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An Audience With the Dalaí LACMA

Salvador Dalí's famous soft watches are nothing else than the tender, extravagant and solitary paranoiac-critical camembert of time and space.

        -- Salvador Dalí, La Conquête de l'irrationnel (1935)

and from Horse Feathers:

Baravelli:     Who are you?    
Wagstaff:     I'm fine thanks, who are you?
Baravelli:     I'm fine too, but you can't come in unless you give the password.
Wagstaff:     Well, what is the password?
Baravelli:     Aw, no! You gotta tell me.  Hey, I tell what I do.  I give you three guesses.  It's the name of a fish. . .


It has been a long time since there was any particular respectability to be had in admitting a fondness for Salvador Dalí, but what's a little disrespect among friends, eh? 

The Dalí story follows a sad pattern, one that continues to haunt artists and performers today: a period of sustained brilliance followed by a long, slow decline into repetition and self-parody as the creator outlives his creative gift, often by decades.  The consensus of opinion, from which I do not dissent, is that Dalí peaked early and produced admirable and exciting work into, say, the mid-'40s, but that his postwar period is a lingering embarrassment of game shows and chocolate adverts and endless self-promotion.  Robert Hughes, writing in TIME in 1972, gives a typical assessment:

In the 30-odd years since Salvador Dalí separated from the surrealist movement, he has leaped from one extravagant triviality to the next, combining the roles of circus freak, spangled elephant and Barnum himself.  The performance is tinted with sadness.  Dalí is undoubtedly the last of the great dandies, but nobody accepts his own belief that he is the last of the great artists, heir to Vermeer and Velásquez.  The baroque costume jewelry, the monarchist-Catholic oratory, the worn stock of crutches and soft watches—all have dust on them.  Even the trembling antennas of that fabled mustache have apparently ceased to receive or transmit anything.

Dalí's latest attempt at a comeback . . . is a lugubrious event, more rummage sale than exhibition.  Though it was not conceived as a retrospective, it spans about four decades of his output and so gives some sense of the appalling decline that his talent has suffered. To see some of Dalí's best early work, like the tiny Specter of Sex Appeal (1934), is almost to confront a different painter: somewhere along the line that nightmarish distinctness and mystery of image, in which every speck of paint possessed a tension like the casing of a grenade that was about to explode, vanished.  What replaced it was ornamental theater.

[Hyperlink added.  Hughes tends to be particularly harsh on later Dalí because he so admires the early work, as in this centenary appreciation for the Guardian.]

Dali_banner_2_by_cfarivar Dalí: Painting & Film, currently on view at LACMA, spans the entire career, but fortunately skews most strongly toward Dalí's work of the '20s and '30s, with the later weaker work confined mostly to the last two rooms.

The exhibition ran first from June to September in London, and was jointly organized by the Tate Modern and LACMA.  Based on the room guide on the Tate site, the installation and ordering of material in Los Angeles differs in a number of respects from the London original.  (Persistence of Memory and its famed floppy timepieces, for example, show up several rooms later here than they did there.)  The basic structure of the show remains: a chronological survey of Dalí's film projects, the completed portions of which are shown on large screens, intermixed with paintings, drawings, notes and ephemera related directly or thematically to each.

Dalí, it develops, had many more ideas for films than he had completed film projects.  After the two initial collaborations with Luis Bunuel -- Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or -- Dalí's attempts at cinema were largely hypothetical or incomplete.  First in Paris and then on visits to the U.S., he seems always to have been carrying or working on one film treatment or another, but with little ever coming before the camera: 

When in America, Dalí seems always to have had film ideas on his mind.  On his first trip to New York in 1934 -- during which he sold Persistence of Memory to the Museum of Modern Art -- he crafted a scenario and a series of elaborate illustrations for a never-filmed Surrealist Mysteries of New York.  Later, in California, he met and worked with Walt Disney on Destino, which was to have been a 7-10 minute sequence to be included in one of Disney's package films, but the project terminated early and was not completed, or recreated, until 2003.   That 2003 version seems to faithfully approximate what it would have looked and sounded like -- it was to have been a music video of sorts, the soundtrack consisting of a Mexican love ballad called "Destino"  -- and provides a sort of "Dalí's Greatest Hits," as the artist's recurring tricks and obsessions flow by and through one another.  I watched it repeatedly and with pleasure at LACMA, and hope it will someday see a home release.

