristol story involving a summer resident and tree removal from another person's property within the town's Shoreland Zone
continues to fester.

Final thought

The American Prospect highlights Massachusetts Governor-elect Deval Patrick as a rising star within the party. The article suggests that a new wave of aggressive trial lawyers-types turned Governors, including Patrick, New York's Eliot Spitzer, and Ohio's Ted Strickland, are going to create a Progressive backlash to the New Federalist revolution of the 1980s-2000 where states exercising their power free of Congressional efforts to stymie, yield results that Republicans will find a bit unpalatable:
The action in government has been in the states for a while now. “The federal government has increasingly devolved decision-making to the governors,” says Peter Dreier, the E.P Clapp distinguished professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles. This was, in part, an ideological shift: The Gingrich Revolution trumpeted its renewed federalism, enhancing state authority over everything from welfare to Medicaid. States can’t deficit spend, so handing them once-federal responsibilities under the rubric of a restored federalism promised to shrink the expansiveness, generosity, and responsiveness of government services. Federalist lipstick? Meet small-government pig.
Reminds me of a book I read about called Redefining Federalism, which, like the Prospect article, harkens back to Justice Louis Brandeis' note that "It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." The book's jacket copy notes:
If federalism is about protecting the states, why not listen to them? In the last decade, the Supreme Court has reworked significant areas of constitutional law with the professed purpose of protecting the dignity and authority of the states, while frequently disregarding the states' views as to what federalism is all about. The Court, according to the states, is protecting federalism too much and too little. Too much, in striking down federal law where even the states recognize that a federal role is necessary to address a national problem. Too little, in inappropriately limiting state experimentation.

Fine points.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

To Be Filed Under "Ill Conceived"

Hopefully, this is apt on only one level. But ... I found myself so inspired by
Wisdom Weasel in his recent reflection upon Brit Rockers and Christmas that I've decided to open a new door in bloggery.

In what may prove to be the first in a series of installments, I present (apologies or thanks to Craig Kilborn -- you choose): Your moment of zen

Fanning the Flames ...

Thanks to AP photographer Jeff Chiu for this pic of Al Gore gesturing to the audience at the American Geophysical Convention in San Francisco, on Dec. 14. Might as well be a collection of everyone who's tried to push him into the ring for the 2008 Presidential election.

The Washington Post provides the first story I've seen in some time that
considers Gore, the non-candidate, as a candidate. The story observes, quoting the former veep:

"I am not planning to run for president again," Gore said last week, arguing that his focus is raising public awareness about global warming and its dire effects. Then, he added: "I haven't completely ruled it out."

Those words make Gore the 800-pound non-candidate of the Democratic field. The
possibility of another presidential bid delights many Democrats still steamed over the disputed 2000 election, in which they argue a few more votes, a state other than Florida and a different Supreme Court could have put Gore, not George W. Bush, in the White House.
The Post article also provides a few other interesting points in quoting a prominent Democratic organizer from 2004:

Despite his protestations to the contrary, some Democratic strategists believe
Gore could be persuaded to enter the race and will wait to see how the field
shakes out before making a final decision.

Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's Internet-fueled presidential campaign in 2004, said Gore would be a formidable candidate and could probably wait longer than others to enter the field.

"If anything, he's more relevant than anyone in the race because of his positions on the war and global warming," Trippi said. "And that's really tough to do in the Democratic Party, which treats its failed presidential candidates like members of leper colony."
I've said it numerous times before, but let me repeat it – Al Gore is best situated among the likely contenders to win the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination. I note this on the heals of last week's nod to the recent spell of Obama v Hillary hype.

In the words of the sages,
Don't Believe the Hype!

Sure, his non-candidacy is about the most buried 2008 Dem story about any in the field, most presently amidst the news that
Evan Bayh won't run, but Gore's former running mate John Edwards will. M/M Edwards were on Hardball themselves last week, sending whatever remaining obvious flags were needed to signal the candidacy was imminent.

But, history suggests that Gore is positioning himself. Political animal
Dick Morris clearly knows something about it. The February Academy Awards will surely focus on An Inconvenient Truth, thus providing Gore with another round of free, feel-good, pre-candidacy press.

