Saturday, December 15, 2007
Some paintings you might have missed
This past Thursday the Spanish-language news journal "Aquí y ahora" surprised me with some relatively old news: There is an exhibit at the American University Museum in Washington, DC, of the "Abu Ghraib" series of 79 paintings by the Colombian painter Fernando Botero. It opened in November and will close December 30. Though the paintings have been shown in Europe, this is the first exhibition in an American museum.
I suppose the paintings were a surprise for me not only because I don't keep up with the art world but also because the paintings, produced in 2005, received little notice in the American media. No surprise there.
The Washington Post turned to Erica Jong for a reaction at the time of the opening, and react she did—
I am looking at another recent work by Botero in which a roly-poly woman is stuffing her face with an apple as if she were a Christmas pig. Before the Abu Ghraib series I would have shrugged off this image. Now I see all Botero's work as a record of the brutality of the haves against the have-nots. I would be surprised if the Abu Ghraib series of images did not completely change our view of Botero as an artist.
Botero alludes to Picasso's Guernica when he states his reasons for painting the series—"Nobody would remember the horrors of Guernica if it weren't for the painting [Simply Appalling translation]." And he notes that he based the paintings not on the famous photographs out of Abu Ghraib but on what he read in the press.
Unfortunately, most of us will not have the opportunity to see these paintings. So cycling from the press to the paintings and from the paintings back to the press, I recommend the description of the exhibition written by Tim Harper for the Toronto Star that concludes—
Most say they find Botero's paintings more disturbing than the actual images, which they all saw in media accounts at the time.
Since there are a number of Simply Appalling readers in the Washington-DC area besides the NSA, I thought I should mention the exhibition before it closes.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Military Secret of the Day
There's little time to write. I've been contending with rot and mold—not on me, as you might suppose, but on the surrounding structure.
In the meantime you might contemplate the motivation for this—
... the Army won't let you read any Silver Star narratives. Though most are not classified, they are kept filed away from public view....
Army lawyers and bureaucrats have blocked requests ... to open these war stories to the public....
—David Wood reporting in "Army blocks 'narratives' of heroism"
Wood lists the official excuses—
The Army denied a March 2006 Freedom of Information Act request for the narratives, first on the grounds that it couldn't find all of them.
Next, Army lawyers argued that releasing the narratives "could subject the soldier and family to increased personal risk." But the Army and the Defense Department already publicize the names, photos and hometowns of medal recipients.
The lawyers also argued that disclosure would discourage officers in the future from writing detailed battle accounts.
The Army seems not to have a leg to stand on—
After being prodded for more than a year, the Army acknowledged last week that there is no law or regulation that blocks release of the narratives.
The Army had argued that a Defense Department directive specifically prohibited the release. But the Pentagon directive on medals and awards makes no mention of narratives, and the Army's assertion was hotly denied by a Pentagon spokesman, Col. Gary Keck. "No DoD policy prohibits the release of award narratives," he insisted.
Even so, Army lawyers are conferring with the Pentagon's general counsel, seeking a balance between privacy and public disclosure, officers said.
So the Army is lying about it's reasons for hiding the narratives and fighting tooth and nail to prevent their disclosure. What could account for this bizarre behavior?
My only thought is that the Army may fear that disclosure of the narratives might open them up to questions concerning the integrity of the awards, as happened in the case of Presidential candidate John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 campaign.
Insights are always welcome in the Comments section.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Snatches from the Pink Snapper — 3
Having been stood up last night by someone whom I was to meet me for an important conference at the Pink Snapper, I was left to ponder the meaning of 'meaning' and other lugubrious thoughts occasioned not only by the failure of our mutual understanding of the meaning of 'meet' but also by certain essays I had read yesterday in pursuit of greater insight into Bentham's Panopticon.
But before I could fully sound out "panopticism," I found myself hip deep in the maelstrom of post-structuralist indeterminacy from which I hastily withdrew. Call it a phobia if you like, but I have always feared I might lose my balance and be swept away by a floating antinomy.
I really don't understand the deconstructionists, but it has always seemed to me that, feeling as they do about words, they use an inordinate quantity of them.
