March 17, 2010
It’s easy to dismiss global warming. Florida is not under water. Record breaking snow storms howl down the US East Coast. Africans have not invaded Europe in search of agriland. Hurricanes aren’t the super disasters forecast. Parisians freeze to death. Pictures from Copenhagen show top politicians from Obama to Reinfeldt in climatic defeat. Data suggests temperatures have plateaued. IPCC reels from scandals. Himalayan glaciers will not disappear by 2035 as stated. Emails suggest scientists fake data to scare the innocent public and law makers into exorbitant spending.
The Troubles Of An Activist
It’s harder than ever to be a global warming activist, patron, believer or scientist. One has to endure sneers, shaking heads, raised eye brows from the ever present deniers. U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) boosts a premature “I told you so” into your weary ear. Thus Inhofe keeps Bush’s flame alive in the tradition of the 2003 declaration of victory in Iraq (“Mission Accomplished”). No longer is one is likely to be the life of the party, pouring out statistics on Antarctica’s ice cores. IPCC pay is nonexistent and the perks are stale. Neither Leno nor Letterman is calling you. Pushing this most boring subject won’t improve one’s sex life, driving one’s depression into uncharted waters.
This is far from the glory days of 2006 and 2007. Then global warming was almost hip. Now, though, one’s neighbors, spouses, bosses and therapists no longer believe one’s mission to save mankind is critical, sexy or hip. It is possibly slightly amusing in a patronizing way.
Comrade demonstrators pack their bags, heading for new horizons and fresher barricades. Nervous scientists switch seats. Lacking the people’s pressure, politicians do nothing to the joy of lobbyists. Perhaps you thought a Democratic President plus a predominately Democratic Congress would live up to the rhetoric splattered along the campaign track? Think again. Credibility and urgency vanishes and ignorance rules.
What happened?, the oh-so-out-of-date activist wonders.
Another Forced Fed Lecture
Are you old enough to have experienced the 1960s and early 1970s? Did you attend or embrace any of the following: Berkeley, Kent State, Chicago Democratic Convention, counterculture, social revolution, anti war, bra burning, Woodstock, LSD, Janis Joplin, Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, May 1968 French upraising, the Prague Spring and “I have a dream”. MLK was not the only one with a dream. Wilderness Rights, Voting Rights, Civil Rights all came to or matured. The Sixties spelled energy, experiment, emotion and exorbitance. Real change actually happened.
Then, being an activist almost surely improved one’s sex life. In fact, people actually had sex lives after the constricted Fifties. The pill shook the World. The party scene didn’t care about conversation paralysis. Many were too stoned to know where their mouth was. No need to be the life of the party. No longer was it necessary to know which fork went with the soufflé or how to dab one’s lips after taking the caviar. Instead, decibels, drugs, dripping sweat and drum beats filled the communication channel of the cults.
Dreams Die Too
It did not last. The spirit burnt out. Hair was cut, suits were bought. Microsoft stock taught us how riches beyond imagination were available without any effort whatsoever. Class action lawsuits blossomed to save us all from credit card fees, gas additives, video games, bad language, marijuana and prescription contraceptives. Welfare mothers bloomed. Welfare kids did not. Housing booms, one after another, financed glorious retirements in Florida, Arizona and Santa Fe. Hand me the riches without effort, sweat, payment or skill. How cool is that?
The spirit of the Sixties became just a mirage. Gains were lost. Idealism was stomped on, laughed at and out it went with the bath water. Revolutionaries grew fat, rich and now worshipped Reagan, the Bakkers and Fondue. Purpose was replaced by Surf and Turf, All-you-can-eat smorgasbords and Infinite Salad Bars. Bras were no longer burning. Damn the poor, mentally ill and homeless. Hail Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Exxon and Eight-Tracks. Polyester was the coolest thing after Afro hair, Barbie and ABBA. The Commies mellowed. America became the Number One terrorist organization.
We all have issues to deal with beyond global warming. Finessing money from the government is perhaps the top issue. Dumping clunkers, getting subsidies for this or that, building bridges to nowhere and enabling GM to remain the last dinosaur standing is the tune of the day. Americans become millionaires at a record pace. The Japanese kill whales. The Canadians kill baby seals. Africans kill Africans. Thy neighbor steals from you just as you steal from your neighbor.
Grim, isn’t it?
Why bring up ancient history? It’s because not only do dreams but so do causes that sometimes are very significant. The war to end all wars – the First World War of 1914 to 1918 – led to several far reaching developments as peace was restored. Democratic governments spread, even in Germany. The League of Nations was formed. Civil rights made some inroads. But in just a few years, any gain was demolished, directly leading to World War II that killed 75 million people. To say that idealism disappeared is an understatement. The result was devastating.
In the Sixties, there was idealism. Today, idealism is not among the top characterizations of our life style. That’s why we run into Internet crazies, housing bubbles and financial disasters. It is the reason we can’t deal with global warming, health care or poverty. We let Bush and Cheney rape most human rights for eight years with close to zero protest. Most think polar bears and whales are cute but let the killing go on.
Hope Is Not For Sissies
Then, once in a while, a reminder pops up to suggest realities are, after all, more significant than ignorance. Occasionally, we catch a glimpse what could be if we simply let it. Credibility of a lost cause can be restored if the effort is spent. A spot of hope lights up, suggesting truth can prevail over laziness. These little signs surface when we least expect them. Antennas need to be perfectly tuned to pick out the good from the trash.
I am referring to an article about ice breaker maintenance, not exactly on the front page. The story covers a press conference about USCG Polar Star’s refit to upgrade crew quarters and dump an ancient computer at a cost of $62 million over 2 1/2 years. The Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle, WA, will employ 250 workers on the project.
Both Seattle newspapers carried this rather mundane story. Some of you wonder why a basically ice free United States of America needs heavy duty ice breakers that cost $750 million each. That’s another debate, not due here or now. Suffice to say the US possesses only three of these babies dwarfed by, say, Russia’s seven nuclear super breakers.
It Ain’t Charity
The melting Arctic exposes enormous deposits of energy, minerals and ore as virgin land is freed from ice. Vital interests, strategic values and suddenly discovered traditional heritages must be defended vigorously. Grab what grab you can. Santa, drop dead. Buy a Manhattan condo.
The ice breakers of today and the future do not just break ice but practice gun boat diplomacy. Gun boats intimidate opposing parties with its mere presence in some disputed area without using weapons per se.
The US famously practiced gun boat diplomacy in the Taiwan Strait at several occasions in the Fifties, protecting Taiwan from invasion by China. Of course, the overwhelming might of today’s US Navy acts as an everyday form of global gun boat diplomacy. But aircraft carrier groups are useless in the far North, hence the need for the ice breakers.