In early 1967, Richard Nixon's campaign for the 1968 nomination was still equivocal. He spent late 1966 successfully campaigning for Republican House candidates and thereafter declared a six-month moratorium on any discussions of his own political future. As this February 1967 piece from Time Magazine observes, while Nixon stayed out, he allowed the press's new darling, George Romney to self-destruct:

As some of Romney's support began to erode, Richard Nixon, the G.O.P.'s perennial workhorse, began to shape up as its potential dark horse as well. Clearing the Track. The former Vice President had supposedly disavowed politics for six months following the G.O.P.'s election victories last November. Nonetheless, his backers came out in the open to promote the notion that Nixon, a dedicated party performer of proven ability, was preferable to the unknown quantity that Romney continues to be. On the eve of the G.O.P. meeting, Nebraska's Fred Seaton, Interior Secretary under President Eisenhower, sent letters to all committeemen and state chairmen eulogizing Nixon as "the single Republican with the stature, the requisite abilities and the qualities of leadership essential to unite us and maintain our current momentum." More discreetly, Nixon fanciers were hard at work clearing the track for their steed.

(note: big props to Time for free archiving some of its articles of old and arranging with Google for prominent search result listings).

Again thanks to Time, Nixon didn't formally announce until
January 1968. By then, he appeared as the reliable veteran politically centered between liberal Republican Nelson Rockerfeller and conservative dogmatist Ronald Reagan. Once Reagan was out of the picture by June, Nixon merely needed to tow the line against Rockerfeller while rallying the base against LBJ's failing Vietnam strategy from the hawkish position.

Witness: Obama, excites many as untested newcomer who seeks to recast ideas owned by the other party (family values) in the vernacular of a new vision of liberalism. That was George Romney's campaign in 1967. Sen. Clinton is the odds-on favorite, who is recognized as politically untrustworthy by liberal loyalists and still raises doubts about "electability" among the moderates whose politics most closely mirror those on which she will run.
Reagan, maybe? And John Edwards ... well, it doesn't line up that perfectly, but I guess somebody has to be Rockerfeller, so why not him.

My point is that Gore, assuming he has been running for the nomination all along, has been playing the same hand that Nixon played in 1967 as he moved toward clinching the 1968 nomination.

Still, time seems to pass more quickly in 2007 than it did in 1967. That
is the spirit of what Post Media Notes Columnist
Howard Kurtz observed midweek, in a column that symbolically led with a discussion of the Obama craze – that Gore is "still a possible candidate, whose luster dims the longer he remains indecisive on the sidelines."

While here, nice bit of smirkiness by this NY Post columnist, who calls Obama the semi-official Rorschach Candidate of 2008, as he:

is the one who provokes enthusiasm not because of the positions he takes but because of who he is. He doesn't seem like a politician; he seems to be better than a politician -- fresh, new, different . . .
And we all know how long that can dissipate. Newsweek is already ready to pounce.

Despite all of his protests, the former Veep cannot escape endorsements. Former President Jimmy Carter, who has also been in the
my thoughts of late, seems to be pushing for a Gore candidacy as evidenced by his comments on Hardball in late November. Carter said:

I encouraged him so much in 2004 to run that he finally said, 'Mr. President, please do not bother me about this any more. My family and I have decided I'm not going to run.' He almost got angry with me. But I don't have that much doubt, first of all, that Al Gore was elected president by votes in Florida and throughout the nation in the year 2000. And I think, had he run in the year 2004 he would have won. And if I had to choose now a candidate out of all the ones that exist, at this point, at least, Al Gore would still be my preference.
A contributor to Huffington Post provides this plea, observing:

Never in the history of either political party can I think of any potential candidate or potential President as commander-in-chief qualified as you are, today.

After eight years of a catastrophic President so uninterested in world affairs that he did not even travel the world as a student, tourist or Governor before assuming the most powerful job on earth I believe that qualifications, experience, judgment and knowledge will be the hallmark qualities needed in our next President.

Instant update: My Yahoo mail update just revealed a
MoveOnDotOrg message from ... guess who? Here's some of the text:
Dear MoveOn member,

I want to thank you for being a part of the See the Truth movie parties this past Saturday and for helping make them such a huge success. Tens of thousands of us came together to start mobilizing to take on the climate crisis.

I know from personal experience that the only thing which will move Washington to action is the sight of millions of people coming together and pushing for change—and we can't afford to wait any longer. That's why I'm asking you to sign this online petition to your representative, demanding immediate action to stop global warming. If you sign it, I'll personally deliver your comments to Congress in the new year.

After you've signed on, please take a moment to pass this on to your friends and family and ask them to sign on. We've bought the DVD, seen the movie and spread the word about global warming. Now we have to organize to stop it. I'm ready to push for real solutions, but I need your help.

