Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Happy Anniversary + 9

Nine years ago today my wife and I were married here in New York City. Held at Grace Church on Broadway, one of the city's historic Episcopal parishes, it was a whirlwind day about which I can remember very few concrete details. (There were just so many people to greet and hands to shake that it's now all a blur. Even my wife feels that way!) We spent our first night of married life at the Marriott World Trade Center (which was flattened when the World Trade Center Towers fell) and flew out to Maui the next day for two glorious weeks in a condo on the beach. That was heaven . . . like one of those "fantasy dates" on the idiotic "Bachelor" shows. The years since then haven't been quite that idyllic and fantasy-like. But they've been good years nonetheless.

On wedding anniversaries I usually find myself thinking about my first marriage, its demise, and the ways in which it compares so starkly to the present union. My ex and I were together for a decade and married for six years. We had a great intellectual bond - hey, we were both history professors - but there was rarely much passion in the relationship. In fact, she had a severe case of emotional constipation, exacerbated in part by the influence of an extremely conservative, rural family in Virginia. She just didn't like to talk about her feelings, emotions, or anything of that ilk, which was surprising given the strength of her personality in other areas. There were times I wished that the drug companies could invent psychological Ex-Lax and emotional stool softeners.

In the end - ok, unintentionally bad pun given that last sentence - her decision to open up about her severe depression significantly helped her state of mind. Indeed, she finally admitted that she had been a lesbian since her teens but had never been able to realize that orientation because of intense family prejudice and the hyper-conservative environment (East Tennessee) in which we lived for ten years. We've actually remained good friends - which I realize might seem rather abnormal for some couples - and regularly trade emails and the occasional phone conversation at Christmas. I remember the last time I saw her about 4 years ago; she was wound as tightly as ever, puffing on a Benson and Hedges Menthol cigarette, talking at about 100 mph, and driving the car we were in at nearly that speed. She hadn't changed much after several years, but it was nice to see that she had largely made peace with her family and successfully "outed" herself in her community.

As for my current anniversary . . . This relationship is far more emotionally volatile than the last, and I mean that in a good way. Sure, that volatility can precipitate some "knock down drag out" spats. But it also produces good sex after 10 years together. It also yields a level of communication I never experienced with the ex. At least I now always know how my wife is feeling. Our openness likely stems from the fact that we're an "Internet couple," having met and begun our "courtship" through an online dating website. (Yes, we're one of the early success stories in the world of Internet relationships!)

How did we celebrate? Well, she visited my office today and we had lunch at a restaurant next door to the Empire State Building, and we'll exchange cards and little gifts later. Anything beyond that (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) will depend on how early or late the kids fall asleep . . . and how much energy we have left over at that point in the day.

My "Far Side" Life

I've always been a fan of the Far Side cartoons. Frankly, I think Larson said as much about the human condition as any of the greatest 20th century philosophers. The last few days have not been the easiest in terms of my mental health . . . so I thought it was appropriate that this cartoon popped up as yesterday's installment in my Far Side day-by-day calendar. It really expresses how I've felt (and probably how my wife has regarded me as well).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More Spring Flowers!

While enjoying a family picnic on Sunday I snapped these photos at Hudson River Park. The white peonies were spectacular.

Go Google Yourself!

Of course we've all googled ourselves to see just what comes up. When I google myself I find this blog, references to articles I've written or edited, links to a couple of alumni associations, an online art show, and references to the book for which I'm one of the co-editors. But have you ever noticed all those other people who have your name exactly? Obviously if your name is "Susan Smith" or "John Anderson" there are going to be innumerable others who possess your moniker. Nevertheless, one has to be a bit curious about these "others" who were graced with your name at birth.

I had always thought that my last name wasn't that common. With origins in Derbyshire, the name was most common on Virginia's "Eastern Shore" on the Delmarva peninsula, where the first of our family settled in the 1630s. Beyond family circles, however, I rarely saw our last name. Naturally I knew that there were plenty more, scattered around the country as long-forgotten branches of the family migrated westward.