On My Command, Turn Left
Somewhere the focus of the Coast Guard press conference changed. The subject of global warming popped up, not really to the pleasure of the Coast Guard brass. But ice breakers go where the ice is. Ice is easily found in the Arctic and the Antarctica. Given the mission, these guys carry a great deal of on-location, unique credibility about the far North and South conditions.
Ice breaker crews enjoy spending some eight months out of the year in ice. These guys generally carry a reputation of sobriety, reasonably clear minds and a relative lack of political ambition. They have seen, broken and smelt more salt water and ice than other men or women on Earth. They are not scientists eager for grant money. They don’t act in reality shows or receive Nobel Peace Prizes. They are sailors who break ice and cruise the seas. That’s it.
Finally, A Point Of Sorts
Back to the press conference and the actual point, you plead. Impatience rears its head. Suspicion blinks its pink hateful eyes. Here goes. Thad Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard, declared himself agnostic on the subject of climate change. Not surprising since military leaders are required to be agnostic on almost any subject. Those turning non-agnostic soon take up golf and discover they have kids, one or more wife and assorted dogs. Suddenly the dreams of another eight months in polar resorts are gone. Take the General Supreme of all WWII Generals, Douglas MacArthur who was summarily fired by Harry Truman because the General was not sufficiently agnostic on the subject of nuking Commie China.
This particular admiral, Thad Allen, may not have spent much of his 38 year career surrounded by breaking ice in favor of a more normal sailor life. But he is, as an example, one of the few officials emerging from the Katrina disaster with an elevated reputation. That, certainly, is quite an achievement.
The admiral continued to state:
- “Over the past 3 ½ years more ice-diminished every year in the summer. And that’s changing how the Coast Guard looks at the region. For a long time, all we did in the Arctic was science,” he said.
- But now with more open water, there is increased viability for eco tourism and shipping. Further, “the fact that 22 percent of the world’s oil and gas reserves are in the arctic region — this has become an area of extreme focus.”
- Asked if the Coast Guard is operating on the premise that climate change is a certainty, Allen said, “Well, you know I’m not a scientist, I’m a sailor. And the most PC way for me to say this is I’m agnostic to the science. There’s water where there didn’t use to be and I’m responsible for it.
- “Certain things are undeniable. The Arctic ice cap is shrinking. The parameters of our oceans are changing. Temperature is changing. Salinity is changing. We have carbon dioxide that’s entering the water column right now making carbonic acid that has a significant impact on shellfish and the food chain. These are all undeniable.”
There you have it. One single key word: “Undeniable”. Spoken by, according to eye witnesses, a sober, clear minded and sincere admiral with far more real life blue water credentials than scientists in their labs, amateur skeptics in their parka lounges, brain-dead senators from Oklahoma and an ex-president finally able to let someone else deep-six this climate change thing.
Two Alaskan Republicans
It may be that some of the admiral’s comments were inspired by the opinions of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who also has some firsthand knowledge of the North. A moderate Republican, she was a major sponsor of the Polar Star refit. She wants to build an Arctic deep water port to serve the military, the offshore oil and gas industry, general shipping and tourism. Exploitation, here we come. Stand aside, please. We got holes to drill.
There is nothing moderate about Sarah Palin. This most Northern of all global warming deniers manages to stand to the right of even Dubya. “We need to drill, drill, drill,” she told the Wall Street Journal. Ecology be damned. This gal’s wildlife policy centers on the right to shoot wolves from the air. In fact, shooting anything is cool with her. Polar bears, drop dead. Caribou, get lost. Her attachment to the Arctic is spelled Arctic Cats, a brand of snow machines that she promotes no doubt out of charity. How does she spell the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? “Drill, drill, drill”. Did I mention the slyest of ignorance?
Hails To The Chief
The Coast Guard admiral knows well that his “Undeniable” statement will not create a better world any time soon. If we are lucky, eventually someone will show up with the will, the answers and the power to tackle the quagmire swamp labeled global warming. That someone will yell “Which part of “Undeniable” don’t you get?”
After all, some manipulate the “Undeniables” to look like “Deniables” and vice versa. Either way, to cynics it is just the means to suit one’s goals. As any skeptic knows, denying the undeniable is a game that can be played as long as it pleases you. Ask Dubya and other sellers of snake oil.
Undeniable Means Undeniable. Get Used To It.
Wait, There Is More!
If the concerns about ecology are the good news, there is also bad news. Global warming is not the only threat tilting the scale. The Arctic may the next Ultimate Border to be as exploited as, once about a time, the US West. More recently, Alaska is the Far Border undergoing massive exploitation.
Consider, say, Love Canal just by the Niagara Falls with polluting roots going all the way back to 1890. It took 26 years of FEMA Super Funds to clean up some of that mess. If Exxon Valdez had done its thing in any of the Northern Passages, that oil would have circled Earth, bourn by prevailing currents that do not exist in the relatively protected Prince William’s Sound. Twenty years after the disaster, 26,000 gallons of oil remain on and inside the close-by shorelines.
Thad Allen’s first point concerned global warming. Ice is disappearing, salination is changing and species are dying or migrating. As tundra thaws and ice melts, billions of tons of methane and other gasses are released. Inuit villages sink in mud. Roads disappear. Scientists can’t decide if this is the end of the world or not. Ask the inhabitants of Banks Island in Canada’s High Arctic what they think.
Steer North, My Lad
Allen’s second point is not to be missed. He mentioned 22% of Earth’s oil and gas reserves are located in the Arctic. That is quite an understatement. Both the Northeast and Northwest Passages above Russia and Canada, mostly, are becoming navigated. Historically, both passages were almost completely closed year around. Many a brave explorer saw his ship caught in an iron grip of ice that slowly crushed the vessel, leaving the men to a cold and deadly ice level existence.
Currently, both passages are open part of the year as the sea ice retreats. Neither passage is easily tackled even today. Ships need reinforced bows to avoid the fate of the explorers whose trails they follow. There is no doubt, though, that there will be commercial shipping in the far North passages.
The impact of the Northern passages opening up is almost beyond comprehension. The first major impact concerns shipping. Some of the shipping through the Panama and Suez canals would move to the passages with possibly major savings in fuel. As shipping routes change, the political issues explode. With the passages frozen over, political concerns were minor. That will not be the case in the future. Allen addressed this when he said the North not would but IS an “area of extreme focus” and it is the real reason Polar Star gets a $62 million to take up station in the North.