MoveOn members have been an incredible force for good in the last few years, and you should be very proud of what you've accomplished. The challenges we face are enormous, and we know that we can't trust Washington to do the right thing without intense pressure from good folks around the country. But you've shown everyone that political will truly is a renewable resource.

I look forward to working together. Thanks for all you do, Big Al
Well there you go. The fight goes on, and so does the media coverage. At some point, the former Veep is going to have to decide and come out from behind the global warming message. If it works, it will be marked-down as one of the most brilliant political campaign strategies in history. If it fails, and it was always his intention to seek the nomination, it will go down as one of the most ill conceived strategies. As with 1967, I guess we'll have to watch to see how things play out between now and next January.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Proof that Europeans have it Right

It's the philanthropy that really makes it nice.

Thanks to our friends at the AP for this fine photo of Miss Universe, Alexandra Rosenfeld, Miss France 2006, as she plays foosball with children at a Boys and Girls Club in Burbank, Calif., on Monday, July 10, 2006.

Foozball has re-entered my consciousness of late, and not merely due to Ms. Rosenfeld's philanthropic effect. More importantly, I offer thanks to Canada Mike who recently set-up his
Million Dollar Game table and welcomed me to rechristen it a few weeks back.

Today, disagreement ensued as to the proper spelling of the game, which I learned at the fine
institution of finer learning where I spent my salad days. Canada Mike observed:

Foos (it's "S" man - "S"):
Results 1 - 10 of about 862,000 for foos.
Results 1 - 10 of about 94,700 for fooz

He added that he "just re-perfected my off-the-back-of-the-keeper-into-the-net-through-the-air shot of awesomeness."
I'll withhold the full bluster of my reply, but sufficed to say, I disagreed with his insistence on the European usage and barred him from using it until he could beat me. And silly-arsed novelty shot or no silly-arsed novelty shot, that isn't happening anytime soon so long as my push is as effective as it was last week. I be frat guy, hear me boast.

Upon viewing Ms. Rosenfeld's mad skills, I might be inclined to at least permit limited, or dual usage of "foos" along with my preferred spelling. You know, like in

Monday, December 11, 2006

Floating adrift through December

Offering one last image of the Fall as we lower our helmets and press on into the winter.

first snows have fallen, and the holiday season is imminent. Also imminent is the birth of Bambino Secundo. All the ladies in the house sing woo woo.

I dunno. There's probably all kinds of stuff happening out there, but it's been a little
difficult to focus of late.

There's the matter of the Augusta Memorial Bridge, which crews have been busily de-glorifying over the past two weeks by attaching the suicide-prevention fence I mentioned some time back. On the matter of the bridge, I found
a Flickr user page which stands as a beautiful homage to Augusta - the city to which nobody ever thinks to pay homage. I was discussing this element of Flickr with the Mrs. last night, observing that Flickr provides a great medium for folks to honor the places that make them happiest. In the process, those places receive the otherwise non-public treatment that tends to show them at their most splendid. Anyway, what follows below is one in a series of pix recently posted by the fella capturing the bridge at its most mystical and lovely.

Speaking of mystical and lovely ...

In my earlier vintages, I used to take great joy in making an annual Columbus Day pilgrimage through the White Mountains National Forest along New Hampshire's
Kancamagus Highway. One of the more peculiar and charming resources available to folks like me was this radio station, maintained by some governmental agency (National Forest Service? NH D.O.T.?) at the far left of the radio dial (cue: Replacements Song of the same name)

Anyway, the Guvhah announced last week that he would not be outdone by anything put forth by the free livin' & dyin' neighbors to the West by christening a
Maine radio station, hearable at 1640 AM anywhere near Maine State Police truck weigh-stations. While it sounds a bit different-in-focus than the poor-man's Thoreau stuff put out over the NH station, it merits a mention nonetheless.

Context Free Quick Hits

The Patriots
are in trouble. Big Trouble and it could get worse.

The Red Sox are

While I don't think I'm dying like the folks described in
this Village Soup article, I think I've been beset by whatever is causing it and it ain't no fun.

