Friday, December 30, 2011

Try To Remember..........

                                  The Obamas Caucus Night 2008
As the Republican Party decides whether self-immolation is the route to political victory in 2012 with the Iowa Caucuses only days away, I was reminded of what it was like four years ago.  Four years ago on December 31, 2007, the Dem Moines Register published its final poll prior to the Caucus.  Most polls showed a three-way tie between Edwards, Clinton and Obama.  Then came the Register's poll which finally showed a decisive lead for Barack Obama at 32%, with Clinton at 25% and Edwards at 24%. (The results would be 38% for Obama; 30% Edwards, 29% Clinton).

It was at that moment when Obama supporters no longer feared the same fate as Dean in 2004. Of course we still feared it was an outlier  but the Obama movement was real.  A few days later, Iowa helped change the face of American politics with Obama's big win in the caucuses. 

I remember vividly the excitement of that New Year's Eve when the poll was published and discussed by many of us on Daily Kos.  Those of us who endorsed Obama early in 2007 did so for the simple reason that of the main Democratic candidates he was the only one with a clear and forthright record of opposition to the Iraq War.  That was why so many of us gave him money, volunteered in his campaign and manned the Internets for his candidacy.  

Many of us had just as fervently  supported Howard Dean in 2004, but the Iowa campaign had been run in a dismal fashion.  The Democrats settled on Senator Kerry who was for the war before he was against it or something like that.  Bush won in 2004 handing many of us a most bitter defeat.  It was one thing to steal the election in 2000,  but no one even when the Supreme Court was handing him the presidency knew then  just what a miserable failure he would be.  By Novemeber 2004, it was obvious to myself and millions of others the evil of Bush/Cheney.  

That's why Obama's caucus win in 2008 was the most exhilarating evening I've ever felt in politics. I thought that the people finally got it--we needed a decisive break from Bush and his war and the Clinton era that preceded it.   

I was one of the few diehards who did not get misty eyed that November night in 2008, feeling more relief than joy.  The joy had come once on Iowa caucus night.  After that, it was a long hard slog. 
I knew on election night that the task of fundamental change was monumental.  And though the President has outraged many of us Progressives, his inherent decency and the indecency of his opposition unites us.  More importantly, as I have told friends over and over, we cannot judge President Obama by any other standard than the standard of other Presidents.  I cannot judge him by the standard of my own Congressman Rep. Jerrold Nadler. 

By that standard,  that makes him the best president of my lifetime.  Obviously better than all the Republicans and better than Johnson (Vietnam), Carter (Carter), and Clinton (the best Republican President of my lifetime).   Of course, the corporate and military empire of the United States is still one of the main impediments to a re-structuring of domestic and world priorities, but politics is the art of the possible.  Right now, Obama is the most possible progressive tendency in the United States Government.  But there's a part of me deep down thinks Ron Paul's critique of  the alliance between big business, big government and big military would  be the best path--if he weren't such a crank.

So to Iowa Caucus goers, I say vote your hearts!  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  That means the most principled non-crazy right-winger who loves fetuses and hates queers more than anyone else.  Yes, vote Santorum!  Early and often!  Let's make 2012 a clear choice. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nightmare on 53rd St.

Art as backdrop.....
Today, I decided to pay one more visit to the de Kooning retrospective at the MoMA before it closes for good next week.  Having lived here for over 20 years, I know that the MoMA has become almost impossible to visit except on Tuesdays when it is closed to the public and various art educator events go on.  I have been to crowded museums in many places, but what I witnessed today was unprecedented--artwork being manhandled by adults and children and guards letting it happen.

Apparently the MoMA has no limits on how many people can be jammed into their $25 carnival of Modern Art. Yankee fucking Stadium has a seating capacity. Does the MoMA have a limitless capacity?  Are there no fire marshals?  The world's greatest collection of Modern Art is being presented in the most crass, disgusting anti-art atmosphere I have ever seen. The noise level is unbearable, the screaming children omnipresent and every artwork a mere photo op. The trustees and directors of this museum should be ashamed of themselves.  This museum is a shithole.  Period.  

Problem number one is that they place no limits on the amount of visitors because all they care about is making that $25 dollars, not making sure that the kind of care and time and talent that went into producing many of the works on view deserves some kind of reciprocal respect.  I'm sure Ronald Lauder is never around when the rabble is present.  How much money does the museum have to generate?  Is all the money going to the poorly paid clerks and guards?

Problem number two is that the Museum thinks that its good for business to have every tourist snapping pictures instead of looking at the art.  It's not even that they are taking pictures so much as taking pictures of themselves with the artwork. Every artwork is a photo op. The great Pollock painting above was just a backdrop for a slew of pretty girls to pose and mug and post the pic on Facebook asap.  This is the culture we live in.  Technology giveth but it taketh awayeth a lot.  Pity the poor soul who trekked in from Sydney on his first trip to the United States to view his favorite artist Jackson Pollock.... All photography should be banned at the museum.  Take a picture of yourself outside the museum in front of the MoMA sign.

Worse than anything I have described was the rampant touching of the artwork by museum visitors.  I verbally castigated a guard who was asleep at the wheel as usual as a Judd brass box was finger pawed by several children. That work always looks like its been treated like shit and the Judd Foundation should have it removed from the museum. A Lee Bontecu relief became the source for much amusement and was banged several times by visitors posing in front of it.  The worst treatment of all was reserved for a recent acquisition, a De Wain Valentine 1966 fiberglass/polyester sculpture and gift from Marie Josee and Henry Kravis last year (see photo above).  Unfortunately, the museum doesn't think too much of that gift since it lets passerby after passerby cop a feel.  I saw at least 5 people in 15 minutes touch it as they walked by.  One hapless guard can't see everything.  Eventually this beautiful gleaming example of West Coast Minimalism brought to the New York art world's attention by Tim Nye will look as shabby as the Judd does. 