The military value of the Arctic Ocean all the way to the North Pole is long established. It has long been the hide and seek confrontational grounds of US and Russian/Soviet nuclear subs. In the summer of 1958, the USS Nautilus reached the North Pole under the ice, entering from the Bering Sea and surfacing just north of Greenland. Nuclear subs have trafficked the area ever since.
Then there is the matter of huge values being exposed as frozen ground retreat. With the passages becoming navigated, it is feasible to reach these new resources and retrieve them. Oil and gas will be the first target. Fishery and wild life will follow. Eventually, there will be agriculture and forestry. Tourism will blossom according to breathless cruise directors.
Mining is possibly the greatest ecological threat as well as one of the most irresistible resources. There are known deposits of diamonds, gold, coal, nickel, lead, zinc and uranium. Some of these resources are already exploited, usually at a low level and with mixed results. But the vast areas suddenly exposed will change conditions dramatically. The full impact isn’t known but is likely to be huge.
Who owns the Northern riches? The Inuit? Fat chance. Denmark/Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the US and Canada are not giving any possible claim away. A traditional 200 mile limit leaves huge areas unclaimed. No one owns the North Pole although the Russians placed their flag at its bottom, 14,000 feet below the surface.
China recently entered the race. “China is slowly but steadily recognizing the commercial and strategic opportunities that will arise from an ice-free Arctic,” said SIPRI researcher Linda Jakobson of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “China is at a disadvantage as it is not an Arctic state but is still keen to have the right to access natural resources.” Beijing has decided to build a high-tech icebreaker for polar expeditions to be operational near 2013.
The territorial claims are not well established since till recently they were mostly worthless. Suddenly awakened governments now compete to extend the claims. The matter is negotiated in several multinational bodies, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Arctic Ocean Conference. Meanwhile, the Exxons and Statoils of the world will rape what they can without thought to the consequences or obscure national claims.
Just Don’t Drink The Water
Unfortunately, these areas, so likely to be exploited to the limits, are extremely vulnerable ecologically, being stripped of protection. An industrial attack is sure to cause catastrophe not only locally but in your neighborhood. Currents will carry the disaster from the Atlantic to the Pacific and then back to the Atlantic, picking up poisonous strength by the mile.
The Arctic Ocean controls the climate in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Upsetting that utterly complex balance is not a good thing. At the present, much of the Arctic is pristine but highly toxic pockets are spreading. The Russians, for instance, dump their nuclear waste in Arctic waters.
The Arctic haze at high altitude is the main reason Arctic temperatures are on the rise. The heat trapping haze is made up of pollutants originating in CO2 producing sources thousands of miles away. Humans and animals suffer from PCB accumulations.
One Day After Allen
The obscure Polar Star announcement by Thad Allen didn’t go as unnoticed as its modesty suggests. The next day, Canadians raised an eye brow or two. William Rompkey, a Liberal senator, said the U.S. government’s $62 million plan to reactivate the 34-year-old, 130-metre Polar Star shows the emerging urgency in the Northwest Passage.
Canada need more ships in the region quickly, or faces “chaos” in the Northwest Passage. “If we’re saying this is our territory, we’ve got to be there,” Rompkey said. “Or we’ve got to stop saying it’s our territory.”
The Canadian government announced plans in 2008 for a new, $720-million polar-class icebreaker. But a contract for such a vessel has not been signed. At best, this polar class ice breaker will be operational by 2017. Canada does not have the equivalent of the Polar Star. Both the US and Canada have far less capabilities than Russia or even Finland.
Here is a curious fact. Both Seattle web papers (The Times and the PI) carried at least three different versions of this not very remarkable article, published within hours. The later versions consistently downplayed the admiral’s statements on climate change. You tell me? Is this a coincident or not? In the bad old days, one would need to check for Cheney’s presence. Or is Palin lurking behind that corner over there?
Meanwhile, stay cool.
November 30, 2009
Why should anyone care about the wackiness of a few deniers of Global Warming? What’s the big deal about a few morons dragging a big issue into a morass of non-truths, voodoo and plain boredom? These fools succeeded in turning the potential life-and-death issue of Global Warming into pettiness about Al Gore and, more importantly, about scientists in general. They hail the lunacy of Senator James Inhofe and bless the ignorance of George W. Bush. They echo the saintliness of an oil industry deriving massive, record profits from raping Earth. They applaud the smokestack plants burning cheap coal, as long as such plants are not in their backyard. They are the deniers.
Vague, irresponsible and stereotype statements by the skeptics challenge the existence of Global Warming. Never mind their statements lack any objective support. They still make possible the foot dragging of the US Senate and Congress. Most deniers camp out in the Republican Right wing. They should be out in the cold, but aren’t. The Democratic dominance in the Senate and Congress produced nothing substantial. Even the Supreme Court rulings are ignored. Nothing, nada, nichts, ingenting, rien.
The Siberian tundra is no longer frozen but spews untold, catastrophic tons of green house gasses into the air. The Northwest Passage is suddenly navigateable. Antarctica will calve ice sufficient to raise ocean levels by a meter or so. Florida may not like that. Alp ski resorts stand without snow. Glaciers disappear. Coral reefs die. Intuit villages sink in mud as perm freeze melts. Greenland becomes an agricultural Mecca rather than an ice chest. Untold masses of species disappear, under the water and above. Hoax? Not so.
The Bush administration deep-sixed Global Warming by lying to the World about the findings of its own scientists. China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and scores of others joined the US in putting the perceived threats to limitless economic growth before the safety of the world. Let nothing stand in the way of more SUVs for the lucky. Support your local gas station. Surely we must thirst for mineral water from far-away Italy or France.
The Copenhagen Climate Talks are fast approaching. Expectations have moved up a few degrees from absolute zero as Obama promises to show up in person, as will, maybe, the Chinese Premier. Obama carries a lunch box of toothless promises to reduce to US green gas emissions. China generously may promise to release some data on its world leading pollution. Observers announce such data is likely to contain more lies on top of current lies. The EU dispatches a Global Warming denier as its representative.
No one expects progress any time soon towards progressive action. An agreement to replace the flawed Kyoto agreement is not in the stars. After all, Kyoto is wildly profitable to some of the worst polluters. Obama’s hoax proposals aim at reducing criticism of US foot dragging. They mean nothing as the Senate and Congress remains locked up in its deepfreeze of Global Warming.
A fair share of the pessimism expressed above comes from the might of the deniers. They managed to put sufficient scare into the American people and government. Every argument put forward by these crackpot rednecks has been disproved over and over but keep popping up like a California brush fire. Lunatic misfits keep throwing lighted matches at the brushes. California burns at the will of a few token arsonists. The World might burn at the will of token deniers. Never mind logic, science or sanity. Let it all burn.
