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"T" for Texas

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I feel for Texas. The pictures from Hurricane Harvey are pretty horrific. (The pictures from Sierra Leone where hundreds lost their lives in mudslides after torrential rains collapsed entire hillsides are equally terrible, as were the scenes from Peru last spring where floods killed hundreds and left 700,000 homeless.)

Water has a terrible power…and a lasting effect on its victims. I spend way too much time watching videos of tsunamis on YouTube. Those Texans are going be cleaning up and rebuilding for a long, long time. So many lives, upended; so many plans, ruined.

I’ve only spent a little time in Texas. The last time I was there was a few years ago helping my son – Calder’s Father, the Sculptor – drive a rental trunk full of his work from a show of his in Houston back to Los Angeles.

We weren’t in Houston long, but we had a taste of a harsh, nasty Gulf storm. Nothing like Harvey obviously, but we got completely, ridiculously soaked in a very short period of time. And there was instant 100% humidity, right after the storm. We joked with the waitress who served our lunch that housing costs in Houston are low because the weather is so horrible. (Even though we were near the Gulf, there were signs on certain bridges that they could freeze in winter. What kind of a strange climate is that?)

One thing that struck me as we drove through Texas was the careless, almost haphazard arrangement of buildings. Everywhere you could see oil wells and heavy equipment interspersed in neighborhoods. Industry right in the middle of residential areas, some next to schools and playgrounds. They don’t zone too seriously in Texas.

Here are some good places to send money to help the victims of Harvey:

The Texas Workers Relief Fund.

RNRN Disaster Relief Fund.

Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group Fund

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

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Down Down Down Down Down

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This was a very bad week for Donald Trump … but a worse one for the USA. Can you believe it? We actually have a white supremacist/neo-Nazi sympathizer in the White House.

And I’m afraid that things are going to get worse. Much worse.

I really don’t like to think about or write about Trump, but there he is – this huge FACT in all our lives that cannot be ignored. I want to work on my novel and escape into Art. But that really doesn’t work.

Trump’s racism has a long, blatant history: his housing discrimination suit in the 1970s, his race-baiting of the DNA-exonerated Central Park Five, his birtherism, the Muslim Ban, his vile attacks on immigrants, minorities, a judge with Mexican heritage, a Muslim Gold Star family, etc., not to mention his father Fred Trump’s history of racist beliefs and actions including an arrest at a KKK demonstration in New York in 1927. But Tuesday’s press conference where he called some of the KKK/white supremacist/neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville “very fine people” might have been a tipping point.

As horrible as the GOP has been for the past forty years, Trump’s open acceptance of bigotry wasn’t just the usual Republican dog-whistle (Ronald Reagan’s “I believe in states’ rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi, on August 3, 1980, or the first Bush’s “Willie Horton” ads, or Fox News’ take-down of ACORN, etc.), it was an attempt by an American president to normalize extremism and race-based hatred.

And this time, he might have gone too far.

 

PRESIDENT PARIAH

What Trump said was so toxic that two of his business councils (his Strategy and Policy Forum and Manufacturing Council) dissolved before his eyes. And these were supposedly his people -- because what did Trump sell himself to the American people as if not a “businessman” who could bring direction and decisive action to logjammed Washington. Now corporate leaders don’t want to even be in the same room with him.

Of course, Trump’s actual record as a businessman is deeply-deeply-deeply flawed. The only thing that he has been really good at is self-promotion. (After all, he self-promoted himself into the presidency.)

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Worse and Worse, Better and Better (with Homage to Sebastian Stoskopff)

Public trouble and chaos, private peace and progress. The macro-world is mad, but my micro-world is more than OK.

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WORSE AND WORSE

We didn’t move from New York to California until 1989, so for a long time, Donald Trump was for me just a local New York character, one of the many unsavory, amusing scoundrels/big-mouths/hucksters/connivers/rascals/swindlers/rogues who fill the history of “the City.”

Boss Tweed … George Steinbrenner … Gentleman Jimmy Walker … Roy Cohn … P.T. Barnum … Jay Gould … Ed Koch … Robert Moses … Jed Harris … Rudolph Guiliani … Bob Guccione … David Merrick … Al Goldstein … Walter Winchell … The list of larger-than-life, unsavory New Yorkers is practically endless.

In fact, I believe that one of the original “attractions” of Trump was that he is a New York loudmouth, willing to say anything: a comic figure, a tummler* spritzing jokes, nasty asides and “truths,” with no filter and no rules. Isn’t that what he played on “The Apprentice?” Who else could ridicule John McCain’s POW history and get away with it? Who else could call The White House “a dump” and not be routed out of office with pitchforks and torches?”

Trump was SPY magazine’s “short-fingered vulgarian” and a target of derision almost from the moment he surfaced. As Liz Smith, one of New York’s venerable gossip columnists who’s observed Trump for decades, said of him, “He was a horse’s ass. Still is.” Remember, Trump got 18% of the vote in New York City; this is from the people who know him best. He is so reviled in his hometown that they have to take his name off of buildings.