All I know about meaning is that if I say "potato" over and over again it will in short order decompose into a veritable salad of meanings. And if I continue to say it, it will lose all meaning other than the pure sound of it—at least from my perspective—which hardly helps since pure sound has no meaning, as you may quickly verify by chanting "OM." So in the end I am left without the 'potato' I began with and begin to wonder what I should eat.
You, on the other hand, are free to suppose whatever you like about what 'potato' means to me—and this becomes part of the meaning of 'potato' for you, colored perhaps by your memory of the last time you were left alone in a room with a man saying "potato."
What this denotes I cannot—or will not—say.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
News of note — Dec 11 07
- According to Reuters, the Iranian news agency ISNA reported this weekend that Iran "has completely stopped selling any of its oil for U.S. dollars." This is probably not as dramatic as it appears at first blush since Iran has been steadily reducing its sales in dollars for some time, preferring the euro and yen.
- You've probably heard by now that "Scooter" Libby has dropped his appeal of his conviction for outing CIA agent Valerie Plame. President Bush had already commuted his prison sentence. But the BBC offered this insight—
The decision to drop the appeal is also a tactical one, correspondents say.
Even if a federal appeals court overturned Libby's conviction, that would lead to another long and costly trial.
If he was convicted again, Mr Bush's commutation would not apply and the president is likely to have left office.
- The diocese of San Joaquin, California, has become the first of the Episcopal Church's 110 dioceses to vote to secede from the American church and join the Province of the Southern Cone (South America). Too much "liberal theology" (read, "gays") in the American church, you know.
Along the way the diocesan bishop, John-David Schofield, led his flock to believe that "... the Archbishop of Canterbury has been fully informed of the invitation of the Province of the Southern Cone and described it as a 'sensible way forward.'" On Monday the Archbishop let it be known that he had done no such thing.
Tags: news and politics
Monday, December 10, 2007
Must-Read of the Day
The loans at issue dwarf the capital available at the largest U.S. banks combined, and investor lawsuits would raise stunning liability sufficient to cause even the largest U.S. banks to fail, resulting in massive taxpayer-funded bailouts of Fannie and Freddie, and even FDIC.
Attorney Sean Olender doesn't think Bush's announcement last week of a plan to reschedule the rise in interest rates on subprime mortgages, maintaining them at their current levels for the next five years, is quite what it is advertised to be. In brief, Olender argues that the plan is not about keeping hapless homeowners in their homes but about keeping fraudulent financiers out of jail.
Along the way, Olender makes a number of observations about the mortgage debacle that are "beyond the current media discussion." For instance,
The ticking time bomb in the U.S. banking system is not resetting subprime mortgage rates. The real problem is the contractual ability of investors in mortgage bonds to require banks to buy back the loans at face value if there was fraud in the origination process.
And, to be sure, fraud is everywhere. It's in the loan application documents, and it's in the appraisals. There are e-mails and memos floating around showing that many people in banks, investment banks and appraisal companies - all the way up to senior management - knew about it.
Secretary Paulson: What did he know and when did he know it?
As chief of Goldman Sachs, Paulson was involved, to degrees as yet unrevealed, in the mortgage securitization process during the halcyon days of mortgage fraud from 2004 to 2006.
Paulson became the U.S. Treasury secretary on July 10, 2006, after the extent of the debacle was coming into focus for those in the know....
Goldman Sachs is the only major investment bank in the United States that has emerged as yet unscathed from this debacle. The success of its strategy must have resulted from fairly substantial bets against housing, mortgage banking and related industries, which also means that Goldman Sachs saw this coming at the same time they were bundling and selling these loans.
If a mortgage bond investor sues Goldman Sachs to force the institution to buy back loans, could Paulson be forced to testify as to whether Goldman Sachs knew or had reason to know about fraud in the origination process of the loans it was bundling?
To be sure, there are other opinions as to what lies behind this new plan, which almost everyone agrees will not avert the crisis and will help as few as 145,000 homeowners. Elizabeth Warren says it may be a tactic to head off Democratic proposals for changes in the bankruptcy laws that would greatly empower threatened homeowners.
While economic ideology was undoubtedly considered before proposing this "plan," staying out of jail and saving the banks would be the priorities—and in that order.