Friday, July 31, 2009

Classic Harpo

I just started reading Harpo Marx's autobiography Harpo Speaks, so I was in the mood to watch some of his famous bits, and thought maybe others might be as well. Here's a classic scene from Duck Soup (1933):

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

This picture of Nick and Helen was taken about two years ago. The question is, what is the closest body of water to where this shot was taken? Place your guesses in the comments section.

Last week, I had the greatest outpouring of contestants since I started doing these quizzes last fall, all trying to identify the denim clad knee in the corner of a picture of Helen from three years ago. I'm sorry to burst my brother-in-law Tom's overly confident bubble, but he did not get the answer right; he can, however, accept some deflected glory in the fact that his son Ben (who hedged his bets a little) did. The knee belonged to Natalie. Thanks to all who played, and let's see your names appearing again in the comments with guesses on this week's stumper!

More Friday Family Blogging

I probably should save this one until some time closer to Halloween, but I'm afraid I'll forget about it by then (this is another from Gramma's cache):

I'm wondering why Batman has what appears to be lipstick smeared all over his face. That's Thomas, Sara, Maria and Joseph in case you can't penetrate the amazing disguises.

Friday Family Blogging

This will likely be my last chance to post some older pictures from my Mom's collection for awhile, so I hope you like these. The first two are of Uncle Frank and Aunt Patty :

The first, above, is with their Grampa Volstadt (my great-grandfather).

This one is from a few years later with their parents (my Gramma and Grampa).

And last, here's one I post for Thomas-- of my Mom, his Gramma, on her graduation from 8th Grade (along with her parents and Grampa, also seen in the previous photos).

Soup Diary 090731

I generally associate dill with pickles, but I had a bowl of Dill Soup yesterday that hardly tasted like a briny cucumber. In fact the dill flavor was very mild, but evident enough to give the creamy potato mixture a bit of tang. Not quite in the upper tier of what I've tried this summer, but a worthy contender from the middle of the pack. I think I'm down to one more visit to Fables before I head back west. I wonder what the options will be (and if I'll be tempted to fall back on a favorite instead of trying something new-- stay tuned!).

Friday Philosophy

Today's quote comes from the novel Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor:

" will does not mean one will,
but many wills conflicting in one man.
Freedom cannot be conceived simply."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cradle Will Rock

Kind of as a follow-through on my previous post, I thought I'd mention a really fine movie that addresses how art and politics collided in the 1930s, namely Cradle Will Rock, directed by Tim Robbins (which should be available for rental in most video stores). Having read Hallie Flanagan's memoir some years ago (she was the head of the Federal Theater Project), I was struck at how closely the film matched up with my sense of her commitment to the project. It certainly takes some liberties as well (most noticeably in telescoping events that unfolded over several years into what seems like just a couple of weeks), but in the end I think it gets at the essence of the debate. Here's the trailer:

A Favorite Painting, 39

Victor Arnautoff, Coit Tower Mural-- Street Scene, c1934

Coit Tower in San Francisco was built in 1933, and, in an early New Deal art project, 26 different artists were commissioned to develop murals for the interior walls of the tower. In the 1930s, there was a strong push throughout the arts community towards realism, with a particular emphasis on the importance of documenting the effects of the Great Depression, often in support of certain political positions with respect to what might be done about the problems it engendered. The muralists of that generation often followed the lead of the highly political Mexican painter Diego Rivera, and that influence, along with a strong commitment to documentary realism, is evident in this particular panel by Victor Arnautoff. It clearly celebrates the "common man" as opposed to the elites (maybe including Mrs Coit, who bequeathed the money to build the tower in the first place), depicting how hard they work and their lack of pretension with respect to what they wear, how they interact, and their taste in entertainment. But there is also a hint of something that suggests more broadly defined horizons for these denizens of the city by the Bay: the inclusion of the Daily Worker and The Masses on the newstand rack. Is this a signal from Arnautoff that the common man is ready to revolt, or merely an acknowledgment that such examples of the radical press were widely available and read during that era? Considering that Arnautoff was a supporter of Rivera, whose own mural in the newly built Rockefeller Center was destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller because it included a likeness of Lenin, I rather suspect the former. But then, the two possibilities are hardly exclusive of one another. The emerging documentary tradition (which would flower in the films of Pare Lorenz; the photography of Walker Evans, Dorothy Lange and so many others; the writing of James Agee and even John Steinbeck; the Living Newspapers on stage, etc.) certainly embraced a progressive perspective, perhaps inevitable in the face of the economic and political questions that arose from the great collapse. At any rate, the works in Coit Tower serve as a great reminder of how seriously such questions were debated, even within the arts, during that time period.

