Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

A friend wrote the other day that he is filled with gratitude, and I wrote back that I am, too. But so many people I know are facing the exigencies of unemployment, lack of health insurance, and diminished prospects for personal fulfillment.

A headline today says that labor unions are increasingly accepting two tiered systems of compensation. Reading the article, we quickly learn that it is actually a three tiered system: older workers paid at their present rates but with no prospect of ever getting a raise; younger workers paid five to fifteen dollars less per hour and with reduced benefits; and temporary workers paid very low wages with no benefits at all. As time goes on, the first group will phase out, and if things don’t pick up, perhaps the middle group will vanish, as well.

My most unsettling thoughts are of the widening gulf between rich and poor. Conservatives have long and justifiably protested that government should not undertake to redistribute income; but neither should it stack the deck against the poor or in favor of the rich. The name for such tyranny is plutocracy, and I fear its malignant effects on union, justice, tranquility, the general welfare, and liberty.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel very grateful to be living peacefully on this lovely mountain. However, the holiday reminds me that gratitude without humility and charity is no better than gloating.

Pilgrim's Grace by Henry Mosler (1841-1920). Note that the food is either covered or off the table, suggesting that the intensity of their prayer is for more than just sustenance. I know little about the artist other than he was a European Jew who emigrated to Cincinnati, and his granddaughter, Audrey Skirball-Kenis, founded the Skirball Center in Los Angeles. Click on the picture for a closer look.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weighed and Found Wanting

The Deficit Commission report, we are told, is DOA. Opponents of one point will combine with opponents of other points to bury it. We hear conservatives dogmatically denounce changes in the tax code, even while liberals object that those changes would be a net gain for the wealthy. And as for liberals, proposed cuts in Social Security and Medicare are, as usual, non-starters.

This week we saw our leaders again refuse to confront the looming storm. It's been reported that the President is offering the Republicans a deal to extend the Bush tax cuts for all levels of income for another two years. In other words, he is reaching across the aisle in a bargain to do nothing.

Bowles/Simpson is, in its present form, a fifty page Power-Point presentation. It takes only a few minutes to read if you skip the charts. Some of the provisions are obscure, like ending Federal subsidies to states and tribes for abandoned mines. Some are breathtaking, like ending earmarks completely and implementing a biennial budget process. I'm not nearly qualified to evaluate all its provisions or even to accurately position it in the liberal-conservative continuum, but I am glad it's on the table, and hope that our politicians will see that their mission is greater than just fighting to take it off.

Woman Holding a Balance, Johannes Vermeer; 1664. Note that she is pregnant, that there is a painting of the Last Judgment behind her, and that while there are pearls and gold coins spread about, the balance is as yet empty. The present moment is connected to the future and filled with potential, if we evaluate it wisely. Click on the picture for a closer look.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Autumn is in full vigor here in the San Bernardino Mountains. It is my favorite season, partly because its apex is the briefest. The leaves outside my window present a rich palette, but the rain predicted for later today and tomorrow may knock them all to the ground, leaving us to contemplate the coming of winter.

Perhaps that contemplation is the meaning of autumn: a time to draw inward and come to terms with inevitabilities. Mary Cassatt painted her beloved sister Lydia, whose health was failing. Lydia's cloak and bonnet bear the colors of the changing leaves and identify her with autumn. Her face, however, is clear, pale, delicate, beautiful, and deep in thought, thereby internalizing the true spirit of the season.

Autumn, by Mary Cassatt; 1880. Click on the picture for a closer look.