That's why Donald Judd left for Marfa.  He knew that museum people didn't ultimately care about the preservation of artworks so much as the preservation of their careers.  I will be writing at length about Judd's vision in Marfa in the coming weeks but the man cared more about art than the trustees of the MoMA and the people who run the museum.  I used to lament that Dia:Beacon was 90 minutes from the City, but now I see that as one of its great strengths.  Keep the art as far away from the people as possible.  That's the only way it will physically survive unless a whole new set of policies are put in place.

I was amused by how the the curators decided to mix things up a bit and so I saw LOTS of work by Marcel Broodthaers and Daniel Buren from the newly acquired Daled Collection. This dreary assortment particularly by the supremely overrated French hack Daniel Buren was the one empty gallery in the entire museum.  Yes, it was those tarps of stripes that the Octoberists masturbate to.  Lots of snickers at the sublime Ryman painting Twin 1966, though.   That one had people wondering WTF.  But it's easily one of the 10 best works in the entire museum.  I can also say that I finally saw a Lawrence Weiner work that was great--a drywall cutout and a Robert Barry piece from 1968 that looked a little too much like a Fred Sandback for comfort.  It's too bad that we can't see work here in New York by the only great artist produced by the whole Institutional Critique genre--Michael Asher, instead we get  Broodthaers and Buren who are like double doses of chemotherapy.  

Happy New Year!

      TWENTY-SEVEN  acrylic on canvas  38 x 145.5”

Willem de Kooning at MoMA

I made my second visit to the Willem de Kooning retrospective because the exhibition closes in a few days and I had not yet written about it.   The gushing reviews by critics like Barry Schwabsky in The Nation and Howard Halle in TONY seemed to capture my general feeling. However I don't agree that there wasn't a bad painting in the show.  There were quite a few crummy ones, particularly from the 50s throughout the late 70s.  

The early works are stunning in their utter virtuosity with both drawing and painting.  From the portraits to the pink angels of the early 40s to the black and white paintings to the titanic achievements of Attic and Excavation in 1950 it was a singular march towards greatness.  Then came the Women.  The Women suck.  They are gimmicky and dumb.  It was a bad lapse.  I now have to say once again that Greenberg was correct.  The abstract paintings that immediately followed in '53-'55 (using the same palette as the Women) were very good--Gotham News and Interchange among them.  But then decades of mediocrity follow. The big brash abstract paintings like Merrit Parkway don't hold up. Few of these do except for 1960's Door to the River.  I know this will be heretical to some, but second generation de Kooning acolytes like Michael Goldberg and Al Leslie were arguably making better paintings than Bill at this point.  

The 1960s were not a good decade for de Kooning witness the Sag Harbor stuff.  It's only in the late 70s that his paintings appear to become more focused and not so forced.  And then seemingly out of nowhere in the 1980s we get the astonishing late paintings. These are his greatest works and among the greatest paintings in Modern Art. The effortless flow of line, the white light that animates the entire surface, the lack of clutter and abex bravado (the letting go of a certain weightiness).  These are timeless works.  They are familiar yet look like nothing that had come before.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Helen The Bridge Dead at 83

Few artists in the New York School of the past 70 years have had as privileged a life and background as Helen Frankenthaler, the painter who died yesterday at the age of 83 after a long illness.  She was a glamourous figure in the New York art world and was lovers for some years of Clement Greenberg and then married painter Robert Motherwell years later. She painted some very beautiful paintings.  A few were even great.

But there is a tragic dimension to her that rests on the general consensus that she wasn't a great artist.  Despite getting all the official plaudits and medals this country could bestow on an artist, Frankenthaler never got what she probably most wanted--the recognition of the art world as to her centrality to the evolution of painting after  Abstract Expressionism.

Her main problem was this:  the two most important critical champions of Color Field painting (Greenberg and Freid) rated her below the boys. In Greenberg's canon--after Pollock and Newman came Louis, Noland and then the painter he considered the greatest since Pollock, Jules Olitski.  For Fried, the canon ran from Pollock to Louis, Noland, Stella, Olitski and Caro.   In neither man's writings do we ever get anything about the greatness of Helen Frankenthaler.  She will forever be the bridge-- the bridge from Pollock to the D.C. boys--Louis and Noland. 
And truth be told, she didn't consistently paint anything as good or original as  Louis' Veils or as perfect as Noland's Circles or Chevrons, or as novel as Olitski's controversial spray paintings. 

When the Color Field movement ebbed in the late 60s, abstract painting had entered into the  more reductive anti-color strictures of Ryman, Martin, Baer and Mangold. Louis had died, Noland would eventually become irrelevant and Olitski reinvented himself as the impasto king (eschewing color for surface) and bringing all the other former Color Fielders with him--Poons, Bannard and others.  Helen was left all alone. She never abandoned the basic vocabulary she established with Mountains and Seas 60 years ago.

I'm no believer in the necessity of the romantic idea of the impoverished or tormented artist, but she could have been much better. Louis painted in the tiny living room of his little house.  He had to figure out how to make large works in that space.  With little ventilation, he sucked on the paint vapors for years until they gave him lung cancer and he died.  Helen's studio was bigger than Louis' house.  She could have anything she wanted.  Perhaps her life was too easy and her work became too easy.   

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays

      Patchin Place, West Village, NYC Christmas Eve, 2012  3:34 PM 
                                                       Photo by Max Estenger

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011

"Christopher Hitchens, finest orator of our time, fellow horseman, valiant fighter against all tyrants including God." Richard Dawkins

Christopher Hitchens finally succumbed to his brutal battle with cancer last night in Houston. The New York Times held the presses to make sure the story ran in today's edition.  They put the obit on the front page which is quite the honor for anyone particularly a writer.  His friends loved him dearly.  Those of us who read him loved him most of the time.  He was a great polemicist and so fun to read.  

His final crusade against God in the past four years was a welcome farewell and did mitigate some of the serious damage to his reputation he made in the early 2000s with his fanatical support for Bush's war in Iraq.  He finally had to leave The Nation where I encountered most of his writing for ideological reasons.   His appearances on the cable t.v. political shows were always must-see tv.   There weren't enough of them but it kept his rarity value up.  