What I Did Yesterday

Yesterday I went with Sally, Ben, Nik, Helen and Emma to the Burchfield-Penney Art Museum. It's an incredibly kid-friendly place, not like most art galleries where you get the impression that you need to be totally quiet to fully appreciate the artwork. Here they actually have mulitple rooms where the youngsters can play and be creative on their own terms.

There was also a "tool kit" (held by Ben above) to help them look for certain elements in the regular exhibits, which at least gave them the opportunity to engage on some level with the more serious work on display (the current shows focus on Charles Burchfield's urban landscapes, Duane Hatchett's geometrical creations in paintings and sculptures, and some nice Western New York regionalism from the thirties, forties & fifties including a healthy selection of paintings by local legend Anthony Sisti).

I think I've written before that the Burchfield-Penney Center is a great space, with large open spaces (including a nce outdoor balcony) between the various galleries (which is part of what makes it so kid-friendly, as they have space to wander around without disturbing the more serious patrons).

The schedule of upcoming events looks pretty exciting too-- which means that there should be lots of new stuff to see the next time I get a chance to visit (hopefully in December).

After leaving the Burchfield-Penney Center, we made a stop at the Anderson Gallery to look at some wonderful Salvador Dali prints on display there. This gallery is in an old public school building, so there was space for the kids to run around a bit here too (they played tag while Sally and I perused the artwork). They also had up a bunch of stuff related to the work of James Joyce, so bonus points there as well. A great day to enjoy some art and maybe spark some long-term interest in the stuff among the young'uns.

Thursday's Thought for the Day

Max Planck (1858-1947) is the originator of quantum theory of physics. So he has a bit of a stake in the following conclusion. If I can propose a small assignment in relation to this quote, think about whether it applies to areas aside from science (or even always science):

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by
convincing its opponents and making them
see the light, but rather because its opponents
eventually die out, and a new generation
grows up that is familiar with it."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Norah Jones Doing Hank Williams

I really like this rendition of the Hank Williams classic "Cold Cold Heart" (which goes back to the late 1940s) as performed by Norah Jones (the daughter of Ravi Shankar, continuing on a theme from the last music video I posted). I hope you like it too:

Great Contemporary Character Actors

Back in the thirties and forties, many Hollywood movies that were otherwise pretty mundane could be brought to life by the appearance of a familiar face in a small but critical role; in the case of good films, they could be counted on to make the proceedings even better. I'm thinking of folks like William Demerest, Eugene Pallette, Ned Sparks, Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre (with or without Sidney Greenstreet), Beulah Bondi, Jane Darwell, Spring Byington, and many, many others. The character actor always seemed to play the same part-- their careers pretty much depended on typecasting, where they so perfectly embodied some common type that they could essentially play the same role over and over and always make it fresh and relevant to the story at hand. We don't often think of actors in such simplistic ways today, but there are a number of fine character actors around, and I thought I'd like to give them a little attention. So, here's the first installment in what will be another intermittent feature on this blog: celebrating the great contemporary character actors. My first subject: the sublime Carlos Jacott, who I first rememebr encountering in the Noah Baumbach feature Kicking and Screaming (see below). Some of you may recognize him from other fine work he's done in Grosse Pointe Blank, Mr. Jealousy, The Last Days of Disco, or as Ramon the pool boy from Seinfeld. Here are some highlights from Kicking and Screaming, most of which feature Carlos (in his role as Otis, the pajama-wearing guy with a drinking problem):

So, a heartfelt tip of the hat to Carlos Jacott-- keep up the good work!