Destino serves as a pivot of sorts in LACMA's installation, preceding a room of good-to-great paintings (including those persistently memorable watches) that in turn leads on to the long decline.  The later film projects on display are more tiresome than not, combining the increasing self-indulgence of the artist with the increasing self-indulgence of the 1960s to predictably dubious effect.

In Hollywood in the '30s, Dalí struck up a friendship with the Marx Brothers, most particularly Harpo, to whom he sent the gift of a harp strung with barbed wire.  Among the highlights of Dalí and Film are the drawings and notes he created under the Brothers' influence around 1936 for a project to be entitled either "The Surrealist Woman" or "Giraffes on Horseback Salad."  Although a giraffe is tossed from a window in L'Age d'Or, it was not on fire; Dalí's flaming giraffes seem to have appeared for the first time in his conception for the Marxes, where they were to have illuminated an elaborate banquet scene. 

The Dalí-Marx collaboration came a-cropper at least in part because of Groucho's skepticism over the painter's scenario, which he thought included too much incident and not enough room for the brothers' free association.  Details of Dalí's plot, if it can be so described, are covered at length in the thorough, abundantly illustrated catalog that accompanies the LACMA show.

Groucho Marx as the Shiva of Big Business (detail) by Salvador Dalí, reproduced in Theatre Arts Monthly - October 1939

The October 1939 issue of Theatre Arts Monthly reproduced several of the Marx-related drawings to accompany Marie Seton's article, "S. Dali + 3 Marxes=", which sums up the unmade film this way: 

The meeting between Dali and the Marxes brought forth a unique scenario, which was outlined by Dali in a series of drawings that now hang on the walls of Harpo Marx's living-room.  These drawings are individually extremely interesting, for Dali, with the delicacy of a Dürer, has taken the characteristic antics and spirit of the Marxes' films and added his own grotesque trimmings to emphasize the character of the comedians as they appear on the screen.  This extraordinary scenario -- which actually became a written script -- never materialized, probably because only a hundred people would have understood it.  The League of Decency, moreover, which imposes stringent rules on Hollywood, would have pruned it beyond recognition.

Too true.

Dalí and Film continues at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through January 6, 2008 -- a perfect way to get your holiday-Rose Bowl guests from out of town out of the house -- after which it travels to the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, and on to Manhattan and MoMA.



After a long afternoon of trudging the galleries, why not relax with a cold and refreshing Bunuel Martini?

LACMA Dali Banner photo by cfarivar, via Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Muppet Confidential:
"Frogs and Pigs Living Together! Mass Hysteria!"

Kermit the Frog, in custody on disorderly conduct charges after hitting the eggnog too hard and too early at the Macy's post-parade reception, learns that being green is rather easier than he had once thought.

Two further, Muppetocentric proofs that, as they say, the past is a foreign country:

Children's Television Workshop has released Sesame Street - Old School, two DVD volumes of selections from Sesame Street's first ten years, 1969 to 1979.  Atlantic Monthly's Ross Douthat points to a Virginia Heffernan report in the New York Times Magazine on the collections and the parental cautions attached thereto:

Just don’t bring the children.  According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, 'Sesame Street: Old School' is adults-only: 'These early "Sesame Street" episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.'

* * *

Nothing in the children’s entertainment of today, candy- colored animation hopped up on computer tricks, can prepare young or old for this frightening glimpse of simpler times.  Back then — as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 — a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home.  Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything.  As it was, he fed her milk and cookies.  The milk looks dangerously whole.