His support for Bush's war and his savaging of its critics will not and should not be forgotten.  It was after all, the biggest issue that occurred  in the United States during his 30 years in America and he got it dead wrong.  It was a combination of hubris, loyalty and bad judgment.   I will be interested to see if his old estranged mentor Alexander Cockburn will have anything to say about Hitchens.  One of my favorite Hitchens moments occurred in 2005 in New York City when he faced British MP George Galloway in a bitter debate over Iraq.  But it was Galloway who got in the most Hitchens-like barb: 
"Mr. Hitchens bravely, fanatically you may say, stood against the idea of President George Bush invading Iraq in 1991. What you are — what you have witnessed since is something unique in natural history: the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly back into a slug. And I mention slug purposefully, because the one thing a slug does leave behind it is a trail of slime."

In the meantime, God Is Not Great, one of his last books is highly recommended reading this holiday season and re-reading if you have read it already. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Three Weeks Before Iowa

The battle for the Republican nomination has changed dramatically in the past few weeks with Newt Gingrich emerging as  the new front runner.  No one saw this coming.  Now, the Mitt Romney juggernaut has been derailed. 

Two things happened.  The first was the implosion of Rick Perry as a serious candidate.  After that happened in the early fall, the Cain boomlet began.  Both of these developments were good for Romney.  But then, the ladies started coming from out of every Red Roof Inn, and suddenly the Cain placeholder became free.  Unfortunately for the man from Bain Capital, Cain’s supporters decided to go with Gingrich. 

Gingrich had been the one scoring well on Frank Luntz’s Fox focus groups during the early debates when the rest of us were deriding Gingrich’s churlishness and predictable media bashing.  He always made a point of steering the conversation and the debates back towards the Republican cause:  defeating President Obama.  Of course,  while he was turning off the pundits of both right and left, Gingrich was connecting with the Republican base.

If one starts to see the debates and the campaign threw the eyes of a real Republican partisan—then Gingrich makes sense.  It reminded me of 2004 when many of us Democratic liberal partisans were just as opposed and united in our loathing of Bush/Cheney.  We went all out for Howard Dean.  Dean was filling Bryant Park with 10,000 people in the summer of 2003 representing the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. 

The conventional wisdom is that Democrats fall in love,  while Republicans fall in line when nominating a president.  However, I can think of no instance in the last 40 years,  other than McGovern in 1972 and Obama in 2008 where Democrats fell in love.  Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore were all pragmatic choices.  In some cases, the only reasonable choice.  But  love would not describe the feeling of voters for any of those candidates. 

The Republicans definitely fall in line.  Nixon, Ford, Bush I, Dole, McCain all represented falling in line.  They definitely loved Reagan and they loved Bush Jr. too especially in 2004, in that most bitter re-election following the uber-bitter 2000. 

In 2004,  many of us felt that the only way to challenge and defeat Bush was to take him on on the issue of the war.  It was still not seen by most Americans as the catastrophe  it would soon become and Democrats wer scared of their own shadows then and spooked by the entire war on terror meme and so they nominated that grand wooden soldier  John Kerry.  He ran a bad campaign and still almost beat Bush.  Had he picked a better VP that could have delivered a state who knows what would have been.  But the Democrats of 2004 fell in line and the establishment trashed Dean though not with the same fury that we are seeing right now in the Republican primary.

Mitt Romney winning would be falling in line.  McCain was falling in line and the results speak for themselves.  Why not go with the  emotional outlet of a Gingrich nomination and the cathartic release of the obese turkey necked Newt getting in lithe Obama’s face and calling him out for being the limp-wristed America hating,  welfare-loving,  military hating, queer loving  Kenyan  Socialist Muslim that he is.
They will lose again—perhaps worse than in 2008—but they will feel much better about themselves.  It’s like that iconic moment in 2008 when an older white woman confronted McCain in a town hall and said that Obama was an Arab terrorist.  McCain stopped her in her tracks and said “No ma’am…no ma’am.  He’s a  decent family man, with whom I happen to have some disagreements.”   In 2012, the base wants no such decency.  No such niceties.  It will scare the beejesus out of the vaunted Bucks County swing voters, but so what?!  The base will feel better and yes, they will probably lose but there’s always a slight chance in this economy that they can win……and then….the most radical administration in American history.  In the meantime, despite the fact that Gingrich looks so good right now, expect the establishment to fight back hard.  Romney is still the favorite.  And expect Ron Paul to have his moment, most likely in Iowa.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Fog of Life


The other day, the fog was so thick in the morning that I couldn't see an inch beyond the window panes.  By today, however, I can see for miles.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


OSHA Green &  Orange 1994 raw canvas, stainless steel, poly-vinyl over wood, enamel on stainless steel  60 x 91 x 3” (7 panels)

While putting some work in storage the other day I came upon this painting from the 1990s.  I opened up the box and though it had been in a couple of shows including a solo show at Steffany Martz in 1995, it still looked very fresh. Quite an interesting work for a twenty-something to have made in New York at the height of the Identity Art craze of the 90s, albeit perhaps not the shrewdest move. Someone once said that history is a formalist. I hung it up in my apartment.

Texas Trip UPDATE

My recent trip to the Lone Star state over Thanksgiving allowed me to check out Marfa and Houston and lots of art--mostly stuff made here in New York.  Many have been asking me for a full report, but it will take some time.  In the meantime, above are unauthorized photos from the Menil Collection, Barnett Newman's titanic Ulysses, 1952,  and directly above from the Judd Foundation tour some early Judd wall and floor  pieces.

Carl Andre No Longer Making Art

Last week, I finally plunked down the six dollars for the December 5 issue of the New Yorker.  There was no way around the New Yorker's formidable on-line paywall.  I was anxious to read Calvin Tomkin's latest artist profile.  But unlike most of the articles Tomkins has penned over the past 50 years, this was about an artist in his waning days.  