Wednesday Morning Quotation

Short and sweet, from Philip Wylie's controversial book of 1942 (though I doubt this point was part of that controversy), Generation of Vipers:

"Ignorance is not bliss--
it is oblivion."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I Did Sunday

This past Sunday, I took a little ride with Sara, Tom, Natalie, Ben, and Andromeda down to Eighteen Mile Creek Park in Hamburg. None of us had been there before, and we made a few wrong turns before finding the park entrance, but it was worth the effort. The creek cuts through a small chasm of steep shale cliffs on one side and green forest on the other, and it made for a great spot for wading, skipping stones, and taking pictures, like these:

Above is a look at the forest on the pathway down to the creek (which you can make out in a silver sliver near the center of this shot).

Here's a view looking across at the shale (and I think looking west where the creek eventually empties into Lake Erie).

There were a couple of very high, very narrow waterfalls cascading over the edge on the far side of the creek.

Here are Natalie and Ben doing some of that aforementioned wading (kids sure do like to get wet, don't they?).

There were a few mild rapids in the creek where we were, and a little later on, we saw some kids with tubes (though not actually riding them for some reason).

I think I caught a stone in mid-skip here-- it's just splashed and is heading off stage left.

I had to get one in here of Tom and Andromeda, but you may have to squint to see them.

Sally never stops being a teacher-- I wonder what fascinating item she is showing Ben here (and I wonder if she brought it home with her). It was a fun day all around, and the rain even mostly held off until we got back to the car!

Soup Diary 090728

Did you ever have a bowl of soup garnished with lettuce? Me neither, until yesterday. How about this: do you associate celery with cheeseburgers? No, me neither, though chunks of the crispy stuff was very prominent in the bowl of Cheeseburger Soup I had yesterday at Fables. Despite these odd components (odd in the sense of defying expectations) this was a really good soup. There was also, of course, some cheese and hamburger in the mix, along with onions and tomatoes, and no doubt one or two things I didn't discern (distracted as I was by the lettuce and celery), and the whole thing was extremely satisfying. I made the comment in an earlier diary entry to beware of gimmick soups, but here was a clear exception to that warning, making me glad I didn't opt for the Minestrone (though I'm sure that would've been fine also).

Quotation for Tuesday

I thought of the poet Vachel Lindsay after posting my comments about Mark Harris the other day (Harris wrote a biography of Lindsay, though I haven't read it), and found this segment of his poem "The Unpardonable Sin" worth sharing:

"This is the sin against the Holy Ghost:--
To speak of bloody power as right devine,
And call on God to guard each vile chief's house,
And for such chiefs, turn men to wolves and swine."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Amy Allison

I had a recent e-mail exchange with friend Evan on the topic of Mose Allison, the really fine jazz/blues pianist and his influence on rock musicians. It reminded me that I haven't checked on what his daughter Amy has been up to lately-- and, lo and behold, she has a new album out! You'll note she has a very distinctive voice (as did her pop, though they sound nothing alike). Here's a video of the title song (I can't wait to hear the rest of the album):

Adventures in Night Photography (cont.)

As regular readers of this blog know, I've undertaken to improve my night-photography skills this summer. I mainly work on this by going out, at night, and snapping off dozens of pictures, all the while adjusting the manual camera settings, and hoping that a few will turn out nice. I try to find places where there is sufficient light, and also some potential for interesting subjects or compositions. Here are a few that I like from the past week:

The first two are from the Canal Fest held each year here in Tonawanda, celebrating the community's history as a key point on the old Erie Canal.

There are always lots of lights and crowds at the Fest, so it was a natural place for me to try my luck with the camera.

A little later that same evening, I drove down to Delaware Park (near where I first started these experiments almost two months ago). That's the park casino in the background of the above shot. It had started to rain a bit, which added some nice reflections to these pictures, as you can see.