Freed from the constraints of pretending to be educational, the Muppets of yore posed even greater dangers to unformed young minds.  The UK weblog of Lawrence Miles catalogs "Nine Things Which Appeared on The Muppet Show, But Wouldn’t Make It Onto Family Television These Days. "  Two examples of many:

[W]hat we forget is that the issue of cross-species fertility is raised even in the original series, specifically in Miss Piggy’s performance of 'Waiting at the Church', a song about a bride being deserted by her bigamous husband on the day of her shotgun wedding.  Piggy performs the song in a wedding dress that’s been bulked out to make her look eight months pregnant.  This image is so distressing that it’s been erased from our collective childhood memory, yet there she is on the screen, reciting the opening lines ‘I’m in a nice bit of trouble, I confess / somebody with me has had a game’ in the finest music-hall tradition.  Four-year-olds in the audience must surely have asked their parents why she looked so fat that week, and it’s doubtful that the phrase 'big with spawn' would have satisfied them.

* * *

7. Bombs.  Oh yes.  Bombs in large quantities.  Let’s not pretend that the absence of high explosives in modern family programming has anything to do with recent terrorist attacks: a lot more suspicious packages were going off in ‘70s Britain than today, and yet nobody seems to have connected Gonzo’s 'Defusing a Bomb While Reciting Percy Bysshe Shelley' routine with the IRA, and no episode of The Muppet Show was ever Postponed Due to Current Events.  We really are cripplingly over-sensitive these days, aren’t we?

Reason's Rough Cut Video Blog, which pointed the way to Miles' post, provides further support by linking Kenny Rogers' Muppet Show performance of "The Gambler," in which Rogers

plies an aged poker player with scotch and fags until he dies happy in his sleep.  Performed by humans, it’s unpleasantly cloying.  Performed by Muppets, it’s just scary.

(Miles announced the closure of his weblog in August, advising those who might want to preserve any of it to "copy the best bits [and] paste them into a Word file".  Just in case it has actually disappeared by the time you want to read it, I have taken the liberty of doing just that.)


PHOTO CREDIT:  Kermit the Frog experiences inflationary pressures, Nov. 21, 2007, by key lime_ pie, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

It's Thanksgiving 2007, Pumpkin


Pumpkins and gourds, the harvest in, winter lying in wait.  It must be time for Thanksgiving.

This year's Thanksgiving post takes its inspiration from "Pumpkin Farmer," a song performed by the Albuquerque-based band Trilobite that I encountered nearly a year ago via a post at stereogum.  Trilobite is the performing moniker for Mark Ray Lewis, who is also an established writer, having won an O. Henry Award and a Pushcart Prize in 2002 for his story "Scordatura," nominated by Joyce Carol Oates.  The lyrics of "Pumpkin Farmer" have the closely observed quality of a good story, and the lovely harmonies of Michelle Collins keep the sentiment from slopping into sentimentality.  Excerpt:

I’ve got 40 acres of regret to see.
My profit loss has been on show for free.
But with the moisture right, in the morning light,
hydraulics lift up the three point hitch.

That’s when I can, I can forget to be
Thankful, thankful to thee.

* * *

Drop the disc down onto a level field.
Watch it churn like an ocean gone brown.
Pumpkin leaves and tendrils turning under me,
an empty slate, ready for the cold.    

Listen now:


This marks my fifth Thanksgiving post.  From this Fool's archives, here are links to the others:

  • 2006: A St. Cecilia Thanksgiving [feat. St. Cecilia, Fairport Convention, the semiotics of turkey pardoning, and how to celebrate Thanksgiving in Korea -- a land without turkeys]
  • 2004: Now Be Thankful [feat. Fairport Convention and the first of our pardoned turkeys]

One last bit of business: the Presidential Turkey Pardon, a recurring theme of recent Thanksgiving posts.

Here, with Official White House Pumpkins, we see "May," one half of the fortune-favored Strut 'n' Gobble team of May & Flower, this year's beneficiaries of Executive Largesse. 


The birds are now in residence at Walt Disney World in Orlando, under the care of an enormous Pilgrim Rodent, as you will see if you scroll down through Eric M. Davis' report from the scene.


Pumpkin Harvest at King Estate Winery (Eugene, Oregon), photo by d70focus, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.
"Smashing Pumpkins" (Deutschlandsberg, Styria, Austria) photo by -cr, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.
"May" the lucky turkey, White House photo by David Bohrer.