This one wasn't about any ordinary artist.  No, this one was about one of the greatest artists of the past 50 years--certainly in the top 20.  But this is about the only great artist of the past 50 years charged and then acquitted for murder.  This was about 76 year-old Carl Andre. Many have said they were shocked by the feeble looking Andre in overalls looking blankly ahead next to his much younger wife artist Melissa Kretschmer.   The entire article is rather  wistful and melancholic.

The article did announce that Dia:Beacon would be hosting a major Andre retrospective curated by Dia director Phillippe Vergne and Yasmil Raymond in the Spring of 2013.  But the big takeaways were that Andre's mind is slipping and then the most astonishing of all was the revelation that "(Kretschmer) told me that Andre is no longer making art. Two years ago, he was hospitalized after a fall on the street, she said, and he was having short-term memory problems."  The art press has been slow to focus on the fact that it appears as though Carl Andre's career as a maker of new sculpture is over.  But Tomkins never broaches the subject again in the article.  

Yes, the Mendieta controversy is revisited, but no new information comes out.  He may have been acquitted but he became a pariah in the United States art world though Europe and Paula Cooper stuck with him and have allowed his prices to remain very strong.   And though Andre is very reliant on his wife, Tomkins does describe this nugget which will send Andre haters into paroxysms of righteousness:
"Now and then, when she (Kretschmer) offered an opinion, he would correct her irritably." 

For those of us who know Andre only through his work,  the 2013 retrospective is something to look forward to.  Andre's greatness lay in how such a radically simple gesture (his flat carpets of metal) could transform a space so fundamentally.  But more than that  how he could create objects of such elegance and intimacy with the materials of the industrial age.  The article has some very flattering statements about Andre's historical importance provided by both Tomkins and Richard Serra:  "(Andre) was more radical and more influential than anything being done by Judd, Morris, or Flavin."  And Serra says simply, "Carl was an enormous influence on me.  He changed the history of sculpture."

I remember in the early 90s, how odd it was to see Andre's work in Julian Pretto's micro-galleries in the West Village.   But his work seemed even more alluring in these spaces--Andre created small corner works which were made of tin.  They were like Ghiradelli chocolate wafers.  

Howard Halle Rips New Museum & Gugg A New One

While catching up on my reading, I noticed Howard Halle's complete evisceration of both big contemporary shows in town--Cattelan at the Guggenheim and Holler at the New Museum in the November 30 issue of TIMEOUT NY.  I bashed the Holler show weeks ago,  but Halle (one of NY's most sober and respected critics) went even further.  The money quote is very clear:  "Why would any self-respecting institution mount either of these shows?"  writes Halle.  
Then he goes for the kill.  And it's an indictment of the entire art world especially the Anglo-American one based in New York City and London: 

However you want to frame it--the bridging of high-cultural and low, the mining of the gap between art and life—the ostensibly democratic conceit underlying much of  the big-name art being produced today has been co-opted by the powerful and ossified through incessant repetition, it's become meaningless.   Little more than  populism for  plutocrats, the notion is treated by the art world as an article of faith to be tithed with bids at the auction  house and admissions at the museum door.  But that is all the idea really is now: a belief.  Aping it doesn't  make an artist interesting or important any more than jumping out of a window makes you able to fly.

Unfortunately, Lisa Phillips has spent the better part of two decades implementing that very program--first at the Whitney and now at the New Museum.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Marfa, Texas

On Thanksgiving morning last Thursday, I embarked on a 5 day trip the state of Texas in order to finally visit the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundations in Marfa as well as the Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel in Houston.  I am in Houston now, ready to leave the hotel for the Menil.

The trip has been one of the most fascinating I've ever been on--there is nothing both good and bad in the world quite like what Donald Judd and his heirs have wrought in the Texas desert.  I have many, many things to say about what I have witnessed.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Carsten Holler at the New Museum

I wanted to like this show.  I really did.  I wanted to like this show because I wanted to finally like a show at the New Museum.  The New Museum is such a lovely place.  The staff are nice, the bookstore is great and the building is stunning.  The only problem with the New Museum is that they have a bad program.  They are the anti-Dia.  Where the Dia Foundation would do wonderful show after wonderful show that you would repeatedly visit, the New Museum is the opposite.  You go there and you never want to go back.

This is because the Dia Foundation was built on Minimalism while the New Museum was founded on some of the small little tendencies that followed; most notably Institutional Critique and now Situational Aesthetics.  So what we get is the worst of the Octoberist aesthetic that proudly makes art a drag.   Last year I remember a truly horrific show based on the theme of the newspaper.  That show had Whitney Independent Study Program written all over it. 

For this show, the Museum decided to join forces with German
Carsten Holler the scientist turned artist.  Predictably we get the museum turned into not an amusement park as advertised but more like the “Exploratorium.” Pseudo-science is cloaked in the Minimal/Post-Minimal armature.   Flavin, Smithson,  Nauman, Haake, Asher, are among the sampled.  I went on the big slide.  It was fun.  But Six Flags will always be more thrilling.  Not even close.  So what’s the point?

Art cannot compete with the spectacle of every day life. 
It is completely impotent to do so.  The slide was the best thing in this show.   Every thing else was a pastiche of other people’s ideas and sophomoric.  The curator Gary Carrion-Murayari ably tried to engage the small group he was leading around the exhibition, but when he let out that Holler had built a similar slide for Miuccia Prada to go from her office to her car we knew the jig was up.  Marcia Tucker was then spinning in her grave.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Isaacson on Jobs

It took me two days to read Walter Isaccson’s new bio of  Steve Jobs.
Isaccson’s book is a breezy recitation of Job’s remarkable achievements over the past 35 years.  As a huge fan of his products, I was dismayed to read  story after story about what a total prick, asshole, and all around champion dickwad Steve Jobs was.  One could totally understand if he acted this way only towards his minions at Apple or his business rivals.  But Steve really was a total dick to EVERYONE.  He would berate waitresses and even an old lady who made smoothies the wrong way at  Whole Foods.   He was always parking in handicap zones we are told.

