An Art Philistine Wonders


My wife used to called me a food Philistine because of my very narrow pallet.  She has since educated me quite well on the merits of expanding my pallet and that has worked out quite well.  But I still consider myself a Philistine in one respect, art.  Most art I just do not get.  Things they call art which looks like paint splatters leaves me at a loss.  I get, although do not particular care for, the art works of Chagall and Picasso.  The art piece above, however, is the form I most love.  That piece was done by Childe Hassam and is called Boston Common at Twilight.  I am very familiar with the scene having walked it thousands of times albeit 125 years later.  But it also speaks to me.  It tells me the story of a Boston long past.  I speaks of childhood and motherhood, of a cold winter’s eve, and of more peaceful times.  But this case, for me, is an exception rather than the rule.


The picture above is by Renoir.  It is an 1875 piece called “Woman in a Garden With a Parasol.”  I believe, although I lack the proof, that Renoir had some akin to an obsession over the female form.

renoir 2

He was no stranger to the nude, as shown above.  Curiously, I would call his subject as being rather “Reubenesque.”  But I cannot help wonder what Renoir was thinking when he painted these and all the other paintings he did.  I think, as with the first painting, that each is a story unto itself but a story untold by the painting itself.  I understand that artists like us to make of their painting what we will, but I find it more interesting to know what was on their mind at the time.


The painting above is one of Monet’s many water lilies paintings.  Having visited the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, I have be privilege to see many of his water lilies paintings and have marveled at the subtle differences between them.  It seems to me that Monet too had a bit of an obsession going as well.  But was he trying to perfect his water lilies setting or just obsessed with the changing character of the pond upon which they sat?  I have not a clue but would love to know.


The painting above is by Manet, not to be confused with Monet although I seem to confuse them with great regularity.  How could two men, a single letter removed in family name, become such giants in the art world.  Manet was Monet’s elder by a mere 8 years and both lived in France their whole lives.  It is difficult to believe they did not know each other and exchange ideas.  Manet seems to have shared Monet’s obsession with the female form but he does not seem to have the same proclivity towards landscapes.  Still, what was his motivation with his subjects and what was he thinking?


Norman Rockwell’s art work graced the covers of the magazine The Saturday Evening Post for the greater part of the 20th Century.  His artwork spoke to us on a level we could usually understand.  The above piece is of F. Scott Fitzgerald and is one of his earlier pieces.  I am sure he has his detractors who claim he was just an illustrator and not a true artist.


The piece above, “Saying Grace,” last sold at auction for $46 million.  Hard to believe an illustration would sell for such a price.  His is a special sort of art many pieces of which are displayed in the Normal Rockwell Art Museum in Stockbridge MA.  When you visit this museum and view the many pieces there, you are taken aback by the man’s absolute genius in capturing “everyday” scenes.  Because Rockwell was so accessible,  we are not left to wonder what was on his mind.  He told us exactly what he was thinking although his pictures speak volumes all by themselves.






The Deplorable State of American Politics


The cartoon above, from the strip “Pogo,” first appeared in 1952.  Walt Kelly produced this comic strip from 1948 to 1975.  Pogo Possum was a humble, personable and philosophical character who spoke on many subjects.  This particular one, I believe, speaks most tellingly about the state of our present politics.

In 1994 a Republican think tank came up with the idea of the “Contract with America” which all its members in both the senate and house signed.  In its most basic form it was a wonderful and powerful idea.  But those behind it had other ideas, sinister ideas.  Certain non-elected people had a very deep hatred for President Bill Clinton and this was supposed to be their open foray into removing him from power in 1996.  It failed simply because Clinton co-opted them by endorsing certain portions of the contract, most especially balancing the budget.  But those power brokers knew quite well how to win wars while losing a battle or two.  Clinton gave them that opportunity by having an affair with Monica Lewinsky and then denying it ever happened.  For the first time since Andrew Johnson a president was impeached.  Clinton’s crime?  Not that he had the affair but that he lied to Congress.  With attack dog Kenneth Starr at the forefront running a broad and unrestricted investigation, it was game on.