A Great Dane Explains the Blogosphere For You

Holbeinerasmusfollymarginalia_detai Almost four years ago, I noted that the Wonderful World of Weblogs had been foreseen by Desiderius Erasmus in his Praise of Folly way back in 1509.  There must be something in the philosophical water in northern Europe, because Erasmus was not alone in his prescience.  Some 300 years later, speaking through at least two layers of pseudonymity, Søren Kierkegaard captured the workings of the political blogosphere with remarkable precision:

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public.  They thought it was a jest and applauded.  He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder.  So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.

A few pages later, SK adds this sound advice, sadly never to be embraced in American public discourse:

In itself, salmon is a great delicacy: but too much of it is harmful since it taxes the digestion.  At one time when a very large catch of salmon had been brought to Hamburg, the police ordered that a householder should give his servants only one meal a week of salmon.  One could wish for a similar police order against sentimentality.

Mmmmm: salmon.

Quotations from S. Kierkegaard, aka Viktor Eremita, aka "A", Either/Or, Vol. 1, "Diapsalmata" (1843).  Marginal drawing of Folly by Hans Holbein (detail) from Erasmus' personal copy of Praise of Folly, 1515 (Basel), via Wikimedia Commons.

Stuff, Meet Nonsense

I have a backlog of miscellaneous items, many months in the making, saved away to be pointed to in an appropriate post.  Since many of those posts seem destined never to arrive, here is an attic-cleaning catch-all of items whose only common feature is that they caught this Fool's interest:

  • Søren Kierkegaard, Denmark's gift to philosophy and one of the best writers ever to apply himself to that trade, has been turning up with some frequency in my weblog reading.  Here, for instance is ArtsJournal music blogger Kyle Gann, en route to Copenhagen, thinking at length about SK's place in his personal canon:

Kierkegaard Of course, I was a musician too, and while the 'Or' of Either/Or held a certain academic interest, it was the 'Either' that I devoured with page-flipping relish.  Kierkegaard's pseudonymous division of his authorship into 'aesthetic' versus 'ethical' or religious personas may have been ironic in intent, with a finger on the religious side of the scale, but his detailed psychology of the total aesthete was, as he knew, the more seductive.  His argument about Don Giovanni - that since the seducer is the personality most trapped in time, and music is the art that deals with time, seduction is the perfect musical subject, therefore Don Giovanni is the most perfect possible piece of music - wasn't very convincing then or now, despite the persuasive fanaticism with which it is developed.  But he captured and conveyed, in startlingly vivid terms, the manic subjectivism of a mental life turned away from the quotidian world and devoted to the absolute in art.  To read that was a heady loss of innocence, a recognition that someone else had heard the same siren song I did - and followed it.

Via Sounds & Fury.  I have LA Opera's Don Giovanni to look forward to in a few weeks, which is as good an excuse as any to revisit the unconvincing but enjoyable musical portions of Either/Or.  [Kierkegaard fanciers may derive a small chuckle from the page reachable by that link, which straightfacedly lists "Victor Eremita," one of Kierkegaard's numerous pseudonyms, as "editor" of that Penguin edition.  Others will wonder what we are chuckling about.]

SK also turned up unexpectedly on Tom Wark's daily wine blog, Fermentation, in a post entitled "Kierkegaard & Self Medicating with Wine."  Tom's subject is the dangerous illusions that may lie concealed behind "appreciation" of the noble grape and its works:

Even more depressing than finding one's self embracing Kierkegaard's aesthetic life of jumping from transitory experience to transitory experience in an attempt to stave off a life of boredom, is the somewhat similar strategy of dealing with the boredom of life by pretending that self-medication with wine is actually the act of connoisseurship.

What does it mean?  I derive from it this Foolish aphorism:

Pastiche is a cracking form of flattery, and crackers are a flatter form of pastry! 

Tired of imitations?  For real Goreyana, repair to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts.