Isaccson portrays a man often-times unhinged.  We learn that he cried often in front of anyone for any reason.  Emotionally he was essentially a child, but a mean one.   His wife is quoted as saying that Steve lacked basic social graces.  That is one way of putting it.  What is interesting is that Jobs was also interested in things that perhaps would have tamed the beast as he was a serious student of  Eastern religions.  Jobs was a Beatles and Dylan fanatic who did not in any way identify with the underdog EVER. The worst story is when as a teenager  he ripped-off his best friend Steve Wozniak when they worked on an Atari project together pocketing bonus money secretly. Jobs comes across as Anna Wintour and Joan Crawford. Every time philanthropy is mentioned Jobs is described as dismissive.  It gets to the point where the reader wonders if the cancer can't come sooner.  

Ok, he's not that bad.  But even towards the end his ego gets the best of him.  He winces and and is upset when Tim Cook his eventual hand-picked successor says during one of Job's medical leaves that Apple is poised for greatness no matter who is at the helm.   Jobs wanted that too,  but he couldn't  bear to hear someone say it out loud.  
I loved the anecdote from Joan Baez (who dated Jobs) concerning a red dress.  They were eating dinner at a restaurant when Jobs keeps going on and on about what a great red dress he saw at the Ralph Lauren shop and how she would look great in it.  So they went to the store and he showed it to her then proceeded to buy lots of stuff for himself and nothing for Joan including the red dress.  The multi-millionaire never said he was going to buy it for her, only that it would look great on her.  

The smartest moves he ever made were to work with Steve Wozniak in the early days and the supremely talented Jonathan Ive for the past 13 years.  It was Ive who helped Jobs develop his "taste," and Ive's designs are primarily what makes Apple different  from other brands.  Ive's brought "minimalism" to Apple.  The so-called Apple "minimalism" was already the standard look for years of brands like Bang and Olufsen and Braun.  The Apple stores copied the hip austerity that had reigned supreme as the art gallery look for decades.  
All that aside, (and it's a lot) as an Apple customer for two decades, I have always been fond of the company that Jobs created.  I love my iPhone, my MacBook and my Mac desktop too.  They are beautiful,  and wonderful products that make life more enjoyable.  But these are luxury goods.  They are not essential.  Jobs patented many things--like the molded plastic case that each iPhone comes nested inside the box,  but a molded plastic case is NOT a lightbulb.  They are not e=mc2.  They are just the best of each category money can buy.  

He did not invent the graphic user interface.   He did not invent computer animation.   He did not invent digital music players. He did not invent digital music libraries.   He did not invent the smart phone. He did not invent the tablet.  But he did make each of those categories better.  Despite all his huge defects as a human being he was able to embody in himself many of the strengths not normally associated with a regular CEO and in the process drove his company to the heights of the digital age.   His final decade with Apple represents the greatest reign in the history of American business--achieved mostly under  the cruel duress of death staring him right in the face.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Marco Rubio: Finished As VP

Tea Party darling freshmen Senator Marco Rubio (R) Florida,  was exposed today in the Washington Post  for lying about his family history.  What the Post has learned and Rubio has not denied is that Marco Rubio mislead and lied about his family history.
During his rise to political prominence, Sen. Marco Rubio frequently repeated a compelling version of his family’s history that had special resonance in South Florida. He was the “son of exiles,” he told audiences, Cuban Americans forced off their beloved island after “a thug,” Fidel Castro, took power.But a review of documents — including naturalization papers and other official records — reveals that the Florida Republican’s account embellishes the facts. The documents show that Rubio’s parents came to the United States and were admitted for permanent residence more than 21 / 2 years before Castro’s forces overthrew the Cuban government and took power on New Year’s Day 1959.

This is the equivalent of having bragged about military service and never serving in the military.  He is finished as a candidate for president or vice president.  The worst part for Rubio is that his anti-Castro base will be the most upset with him.  His claim that he relied on family oral history is laughable.  The fact that his parents went along with this fraud is shameful.  The Rubios were economic immigrants to the U.S. not exiles fleeing a dictatorship.  There is a big difference.  

The supposed flight of Rubio’s parents has been at the core of the young senator’s political identity, both before and after his stunning tea-party-propelled victory in last year’s Senate election. Rubio — now considered a prospective 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate and a possible future presidential contender — mentions his parents in the second sentence of the official biography on his Senate Web site. It says that Mario and Oriales Rubio “came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover.” And the 40-year-old senator with the boyish smile and prom-king good looks has drawn on the power of that claim to entrance audiences captivated by the rhetorical skills of one of the more dynamic stump speakers in modern American politics.
Marco Rubio is finished.  Not only for future presidential ambitions but he will never be able to run for Senate in Florida.  He should resign. This is not some sin of the flesh that befalls good men, no, this is an orchestrated lie to deceive voters throughout his entire political life. Good thing for Marco that Gadaffi went down today.  As the son of Cuban exiles myself, people who came here after having their hopes for a democratic revolution betrayed by Fidel Castro and his allies, Rubio's fraud is particularly galling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Death In Vegas

The shocking accident that took the life of Indy Racer Dan Wheldon on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday is already being called one of the most spectacular crashes in the history of motor sports.  The 15 car smash-up caused little human damage except of course to Dan Wheldon.  The coroner's report released yesterday stated what was obvious: Wheldon died of massive blunt force injuries to the head. These no doubt occurred when he hit the catch fence.

I haven't followed auto racing closely since I was a child growing up in the 70s watching ABC televise the big races and watching the Speed Racer cartoon series. Then it was all about the Indy racers--Foyt, Unser, Allison, Andretti, and Rutherford.  Nascar was still pretty much of a regional phenomenon and one would hear a lot about Richard Petty and that was it. But then as now, the death crashes were always a source of incredible fascination for people.