Above you can see the Historical Society building off in the right background. Because of the wet pavement, it's not immediately discernible, but Hoyt Lake occupies much of the right side center of this picture.

These next three are from a trip on downtown with Sally, Tom and Ben (I got a couple of them hooked on shooting at night too), down by the terminus point of the Erie Canal, which has only recently been developed into a tourist attraction. Above is a view looking back up from under the Buffalo Skyway (by the way, it was raining on this night as well).

This is a view of the Canal Museum, looking across the slip. The building is meant to look like a warehouse from the antebellum period of the Canal's first heyday.

Last, here's a tall ship leaving the slip (with a bunch of rowdy revelers onboard) for an evening cruise. I'm hoping to get out at least one more time while I'm back east (maybe back to Niagara Falls), and I'll post some more pictures if I do.

A Favorite Writer

Mark Harris, 1922-2007

For a long time, with every visit to a library or bookstore, I made sure to check the fiction section to see if there was something new from Mark Harris. I was rewarded at the rate of about once every four or five years, but even that slim prospect of some new work by Harris made it worth the habitual peek. I just found out that Harris passed away back in 2007. I learned this when I did an author search at the library (a process that became more infrequent as the years passed since the appearance of his last novel, The Tale Maker, in 1994) and saw the death date listed on his entry. I feel bad that there won't be any more books from this fine author, but then it does give me an excuse to go back and re-read (again, and in some cases for the third or fourth time) earlier favorites. He was probably best known for the exquisite baseball novel Bang the Drum Slowly, which of course isn't really about baseball at all (though it's predecessor The Southpaw is possibly the greatest ever in that genre). I also loved his two novels about academia, Wake Up Stupid! and Lying in Bed, which as much as anything else prepared me for the more absurd elements of a professor's life (The Tale Maker is of a different stripe, but no less insightful on that topic). And his poignant tribute to the promise and inevitable loss of youth, Speed, serves as a nice bookend to his much earlier Something About a Soldier which chronicles the struggles of a young man thrust into a world that did not nearly match up with his adolescent expectations. Harris' style (particularly the voices of his typically first-person narrators) seemed on first encounter kind of stilted and artificial, but is ultimately effective in defining the real, human qualities of his characters in a way that required no additional exposition. When you "heard" his characters speak (in narration or dialogue), you quickly had a handle on who they were, and what they represented, and in most cases that meant a solid American folkiness-- not in a backwoods rural sense, but representative of a down-to-earth, common sense kind of perspective on a world rife with modern challenges. The challenges sometimes were insurmountable, but Harris' characters nonetheless remained true to those values that defined them, expressing a world-view that was essentially compassionate and generous even to those who themselves in those attributes. If you'd like to check out his work, let me suggest you start with the Henry Wiggen novels (Wiggen was the narrator): The Southpaw, Bang the Drum Slowly, Ticket for a Seamstitch, and It Looked Like Forever. Even if you aren't a baseball fan, I think you'll find them all great reads.

Monday Morning Philosophy

This passage is from what I think was Peter Matthiessen's first non-fiction book Wildlife in America from 1959. He's has written fiction as well in a long and distinguished career:

"The concept of conservation is a far truer sign of
civilization than that spoliation of a continent
which we once confused with progress. Today,
very late, we are coming to accept the fact that
the harvest of renewable resources must be
controlled. Forests, soil, water, and wildlife
are mutually interdependent, and the ruin of
one will mean, in the end, the ruin of them all."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Last Movie I Saw

I came to Olivier Assayas' new film Summer Hours (l'Heure d'ete) expecting something of a thematic sequel to his earlier film Late August, Early September. The latter (which I loved, by the way) was a fascinating portrait of a group of friends approaching their middle years and coming to grips with the tensions of adulthood and mortality. The brief summary that I'd heard of Summer Hours, a family coming together to deal with the death of the matriarch, suggested a similar examination, but that proved to be a relatively minor theme in comparison to Assayas' inquiry into the nature of culture and generational legacies. The matriarch had lived the latter portion of her life as the caretaker of her beloved uncle's artistic works and reputation. Her home was practically a shrine to his career, filled not only with the uncle's pieces, but also the gifts of his colleagues and counterparts in the art world in the form of paintings and sculptures, but also desks, armoires, and (most touchingly, in the end) dinnerware and vases. The mother's death puts the fate of these objects-- and to a degree the "culture" that they represented both within the family and in the sacred (not in the religious sense) national heritage of France-- in question, and the story that unfolds in response is both fascinating and provocative.

