Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked" by Chris Matthews A Mercifully Brief Review

I think, you can literally whisper the word "bipartisanship" into Chris Matthews' ear and he will immediately smile with pavlovian expedition and make an emission in his pants. Seriously, I am not joking, the Man is Love with that very word, it evokes a Lost World full of hearty political dinosaurs of all political persuasions who somehow "stopped fighting" after six pm and became best buddies, drinking & laughing together. That, to Chris Matthews is somehow the very essence of Good Governance...It is utter nonsense but he believes it the way the Oracle of Delphi believed in the Benign Reign of Zeus the Thunderer. Which brings us to his latest book a pompous work detailing the manly bipartisan dealings between President Ronald Reagan and then US House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill in the 1980 thru 1986 period. Today's columnists tend to reflexively believe that "bipartisan solutions" are the best for The Nation as a whole and as a consequence, the Nation is Merely One Concession Away From the Eschaton. Thats an easy formulation when governance is divided between the two parties, but it also conceals the fact that from the git go one party almost always has the political edge and may agree to bipartisan solutions whilst the other usually has no choice but to negotiate. That was very much the case in 1981 thru 1986, Reagan had a few extra aces politically, a policy of engagement was the only option open to O'Neill. He'd a been much more truculent if the democrats controlled the US Senate, likewise if the Speaker's numbers were even a hair closer in the House Reagan could've have rolled him sans niceties. So this "bipartisanship" that Matthews' worships so avidly, has always been a tactical option, tied to the temporary political calculus and routinely abandoned when the winds are again favorable. It also gets trotted out in wartime and in moments of National Emergency...other than that, it is much praised and little used and for good reason, parties should only cooperate under compulsion, anything else is quite really in keeping with the true essence of democracy which is to paraphrase Rumsfeld, "messy". And it was meant to be messy by the founding fathers. Bipartisanship is NOT and never has been the natural default position of US Politics per se...and "regression to the mean" is a pretty bloody political spectacle indeed. But you can't tell that to Chris Matthews he thinks all the joshing around Reagan did with O'Neill meant something... And that is Chris Matthews' core problem he has always been a vain pompous vaguely ignorant man, very full of himself. He likes to pretend he is a liberal, if he is then he a liberal with no discernible theory of power and that makes him little more than a jobber for movement conservatism. Matthews' loved O'Neill and O'Neill's Brand of Politics back in 1982 just as he Loved George Bush Jr's Manliness in 2002 when Iraq fell...If you have No Theory of Power than almost anyone's exercise of power looks right and just and necessary.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Escape Notes (1970 Version)

Dr. Timothy Leary's Initial Escape Plan from the California Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo in 1970 apparently called for Ten Spiritually Ascendent Men to gather in a circle around the late Harvard Psychiatrist and under propitious astrological circumstances "center on cosmic consciousness". Leary would then dematerialize and appear as a plaintiff before "The Blessed One", who being moved by Leary's martyrdom, would then intervene in the physical universe to bust all and sundry out of The Slams. I offer this merely as a cautionary tale of the perils inherent on living in a universe that does not reward much in the way of purely magical thinking.

Monday, March 10, 2014

E is for Ersatz or Rebecca Cathcart Monet Strikes a Blow for Verisimilitude!

"Authenticity..." breathed the aerial aesthete Rebecca Cathcart-Monet into the phone. "Beg pardon..." I rejoined. "It is what THEY ALL crave...artists, art galleries, dealers, auctioneers, collectors....auth-en-ticity" she whispered. "Duly noted...." I began. "Art Forgers!" continued The Aviatrix with the Mostest "They take advantage of the cult of the authentic...ironic no?" "I guess...." I offered uncertain as to Rebecca's meaning. "Meet me at the Springfield Art Museum tomorrow, there is a special exhibit of famous art forgers, including the Matisse fakes of Elmyr de Hory!" "Oh Elmyr..." I muttered recalling with the simplest nostalgia his star turn in Orson Welles' "F for Fake". Rebecca continued, "It is called "Intent to Deceive" its the sort of a program that doesn't come around on the institutional circuit all that often!" "True dat" muttered I recalling Rebecca's stint as an art appraiser and onetime auctioneer. "Oh look up a nice decommissioned landing strip for me and my Antonov An-2 willya!" *** *** Sure enough, I found Ms Cathcart-Monet a nice war surplus landing strip by the waters of the Connecticut River and played the careful chauffeur and conveyed our heroine to the Michele & Donald D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts, wherein a unique exhibit is currently being offered of master art forgeries from the aforementioned Elmyr de Hory, as well as Mark Landis, Han van Meegeren, Eric Hebborn & John Myatt. For the most part these are men with serious artistic chops allied with a strong technical bent, sufficient skills in fact to outwit the experts that stand guard over the world's artistic legacy. That is what makes this lot so interesting, it was never enough to paint a picture even a sublime forgery of one of Picasso's masterworks, it had to pass an exacting technical muster of "authentication"...and that required MacGyverish levels of enterprise. Hans van Meeregen,for example mixed bakelite into his paints and completely foxed the the standard regime for verifying the age of an alleged masterwork. Elmyr de Hory was a self taught expert in sources of old canvasses and aged paper, perfect components for world class fakes (one of which made it all the way into the collection of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard though never actually displayed). And it is this very fetish for authenticity that drives the whole art market, it is also the very thing the enterprising forger exploits for his or her own gain. Rebecca remarked that most of the featured felons had a grievance of one type or another, they painted in outdated styles or perhaps did not love the classics enough to refrain from cashing in. Certainly almost all of them wallowed in a peculiar type of false consciousness, wherein they took pride in theirir art forgeries making fools of the so called experts and their alleged elitism. In fact, Eric Hebborn was himself an expert, who often authenticated other works of art and clearly used his own elite knowledge to corrupt institutional art collections the world over. Rebecca remarked that Elmyr in particular was a Homosexual and Jewish, he was perfectly prepared to suffer to ensure his own survival in Hitler's Europe but it was for damn sure he wasn't going to suffer for his art...and so he painted fake Matisse's and ersatz Picasso's...and kept it up thru the late 1960's virtually flooding Europe with spurious artworks while he lived the good life on the island of Ibiza. His neighbor penniless writer Clifford Irving wrote his biography once Elmyr's cover was blown, which likely led to Irving's entirely spurious phony Howard Hughes autobiography which in turn brought all and sundry to the throne of Orson Welles and his last film the incomparable "F For Fake". "But they all must have been doing something right" muttered Rebecca, "they all got a gallery show at the D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts!" "Art is a lie that tells the truth" I said "This lot though, needs needs that truth-telling special! This is what you get when you puff up authenticity (a much battered word) into a virtue as opposed to mere honesty". And with that and flip of her trademark orange scarf, Rebecca grinned waved & took to the skies in her antique Antonov An-2...I bowed solemnly and beat a slow retreat up Route 91 North when would we meet again?