The first I can remember was the 1973 Indianapolis 500, which was  was marred by 3 deaths--Art Pollard and the young Californian Swede Savage.  He was an up and coming racer who was very different than the rednecks who dominated American motor sports.  He looked more like a movie star.  At Indy,  on lap 58, turn number 4, what many longtime Indy observers still call the single most spectacular crash in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway transpired as Savage's car exploded after hitting an angled wall head-on. Savage's injuries were serious but he was expected to survive, however a bad plasma transfusion gave him hepatitis B and he died 33 days later of liver failure.   A young crew member of a teammate rushed onto the track but was struck and killed instantly by a fire truck.

Hemmingway said famously "Auto racing, bull fighting and mountain climbing are the only real sports...all others are games."  That is what makes auto racing so different than all the others.  After Savage there was Gordon Smiley,  Senna, Earnhardt  and tens of others.  It is why so many are fascinated.  Nascar is the second most popular spectator sport in the United States.  But most casual sports fans don't follow auto racing and only take notice of the sport when tragedy strikes.  The last time I watched a lot of auto racing coverage was when Earnhardt crashed into the wall at Daytona in 2001.   

When I was changing channels on Sunday I noticed the race on ABC because the announcers were speaking in hushed tones,  so I knew something bad had happened.  It wasn't until about 35 minutes later that they announced that Wheldon had died and ABC started to show what exactly had happened.  The wonder of it all is that no one else was seriously injured. Sunday night I spent about an hour and a half on you tube watching as many final crashes as i could.  Race car drivers are a different lot.  They are not the same as most of us.  I know you are supposed to feel a little sullied to watch these things.  But to me, they are heroic.  These men (and now women)  who live to race and in the process risk everything.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Republicans

Rarely has any candidate in recent primary history been as acclaimed by the commentariat as Mitt Romney has in 2012, particularly in his debate performances.  Part of this praise has been due to the utter futility of Rick Perry.  You cannot run for president and say that debating is not your strong suit in the year 2012.  It's not like Perry is such a profound deep thinking wonk that it doesn't translate into the superficial world of soundbites.  No, Houston or Ă…ustin, we have a problem and it is that the Governor of Texas is not too bright.

This is not good for President Obama.  He needs Perry to win the nomination or at least make it a struggle for Romney.  The former seems impossible while the latter slightly less so.  The fall of Perry has been swift and a little humiliating.  He may get out before the first votes are cast to save him in his home state.  That Bachmann has been in free fall since the halcyon days of the Ames straw poll is not that surprising given that she is one strange woman.  The grumblings from her staff about her diva-like demands on the trail--from tungsten lighting, to not wanting to press the flesh in Iowa to the departure of Ed Rollins has doomed her prospects.  

Who is capable of making it tough for Romney?  Hunstman has no chance,  Santorum has the charm of  a chancre sore, Paul has been surprisingly ineffective at bringing his pointed critiques of both parties to the fore (perhaps because no one thinks he has a chance).   Cain has brought renewed attention to the 70s and 80s British punk rock band 999 and perhaps secured himself a show on Fox News.  He is very feisty and combative, then let's out a hearty laugh to reassure the white folks that he's not that angry.  But the Republican Party will not nominate the pizza mogul in 2012.  It will not happen.  

That leaves us with Newt Gingrich.   A man totally bereft  of  charm and grace who is not running a serious campaign.  He doesn't even campaign.  He shows up to debates, does cable interviews, and shops till he drops wherever he is with Callista in tow.  Could he emerge as the anti-MIttens?  Stranger things have happened.  

In the meantime, look for the right-wing to keep looking around for someone, anyone to credibly challenge Romney from the right, not that there's much room to Romney's right.  But the Ann Coulters and some Tea Party extremists are not ready to give up yet.   They have an inkling that Romney is sort of the default Republican candidate in the same way that Walter Mondale was the default Dem candidate in 1984.  We know how that turned out.  

The debate last night at Dartmouth College ruffled a few Conservative feathers because Karen Tummulty had the nerve to ask if anyone on Wall St. deserved to go to prison for the looting that has occurred in the financial sector in the past decade.  Using customary lunatic fringe logic, Gingrich nominated Barney Frank for prison time.  That is the kind of delusion that will save Obama and sink the Republican party in 2012.  They are the defenders of the plutocracy.  They are the defenders of money.   They are the defenders of greed.  They are funded by crooks like the Koch brothers whose own greed knows no bounds.  

Last night's debate skirted around the issue of free trade and globalism.  Those are huge issues that need to be addressed in the coming decade.  There was much rhetoric about out-competing the Chinese.  But how?  Are Americans willing to work for $14 a day?  The follow-up questions were not there.  Globalism as administered by 30 years of bipartisan consensus has benefited the top 1% while the middle and working classes continue their precipitous declines.  When is someone going to confront these Republicans with the fact that tax cuts for the rich and lax regulations are what got us into this mess in the first place?  At least 9 9 9 is a new idea--albeit a bad one.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can this Obese Man Beat Obama?

In the five days following his feeble effort in last week's Orlando debate the right-wing punditocracy has been eviscerating Rick Perry in tones reserved usually for liberals.   Kristol,  Hume,  Coulter and Lowry are all clamoring for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for the Republican nomination.   Christie has repeatedly said he is not interested but insiders are reporting that the governor is giving it serious consideration.  Is the current field so bad that these committed rightists would turn to a novice like Christie?  Apparently so.

Chris Christie spent most of the previous decade as the United States Attorney for New Jersey before running for NJ governor  in 2009.  He has been on that job for less than two years and he has distinguished himself mostly for a particular NJ/NY obnoxiousness--aka he is a real asshole in the mold of so many natives of this region. He is Koch, Giuliani, Trump, but without the charm. 

A Christie run could make this year's GOP nominating contest rival the epic Obama-Hillary battle of 08.  But could Christie get the nomination?  And if he did could he beat Obama?
I think the answer on the former is maybe, and the latter a definite no.  That's why I'm hoping that Christie runs.   Ideologically, he isn't as right-wing as Perry or Romney but his style is very right-wing--meaning he is the boss you loathe.  He is pompous and arrogant though refreshingly blunt in comparison to most politicians.  