I saw this movie at the same time that I was reading Roberto Bolano's novel By Night in Chile, which raises similar questions in relation to a dying priest recalling his career as a literary figure (poet and critic) during an age of political and social upheaval in his native country, leading to the era of Allende and Pinochet. His ruminations start with the a core belief in the power of literature to define something pure, noble, and lasting of his own country's best nature (not unlike the church to which he is also devoted). This is based in part on a certain ascetic devotion that pretends to catholicity (again, not in the religious sense, except metaphorically), but ultimately evolves into something like proprietary exclusivity that renders the works themselves inaccessible and ultimately forgotten. It certainly becomes evident that "real life" does not acknowledges such cultural capital as events outside the literary salons betray the common rejection of anything remotely pure or noble. The consequence for the priest is to be shaken on his deathbed with the realization that his longstanding anchors had failed, leaving him adrift in uncertainty and strangely un-articulate-able regret. Bolano's masterful narrative belies any notion that there is no value in art, but it cannot in the end entirely refute the priest's conclusion that its powers hardly extend beyond the merely aesthetic.

Assayas' film offers a different perspective, that offers more hope than Bolano's story implies. For Assayas, there is a generational imperative to constantly redefine culture-- not to become bogged down in preserving something whose value (aesthetic, political, utilitarian, or whatever) cannot be effectively translated from one time or place to another. He also seems to be arguing for a view of art that allows for individual need or sensibility to trump institutional interpretation in determining something's value. This kind of thoughtful, engagingly intellectual (but not snooty or overly intellectualized) treatment is in the end, much like Bolano's novel, proof that art (and culture, in the way that Matthew Arnold defined it) has a place, even as it perpetuates the questions about what that role might be.

Soup Diary 090726

I enjoyed a hearty cup of White Bean and Pork soup last night at the Hideaway Restaurant in North Tonawanda. The white meat pork was a nice switch from the more commonly used bacon or ham in bean soups, and made for a most enjoyable prelude to my dinner of baby back ribs. What this experience tells me is that it is possible to get a decent and original tasting cup of soup somewhere other than Fables. I was starting to wonder.

Sunday's Quotation

Josiah William Gitt, was the longtime editor of the Gazette & Daily published in York, Pennsylvania. These particular comments are from a 1957 editorial he wrote:

"Humanity's most valuable assets have been
the non-conformists. Were it not for
non-conformists, he who refuses to
satisfied to go along with the continuance

of things as they are, and insists upon
attempting to find new ways of bettering
things, the world would have known
little progress indeed."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Night at the Movies

Back in this post, I mentioned the Paul Newman retrospective unspooling at the classic Riviera Theater in North Tonawanda this summer. I also mentioned my intention of going to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to see if the big screen, old-time Hollywoody environment could improve my impression of that so-called classic (though I was off by a couple weeks as to when it was scheduled). Anyway, it did play this past Thursday, and I was there. I have to report that the mostly beautiful Conrad Hall photography did look especially good on the big screen, but that overall I still don't think much of the movie. The leads (Newman and Robert Redford) are charismatic, and there are a lot of great scenes and or lines (you can probably recite a few yourself if you've seen the flick), but overall I can't figure out what it's supposed to add up to. Like every George Roy Hill (director) film I've ever seen, it seems extremely choppy and prone to sensation over substance. I don't deny that that can make for an enjoyable night at the cinema, but I'd like to think that titles elevated to the status of classic would have a little bit more on the ball. In a way (and I admit I'd have to think about this some more to figure out if what I'm about to write holds up to close scrutiny) this is an early example of what mainstream movies would mostly become by the end of the 1970s-- star vehicles that didn't necessarily have any purpose besides making money. I know that's been true of Hollywood from the very start in many respects, but I'm not sure that it wasn't until this later period when audiences (as much as studio accountants) counted something worthwhile based strictly on its commercial success-- you know, finding the first weekend grosses to be a sign of whether something is worth seeing or not. Again, this is coming off the top of my head, so maybe I'm being unfair to Butch Cassidy in that regard-- feel free to tell me so in the comments if you're so inclined.