And now he’s the POTUS. It’s still hard to believe; a bad dream from which we cannot wake. I still think that he won’t finish his term. Impeachment and/or resignation is inevitable. He’s barely half-a-year into his term, and there is so much to come out. Arguably Trump’s firing of James Comey over “the Russia thing” is reason enough to remove him from office – prima face obstruction of justice -- but I’m sure many other offenses will come to the surface now that Robert Mueller has two grand juries impaneled. So much lying, so many evasions from so many people, for so many months – Flynn, Sessions, Manafort, Kushner, Trump Jr., and the master liar Trump himself – are the smoke that shows how much fire there is.

What will happen if – or is it when – Trump gets rid of Mueller? I’m old enough to remember the Saturday Night Massacre when Nixon arranged the firing of Watergate investigator Archibald Cox. The TG and I didn’t have a lot of money in 1973. I remember that we were repainting our bedroom that weekend, but we sent a telegram of protest – probably to Nixon. I don’t recall what it said, but I do remember that it cost more than $6 to send it. Who remembers “telegrams?

(Of course, the man Nixon got to fire Cox after both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Rusckelshaus refused to do it was the notorious Robert Bork. I had some slight phone contact with Bork when I was an editorial assistant to the economics editor at a book publisher where he had a book contract. He was polite, but kind of a dick. He never delivered the manuscript.)

When the facts about Trump & Co.’s collusion with the Russians come out – which will happen – what will rank-and-file Republicans do? What will the Freedom Caucus and other self-described patriots do? It will be … interesting.

The work of the free press – specifically The New York Times and The Washington Post – is going to be essential as we move forward into history. Just like during Watergate.

Meanwhile … Congressman Brad Sherman’s Trump Impeachment resolution – H. Res. 438 – stands.

https://sherman.house.gov/sites/sherman.house.gov/files/FINAL%20Article%20of%20Impeachment.pdf

It is important to keep protesting, resisting, and laughing at Trump. Remember, as Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”

 

BETTER AND BETTER

As the foundations of the Republic are shaking, I’m having a fine old time. Is that wrong?

I delivered the manuscript of WHEN I GOT OUT to my publisher and got back some great notes from him. So I have a few more months of work to do, but his ideas were very good, and they will make the book better. (I also got some great notes from a good friend of mine, a gifted writer/editor/reader.) I am consumed with making it better. That’s the mandate of my job.

But while I was waiting for his notes, I found myself with some extra time one morning and went with the TG to the Norton Simon Museum in nearby Pasadena. The Norton Simon is one of the best small museums in the US. (The other good candidates are the Frick Collection in New York, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.) I go to the Norton Simon with some regularity. According to Google Maps, it is 11 minutes from my house, so we take visitors from out of town there all the time. But sometimes I go with the TG, and sometimes I go by myself.

And virtually every time, I find a new artist – at least new to me – who thrills me. This time, it was SEBASTIAN STOSKOPFF. This Alsatian painter (born in 1597, died in 1657) was one of the great masters of still life painting. He painted in the style of the Dutch and Flemish schools – “orderly disorder” – to depict worldly objects and, at the same time, comment upon man and his foibles. Stoskopff’s specialty was the painting of extremely thin stemware, often in a solitary basket. Broken glass symbolized the transient nature of life. Ain’t it the truth, Sebastian?

I spent a good long time examing Stoskopff’s STILL LIFE WITH EMPTY GLASSES from very close range. It is a tour de force of the painter’s ability to recreate the textures and look of reality. The gold-rimmed silver cups, the transparent glasses, the wicker baskets, the copper and the brass are all rendered with perfect clarity, precision, and, yes, love. This painting is so good, it almost jumps off the wall.

There are a few mentions of Stoskopff in my art history sources, but he‘s not even mentioned in Gardner’s ART THROUGH THE AGES, an often-used standard art history. (Calder’s Father borrowed my Jansen and Gombrich, or I’d check them.) Stoskopff produced a catalog of 70 works, although some of these are doubtful attributions. There is no separate monograph on Stroskopff in English, or I’d buy it in a flash.

Every time I discover a “new” genius, I am filled with hope and inspiration. Stoskopff’s expertise is stunning and undeniable. Who cares if nobody’s ever heard of him? The work is what matters. Maybe I can put words and sentences together, the way that he applies paint to the canvas – with “clarity, precision, and, yes, love.” I can certainly try.

As I mentioned above, I have changes to make on WHEN I GOT OUT. Not super-major changes, but any change in a novel is significant. Change one piece, and you can alter the tapestry in a hundred ways. And the whole piece has to be re-woven, so it’s seamless. At least, that’s what you aim for.

Meanwhile, I’m inspired. As Noel Coward said, “Work is more fun than fun.”

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Stoskopff’s Wikipedia entry
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebastian_Stoskopff

Stoskopff’s entry in Art Cyclopedia
http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/stoskopff_sebastien.html

59 Stoskopff Paintings in The Athenaeum
https://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/list.php?m=a&s=tu&aid=6317

A nice Stoskopff entry from Art Courier
http://www.penccil.com/gallery.php?p=801537430660

Stoskopff’s BASKET WITH GLASSES, PIE, AND A LETTER with a Mozart String Quartet
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-q_TIYrEUU

 

*In THE JOYS OF YIDDISH, Leo Rosten’s first definition of ‘tummler’ is: “One who creates a lot of noise (tummel) but accomplishes little.”

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