On this day of November 30th, 2009, Scientific American published “Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense“. You owe it to yourself and your kids to read this article. Do it now. Then read the comments associated with the article. Almost all comments appear to be written by core deniers. Let it burn, no matter why, where, when, who or how. For example (SA is Scientific American):
- “Global warming has been demonstrated to be a hoax with fabricated and fraudulent data. SA knows this, but instead of dealing with the MAJOR issue of widespread scientific fraud and corruption, instead decides continue to pretend the hoax is real. It is obvious that SA is nothing more than a political propaganda publication.”
Like the above, unsubstantiated non-truths and self serving distortions have swept the world many times before. Africans are born to be slaves. Women are unfit to vote. There is but one God. The rich are better than the poor. I am better than you. I am not an ape or fish. Kill thy neighbor. Inferior groups – be it Jews, gays, gypsies, bloggers or scientists – should be whacked once and for all. Burn the books. Let it all burn. Help us all.
March 4, 2008
Hillary Clinton had her share of bad news. But in early March 2008, last minute momentum changed in her favor. Over the first four days in March leading up to the Texas and Ohio challenges, Mrs. Clinton made some significant inroads nationally. Obama and McCain lost some. Glancing at this morning’s headlines, some others suspect the same shift. Might she make her come-back?
If all you care about is the poll results, follow this link. After all, who needs small talk. Busy times.
Obama’s lead is so huge her gain probably won’t matter. A month ago, his standing was well entrenched as the front runner not just over Hillary but over any other competitor. In February, his lead strengthened further as he won the 11 state straight contests.
The attention level Obama has generated is probably unprecedented. The support for his front runner standing is easily traced to two factors – he is eminently newsworthy and holds a commanding lead in news publicity. Second, bloggers piggy tail on the same paparazzi quotient. In other measures, he is generally not in the lead, losing to Hillary and others in several areas.
As this is written, some 12 hours remain till the outcomes of the races in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont are known. It’d be crazy to forecast the outcome this late but this SANITY index suggests that Hillary will do just a bit better than expected. Given that the races appear to be close, this may be significant.
Incidentally, I’m not associated with any candidate or political movement. I have no axe to grind although I do have personal convictions of no bearing to the current proceedings.
SANITY or What?
Here is the SANITY index. It stands for Substance, Attention, Noteworthy, Interesting, Trusty and, say, You. It’s not your average poll calling 1,409 Americans in their homes asking dumb questions. It is a computerized “no human hands” survey based largely on the Internet, data mining and proprietary algorithms. The SANITY survey tracks 168 subjects providing insights into today’s real life issues. These issues range from the Presidential race to Hollywood to health.
The unique feature of this survey is that it can run on a 24/7 continuous basis with full tracking available down to minutes. The other unique feature is that attention is focused on essentials and not meaningless detail, keeping with a “keep it simple” basis.
The survey measures what issues we care about and what people we find worthy of attention. For instance, we measure how much press coverage an individual, such as Barack Obama, gets or how much health care insurance is on the minds of bloggers. There is no judgment of whether that coverage is positive or negative. We just measure the attention levels. Keep it simple.
Only one thing matters in an election. That is who won. Details do not matter except to TV commentators who have nothing better to do. The two things that matter before the election are, first, the absolute standings and, second, whether or not those standings are going up, down or nowhere.
The Presidential Race
Rudy didn’t really want it, preferring mega consulting bucks. Edwards was so smug no one cared. Mitt being too slickly CEOish and a Mormon on top of that couldn’t make it. Ten wives and fifty kids, no doubt, as some perceived it. Billy Robertson is a funny guy and very reasonable but who wants a slightly overweight Hispanic when Hillary is around. In the past, we saw maniacs such as Ross Perot and his great sucking sound, Dean with the scream versus mama’s boys such as Dukakis and a not quite presentable wife.
Not even Viagra worked on Bob Dole. Pat Buchanan can be as mad as he pleases on TV but not in the White House according to the occasionally sane American public. And Al Gore – what can you say? He’s the guy that couldn’t beat the worst presidential candidate (and horrifying President) in modern times. Neither could wobbly Kerry who never knew when to shut up and get on with it, thus becoming a sitting duck. Nader the spoiler is again making noises with no apparent benefit to anyone. Maybe Jesse will sit this out. Thanks God.
All of these people share not winning. Relying on polls, donors spent mega money on them with no or little return. The American people endured listening to meaningless chatter. Enthusiastic volunteers sat through that election night becoming gloomier and gloomier. All because some pollster shyster managed to sell the idea that so and so might win something or another. Pollster turns out to be the financial winner big time. Hey, why not. Here I come.
Here are three graphs showing the very core of the race. The first graph highlights Obama’s crushing lead. With an election today we’d have our first black President without doubt. It is sure hard to see anyone overcoming the massive publicity advantage of this guy. McCain trails big time as does Mrs. Clinton.
The graph includes a few other political figures as seen by a mostly American public. The three main Presidential candidates totally dominate. Romney is riding into the sunset. George W. Bush is down in the pack keeping company with bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. America’s favorite Fascist Ann Coulter lumbers close to Hitler and Limbaugh. Ralph Nader stays in obscurity but made a nice gain following his latest threat to join the race.
The next graph details how Obama gained in February at the expense of not Hillary, but McCain. Obama is the front runner without question. His share is a whopping 70% higher than that of Hillary Clinton. How do you beat that? He is clearly in the driver seat. McCain doesn’t look close either.
Lastly, here is Hillary’s big glimmer of hope. There is a change in momentum in her favor over the last few days before Texas and Ohio contests. Her share is up 4 percent with minor losses for both Obama and McCain. Is it significant? We’ll know in a few hours.
Hillary’s Glimmer of Hope
That’s where things are this Morning of the possibly decisive March 4th, 2008. Many of you will know the outcome by the time you read this and I may have an update by then.
Perhaps this billion dollar election is all a huge joke. Maybe it’s one of the biggest scams around. But that really is irrelevant. “Never in the field of human endeavors is so much spent by so many on so little” to paraphrase the one truly great politician in (or just before) our time.
A few billions is a lot of dough to spend on caucuses in Iowa, endless town hall meetings and negative advertising on issues no one cares about, such as gun boats in Vietnam, silly pictures of candidates crying at the wrong (or right) moment, riding tanks, landing on aircraft carriers, being soft on rape, nannies, immigration or fast food.
Here are some more quotes from the most quotable politician in history: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”; “Eating (my) words has never given me indigestion. “; “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”; “Truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”.