Who was behind this?  It was not the members of Congress but those moneyed interests behind the Congressional powers.  To be certain, David and Charles Koch were two of them.  Other powers behind the scenes were Republican strategists such as Karl Rove and talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly.  What each of these men knew, and relied upon, was the average American’s disinterest in discovering the truth about any particular subject.  They knew their target audience would take them at their word despite the use of hyperbole, exaggeration and out right lies.

The Democrats have been equally as bad though usually not in the same way.  While Democrats love to use hyperbole, exaggeration and out right lies too, they are not nearly so well organized as Republicans and other conservatives.  And while the Democrats certainly have their share of moneyed interests, the do not have a strategist who approaches the ability of Karl Rove and have virtually no presence, let alone following, on the air waves in the form of an O’Reilly or Limbaugh.

Although I am a life-long registered Democrat, of late I have made a habit of voting Republican in Massachusetts elections.  This has been because of my disgust by state-wide politics as a whole, and those who are running for office in particular.  The brilliance of Senator Elizabeth Warren is unimpeachable but she is an uninspiring academic who had previously no civil experience.  She won, not on her merits, but because she was the Democrat who opposed Republican Scott Brown.  This sort of politics exists in every state which holds a large majority in one party, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming for Republicans, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Michigan for Democrats.

I find it troubling that the Republican Party has found itself split between their long standing moderates and those who have given their allegiance to the Tea Party.  But if you look at it closely, you will find the Tea Party is simply a reincarnation of the old Libertarian Party with a new platform.  The Democrats have their own group on the far left who, although without name, are equally as polarizing.  It is this polarization that causes intransience over issues which desperately need resolution.

The only resolution to these issues is for all Americans to hold their elected officials, those who the voted for, to back up their stands with absolute truth, to work in the best interests of their constituents and not the PACs, and to always work towards a common ground with members of the other party.  I would say that any member of Congress who votes in excess of 75% along party lines should deemed as of suspicious designs.  Each senator and representative should be able to report back to his constituents on a regular basis how each of his votes worked to the favor of the majority of those he represents.

Americans seem to be of a mind that politics as a whole are disgusting, but until each American decides to hold those he has voted into office to a higher standard, then nothing will change.

Freedom Isn’t Free


On July 5 1776, one day after the Declaration of Independence was made public, our new-born nation was a mess.  Mostly, we had been clashing with the British since April 19 1775.  The Battle of Bunker Hill was the one exception where large numbers of men on both sides lost their lives.  But in truth, neither side was yet prepared for a full out war.  The British troops were the best trained, best armed, and had the best leadership by far.  England had the ability to fund a short war and defeat almost any enemy she desired.  That British confidence of an impending American defeat was high was understandable.  The single thing that kept America viable over the next 7 years was its dogged desire to prevail.  The be sure, the Continental Congress was bankrupt, unable to pay its soldiers as promised.  The new American army suffered through a very high rate of desertion.  Conversely, the British Army suffered virtually no desertions.  Gen. Washington looked upon the British commander, Gen. Howe, with envy.  His troops were well fed, well armed, well trained, and supremely confident.  While the Battle of Yorktown was the finality of the war, it had truly ended long before by greatly diminishing the English war coffers and the distance at which the war was fought.  Also, sentiment in England was of a country weary of a civil war, that being that Americans had previously been viewed by the English public as brethren who had previously been an integral part of their country.  But the cost of that war, on both sides, lingered for decades after 1783.  For the first time, America had to deal with its war veterans and the promises it had made to them.  Some of those promises were not fulfilled until well into the 19th century.

When Thomas Jefferson took office he took offence to the large standing army he inherited and did his level best to entirely disband it, claiming that such an army was entirely unnecessary.  And although his feeling about the American Navy was not quite so draconian, he still reduced its size as well.  But then came the War of 1812.  The war was started over the impressment of American sailors in the British Navy.  And even though the war was started at sea, it was entirely completed on land.  Britain had entertained the idea that it could recapture this country that had slipped its rule only 30 years prior, well within the memory of most in government and power.  But again, the cost of a protracted war at a great distance proved too much.  Britain had actually conceded the war prior to the Battle of New Orleans because of that reason.  But America had quickly reassembled its army but not before the British army lay waste to the new American capitol at Washington and ran with impunity for well over a year.