But who is this Brian C. in Lincolnshire, England, who's a real estate site manager? There's a Brian C. football coach in Memphis, Tennessee, and a Brian C. insurance agent in Texas. I'm particularly impressed with my counterpart in Topeka, Kansas, who was quoted in the local paper with his opinion on the war in Iraq. "We were misled into this war," he observed, while marching in an anti-war rally in 2006. Well . . . at least one of the other versions of Brian C. has made a wise political choice. And the list goes on! A navy veteran of the Second World War. A guy who raises angora rabbits!

Unfortunately, none of these references carry photos. It would be interesting to see what these other Brian C.'s look like. (I know, I know . . . this is silly. But aren't you curious?)

Friday, May 25, 2007

More Friday Memes

Was this ever in doubt?

You Are 88% Democrat

You are a card carrying Democrat, and a pretty far left one at that!
There's no chance anyone would ever mistake you for a Republican.

Let's Just Make It a Meme Friday

Here's another fun quiz. And no surprise at the result for me.

You Are 8% Capitalist, 92% Socialist

You see a lot of injustice in the world, and you'd like to see it fixed.
As far as you're concerned, all the wrong people have the power.
You're strongly in favor of the redistribution of wealth - and more protection for the average person.

What Sort of Artist Should You Be?

Among the innumerable memes out there, I thought this was interesting, particularly my result . . . since I am a painter. I generally don't "tag" people, but I invite my friends to try this one and share the result. Enjoy!

You Should Be a Painter

You have the vision, patience, and skill to bring your unique visions to canvas.
And you're even tempered enough not to cut your ear off in the process!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Alexis de Tocqueville's "Crystal Ball"

I just rediscovered this great quote from Alexis de Tocqueville's (1801-1859) Democracy in America.
"It is odd to watch with what feverish ardor Americans pursue prosperity. Ever tormented by the shadowy suspicion that they may not have chosen the shortest route to get it. They cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die, and yet rush to snatch any that comes within their reach as if they expected to stop living before they had relished them. Death steps in, in the end, and stops them before they have grown tired of this futile pursuit of that complete felicity which always escapes them."
Know when this was published? 1835! Yet it sounds as if he could have penned it for the Times just this week. Although I've written a great deal on American fascism and our nation's changing political discourse of late, I guess the continued relevance of Tocqueville's observation shows that some aspects of our national character haven't changed all that much. As a nation we want to have our cake and eat it too.

Unfortunately, access to those opportunities for prosperity - the ability to attain "that complete felicity" in achieving the American Dream - seems increasingly difficult to realize. And whereas Tocqueville highlighted equality of opportunity as a likely guarantor of democracy's continued health in America, one could infer that the demise of economic opportunity for the many presages a failure of our democratic system and the Republic. Just a thought.

The Fascist States of America

I've noticed that Al Gore has a new book, The Assault on Reason, in which the former Vice President issues a harsh assessment of George W. Bush and the general tack of the United States in the last few years. Having just read a laudatory New York Times review of Gore's monologue, I'm eagerly anticipating a fun read. Yet the title has already set the cogs in motion vis-a-vis my own opinions on the increasingly irrational state of affairs in our society.

Intellectually, ours is a nation established on a foundation of reason. Franklin, Madison, Jefferson, and their American contemporaries were eager students of the European Enlightenment and examined their world - whether scientific or philosophical - through a value system shaped by the "Age of Reason." Their heroes were Voltaire, Rousseau, Locke and Newton. In creating a new nation they ideally saw the United States as heir to a democratic tradition propagated in ancient Athens and as an embodiment of the abstract ideas outlined in the doctrines of "Lockean liberalism" and English "Whiggery."

Alas, if only it could be that simple. To be accurate one also must factor in the influence of religion in America's creation, in particular the decidedly legalistic Calvinism of Massachusetts Puritans and the irrationalism of later evangelicals in the Great Awakening. This philosophical foundation defined by polarized world views has influenced American intellectual development since the 18th century. And, for the most part, the two have maintained their separate and distinct spheres of interest, only infrequently clashing openly.