Saturday Morning Cartoon

From those heady days of 1964, here's the first segment from the premiere episode of The Underdog Show. Doesn't arch-villain Simon Bar Sinister sound a lot like Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life? I hope you like this as much as I did when I was five years old:

Saturday's Quote

This passage from the noted nineteenth century critic and essayist Matthew Arnold is kind of a prelude for a longer post I should have up by tomorrow (probably under the heading "The Last Movie I Saw"). So your assignment is to read this, think about it, and be prepared to consider how it applies in that upcoming post:

"The great men of culture are those who have
had a passion for diffusing, for making prevail,
for carrying from one end of society to the other,
the best knowledge, the best ideas of their time;
who have labored to divest knowledge of all that
was harsh, uncouth, difficult, abstract, professional,
exclusive; to humanize it, to make it efficient
outside the clique of the cultivated and the
learned, yet still remain the best knowledge
and thought of the time, and a true source,
therefore, of sweetness and light."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

I know this will be hard to believe, but the above photo is of Helen, not Emma (though Helen was about the age her sister is now when this was shot). The question I pose to you is: whose knee is that in the lower left hand corner of the picture? Put your guesses in the comments section. Quick hint: the picture was taken during the Fourth of July reunion in 2006.

Last week, I asked you to spin a little yarn about what was going on in a picture taken of Ben and Natalie at the Tifft Nature Preserve. Lil Sis talked herself out of the wrong answer in the only response (the only response!? Come on folks-- I thought you liked to play these games!), and actually hit on the right answer (though for the wrong reason). Ben and Natalie were indeed collecting stones, not to save, but to toss at a large snake sunning itself on a branch in the lagoon. We were all wondering if it was dead or alive and thought we could tell if the snake responded to being splashed (or hit directly). It was all in the interests of science, I assure you (and to put an end to the suspense: it was very much alive and a lot quicker than we would've thought considering that we all thought it was dead).

More Friday Family Blogging

It may seem like I'm posting an inordinate number of photos of the Caufield kids in this space, but consider: 1) I'm spending a fair amount of time with them this summer; 2) they're young enough that they mostly ignore me constantly sticking a camera in their faces; and 3) they're just so gosh-darned cute! So please indulge me as I once again offer up some pictures, of Nik (in the big chair)...

... Helen (in mid salute)...

... and little Emma (accompanying the crew on piano):

Soup Diary 090724

There was something new to try today at Fables, so I (figuratively) dove right in. The avgolemono is a Greek Chicken and Rice soup with lemon and (in this case) plentiful onion rounding out the mix. It was quite tasty, if not quite up to the best bowls enjoyed there in previous visits. One of the things I'm discovering through this little exercise of recording my soup choices is that I noticeably prefer the creamy to the clear broth varieties, something that I would not have predicted. I'm also surprised that the blended soups, where you can't detect the main ingredients by sight (as opposed to taste) are also in the top tier. I'm wondering how difficult they are to make, anticipating a long winter far from the library cafe, and contemplating trying to replicate some of my favorites at home. I've got another week to sample a couple more varieties here, and then I'll be searching for recipes. I'll be sure to keep you posted on whatever experiments I undertake in my own kitchen.

Friday Family Blogging

About two weeks ago, my cousin Sharon's daughter Jessica got married, bringing together out in the Washington, bringing together the whole west coast side of the Powers clan. They took the opportunity to pose for the picture above, which I'm posting here in the event my sister Liz has missed sending it to anyone. I recognize all my cousins and I think their spouses; but it's hit or miss with the next generation-- anyone want to take a shot at a full listing (you can click on the picture for a bigger version)? I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of these folks next month when I get around to heading out that way.