Sir Winston Churchill also said “Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.” Now, to get back on track, is the pollster the monkey or the organ grinder? Great question. Please let me know.
December 3, 2007
Don’t we just love to assign labels to people? We have famous people and those unlucky unfamous people. There are winners and losers. Some are rich, others poor. You have heroes and creeps. Cops and robbers. Good guys, bad guys. Pillars of society and scorchers of earth. Then the whole deal morphs into crime and punishment, Bible versus Koran, Red versus Blue, Cancer versus Hangnails and Canon versus Nikon shooters.
This is the story about the rich and famous, the not quite rich or famous and, most importantly, those not famous at all. It is also a story about art. It touches on some shameful facts but there are good things too. Nothing is black and white only. Something for everyone, I think.
It has long been a desire of the powerful to classify people into useful categories. Consumer companies such as Procter & Gamble owes considerable debt to market research which divides the World into those using Prell, Tide, Bounce and the infidels that do not. TV evangelists, politicians, NPR and Greenpeace split people into Donors and Parasites.
The Census Bureau classifies us in microscopic detail to the delight of the marketing and advertising gangs. The political districting gurus have a grandiose sand box of devious tactics. Some become crooked enough to drive legislators into neighboring states to avoid being railroaded. Starbucks drill into the data to determine the address of the next overpriced java dump.
I’m happy to learn there are 984 Slovaks and 89 Sioux in the City Of Seattle. Sadly, no Navajos appear to live in my city. 2,447 females require less than five minutes to get to their workplace. Some are my neighbors, no doubt. Of those working at home, 1,271 are not US citizens. 4,767 leave for work between 5 and 5:29 AM, which oddly is about the same number as those leaving between 11 and 11:59 AM. All data is downloadable from the Census Bureau for your entertainment unless, of course, you already have a life.
Then there is something called data mining as practiced illegally by various US government agencies such as NSA in the name of the holy War on Terror, aka the Religious Right War on Muslim. It’s purpose, in the eyes of the George W.’s of an unfortunate world, is to gain insights in as many aspects of your personal life as possible, thereby supposedly proving you are a Muslim and thus a terrorist. Never mind that you may actually be a Slovak, Sioux, Navajo or, worse, a Democrat.
Data mining is largely done by deep diving into the Internet, tapping emails and listening in on phone calls. When it gets more than lukewarm, your phone specifically is tapped, with or, most likely, without court approval. Big Joe demands all your private records from record keepers such as banks, online services and your veterinarian. Naturally, banks, airlines and others such as Yahoo, eBay, Microsoft and Google, have caved in to Big Joe. Joe McCarthy would be green with envy if he were to live in these joyous times. Many wonder why 250 million Americans buy into this horse manure. This is the people fanatically defending their right to bear assault rifles. Over their dead bodies as the saying accurately goes. That line in the sand stand, of course, defends the right to carry an assault rifle to the supermarket, not those Commies’
If you are like most people, data mining is not close to your top priorities. It is a subject almost as boring as Global Warming. No doubt you will ignore both of these issues until 1) your house is permanently under carbonized ocean water and 2) Big Brother decides you are no longer allowed to fly on US of A airlines to visit Grandma in Florida. Your charitable donations are suddenly terrorist money laundering. Your favorite cruise ship vacation is replaced by a prolonged stay in Cuba where no laws are pertinent.
Will data mining stop terrorism? It absolutely, definitely and assuredly will not. Data mining and the War on Terror will fail because George Bush has no idea what or who he is allegedly fighting. Winning means you have to know who and what to beat. It helps if you also know why. Ask any athlete. Tim Duncan does not play against some vague demographic segment. His job is to beat the heck out of Yao Ming and Shaq O’Neal.
Data mining, on the other hand, will generate gigatons of absolutely useless data, not winning a single game. It is pointless to wiretap 250 million Americans to gain insights into the minds of five or so terrorists located in Kazakhstan this week and in Lille, France next week and then possibly in the Sears Tower with a suitcase full of radioactive weapons of mass destruction and a smart looking suicide belt. The CIA will blame FBI who will tear into The Domestic Nuclear Detection Office who sends it off to NSA/CSS after which it is never seen again.
This is all due to the idea people can be classified, pigeonholed and dumped into categories, risk segments, code orange traps and hard drive locations. It is, to be true, all fantasy.
George Bush splits the World into those with him and those not. Those against him include everyone not with him, that is, Terrorists aka Muslims, Scientists, Environmentalists, anything French or German, Gays, his Dad, Hollywood, the Press, Fancy Food, Alzheimer victims, Math Teachers, ACLU and Anyone making less than a million bucks a day. He also dislikes journalists, doctors, lawyers, actors, his own cabinet and members of previous cabinets as well as any past, current or future members of Congress.
Hitler divided the World into mythical Aryans and those not, such as Jews, Gypsies, Hungarians, Poles, Cabaret performers and Homosexuals. Stalin divided his constituents into evil peasants versus loyal commissars. His Generals split their troops into those shot by Germans and those shot in the back by fellow soldiers for not advancing fast enough. The Generals too usually ended up shot by a jealous Stalin.
None of the three gentlemen above cared or cares at all for “different” people. That is a tragedy led by the powerful and directed at the powerless. People are split into categories resulting in the loss of freedom, rights and heads. The rules of the splits can be pretty much anything. Here are a few examples from the last 8 years or so, sorted by casualties:
Iraqi Wars, Afghan Wars, Ethiopia-Eritrea War, Somali Civil War, The First and Second Chechen Wars, Sudanese Civil War, 9/11, Algerian Civil War, Israel-Lebanon War, Sierra Leone Civil War, Waziristan War, Cote d’Ivoire Civil War, al-Qaeda misc. Murders, Turkey-PKK Conflict, Beslan School Siege, Bali Bombings, Madrid Terrorist Attack, Moscow Theatre Siege, Guatemala Civil War, Bojaya Massacre, Super Ferry 14 Bombing, Iraq Fuel Tanker Bombing, London Terror Attacks, Passover Massacre, USS Cole Bombing, Varanasi Train Bombings, Janupur Train Bombing, Karachi Bus Bombing, Indian Parliament Murders, Podujevo Bus Bombing and the Anthrax Attacks.
There is a different kind of prominent split that most of us like to ignore. That is the split of those that are Disadvantaged or those who are not. This includes the Mentally Ill versus us Sane. The physically disabled versus us fit. The oppressed, discriminated against and persecuted; the homeless, stateless, limbless, jobless or not. Anyone not fitting the orderly picture favored by those claiming to be Normal. Once you had Hippies and Beatniks. Now you have welfare mothers, suicide by police, walled suburbs, security cameras, phone taps, road rage and high school murder. It’s them versus us. Take no prisoners.