Unfortunately in the last 25 years the tense equilibrium in this faith versus reason debate has been shattered by the growing influence of right wing Christian conservatives who have assaulted liberal doctrines at every opportunity and in every realm of society. As a result, the United States stands poised on the edge of a fascist abyss, with the forces of Christian totalitarianism already making significant inroads within the government at every level. Moreover, their assault on "modernity" and "rationalism" threatens the very intellectual fabric of the Republic with "God's law" heralded as the inevitable replacement for "secular" legal tradition. (If you doubt this as a goal for the Christian Right, take a close look at Pat Robertson's Regent University and its law school. A recent PBS documentary on Regent uncovered an explicit effort to replace the current American judiciary with personnel who would enshrine "God's law" as the law of the United States. Already, Regent University has placed approximately 150 graduates in positions with the Bush administration. Listening to the earnest, wide-eyed students of Robertson's propaganda machine, I was reminded of the chilling newsreel footage of equally enthusiastic Hitler Youth from the 1930s. )

Unfortunately, the Pat Robertsons and James Dobsons are winning the propaganda war. They prey upon a largely ignorant populace, segments of which have become so alienated by economic hardship and rapid social change, that they're willing to surrender their liberties for the reassurance of a god-ordained cleansing of society's ills. Joseph Goebbels noted: "The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative." Evil as he was, the man knew what he was doing. And the Christian Right, co-opting the patriotic language, religious symbolism, and ugly prejudices of disaffected Americans, has obviously learned some valuable lessons from Goebbels and the Nazis.

After World War II many Americans proclaimed that what happened in Germany could never happen here. Our democratic traditions were too strong, they argued. We too jealously safeguarded our liberties, they concluded. Those who survived the nightmare of Hitler's Germany knew better; more realistic analysts understood how easily fascism had gained control of German citizens and the machinery of their state.

It is happening here, to be frighteningly blunt. If average Americans mirror the inactivity - and complicity - of the German people, if they surrender their reason for the politics of hatred and intolerance, and if they allow fanatics to misappropriate Christianity and genuine patriotism for totalitarian control, the United States will suffer the same fate as Nazi Germany.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I Hit the Flower Jackpot Yesterday . . .

The Jefferson Market Garden is only open to the public on Tuesdays and I had a chance to stop by on the way home yesterday. The roses have started blooming! Mind you, they're hybrid teas for the most part, but they're beautifully maintained. The persons in charge of their rose beds obviously know what they're doing. The yellow iris and red dahlia were also stunning. (The first photo, by the way, was not from the Jefferson Market Garden; this climbing rose resides on 10th Street near 5th Avenue, anchoring the rear of a beautiful Greenwich Village brownstone's garden. I've seen it bloom for several years now and it always offers a full display of blooms.)

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Meme Tag: 8 Random Facts

Tish stopped by to tag me with this meme. Here goes . . .

The Rules:
Players start with 8 random facts about themselves. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts. Players should tag eight other people and notify them that they have been tagged.

The eight (in no particular order):
1. I have a Ph.D. in history.
2. I met my wife on the Internet.
3. I have green eyes.
4. I lived in East Tennessee from 1988 to 1998.
5. I've lived in Greenwich Village in New York City since 1998.
6. I love playing and watching baseball.
7. I love grilled-cheese sandwiches.
8. I'm a watercolor painter.

Bush: "Worst in History"

Much was made this weekend over Jimmy Carter's remark that the Bush presidency was the "worst in history." For decades there's been a tacit understanding in the rarefied world of ex-presidents that one doesn't openly criticize one's Oval Office successors. Indeed, to watch the clips of Bush the Elder and Bill Clinton jetting around the globe in the last two years, one might conclude that the two had long been the best of friends and members of the same party. Sure, Bush and Clinton were opponents in the '92 election and were sharply critical of each other over various policy decisions. Given their polar opposite ideological and social foundations, that's not surprising. Nevertheless, in retirement they've become quite chummy, recognizing the bonding nature of membership in that elite fraternity of U.S. presidents. (A few commentators have humorously suggested that Clinton is the son Bush wishes he had.) Moreover, the meetings of former presidents over the years have taken on an obvious poignancy because so many of those gatherings have taken place at funerals for their peers, as demonstrated at the service for Gerald R. Ford only months ago.