But Christie is playing in the minors and there will be much to pick apart should he jump in.  Experience, temperament are only two which will come up.  Another one which won't be discussed by the candidates themselves is the elephant in the room.  And yes, pun intended. Chris Christie is nearing fifty, and at a whopping 285 pounds on a 5:9" frame, he is morbidly obese.   Though he may in many ways look like the average American voter, particularly the further one travels inland,  people don't actually want to see themselves in our leaders.  especially when he would be the fattest world leader around.  

What can Christie do?  He looks like a Bay Ridge bouncer.   Every time I see his image, I start to do neck exercises as he see the fat rings circling his neck.  I know that I'm not the only one.  
He makes President Clinton (even at the height of his fat boy Bubba persona look svelte in comparison).   This country does not need to be led by someone so unable to control basic impulses.  Think of the always dubious image of America around the world.  Wouldn't Christie perfectly symbolize the bloated, smug, out-sized role of the United Sates?  Which leads me to conclude that Christie cannot be seriously considering a run since he doesn't seem to have bothered to try to lose any weight lately.  The right is so desperate to take out Obama that they will audition anyone to run even the seriously flawed and inexperienced.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Troubles of Rick Perry

Everyone left, right and center is piling on Texas Governor Rick Perry for last night's disastrous debate performance in Orlando.  The debate was remarkable on many fronts.  It featured Perry once again defending himself from attacks on his right for showing too much compassion when it comes to illegal immigrants.   But his worst moment occurred late in the debate when he bumbled a simple recitation of the many flip-flops of Mittens Romney. It was supposed to sound like one of those nice singing-songey litanies but instead came off just a bit less stupid than Shrub's infamous "fool me once, shame on--shame on you. Fool me-- you can't get fooled again." 

Romney was attacked by Perry for changing some damning passages in a book as it went from hardcover to paperback.  Instead of weaseling out of it the way he normally does, Romney simply lied.  He said he hadn't changed a thing.  Perry was left wondering which campaign staffer  had given him that line of attack.  If he was smart he would call Romney out on it immediately and change the conversation from his dismal performance.

The debate was also remarkable for once again putting the full-throated ugliness, pettiness, smallness of the right-wing mind on display. No, I'm not talking about the candidates (though they share the same impulses).  I am talking about the yahoos in the crowd.   In previous debates they cheered on executions and the denial of health care to the uninsured.  Tonight it was the creepy booing of an out gay soldier  serving in Iraq who asked a you tube question on DADT.  It was up to the vile Rick Santorum to once again use his podium to foment hate and lies.  This is the man who passed around his wife's dead fetus around to his small children after a miscarriage.  

The Perry implosion is not good news for a White House privately hoping for a Perry nomination.  Instead, Romney keeps getting raves from the mainstream media as well as from Frank Luntz's Fox News focus groups.  Perry's Texas provenance makes him right-wing in all the right places except when it comes to Mexicans and like Shrub Perry courted them.  But that courting didn't cost Shrub in 2000, the way it seems to be costing Perry in 2012.  This is not an audience ready for compassionate conservatism.   But the big question remains is this: if Perry is not the answer, then will the wingnuts accept a patrician Mormon to carry the mantle of their insanity in 2012?   Some wonder if a Romney nomination will cause a Tea Bagger third party revolt.  Romney could head that off by running with a Tea Bag darling like Rand Paul or Marco Rubio.  

But before the coronation of Romney is complete, let's not forget that Palin is lurking--especially given the weaknesses of the Bachman and Perry candidacies.  I doubt she will do it.  It is shocking to witness the ineptness of Perry.  He has been a big-time big state governor for 10 years!  He knew the whole world would be watching.  Look for the Perry campaign to start the Romney Mormon cultist meme quietly in the coming months.  Cheer up fellow Dems, we ain't seen nothing yet.   Perry will not go down without a fight.  It will get really, really ugly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Execution of Troy Davis

Last night, the state of Georgia executed convicted killer, Troy Davis.  Everyone knows the story by now and with so much controversy surrounding this case--witness recantations, no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, it seems that the arrogance of Georgia officials from the corrections' officials, to the prosectors to the Governor himself prevented them from even considering a thorough examination of the new circumstances.

What was it about Mr. Davis that made his execution so necessary last night?  Not much it seems.  I have had my own conflicted feelings about the death penalty but I come out on the side that it should be the people's right to hold it in reserve for particularly heinous crimes.  The murder of off-duty officer MacPhail though cowardly and cold-blooded was not a pre-meditated act of hours and weeks of planning.   It does not meet the heinous criteria.  

In the meantime, serial killers, child killers and mass murderers escape the gallows.  In California, the all-time champion of serial murder, Randy Kraft  has been on death row since 1989.  He is part of a bridge club on California's death row with other serial murderers including Lawrence Bittaker (death row class of 1981) and Doug Clark (death row class of 1983).  Kraft himself  is responsible for perhaps 60 or more murders of boys and young men. This is the problem with the death penalty.  States have it on the books yet wield it in such random and arbitrary ways.

The reason I believe that the death penalty should be held in reserve is that sometimes death is the only reasonable punishment.   The only reasonable punishment for the Connecticut atrocity perpetrated by Steven Hayes on the Petit family is death.  Anything else is an insult to the victims, their families and society.    There is no justice to be meted out in any kind of fantasy afterlife.  This is it.  I hold no special sanctity for the life of vermin like Steven Hayes or Randy Kraft.  I wouldn't mind strapping them into the gurney myself.  But these are rare cases.   

The smugness of Rick Perry talking about the execution of Todd Willingham is repugnant.  Somewhere between the Troy Davis case and the laughable practices of the California penal system is common  sense and a sober realization that reform is needed.  And even though the United States is in the company of China, India, Iran etc. as far as Death Penalty states, it doesn't give me the willies that some Americans get.  