Perhaps one way to make the distinction is that the Outsiders are those that frighten the Insiders. The Insiders deep down know that the transition to Outsider is just a breath away. That is not a pleasant thought. You might suddenly and involuntarily join the damned, those fucked over one way or another. Jobs, status and security come and go.
Walk into any nursing home and you will not just find the elderly – you will find plenty of people that by their age and physical condition should be out there laboring away as us normal persons do. These people – traffic accident victims, punched out boxers, short-circuited CEOs, born “that way”, victims of violence or natural disasters – are institutionalized because a) they should be and b) someone or something is paying for their keep which is lucky indeed.
The US VA hospitals are filled with those suddenly Disadvantaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam or the dozens of other conflicts deemed worthwhile by brave leaders. Iraqi graves are filled with those permanently Disadvantaged by cluster bombs, religious leaders, Bunker Busters, Precision this or that, lack of milk, neighbors, drugged out Blackwater “security guards” not to mention Syrians, Saudis, Iranians, Egyptians, Kurds, Turks and Jordanians. Perhaps an Israeli or two play their game too.
I live in downtown Seattle. As in most downtown areas, human misery is close at hand. Screams in the night, mental illness, drugs, pan handling and all the other urban invisibles are all quite visible in my neighborhood. Being on a busy street close to a major fire station, sirens topple the normal noise level at a frightening pace. The major TV stations are close by and their remote units come and go, recording misery somewhere else. Their helicopters constantly head for some disaster or another.
Listening to the nighttime screams, the anger of those stuck out there is very obvious. It is true rage I hear. That rage is rarely specific and usually aimed at “it”. “It” isn’t you or me. But it leads to fear among the shop owners, the Yuppie condo people and the city officials. Rage on one side, fear on the other side. Careful demarcation of boundaries: them versus us, day versus night. It is remarkable how loud voices are at 4 AM when the traffic is gone. Perhaps it is despair I hear rather than anger. It might be both.
I have yet to see the rage of the disadvantaged turn into violence although it certainly happens. It does not, though, approach the violence created by even an average American President. Some of “them” I know by now. Others I recognize. Being an insomniac, I see both sides of the fence. Some of “them” are artists with great talent although the chance of a gig or exhibition is slim indeed.
Here is what I’m driving at. You’d be astonished how much art is created by the Different or those Disadvantaged. Take Hitler’s concentration camps and ghettos. A different post of mine included the harrowing, remarkable art produced by camp inmates. Some of those images are repeated here. Extraordinary music was composed in the camps. Only a small proportion is preserved. Hitler’s envy of real artists sentenced them to extermination. Here are just four of the names: Mendel Grossman – photographer, Leo Haas – painter, Alfred Kantor – painter, Paul Morgan – entertainer.
In recent times, the fenced paradise of Singapore banned, censored and prosecuted local press, local artists, theater performances, international press and magazines, pornography and music of various kinds. Sex and the City was only shown recently after much hand wringing. They call it Social Engineering.
The people of Singapore feel they live in a nice place which might be true in the mind of some. Certainly Singapore is record clean. There are immigrant ghettos in Paris and many other European cities that are not as clean or socially engineered. The various zones, authorities and partitions in the Middle East are in the daily news. The Baghdad disaster, parts of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto. If you live in one such area, Art may not be in the front yard of your life. Yet Art lives on everywhere – even in the Green Zone of Baghdad. I bet.
Many of us saw the glorification of the Soviet Worker’s Paradise: workers rising, workers working, workers marching or worker warring. It did not include workers drunk, workers departing for Siberia or workers suffering from AIDS. Apparatich, KGB and aging leaders were artistically invisible. Artistically, the World became one-dimensional.
The Soviet System demanded conformance to “Soviet Realism” which was neither realistic, nor had much to do with art. Lenin in 1920 denounced “Expressionism, Futurism, Cubism and “other ‘isms’,” as non worthy elitist deviance. Dissidence meant gulags as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Alexander Ginzburg found out. Major artists such as Shostakovich and Prokofiev in music and, in literature, Bulgakov, Pasternak, Platonov, Mandelstam, Trifonov, Babel and Grossman all walked the thin line of becoming “Different” and rebelling against the state line. But check out some of Shostakovich’s works – there are plenty of semi hidden revolts against the dictations. All of which were at the mercy of Stalin and others. “Different” meant living a very miserable life.
In the US of A
Billie Holiday was banned from performing in New York as was Thelonious Monk. Joe McCarthy destroyed some 140 victims – many were artists. Rudy Giuliani unsuccessfully censored the Brooklyn Museum and its “Sensation” art show. Some five years ago, the New York State corrections commissioner announced that he banned the sale of artwork created by prison inmates to reduce the anguish of the victims of said inmates. Considering over two million people in the US enjoy free room and board, it stands to reason there should be a rather lively art scene. Certainly many artists were in jail for some or another offence in their past.
Let’s compile another list: Emily Araki, Asao Handa, Mobu Hashimoto, Taye Jow, Yoshiko Ushida and Richard Kanazawa. All were Artists, different and residents of American concentration camps during WWII. There were many more, all of Japanese origins. Yet the sons fought in Italy and elsewhere. On the American side.
NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts are perpetual Republican targets for extinction. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill a Mockingbird, All the Pretty Horses, the Harry Potter series, The Catcher in the Rye, Sophie’s Choice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Inferno (Dante) all share the honor of being banned from schools in, for instance, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida and Texas. The same schools usually favor school prayers, various patriotic pledges and creationism. They tend to agree with Lenin on “Expressionism, Futurism, Cubism and “other ‘isms’,” being dangerous elitist deviance usually leading to pre marriage sex or worse.
Then we have the racial issues. It used to be those were viewed as mostly a shameful American problem. Today it is a global issue that will get worse. Global Warming will force relocation of hundreds of millions of people from tropical areas into developed areas on top of the current labor market flows. Politicians gamble it will not happen on their guard. But Nicolas Sarkozy of France already knows the score as do his riot police.
Racial profiling is yet another example of discrimination practiced by air lines, police and New Jersey Turnpike State Patrol. United Airlines throw Assem Bayaa off a flight claiming that because of national security, they don’t have to obey civil rights protection laws. Racial profiling is blamed for the shooting of Amadou Diallo by the New York City Police Department. London Police killed Jean Charles de Menezes because he looked Middle Eastern. Menezes was Brazilian. US Airways removed six Muslim imams from a flight after fellow passengers expressed fear.