Jimmy Carter, however, has never quite assumed quietly the mantle of "ex-president" in its most traditional sense. Where other presidents have retired to a life of crafting memoirs and tending libraries under perpetual Secret Service protection, Carter emerged from his 1980 defeat against Ronald Reagan committed to making a difference following his departure from Washington.

Historians will likely judge Carter's administration rather benignly, underscoring the perceived "malaise" (one of Carter's favorite terms) that punctuated American society in an age of inflation, high interest rates, and declining national confidence. Moreover, the hostage crisis in Iran will be used again and again by Carter's critics to bolster charges of ineptitude and weakness. Yet Carter will also garner considerable credit for restoring public confidence in the Presidency in the aftermath of Watergate. (Watergate seems rather insignificant now, as we begin to expose the diseased heart of the current Bush administration.) We also can't forget the role Carter played in brokering a deal between Egypt and Israel, as embodied in the Camp David Accords.

In the end, however, history will be kindest to Carter as the ex-president. He has worked tirelessly in the last 25 years on myriad causes, particularly in the creation of affordable housing for low-income Americans through Habitat for Humanity. Jerry Falwell and other right wing Christians assailed Carter in the 1980 campaign, preferring instead the pseudo-religiosity of Reagan. Carter has, by contrast, lived the Christian life in word and deed ever since. (The fact that the "Christian Right" adopted Reagan as its torchbearer in the 80s only highlights the extent to which the Reagan camp successfully duped the Religious Right with an acting job worthy of a special Oscar.)

The current Bush administration has responded to recent remarks with a claim of Carter's increasing "irrelevance." Yet Jimmy Carter has actively demonstrated an integrity to which Bush and his cronies can only aspire. One suspects that their greed and penchant for personal gain at the expense of the public good, will negate attempts to mirror Carter's legacy.

If anyone has a right to criticize openly the choices made by a sitting Chief Executive, surely it's those individuals who have already spent time in the Oval Office, pacing the floor over the difficult decisions that must be made in the exercise of one's Constitutional authority. Unfortunately, George W. Bush doesn't appear to have given much thought to the consequences or constitutionality of his actions. One suspects that his life after leaving office in January 2009 will be spent answering the charges of mismanagement and recklessness that will bedevil his legacy into the next century. We can only hope that by the year 2100, this "worst in history" administration will have been consigned to the dustbin of presidential memory, therein to reside with the legacies of our other inept and ineffectual chief executives.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Field Trip

Had the day off and served as a chaperone on my younger son's class field trip to the farmer's market at Union Square. I've been on plenty of these trips, but never quite grow accustomed to the difficulty of keeping 20 first graders in line and relatively attentive. It's like herding cats.

Nevertheless, the weather was beautiful in the City today and it was a perfect day to wander through the stalls of veggies and flowers. Here are some images from the market and the walk back to school.

The irises, which have just started to open, were stunning. And like orchids, their appearance always elicits comparisons to human genitalia. Hmmm, I guess the fully open iris does resemble a woman aroused, with its delicate vulvular folds and subtle color variations from light centers to the more vibrantly-hued edges. Ok, stop that! Get your minds out of the gutter! (There's only room for me in the gutter right now.)

The red rose is the first I've seen blooming this season. Found it at the Jefferson Market Garden in my neighborhood. They have a pretty substantial bed of hybrid teas (on which I've commented before) and some mature climbers on the iron fence that surrounds the garden. I love clematis, by the way. This purple variety was climbing on a fence at school. These will die off by summer but will be replaced by morning glory in the school gardens.

