Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Thanksgiving may be the last unspoiled national holiday. Christmas is a wreck. Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day are only distinguishable, in the popular perception, from Arbor Day and Flag Day by the fact that they give us a day off. Presidents Day is itself a compromise, and that says it all. Martin Luther King's birthday, like Columbus Day, creates more controversy than concord. New Years never meant anything and never will. And Fourth of July scares the bejesus out of my dog.

But Thanksgiving, in every segment of America, still retains its original meaning and unembellished observance. It's still a time for friends and families to gather and eat, and it still gives us cause to reflect on what life has bestowed upon us.


Wild Turkey, John James Audubon. Click on the picture for a closer look.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Running Fence

In the summer of 1976, I was acting in stock in the Napa Valley while the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude were draping the neighboring hills of Sonoma and Marin with their Running Fence. It was twenty four and a half miles long, eighteen feet high, and crossed fifty nine ranches. It remains in my memory as one of the most stunning sights I have ever seen.

For those who have never driven through the hills of Northern California, they are truly gentle and rolling. Martin Luther King, in his "I Have a Dream" speech, called them "curvaceous"--a Playboy neologism, but so what? Running Fence drew a luminous white line along the slopes and rises. The fabric shimmered in the sunlight and glowed in the dusk. In short, the fence derived all its beauty from its surroundings, and thereby showed how truly selfless art can be.

1976 was America's Bicentennial Year and it was also the year of my father's final illness. When Jeanne-Claude died this week, I was newly in mourning for my mother. For me, the artist's passing reprises her fence, and reminds me that the beauty of my parents' lives was derived by the humble way with which they graced their surroundings.

Click on the picture for a closer look.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Good and Great

Watching the health care debate, I feel humbled. Each of the many sides presents articulate and compelling arguments. I'm critical of Dennis Kucinich and Eric Massa for voting against the House bill, but I grant that I'm touched by their objections. Same with the Republicans and the Blue-dog Democrats whose concerns about the cost of the program are not to be scoffed at.

As a moderate, I am grateful for those who stand to my left and to my right. The former give voice to the compassion and indignation we feel when the humanity of the poor is assaulted. The latter demand that we not forget what the years have taught us about human culpability.

Bertold Brecht, a Marxist, grappled with the dilemma of charity versus prudence in his farce The Good Person of Szechwan. In it, a woman protects her small business, while serving her charitable impulses, by appearing alternately as her compassionate self and her strictly frugal cousin.

Willy-nilly, the insurance companies play this dual role today. Sometimes they are heartless; sometimes they serve us almost too well. But for those who believe the real problem lies in the fee-for-service structure of the health care industry, insurance companies potentially can be an ally in effecting change. The trick is first to get everyone covered.

I place my hopes on long term development rather than sweeping re-invention. It will take time. The House bill is a start.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

No posting this week

I am again on the road, this time for a bereavement, and will not be able to post. Please come back next week.