My favorite fascist Ann Coulter jumped in on the US Airways act: “US Airways is my official airline now. Northwest, which eventually flew the Allah-spouting Muslims to their destinations, is off my list. You want to really hurt a U.S. air carrier’s business? Have Muslims announce that it’s their favorite airline.” Would Ms. Coulter like to fly Middle East Airlines on her next trip to Beirut? Maybe she’ll have to connect using Syrian Arab Airlines after crossing the Atlantic on Royal Jordanian out of JFK. No doubt service would be impeccable.
Mortgage lenders, insurance companies and the retail industry have their own version of profiling known as redlining. It means ethnic factors determine the availability of services. Blacks cannot obtain loans or insurance. Retailers refuse to serve certain ethnic neighborhoods. The late 1980s saw the emergence of the phrase Environmental Racism. It covers issues such as urban decay and excessive pollution in minority areas and the unavailable health care for, say, AIDS.
“Us or We” stand for Tide and Dell. iPods, SUVs and cell phone ring tones. A precious few are happy, well adjusted and always productive. Most of us are not. We cherish majestic homes, exercise clubs, personal trainers. Airline miles, first class upgrades, airport club rooms and special floor in hotels. Foie Gras, Beluga Caviar, Kobe Beef, 1945 Mouton-Rothschild, stirred, not shaken martinis on Bombay Sapphire and a spot of BC’s finest. Prozac, Prada, Nike, Viagra.
Illegal gardeners, cooks and nannies. Insider trading, child porn, spousal abuse, congressional pages. Cancer, heart pacers, redone faces, improved waistlines, hairlines and butt lines. The Sundance Cirque Lodge, The Causeway Therapeutic Center or perhaps the Sunset Malibu when things get out of hand? “We” congest the streets, cause global warming, kill thousands of species, make wars, snort cocaine and generally don’t care for one another.
Only the most stupid of us believe in useless stereotyping as shown above. There is not a single individual fitting the portrait. Some may come closer than others but labeling just does not work. Not all enjoy Beluga Caviar. Some prefer ballpark hot dogs and drive a Chevy Aveo. Others like Iranian Caviar better. Personally, I like spaghetti. I’m not much of a Prada guy.
Let’s consider the “Us” camp and some of its members. By most standards, membership includes strange individuals such as Howard Hughes, Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton, Jerry Springer, Kobe Bryant, George W. Bush, Howard Stern, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, Boris Yeltsin, Ann Coulter, Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fred Flintstone and George Karl. All defy classification. They are different but have one thing in common. These people do not produce Art.
The “Us” segment contains untold numbers of serious, legitimate artists. Writers, painters, composers, topless dancers, photographers and maybe a blogger or two. Occasionally well adjusted, safe and sound, they go about the business of art. Some art may be a bit bland compared to the far corners of expressive power. It truly takes all kinds. Take Smooth Jazz and New Age Flutists – great companions with Prozac. No wonder the true Disadvantaged scream in the night. Their art is rarely bland.
To see the spread from the bland to the somewhat adventurous and, by exception, the truly original, compare, say, Perry Como and Janis Joplin. Doris Day compared to Eve Ensler. Miss Marple and John Barth. Rock Hudson and Sean Penn. Tom Clancy and Kurt Vonnegut. Amy Grant versus Eminem. Norman Rockwell against Pablo Picasso. John Grisham versus Norman Mailer. Burt Bacharach and Arnold Schoenberg. Ebert against Susan Sontag. Ricky Martin versus John Cage. David Sanborn versus John Coltrane. Janet Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Anita Baker against Anita O’Day. Danielle Steel versus Andrea Barrett.
Perhaps not all of the above are well adjusted. Some are or were addicted to various things. Not all are nice people. Some of the art is truly awful and most is very bland. None of them live on the street or reside in mental institutions. Some may feel at home in rehab centers but that’s not quite the same thing. This essay is not about these guys. This article is about the other ones: “them”.
“They” stand for poverty, rage, illness, irresponsibility, insanity, and screams in the night. They are institutionalized, discarded, feared, deep-6ed, 86ed, banned, ignored, hidden, driven out of town. They look bad and smell bad. They are drunk, high, low, infected with lice, AIDS or TBC. A few are violent. They annoy, panhandle and give us evil eyes. Many are in jail, asylums or various concentration camps around the World. Or they would be if we establishment types could find the time to round them up. Being parasitic, they deserve no care, no breaks and no respect. Politicians safely can ignore them. They carry no political weight, do not lobby much of anything and receive no DC pork.
Mental illness, in particular manic-depression and creativity go well together. Famous examples include Ernest Hemingway, Robert Schumann, Virginia Woolf, Michelangelo, Diane Arbus and Lord Byron.
“Outsider Art” refers to the work of self-taught mentally ill or disadvantaged artists such as Delaine La Bas, Adolph Wolfli, Nek Chand, Ferdinand Cheval, Henry Darrger, Madge Gill, Alexander Lobanov, Martin Ramirez, Achilles Rizzoli and Judith Scott. The 1922 book “Artistry of the Mentally Ill” by Hans Prinzhorn identified the Ten Schizophrenic Masters: Karl Brendel, August Klotz, Peter Mogen, August Neter, Johann Knupfer, Victor Orth, Herman Bell, Heinrich Welz, Joseph Sell and Franz Pohl.
The six images close by in this section represent works by Outsider Artists. The top pencil drawing of a woman is by Madge Gill, an English artist guided by a spirit. She did thousands of drawings like the one shown here. The woman in the drawing may be Gill herself or a stillborn daughter.
Martin Ramirez, a Mexican who lived in California, did the Man on a Horse. Ramirez suffered from schizophrenia. After his death, the painting became quite valuable. This is unusual: most of these artists are or were institutionalized with their work neither shown publicly nor sold. Even after death, when often their work first came to light, little is made public.
The drawing of a huge dog with his tiny master is next. No doubt based on an accurate view of the world according to most dogs, the artist is Bill Traylor. He was born a slave in 1856 on a plantation near Benton, Alabama. He remained at the plantation till 1934, described as an illiterate farmer with some English vocabulary. He then worked on road gangs and was essentially homeless. So how come this man is viewed as one of the most important American artists?
From 1939 to 1942, Traylor worked the streets of Montgomery as a street artist. He was 83 when he started this artistic career, eventually producing around 1,800 drawings. Friends brought him drawing materials and others provided small favors such as food and an occasional roof. His first show was held in 1940 – ignored by Traylor who was busy drawing. His next show was held in 1942 at a local high school. By chance, his work caught the attention of the NYC Museum of Modern Art. The Museum attempted to buy some of the works but was angrily rejected. By 1943 Traylor moved north to his children. He died in 1947 and his work fell into the shadows for thirty five years.