And finally, these pink dahlias were at the farmers' market. I'm always amazed at dahlias because they come in so many sizes and colors and they continue to bloom for a long time. I don't know any of the science behind their cultivation, but I'm guessing they're pretty easy to hybridize, hence their incredible variety. When I lived in Tennessee I always had lots of dahlias in the garden. They're easy to grow, will survive fairly cold winters, are cheap, and widely available . . . even at Wal-Mart or Home Depot. For color in the garden, they're obviously much less work than roses and are a perfect flower for those who claim to possess a "brown thumb."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Impeach Bush

You'll notice a new "Impeach Bush" banner in the right margin of the blog. I've voiced this sentiment before in other posts, but only recently have started to investigate seriously our options on this issue as politically concerned citizens. Please check out this link and learn why George W. Bush deserves impeachment more than any other President in U.S. history (including Nixon).

Let your voice be heard!

Photos by Stephen Shore

If you enjoy photography, particularly documentary photos with a twist, check out this New York Times article on a new show of Stephen Shore's images at the International Center of Photography.

It's hard to explain the appeal of his photographs . . . I just know that when first encountering them several years ago, I was hooked. Perhaps it's the way in which many of his photos - particularly those taken on several cross-country drives in the 1970s - reveal the starkly mundane in American life. Indeed, he often recorded the everyday details that most of us miss. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

While walking in the rain yesterday . . .

. . . I spied these giant allium rising above a bed of rather weary-looking purple tulips in Madison Square Park. By the way, the allium is a member of the same genus and shares characteristics with onions, shallots, garlic and leeks. I used to grow these in Tennessee and they're great to use as a rear border of color in beds of mid-spring bloomers. As bulbs, they'll reproduce over the years, giving one a chance to divide them and plant more! The bees love 'em too! Enjoy.

Twenty Years Online!

I just realized that I’ve been writing and meeting people online for twenty years, beginning in 1987 with an account on the old Compuserve, and continuing with accounts on Prodigy (anyone remember Prodigy??) and AOL. There were also the local dial-up bulletin boards, the BBS’s that had all kinds of content. Remember those? And the software that we used to connect to these boards? The old DOS-based Procomm Plus on a 1200 baud modem ring any bells? I hadn’t thought about these for eons until yesterday when the realization of having spent two decades online popped into my cluttered head. (In the photo above, I'm - where else - sitting in front of the computer!)

I think from the start, being online was all about meeting people. Indeed, thanks to Compuserve I had my first online romantic connection in 1990, meeting a very nice woman from Savannah, Georgia. Only later, when Mosaic was the browser of choice, did I begin to exploit the vast amounts of information increasingly available. (I’ll never forget logging into the Library of Congress website for the first time and downloading samples of early 20th century film footage. Don’t laugh! At the time I was a history professor at the University of Tennessee. When one reaches that level of geekdom, it’s easy to get excited over a film clip of William McKinley’s funeral!)

When my first marriage ended in 1997 I took the fateful step of turning to the Internet to meet someone new. Putting a profile up on the relatively new, within days I found the woman who would become my wife. Our families thought we were crazy . . . but in May 1998 we married, becoming one of the early Internet couples to wed.

And here I am ten years later, writing a blog and continuing to meet people. It’s been fun, stimulating, and I look forward to what the next ten years will bring. For those of us who started using computers in the pre-Internet days of TRS-80s and the first IBM PCs, the pace of change can sometimes be staggering. For my parents’ generation, many of whom are buying their first computers in their 60s and 70s, it’s just overwhelming. So, given the tempo of change in the last 20 years, it’s hard to imagine what the future could hold for those of us online.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell: American Fascist