I like the fact that for violent crime the United States doesn't mess around.   We have a vast prison industrial complex because we have many more violent criminals than Europe.  I am all for rethinking the stupid and costly war on drugs and the hundreds of thousands of wasted lives serving time for non-violent drug offenses.  But as far as violent offenders I have no sympathy.  The era of mid-century era rehabilitation and early release culminated in the 
1970s and 80s crime wave that only ended with the changing demographics produced by factors such as the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973.  

The United States is one of the few countries in the world where a life sentence means a life sentence.  European and  Latin American countries frequently release murderers after 20 years because of cost and because anything after 20 years is regarded as cruel.   In the United States we now throw away the key.  That's fine by me, and in today's political climate why the last two Democratic presidents, Clinton and Obama both support the death penalty.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene

This is the view from my balcony at 7:00 PM tonite hours away from Hurricane Irene's arrival  in New York City.  The Hudson looks calm from here and the shiny new glass towers that have sprung up on Manhattan's westside will have a wonderful test of their state of the art glass windows.  Meanwhile, officials in the city have given no direct instruction to the hundreds of thousands of Manhattanites who live in high rise apartment buildings concerning the safety of their apartments.   Like a mantra, they have said that anyone above the 10th floor should move down to the 10th floor or below.  Just what are we supposed to do?  Knock randomly on a neighbor's door and say "howdy, what's in the fridge?"  Apparently a Category 1 hurricane wind gust on the ground floor becomes exponentially stronger the higher up one goes.

The entire far west side near the Javits Center is a construction zone with Hudson Yards development,  #7 train line extension,  and Javits Center renovation all going on.  Lots of potential projectiles on the ground everywhere.  DEVELOPING

Monday, August 22, 2011


There is no more stranger actor on the stage of American public life than United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas has sat on the court since 1991 and has become perhaps the most important player on the Robert's court according to a new article by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker

Toobin is one of the few mainstream journalists that Thomas will even talk to, but despite lauding Thomas's influence we also get a few nuggets into the psyche of Justice Thomas. Thomas is still angry after all the years, aggrieved over the elites, aggrieved over affirmative action, aggrieved over the entire Anita Hill matter. Yet Toobin points out how most or all of what Anita Hill said was true and has been corroborated by countless others. Part of his rage must stem from his own sense that he is a fraud, that he lied in front of the entire world all the while using the race card--the thing that he himself was supposed to be so above.

We need only go back to Thomas's angry memoirs published in 2007:
“I was bitter toward the white bigots whom I held responsible for the unjust treatment of blacks, but even more bitter toward those ostensibly unprejudiced whites who pretended to side with black people while using them to further their own political and social ends.” So there you have it, Hubert H. Humprhrey was far more evil for black folk than Bull Conner. George McGovern far worse than George Wallace. This is the twisted world-view of Thomas, his wife and his buddies Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin--two of Thomas's best friends according to Toobin. We also learn once again about Thomas's close ties to right-wing Texas Sugar Daddy Harlan Crow who helped seed Virginia Thomas's Tea Party outfit.

Throughout the article Toobin discusses Thomas's "Originalist" catechism and we learn that he is far more dedicated to it than the verbose, publicity -seeking Scalia. Thomas' silence on the court during oral arguments (he has not asked a question in six years) is made too much of by his critics. There are no questions to ask when you have already made up your mind. We learn that for Thomas and his Tea Party brethren small government is the paramount cause. Some would ask Justice Thomas about his small government views as he takes his ax to Roe vs. Wade and into the bedrooms of gay Americans in his dissent in Lawrence vs. Texas.

Thomas's, railings at the elite are not at the rich fat cats that lavish him and his wife with gifts (he is the king gift taker on the court), no, he is still upset at Yale. We have never known exactly why after all these years. For admitting him into law school and giving him a sure-fire credential into the upper rungs of American power? Yes, I would certainly condemn Yale for that. Thomas says in the article that he doesn't do "the Ivies," and strikes a populist chord decrying that all current sitting justices went to Harvard or Yale. On this I agree with the fat man and Frank Rich that as our governing institutions have become even more "Ivied" over the past 3 decades (look at all Presidents after Reagan) not coincidentally the mediocrity of American leadership has accelerated. But Thomas is not really against elites, he's only against so-called liberal elites.

Toobin describes Thomas as having gained lots of weight since we last really saw him in 1991. And yes, like his wife he is morbidly obese and if actuarials were any indication perhaps there is coronary damage.   However, I would not count on it slowing him down just look at Dick Cheney. What I do know is that Clarence Thomas's rage will continue unabated as he plunders the Constitution to make it ever more safe for the Theocratic Plutocracy he craves. All he really needs now is a President Bachmann or Perry to help him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Glass House

A few weeks ago, I finally made it to see Phiillip Johnson's famed "Glass House" in New Canaan, Ct.  The tour of the house begins at the Glass House visitor center across the street from the Metro North stop and then a 10 minute van ride to the Johnson estate.  The complex houses about 7 structures including his famed painting and sculpture galleries.  The house itself is a simple 1700 square foot open plan with little more than the timeless furnishings of Mies and some eccentric artworks about. The verdict on Johnson's career, life and work are all still points of great controversy.

His early politics seem unforgivable, his chameleon-like stylistic proclivities opportunistic but as a patron of important art he was as instrumental as anyone in the promotion of the New York School. But no one can hold the Glass House against him. It is modest, beautiful and  poetic and along with  Mies' Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, the Glass House demonstrated that after the horrors of world war, modernism could provide the  underpinning of a new way to conceive of shelter and home.
All of the blue-chip paintings have been liquidated from the Johnson painting galleries in order to fund the complex, but Frank Stella's paintings (reportedly Johnson's favorite painter)
were not sold at auction.  They would have fetched millions but much less than the more expensive  Pop paintings that were sold did.  One Warhol remains, however, Andy's 1972 portrait of Phillip Johnson himself.