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Apropos of Nothing....

but the Golden Autumn of Bull Moose Republican Progressivism was likely in the summer of 1920. Amiable Blatherskite Warren Gameliel Harding had been given the GOP nomination for President by the infamous "Smoked Filled Room"(composed mostly of ward healers, thugs and senatorial hacks of octogenarian vintage). Known mostly for his backslapping bonhomie, Harding needed a VP, and he offered the job quite spontaneously to Hiram Johnson the wild man Progressive Senator from California. Johnson in his day had been Teddy Roosevelt's nominee for Vice President on the breakaway Bull Moose ticket in 1912. In the interim, he'd been elected as GOP Senator from California, he was in every sense of the word a maverick, back when it was a cause not a brand. And Johnson he was the King of Causes, he favored old age pensions, unemployment insurance, bank regulation, a minimum wage, the eight hour day and government regulation of banks, railroad and anything else Big and Malevolent. Johnson though, was a xenophobe and a bit of a humorless prig, he intensely disliked the easygoing conservative Harding and his his backers in the "smoked filled room", he turned Harding down and thus missed out on the one remaining chance for Bull Moosery to achieve ascendence in the GOP...for if he had said yes, he'd a become President in September 1923 when Harding's heart gave out in San Francisco. Instead the GOP "Base" rose in reactionary revolt all its own and installed the cheap-ass Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts as it's Vice Presidential Nominee...the rest is history. This would be quite literally the national debut of the fabled "GOP Base" like Dr. Fu Manchu though, they would be heard from again. Hiram Johnson though, went on as the Senator's Maverick Maximus, a progressive power house, isolationist and xenophobe par excellence unto the last. Symbolically he died on the same day that Hiroshima was bombed in 1945...and by then the GOP was fully embedded with the whole notion of "Pointing with Pride, 100% Americanism, Low Taxes, High Yields, The Gallows,The Lash, Dry Sundays & No Public Improvements". And they've stuck to that to this very day...

Sunday, March 02, 2014

2014 Academy Award Palaver...

Oscar Forecast: (since for once I saw most of the Best Picture Nominees)... If I had to guess, I think its a horse race between "The Dallas Buyers Club" & "12 Years a Slave"....though my personal preference is "Nebraska". I think "American Hustle" & "The Wolf of Wall Street" are too much fun and too pulpy to win out over the heavy dramas. "Captain Phillips" is naught but a competent Biopic buttressed by two strong performances(Barkad Abdi was amazing, Hanks has to squeak by with being merely superlative). I doubt "Nebraska" will win, which is a shame because when is Bruce Dern ever gonna be in that room again? At the very least the fallback position dictates Dern win Best Actor and if there is a Ghod of Mercy and Justice in Heaven Above then June Squibb should win for Best Supporting Actress as well. My gut is is the likely best actor winner tonight...Cate Blanchett for Best Actress (Sandra Bullock as a possible dark horse). As for Best supporting actors, its a toss up in my mind between Barkad Abdi and Jonah Hill...both were strong performances, both deserve it in terms of leveraging interesting projects going forward. Okay thems my predictions likely all wrong...

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Stalingrad (2013)

Sell The House, Sell the Car, Sell the Children and Defy the very Storm King Himself, but for the love of Ghod PLEASE see "Stalingrad" (2013) a new Russian film whose devotion to bombast brought tears to my eyes! Truly only a member of the Bondarchuk Family, one Fedor Bondarchuk, could direct a film this unsubtle! For surely, didn't Sergei Bondarchuk, Fedor's father once make my favorite war film of all time? "Waterloo" (1970) starring Rod Steiger as Napoleon Bonaparte in a performance that eschewed scenery chewing in favor of swallowing the sets whole. But Stalingrad ahh Stalingrad, not a single original line, character or set up in one hundred and thirty one minutes as predictable as a stopped clock, for surely there is virtue in connecting the dots The Right Way. And that is Stalingrad's saving grace, it is confidently asserts all the old shibboleths and dresses them up with all the CGI, gore and carnage as the market can bear. And what the hell, the performances are all first rate, the women in particular Mariya Smolnikova & Yanina Studilina stand out. As the last of the combatants of that war are summoned to The Final Muster, there is a emotional need to revisit the ancient truths and cherished cliches...and there is some strange attraction to the Second World War, has any other war within or without living memory spawned so many movies? Virtually every single major or minor battle therein has been memorialized via film adaptation. I mean top that, Spanish American War....