Substitute imagination for exhaustiveness, and inventiveness for research. As a reader I’m not interested in a 'fully worked out' world.  I’m not interested in 'self consistency'.  I don’t care what kind of underpants Iberian troops wore in 1812, or if I do I can find out about it for myself.  I don’t want the facts about the Silk Road or the collapse of the Greenland Colony, sugared up & presented in three-volumes as an imaginary world.  I don’t want to be talked through your enthusiasm for costume.  I don’t want be talked through anything.

I was describing to tomsdisch the things I'd been finding via Google in service of my new book (some described herein) -- things I didn't know could be known --  and he said 'ah yes, Google has put an end to the art of wondering.'

Which to me attains very nearly to the status of an immortal apercu.

To which category might also be added Disch's recent two-line poem, "Correction."


'Unless something radical and imaginative is done . . . Squirrel Nutkin and his friends and relations are going to be toast.'

The fox and badger lobbies are also heard from. 

Via 3quarksdaily

[Nutkin buttons photo (click to enlarge) by jasmined via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.]

  • Lives of the Connoisseurs: TIME Magazine' Richard Lacayo on Peggy Guggenheim, reminding us that the early 20th Century was a pretty good time to be well-off and blessed with discerning taste:

She found a house with the largest private garden in Venice and had the last private gondola in the city for her daily long rides.  She entertained frequently, though not lavishly.  She was notorious for her scanty food and cheap wine.  From her biographers you get the sense of a full life — the guest book carried names like Giacometti, Paul Bowles, Cocteau, Chagall, Saul Steinberg, Cecil Beaton, Stravinsky, Tennessee Wiliams, Paul Newman and Truman Capote — but not always a happy one. She lavished fast cars on one of her younger lovers.  He died in one.

Whole Foods has opened a new 2-story greengrocer's establishment here in Pasadena, its largest store west of the Rockies.  Callie Miller of LAist dotes, posts many photos and declares that it "seem[s]...excessive, in the most eco-friendly way possible."

Unfortunately not shown in those photos: the site was formerly occupied by auto repair facilities and a tire store, all in a brick garage building that I would guess dated back to the mid 1920's.  In a nice bit of adaptive reuse, Whole Foods left two of the brick walls standing and incorporated them into the ground floor of the new store.  For a city sitting slambang in the thick of earthquake country, old Pasadena has a remarkable quantity of brick construction.

[escapegrace pointed the way.]

Q: How Do You Tell the Difference Between an Islamic Lawyer and a Buddhist Monk?

A:  The lawyers don't dress nearly so colorfully when set upon by the enforcers for repressive regimes.

Pakistani police officers and lawyers clash in Lahore.  AP photo via BBC NEWS.


Although this weblog is typically of a frivolous bent, this particular post is not.  It is longer than most and, moreso than is usual here, directed in large part to my fellow attorneys.  But please, read on: there's something for everybody by the time I'm finished.


Anyone following the news of the world in the past few days will be aware of the unilateral suspension of the Constitution of Pakistan by General-turned-President Pervez Musharraf, and also that the principal Pakistani citizens marching in protest and placing themselves in danger of arrest, injury or worse, are lawyers.

As an American lawyer, when I began seeing and reading these stories, my first reaction was one of quiet admiration for the men and women [see below] of the Pakistani Bar as exemplars of the best in our profession in their willingness to risk so much in defense of the rule of law. 

Police in Lahore used batons to try to break up a march by black-suited lawyers in support of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.  AP photo via BBC NEWS.

My first spoken thought, however, was to my wife as we watched the evening news and went something like this:

"Can you imagine trying to get that many American lawyers to agree on anything, let alone getting them to organize a collective response?  You'd have an easier time forming a drill team of cats!"

At f/k/a . . ., David Giacalone has posted a less flippant meditation comparing the two nations' legal communities, driven in part by a fit of pique with American attorneys who will talk a good fight when it's someone else's Constitution on the line, but who might not be so vocal if the threat were closer to their own home, hearth or wallet:

Pakistani lawyers are indeed acting to support the regime of constitutional law (a bit tardily, some might point out, since Musharraf has always been a military dictator).  But, who in the USA would want to bet the ranch (or the Constitution) on the American legal profession putting itself on the line en masse?  Which lawyers would be out there confronting the military police, risking a bloody head, a night in jail, and a blot on their resumes?