Washington Post's
EJ Dionne projects ahead to the impending Hillary-Obama battle for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination. Makes for a nice follow-up to this cover story in November's Atlantic Monthly titled, "Take Two: How Hillary Clinton turned herself into the consummate Washington player." The gist is that Hillary has brilliantly evolved into one of the most effective Senators on the Hill, but by doing so, she might be hurting her chances of becoming a strong Presidential candidate -- i.e. she reaches across the aisle too much to be the kind of hating partisan that the Democrats need to rally the troops in 2008. Nice excerpt:
But few in the Senate today would deny that, whatever her motives, Clinton is
diligent about her work there, and successful in ways that have moderated her
image. Her deft touch with conservative colleagues has thus far neutralized the
Republican National Committee’s strategy of getting people to put her in the
same mental category as bumbling liberals like Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean.
She’s no easy target. Her partnerships were deemed so successful in moderating
her image that Karl Rove, according to a source close to him, sent word last
year to halt Republican cooperation with her—an edict that has been ignored. As
the atmosphere in Washington has deteriorated, Clinton has emerged within the
Senate as the unlikeliest of figures: she, not George W. Bush, has turned out to
be a uniter, not a divider.

What she might do next vexes many in the Democratic Party. As Hillary Clinton has worked to establish her place in the Senate, she has also been central in the effort to build up a new party infrastructure. Democrats now seem poised for a comeback—perhaps as soon as this month’s elections. But many worry that Clinton will soon go further and decide to seek the presidency. Should she win the nomination but lose the election, they believe, the party could suffer incalculable damage.

Over the last six months, Clinton has given a series of important policy speeches designed to fortify her national profile. Most people, including her closest advisers,
believe this to be the groundwork for a presidential bid. Clinton has become a
vocal critic of the president and, gingerly, of the war she voted to support—even as that vote has begun to eclipse everything else she has done.

The story of Clinton’s Senate career mirrors that of her political life generally: a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement. It provides a showcase for her very considerable skills. But it also points up her core liabilities as she prepares to move from the New York stage and back to the national one. Maybe one way to frame the question is this: Can a woman who has made herself small enough for the Senate be big enough for the country?
Perhaps my favorite part of the Atlantic treatise is this nice bit about foreign trips Senators take together:
The story of one such trip, to Estonia, recently brought to light by The New
York Times, gives a flavor of what Clinton is like in these settings. At a
casual dinner with Senate colleagues Graham, John McCain, and Susan Collins, all
Republicans, the waiter followed local custom by bringing a bottle of vodka and
shot glasses, whereupon Clinton reached over and began pouring; a drinking
contest ensued.

McCain’s staff seemed pained by the revelation, and declined my request for an interview, because the last thing a Republican presidential hopeful wants floating around in the media is word that he’s becoming booze pals with Hillary Clinton. And McCain denied the story to Jay Leno. But when I recently intercepted him walking through the Capitol, McCain lit up at the recollection. “It’s been fifty years since I’d been in a drinking game,” said McCain, who as a former naval aviator knows whereof he speaks. He added, admiringly, “She can really hold her liquor.”
If nothing else, this point ought to convince a few of the moderates who have never embraced the former first lady.

This just in -- Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet is still dead.

The Post provides this reflection on the
the pain caused to Chile by Pinochet.


There is the Israel-Palestine debate.

Or, as the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine observed with respect to college campuses a few weeks back, the
lack of debate about Israel and Palestine:
The question for students and administrators at Brandeis, UC Irvine, Penn State,
and other schools is this: Why is it so hard to talk about Israel in an open,
civil, and constructive manner? After all, our college campuses have long
provided a forum for discussing the nation's most divisive and controversial
issues - including date rape, racism, abortion, and gay rights. So why, exactly,
is the subject of Israel so difficult to discuss?
Pretty timely, considering how strangely President Jimmy Carter's is being received.

Here's a recent Op/Ed Carter himself
penned on the topic of criticism against his use of "apartheid" in describing Israel's treatment of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.

President Carter in his finest Presidential moment, flanked by Egyptian Premier Anwar Sadat and Israeli P.M. Menachem Begin, who just inked the Camp David Accords settling the peace between the leaders' two countries.

This op/ed provides
another reflectionin the Washington Post. Here is another piece from Newsweek.

I first heard about this matter on
Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which you can hear in its entirity at the link.

Here's an NPR transcript of a discussion about the hub-bub with some longtime
foreign policy heavyweights, including Carter's former National Security Advisor with the crazy name with a bunch of "z"s and "b"s and "g"s in it.

No more reflection on it today, other than to say that I think Carter is right. I hope to read his book to be able to better explain why. Sufficed to say that Carter is fully divorced from any interational politics of interest, other than those which advance the interests of international justice. And right now, justice demands that Israel change the way it treats the Palestinians.