Much has been written and said in the last 24 hours celebrating the legacy of Jerry Falwell, a leader of the "Christian Right" who died in Lynchburg, Virginia, yesterday. Certainly he was influential in bringing together the seemingly disparate worlds of politics and religion and proved instrumental in organizing the Moral Majority. Indeed, his activism mobilized conservative voters and likely contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Nevertheless, he also promulgated the divisive doctrines of homophobia, misogyny, thinly-veiled racism, and intolerance for other spiritual creeds. His voice for "creationism," added to the chorus of fundamentalist anti-intellectualism, did incalculable damage to the teaching of legitimate science in the nation's schools. In short, Jerry Falwell was a disciple of America's nascent homegrown fascism. And, as a propagandist in the information market, responsible for the dissemination of ideas to millions through his television and radio broadcasts, Falwell was an agent of evil no less toxic than Nazi Germany's Joseph Goebbels.
No surprise here!

Your Brain is Orange

Of all the brain types, yours is the quickest.
You are usually thinking a mile a minute, and you could be thinking about anything at all.
Your thoughts are often scattered and random - but they're also a lot of fun!

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about esoteric subjects, the meaning of life, and pop culture.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Religion Redux

In the last couple of months I've had the good fortune to meet several transplanted Southerners who now call New York City home. Oddly enough, we each had been raised as Southern Baptists and, reaching adulthood, rejected that denomination in favor of more liberal religious climes.

If you follow politics, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will be a familiar entity because the denomination always places itself squarely on the right wing of the "right wing." To non-Southerners, the denomination is often conveniently lumped together with other evangelical, conservative groups. And Southern Baptists do mirror the views of many of these organizations, including the Christian Coalition, Promise Keepers, Focus on the Family, and Pat Robertson's army of followers.

But the Southern Baptist Church wasn't always this conservative or politically involved. (Given their recent political connections and attempts to control their members' electoral habits, the SBC's tax-exempt status should be revoked.) Prior to the late 1970s the SBC was a large, but relatively quiet denomination among America's mainstream religious groups. The Southern Baptist Convention leadership, which oversees the denomination, engaged most of its energy and resources in mission work, both domestic and foreign. Individual congregations were largely independent, particularly in terms of what was preached on Sundays.

Beginning in the late 1970s, however, a faction of "fundamentalists" who believed, for example, in the inerrancy of every word of the Bible, began to hijack the denomination and Convention leadership. By the early 1980s, having succeeded, they began the process of enforcing dogmatic belief among congregations and ministers, while purging Baptist seminaries of women (students and professors) and those who didn't subscribe to the fundamentalist party line. In some cases, students and teachers were even forced to sign statements avowing the "literal truth" of the Bible. From that point on, it was just a downward spiral for the SBC as it joined the ranks of America's fascist organizations. Although the vast majority of congregations fell in line, lock-step, behind the Convention's leadership, a few more liberal churches openly broke away, some forming a group called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Thus it's no surprise that this conservative shift alienated countless individual members who rejected the SBC and, in many cases, walked away from organized religion altogether. So as one of those apostates, I was thrilled to meet people who had experienced the very same thing. I think I've mentioned in earlier posts that religion to Southerners is interwoven in the very fabric of our region's culture. It permeates southern society and affects one's life in the South whether one attends church or not. For those of us who had attended Baptist churches as children - and enjoyed the benefits of Sunday schools and summer "vacation Bible schools" - we understandably felt betrayed by a denomination now preaching a doctrine defined by hate and intolerance. The SBC's pathological anti-intellectualism - most often expressed in its disdain for Darwinist concepts and acceptance of "creationism" - likewise proved unacceptable to more liberal-minded adherents.

To make matters worse, much of what fundamentalists espoused had nothing to do with basic Christianity or traditional Baptist doctrine. Indeed, as Bruce Bawer revealed in Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity, fundamentalist beliefs were largely of 19th century origin and had no intellectual foundation in the Bible. Add the rise of similarly extremist "Christian" organizations and their cozy relationship with the Republican party, and a sense of betrayal among former SBC members often turned to outrage. (I dealt with the theme of outrage in Friday's post.)