* * *

I’d love to think the Bar as a whole — as opposed to a relatively few activists who toil mostly at the fringes of the profession — would be leading the fight against tyranny here in the United States of America, but you’d have to be naive to expect it.

David ends, as a good advocate should, with a call to action:

So, don’t just hug a lawyer, or feel special pride as a lawyer, because the Pakistani legal profession is willing to put its bodies on the line to uphold its principles.  I’m still betting that most American lawyers will talk a good game against tyranny, but — when push comes to shove — will act to protect their wallets and future job prospects first. . . .    Please, please, prove me wrong, Bar America, by sticking your neck out right now — no matter who you might offend — for the American Constitution.

Before he reluctantly concluded that he could be an active weblog reader or an active weblog writer, but not both, David was among the more frequent commenters here.  By a timely coincidence, and without any mention of events in Pakistan, another (non-lawyer) reader of long standing has just posted to highlight a looming danger to our own Constitution.  This particular danger is not so immediate as troops in the street or a knock on the door in the night.  It is perhaps all the more insidious and the more in need of a preemptive response precisely because it comes armed, not with teargas and truncheons or other obvious tools of tyranny, but with far more dangerous weapons: Good Intentions and Broad Bipartisan Support.

Texas Trifles' Cowtown Pattie points to a post at Time Goes By warning against H.R. 1955, the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007."  [Full text here.]  The bill was introduced in the House by the South Bay's own Jane Harmon (D-CA, 36th Dist.) and has been passed along to the Senate on a vote of 404-6. 

By its terms, the bill does little more than authorize the formation of yet another study Commission (at an estimated cost of $22 million over four years), but that Commission is supposed to recommend action, and the bill's aspirations, findings and definitions are sufficiently broad and slippery that it could become, or lead eventually to enactment of, what its opponents label a "Thought Crime Bill." 

Lindsay Beyerstein interviewed Rep. Harmon on the bill for In These Times.  (ITT is an unapologetically doctrinaire journal, but the article itself is a balanced one.)  The Good Intentions Paving Company is clearly on the case, looking to build a route backwards to ideas that are only ideas, not imminent actions:

'A chief problem is radical forms of Islam, but we’re not only studying radical Islam,' Harman says.  'We’re studying the phenomenon of people with radical beliefs who turn into people who would use violence.' 

That worries Mike German, policy counsel for the ACLU, who calls the legislation 'wrongheaded' because it focuses on ideology, rather than criminal activity. The bill calls for heightened scrutiny of people who believe, or might come to believe, in a violent ideology.  German wants the government to focus on people who are actually committing crimes, rather than those who are merely entertaining violent ideas, something perfectly legal.

* * *

The bill’s broad language and loose definitions of 'violent radicalization' and 'homegrown terrorism' also arouse the concerns of many civil libertarians.

The broad wording of the bill leaves open many questions.  If homegrown terrorism is defined to include 'intimidation' of the United States government or any segment of its population -- could the Commission or the Center of Excellence task itself with investigating groups advocating boycotts, general strikes, or other forms of non-violent 'intimidation'?

Here are the core definitions in the bill, with emphasis added for purposes of instilling fear and concern in the reader:

(2) VIOLENT RADICALIZATION- The term `violent radicalization' means the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system ['extremist' is an undefined term] for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change.

(3) HOMEGROWN TERRORISM- The term `homegrown terrorism' means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

(4) IDEOLOGICALLY BASED VIOLENCE- The term `ideologically based violence' means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious, or social beliefs.

The Congressional "findings" in support of the legislation include:

(3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.  [We must maintain the healthful qualities of what flows through our series of tubes.]

* * *

(5) Understanding the motivational factors that lead to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence is a vital step toward eradicating these threats in the United States.  [Our citizens commit bad acts because they are influenced by bad ideas; now if we could just identify and corral those ideas. . . .]

