Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


The National Portrait Gallery put this Andy Warhol silkscreen on display today. It was done in 1980 to help raise money for Ted Kennedy's presidential campaign.

About the time that designers started sewing their labels on the outside of their garments, Warhol explored our cult of celebrities. I can parse, if not really appreciate, his pixieish confluence of medium and message. But it is gratifying that, however much the artist esteemed his subject, and despite the Kennedy family mystique, Ted was not a cult figure. We mourn him this week, purely and simply, because he was the finest man in our government and the greatest senator of our time.

Click on the picture for a closer look.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Taking the High Road

Scotland has repatriated the convicted Lockerbie saboteur to die among his people. Many are embittered by this act of compassion, saying Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi should rot in jail. The United States vigorously protested his release (189 of the 270 victims were Americans) and his hero's welcome in Tripoli has rubbed more salt into the wound. However, many Britons concur with the decision, and still others doubt that Megrahi was guilty in the first place.

I admire what Scotland has done. I think their compassion has turned Mr. Megrahi into an emissary for civilization: a sword beaten into a plowshare. His return to Libya is proof that the country he attacked is morally superior to the one that sponsored his mission. And while this may not be apparent to the bused-in demonstrators at the Tripoli airport, we must believe that it will resonate in the consciences of civilized people everywhere else.
Post Script: Added Sunday, August 23.
Since writing the above two paragraphs, it's been revealed that influences other than compassion may have been at work. The Prime Minister and his predecessor had both been in discussion with Libya about a prisoner exchange, including Megrahi, and his release was advantageous for British Petroleum. There have been denials all around, but the fact remains that responsibility for foreign affairs rests with the central government, and undeniably, this has been a muddle. The high minded message that I praised has been lost, and we are again at stalemate with the Muslim world: their fanaticism vs. our venality.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Coming Detractions

I thought movie marketing was supposed to be savvy. Attending my local multiplex to see Julie and Julia, among a largely suburban crowd of older foodies and public broadcasting subscribers, I saw trailers for a remake of the Oedipul nightmare The Stepfather; plus the long awaited film of the pedophile/slasher novel The Lovely Bones; and an apocalytic sci-fi flick in which the world ends in 2012 with St. Peter's basilica toppling and rolling over a crowd of worshipers, an air craft carrier capsizing and washing over the White House, and Manhattan island sliding into the Atlantic, New Yorkers dying like ants.

I suppose I should be grateful to the theatre for warning me off these atrocities, but I can't help wondering if pitching popcorn movies to a crowd that came for bouef Bourguignon and thon a la Provencales, doesn't show a lack of, shall we say, savoir faire?

Julie and Julia is very tasty, by the way, but I suggest you show up a soupcon late to skip the premier plat du repas .

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Sound of Silence

Journalists quipped that Bill Clinton uncharacteristcally left all the talking to others when he arrived at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank from North Korea with Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two former captives.

Why didn't he take the mike? I see three possibilities: the first is humility and I cross that off the list right away. The second is pride. If it's true that this mission was all carefully mapped out, and Clinton was selected by Pyongyang to do the honors, then he probably viewed it as a piece of diplomatic theatre over which he had neither script approval nor artistic control. The less said about it the better.

The third possibility is the most dire: that he has something to report and it is for the White House only.

Thursday's New York Times editorializes the hope that his mission will unblock negotiations with North Korea by giving Kim Jong-il another face saving opportunity. However, scan over to the Op-Ed page in that same issue, and you'll read Nicolas Kristoff calling for more aggressive tactics in circumscribing North Korea's nuclear program, which is rumored to have built a reactor inside a mountain in Myanmar, and to be colluding with Iran in developing weaponry.

Maybe Bill didn't speak because he had nothing good to tell us.