In meeting these "Southern" New Yorkers I was amazed to learn that we had each experienced strikingly similar spiritual journeys that often included years of agnosticism and a rejection of church affiliation. Although I eventually turned to the Episcopal Church as an outlet for my convoluted faith, I still find it very difficult to actually sit in a church or follow a liturgy - as much as I enjoy some segments of the liturgy. I've also begun to incorporate ideas from Buddhism and the Quaker expressions of Christianity, making more traditional outlets of incorporated worship increasingly difficult to accept. I'm comforted by the discovery that many of my ex-Baptist contemporaries have adapted their spiritual lives to accept this admixture of religious doctrines. In the end, I believe that they're all expressions of the same basic human need to understand the concept of "god" in its most universal connotations.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Anodyne for Outrage

A friend of mine who just learned about my blog asked the inevitable question: "Why do you blog?" I had attempted to answer this question in this blog's first entry. Indeed, it seemed necessary to establish the parameters for those who might stumble upon this site, particularly when some of those stumbling here are old friends and family members. Now, four-and-a-half months into this exercise, I guess I've refined those parameters a bit. Yes, it's still an outlet for observations on life in the city, with plenty of photos of my travels. I've also put up more of my paintings than I had anticipated, and received some nice feedback on those. The number of wackos has been minimal, thankfully.

But I'm also realizing that "My Tears Spoiled My Aim" is a great anodyne for outrage. Of course, I've always been an outspoken opponent of President Bush and the Republican party. Yet through my freelance work with a couple of scientific publications - as well as lots of reading on topics related to global warming and climate change - I've learned about some of the more insidious examples of Bush cronyism and corruption. To characterize my reaction as outrage is an understatement. Indeed, as a former presidential scholar and American historian, I have to declare that the Bush administration has been one of the most corrupt, secretive, and ideologically myopic presidencies in U.S. history. I won't even begin to address the ways in which Bush and his minions have been destructive to the very fabric of our liberties. I won't belabor the point, having touched on this before.

My goal in the coming months is to revisit some of the more "southern" themes, from country music to country-fried steak. I welcome feedback and comments, but please don't post anonymously.

The bottom line: This website has allowed me to express some of my opinions and vent a little, particularly after I've just read the latest headlines.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva

In my search through art catalogs and monographs I ran across an interesting Russian artist, Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955). Little is known about her: she was born in 1871 in St. Petersburg, and died in Leningrad in 1955. She studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, and later at James Whistler's studio in Paris (1898-99), before returning to Russia to become a master printmaker.

These images are color woodcuts, for which I have a keen interest. (I'm experimenting with monochrome woodcuts and will display the results here if I'm ever satisfied with the finished product.) Of course, because she worked in Russia, her works were not as well known in the West. She seems to have survived the ideological shift from Czarist to Soviet control, which can't be said of many artists in that period. But looking at her works, they don't appear to exhibit any ideological undertones.


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Showing a bit of leg . . .

I'm sooooo glad that the warm weather has finally arrived in NYC. It means I can finally slip into my uniform de jure for just about every day, including time at work. (Luckily I work in a nonprofit where shorts and sandals are fine for most occasions.) For me, the most comfortable clothes are some long, baggy shorts, preferably madras or seersucker, an old oxford shirt that's been washed a thousand times and my Keen sandals, which are the most comfortable sandals I've ever worn.
Now don't get the impression that I always look grungy in a pair of shorts. On the contrary, I almost always look neat. And when I'm not wearing shorts and sandals, that "aging preppy" persona reasserts itself in the form of bow ties (the only kind I'll wear . . . and yes, I tie them myself), khakis, lots of tweeds or seersucker depending on the weather, and loafers without socks. In short, my wardrobe has been in an ossified state since about 1982, when I graduated from one of those "preppified" private schools in Virginia.