Political Comment

I'm not going to pretend that, as I've been enjoying my summer vacation, I've spent a lot of time following the ongoing debate about the proposed Health Care bill. To the degree that I have heard some discussion on the topic, I have to say that its critics are betraying a significant lack of understanding of one of the key elements of the push for reform. No one, as some of them seem to imply, is suggesting that the quality of health care in this country (that is, the proficiency of our doctors, the quality of technology in our hospitals, etc.) is the real problem. The problems are access and waste, both of which are exacerbated by private insurers by their refusal to cover "pre-existing" conditions (often uncovered only long after the customer began paying premiums) and the bureaucracy they employ to tell their customers "no." I have insurance, but when I travel, I'm confronted with an incredible headache of trying to re-fill my prescriptions because my insurance company won't authorize my purchasing more than a month's supply at a time. This necessitates numerous phone-calls between me and my doctor's office, them and the pharmacy, and I suspect between the pharmacy and the insurance company. That adds up to a lot of man-hours of wasted time, when all they need to let me do is get sufficient pills before I leave to last me through my trip. Mine is ultimately a tiny problem in the grand scheme of things, but I can't help but think it's indicative of systemic inefficiency made many times worse by the virtual monopolies enjoyed by private insurers in many instances. Those who are trying to stall the reform (Republicans and Democrats alike) are doing all of us a disservice by pretending that this isn't a big problem, and should stop taking their lead from the insurance industry.

Friday Food for Thought

The substance of the following may strike some as cynical or pessimistic. But if you think it through, I think you'll have to admit that Sir Isaiah Berlin (the eminent Latvian philosopher and historian of ideas) was on to something with the statement:

"In the ideal society, composed of wholly
responsible human beings, laws, because I
should scarcely be conscious of them, would
gradually wither away. Only one social
movement was bold enough to render
this assumption quite explicit and accept
its consequences-- that of the Anarchists."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Favorite Painting, 38

Robert Delaunay, Champ de Mars: The Red Tower, 1911/23

I've been thinking a bit lately about the meaning of "modernism," not just in relation to art but as a historical phenomenon associated closely with the twentieth century. It's a term that permeates much of what was and is written about the period marked by rapid technological advances and concurrent developments in political, social and aesthetic thought and practice. At its core, modernism suggests that what is new is better, or at least more important or significant, than the traditional practices that dominated the Western world (at least) for the previous several hundred years (classicism). Where art and painting is concerned, this is manifested in an image like Delaunay's, the style of which is representational, but fragmented and analytical as opposed to merely illustrative. In viewing more traditional works, a viewer might break it down into component parts for study, but here, Delaunay has already done that for us. There's a comparison to made between this and Peter Breugel's Renaissance depiction of the Tower of Babel, but Delaunay's image portrays the inherent instability of his structure without needing to invoke any outside point of reference as Breugel's work does. What's really interesting is that that instability is built into the modern sensibility-- something cannot be new forever, and will inevitably give way to something else. The question remains as to whether there is an infinite pool of innovation to draw upon, or if it is inevitable that we rediscover and integrate the classic ideas over and over in order to continue fostering what we consider to be change.

In the Category of Useless Information...

[Which end do you think is the front? Not so fast...]

Did you know that today marks the anniversary of the start of the first transcontinental, non-stop, backwards auto trip across the US? Now you do. Setting off on this date in 1930, Charles Creighton and James Hargis drove their 1929 Model A in reverse from New York City to Los Angeles (arriving on August 13) without ever stopping the engine. Pretty interesting huh?

Last night, Ben and I went to a classic car show at the Canalfest in North Tonawanda, and actually saw a 1929 Model A there. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the car that made the backwards trip (nor is it the one in the above picture), and I didn't hear the story of the Creighton/Hargis adventure until this morning-- I just thought it was a weird coincidence that I saw the same model car just before hearing the story.