In 1982, he was part of a landmark exhibition of Black American art. His work was rediscovered and he is now a regular feature of the art scene. Exhibitions include about some twenty across the South in the last 10 years. He recently was featured in England, Germany and Switzerland.
Adolf Wolfli, Resident Artist, Waldau Mental Asylum, Switzerland 1895-1930
Adolf Wolfli is perhaps the best known of the Outsider Artists. Born in 1864, he was a farmhand, a laborer and a convicted sex offender by the age of 31. At this point he was committed to the Asylum where he remained to his death in 1930. He was violent, subject to hallucinations and diagnosed as a schizophrenic.
He started drawing in 1899, but nothing is preserved till about 1905. Over the next twenty five years, he accumulated a remarkable output of an imaginary 25,000 page autobiography and some 3,000 drawings and collages. Supported by some of the hospital staff, here is his established routine:
- “Every Monday morning Wölfli is given a new pencil and two large sheets of unprinted newsprint. The pencil is used up in two days; then he has to make do with the stubs he has saved or with whatever he can beg off someone else.”
- “He often writes with pieces only five to seven millimeters long and even with the broken-off points of lead, which he handles deftly, holding them between his fingernails. He carefully collects packing paper and any other paper he can get from the guards and patients in his area; otherwise he would run out of paper before the next Sunday night.”
- “At Christmas the house gives him a box of colored pencils, which lasts him two or three weeks at the most.”
He achieved a bit of fame in 1921 when he was the subject of an attention getting publication stating a mentally ill person can be a serious artist. In 1922, he was one of several subjects in Prinzhorn’s book mentioned above. The publicity allowed him to sell some drawings.
Yet that ripple did not last long and it was not till 1972 – forty two years after his death – that he was discovered by the world of art. His work started a remarkable tour through the world that included well over a hundred fifty exhibitions at locations such as the Museums of Fine Arts in Basel and Bern, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Universities of California in Berkeley and Santa Barbara, Musee Picasso, Antibes, American Folk Art Museum, New York, Kunsthalle, Kiel, Scottish Art Council, Edinburgh, Berliner Museum, Berlin, Centre de Cultura Contemporania, Barcelona, Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo and the Katonah Museum of Art, New York. This is just a sampling;
add many more museums, exhibition halls and galleries.
What about his work? Well, think an enormous collection of newsprint papers completely covered with text, drawings, symbols, poetry and musical annotations. Meticulously organized into volumes: Nine volumes of “From the Cradle to the Grave”, Seven volumes of “Geographic and Algebraic Books”, 3,000 pages of “Saint Adolf-Giant-Creation (allowing his nephew to conquer not only Earth but the entire Cosmos), six books of “St Adolf II” (his alter ego), six books of “Songs ands Dances”, four books on “Dances and Marches” and sixteen books and 8,404 pages on his “Funeral March”. Most of his drawings were part of the volumes but some, called bread art, were single sheet, occasionally sold and the basis of his modest early following.
The drawings are exhausting, epic, complex, grandiose, geometrical, adventurous, labyrinthine, mysterious, startling and based on an incredible imagination. He spent most of his mature life in an isolation cell, yet provided views on far reaching subjects he could not have observed through anything but imagination.
Here is a bit of trivia: Wolfli did his Campbell Soup Can (above) in 1929. Andy Warhol did his Can in 1964. It seems both of them liked the Tomato Soup. Warhol is the pop artist of fame. Wolfli is known for insanity. May the best man or image win.
Also interesting is the inclusion of musical annotations and hints. Recently, these annotations have been interpreted into actual performances. He is said to have inspired a range of musicians and composers. Here are a few words on the musical aspect of his work off his web site:
- “Naturally enough, the question whether Wölfli’s music can be played is asked again and again. The answer is yes, with some difficulty. Parts of the musical manuscripts of 1913 were analyzed in 1976 by Kjell Keller and Peter Streif and were performed. These are dances – as Wölfli indicates – waltzes, mazurkas, and polkas similar in their melody to folk music.”
- “How Wölfli acquired his knowledge of music and its signs and terms is not clear. He heard singing in the village church. Perhaps he himself sang along. There he could see song books from the eighteenth century with six-line staffs (explaining, perhaps, his continuous use of six lines in his musical notations). At festivities he heard dance music, and on military occasions he heard the marches he loved so well.”
- “More important than the concrete evaluation of his music notations is Wölfli’s concept of viewing and designing his whole oeuvre as a big musical composition. The basic element underlying his compositions and his whole oeuvre is rhythm. Rhythm pervades not only his music but his poems and prose, and there is also a distinctive rhythmic flow in his handwriting.”
Another curious aspect is that he apparently incorporated a detailed vocabulary into his work. This vocabulary included graphics such as birds, faces, decorative borders, snakes, musical staves and mandela shapes.
Adolf Wolfli’s creativity is only the beginning of his startling abilities. It is hard to even imagine what must have been going on in that isolated mind that astonishes a world about which he directly knew very little. There is only room here for a few of his drawings (above). Given the uniqueness of his work, I’ve prepared a short multimedia show of samples from his work, accompanied by his own music as interpreted recently. Hit the “Wolfli” button in the next segment and let the show roll.
Sometimes, Outsider Artists are referred to as “Folk Artists”. Other descriptions include “brutish, rural, untrained, intuitive, menial, peasant, marginal, clumsy, naive, primitive, extreme, mental, elaborate and fantasy driven”. Personally, I don’t quite agree with any of these classifications. Considering that Outsider Art has become a commercially viable art form, some recent output might be described as opportunistic, simply bad or exploitative.
However, in the case of Wolfli, his music as interpreted in the show below is decidedly Swiss Folk style. Perhaps not all of us favor that particular music legacy but few among us can claim to simultaneously be writers of autobiographies, adventures, poetry, algebraic and geographic text books and symbolic essays plus be accomplished visual artists, draftsmen and illustrators plus be composers.
Hit the button for a rare glimpse of a long ago Outsider Artist and his quite strange world and who beat Andy Warhol to the Campbell Soup Can:
There are Outsider Music and Outsider Photography artists. Perhaps we have Outsider Postmen, Outsider Plumbers, Outsider Accountants and Outsider Neurosurgeons. Outsider Bloggers most likely are quite a large group. It depends on how you classify people. I suppose my point is that classifying people is a futile exercise. There are some trivial classifications that are real. If you lost a leg you are a one-legged individual. If you were born in Moscow, Idaho, you are an American citizen. But if you claim such classifications can be extended to your credit rating or artistic ability, then you are on a slippery slope.