Ironically, the wardrobe confuses people, since they assume I'm going to have a personality or viewpoint that mirrors the sartorial milieu. Once I open my mouth, however, people quickly discover that I'm the antithesis of conservative or staid, particularly in terms of my anti-Bush, anti-Republican rhetoric.
So at least I can now walk around the city in comfort . . . and I can go from the office to the playground without missing a beat.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Friday Walkabout

Another beautiful day last Friday and too good to pass up a walk home. Here are a few photos from the trek. They include tulips from Union Square, the front garden and redbud tree of Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue, a beautiful wisteria on 10th St., and the Jefferson Market Library on Sixth Avenue. (Last week I had posted photos of tulips in the Jefferson Market Garden, which sits on the west side of the library.)

Satan's Immigrants

Thanks to Dooce for sharing this link to a story about Utah Republicans who recently argued in their state convention that illegal immigrants are being driven by no less than the dark lord himself - Satan - to move to the U.S. Apparently Satan's immigrant minions are here to undermine our values and overthrow the country.

Hmmmm, I may be wrong, but I think most of these immigrants - legal or otherwise - are coming to the U.S. for economic reasons. And although the concept of the "American Dream" may be increasingly unattainable for many Americans (See Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch), that promise still means something to those coming from impoverished or politically unstable countries.

Of course, I'm not surprised by their rhetoric, since it's nothing new in terms of our country's long tradition of juggling nativist prejudices and democratic ideals. Look at the mid-19th century, for example, and one finds vehement opposition to the influx of Irish and German immigrants who poured into this country in the 1830s and 1840s, particularly after the Irish Potato Famine. Nativist groups assailed these recent arrivals for drunkenness, promiscuity, and of course their Catholic faith. By the early 1850s, a network of often secret nativist societies coalesced into a national political organization - the American Party, which was popularly known as the Know-Nothing Party. (My doctoral dissertation was on the genesis of the American Party in the urban South.) As a political movement, the American Party ultimately failed as the antislavery movement of the 1850s took center stage.

Still, the same vitriolic rhetoric was repeated in the late 19th century as immigration to the U.S. increased dramatically, this time bringing millions from eastern and southern Europe (a majority being Italians and Russians). Cartoonist Thomas Nast, perhaps most famous for his Harper's Weekly attacks on "Boss Tweed" and the corruption of New York's Tammany Hall, published numerous images in which Irish immigrants were depicted as monkey-like ruffians who brought only the baggage of hooliganism, alcoholism and Catholicism. On the West coast, Chinese immigrants were treated similarly, eventually prompting Congress to pass a series of Chinese Exclusion Acts that severely restricted their immigration.

So these Republicans in Utah are hardly novel in their sentiments. I suspect that a few of them could claim some of those persecuted Irish and German immigrants as forbears. But such a revelation would likely carry little weight among these self-appointed guardians of the commonweal. What does surprise me in the Utah debate is the explicit invocation of "Satan" as a player in the immigrant drama. Indeed, some of those present, while supportive of the concept, argued that such harsh language would only perpetuate the impression that Republicans are extremists. Members countered these differences of opinion with jeers.

Although one might read this story and attribute the events to the petri dish medium of zealously conservative, Mormon-influenced Utah politics, one can find such expressions of nativism - representing an admixture of religious zeal and thinly-veiled racism - in every part of the United States. As a nation we like to make the claim that the U.S. represents the "better angels" of human nature, to borrow a phrase from Lincoln's first inaugural address. Certainly Lincoln, facing a nation in crisis when he took office in March 1861, hoped Americans would recall these attributes. Unfortunately, the Bush administration, the Republican party, and even more cynical Democrats, only pay lip service to these "better angels," preferring instead to employ "democracy," "tolerance," and "compassion" as rhetorical scalpels in an effort to reshape the nation and undo a century of progressive reform.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Photos from Yesterday's Walk Home . . .

The light was exceptional yesterday, so couldn't resist walking home. Found myself passing two favorite locations for photography - Grace Church, where we were married (one of NYC's most historic Episcopal parishes . . . it even made it into an Edith Wharton novel and has a cool memorial to parishioners who were Titanic victims), and the Jefferson Market garden, which sits at the point at which Greenwich Avenue merges into Sixth. I can't imagine living in any other part of New York City. Enjoy!