The American army was relatively stable, well trained, and well equipped until the end of World War 1.  Many called that war, “the war to end all wars.”  It was believed that after WW1, a war which counted its casualties in the 10s of millions, there would never again rise the desire of any country to war upon any other country at such a scale.  The allies, America, Britain, and France agreed upon the size of the world’s navies.  It was believed that only a navy could transport large armies to other countries and by limiting those navies would necessarily limit any country’s desire to do war.  That, of course, proved hugely fallacious  By Americans, gripped by isolationist ideas, reduced its army by such large numbers that had the Japanese attacked the US mainland 1940 with its marines and armies using it large naval fleet, we would have been in serious trouble.  Couple that with its ally, Germany, and an invasion by Germany, American’s 458,000 men in uniform would have been severely tested and, in many cases, eliminated owing to poor training, being poorly equipped, and marginally led.  I mention that number because it was only due to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s belief that the US entry into the European war being eminent, he increased the size of the military to 1.8 million in 1941.  Even so, that military was not particularly well trained or well equipped.


That 1940 number is worthy of note because it is the number at which today’s Army stands.  The total number in today’s military, all branches and both active and reserve, stands at about 1.3 million but declining.  Since 1988 the US Congress has been hell bent on reducing the size of the military, and the number of its installations when there were about 2.1 million men in uniform.  People viewed, and still do, our defense budget as out of control, over-burdening, and unnecessary.  The present day public has this view that we can somehow conduct a war at a distance and with a “World of Warcraft” mentality.  We have smart bombs, high tech aircraft, and cutting edge equipment at every point.  But what the American public forgets is that in the end, it is the individual soldier would fights and wins, or God help us, loses the war.  High tech equipment is rendered useless without men to operate and maintain it.  But even more importantly, and something we all should be intimately aware of right now, is that today’s war, today’s battles, are largely fought and won by the rifleman.  We fight large numbers of enemies who do not wear any uniform, are terrorists who blend in with the local population.  We should have learned that lesson back in the 1970s when in Vietnam we had to fight the Viet Cong who did the same.  But it seems we have forgotten and so we have doomed ourselves to repeating our past mistakes.

Today, the US Army has a total of 13 divisions, 1 armored, 1o infantry of various sorts, and only 2 reserve/national guard.  During the conduct of the Vietnam War, the Defense Department guaranteed each soldier that he would be required to serve in a war zone for only one 12-month period in his career.  Today, soldiers are required to serve 2, 3 and even 4 tours in our present-day war zones.  We have known since World War 1 the hugely negative effects of war upon soldiers and we strived for 50 years to protect our soldiers against such circumstances.  What in World War 2 and Korea was called “battle fatigue” is today known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Most, if not all, our soldiers today who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer for some degree of PTSD.  This too is a cost of war.


We have two choices right now, as I see it.  We can either withdraw all our troops for the worlds battle grounds or greatly increase the size of our military.  Our military is extremely stressed and stretched far too thinly for the mission it has been given today.  Too few are being asked to do too much.  And since I do not see us withdrawing from the world’s battlefields at any time in the near future, it is our duty, an imperative, to adjust the size of our military to fill those needs.  And as distasteful as the American public may find it, the best deterrent to terrorist and like activities in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is the presence of a large infantry force until that country is capable of defending itself.  Clearly neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is ready to defend itself.  This is exactly what we did at the end of World War 2 in Germany and Japan, and it worked extremely well.  Why is it we cannot commit ourselves in the same manner today?

Americans really need to consider its mindset towards our military and those we serve.  While it has become common practice to thank those who serve, those words ring rather hollow when we do not back them up with actions that show our support.  Americans should insist that soldiers not be forced into harms way more than once in their military service and back that promise up with the dollars it takes to keep that promise.  Americans need to suck it up, bite the bullet, or whatever cliché you care to use, and commit to a force that not only serves our country in general, but those who serve within it as well.  Right now we are asking too few to do too much.