* * *

(7) Individuals prone to violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence span all races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, and individuals should not be targeted based solely on race, ethnicity, or religion.  [Everyone is suspect, so we must be even-handed and suspect everyone.  Cf. the 'Search the Little Old Ladies' Luggage First Act" of 2002.]

(8) Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States should not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.  [This goes without saying, doesn't it?  There is no comfort in seeing that those who wrote the bill feel the need to provide this "reminder" to those who will implement it.]

Dreadful notions that remain between their holders' ears and do not venture out in to the world are still dreadful, but not so dreadful that they should be targeted or suppressed under a Constitution built upon freedom of thought.  The bill's lack of any definition of what "belief systems" are to be deemed "extremist" only adds to its problems.  The United States has a long history of instances of violence or destruction in the name of ideas that have gained widespread assent: the abolition of slavery, the right of workers to organize, freedom from colonial government.  The actions are not redeemed by the ideals behind them, but are the ideals themselves to be declared "extremist belief systems" because they led some subset of their followers to violence?  This bill invites or directs the Commission to identify means of reaching beyond action and incipient action to ideas qua ideas, and that is a constitutional step too far.

So, particularly to my fellow attorneys, I will not pretend that Rep. Harmon's bill is the only, or the most significant, danger to the U.S. Constitution in November of 2007, but it is a real one.  As David Giacalone urges, it is our role as lawyers to watch over our laws and to protect the Constitution that underlies those laws and the nation.  If not on this issue, then on another: "stick[] your neck out right now — no matter who you might offend — for the American Constitution."

Photo by LiminalMike via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

SpaGetty Weston


Over the weekend before last -- blindingly bright and unsmudged by the smoke and ash that would follow soon enough -- I had a visit from ol' school chum Rick Coencas.  Rick has commemorated the event on his Futurballa Blog with some photos taken during our jaunt to the Getty Center.  In addition to the shot at right, Rick snapped the Getty's installation of Aristide Maillol's sculpture, Air, the dangerously toxic qualities of which I warned you of last year.

Apart from the highly strollable pleasures of the Getty Center campus generally, our goal was the Getty's encyclopedic retrospective exhibition on photographer Edward Weston, on view through November 25. 

Although Weston worked with color photography late in his career, he is best known as a master of black and white.  The persons and objects in a Weston photograph are rendered with exquisite precision -- they are what they are -- while simultaneously evoking the recurring abstract forms of the world.  Consequently

The exhibition also includes a sampling of photographs by Weston's colleagues and students, in which I particularly like this 1921 portrait by Margrethe Mather of Weston himself, lurking on the stairs like Harry Lime arriving 27 years early.

I had not known until I read Judy Graeme's July 25 post at LA Observed's Native Intelligence [caution - post contains early 20th century nudity] that Edward Weston started his professional career as a portrait photographer in Tropico, a little community perched beside the as yet unpaved Los Angeles River.  There is some irony in his being celebrated at the Getty, because it seems he really really disliked this town:

My disgust for that impossible village of Los Angeles grows daily.  Give me Mexico, revolution, smallpox, poverty, anything but the plague spot of America – Los Angeles.   All sensitive, self-respecting persons should leave there. . . .

Which he did, sojourning down Mexico way in the early Twenties where he famously collaborated with Tina Modotti.

The town of Tropico disappeared in 1918, when it was absorbed in to what is now the City of Glendale.  (Hey!  That's where I live.  Small world, huh?)  The Glendale Historical Society is a source for additional information on Tropico -- this map on its site places Tropico in the context of the city as it exists today --  and makes this mention of Weston's association with that long-gone community:

Famed Art Photographer Edward Weston chose Tropico for his home and studio '. . . on account of the peaceful and artistic atmosphere and scenery in and around Tropico.'  In the little early 20th century promotional booklet, 'Tropico, the City Beautiful' by Henderson and Oliver, The Edward Weston Studio is described as '. . . a little flower-covered bungalow, nestled among trees and clinging vines.'  During Weston's residency in Tropico, he was already a nationally renowned art photographer and his popularity was consider to be ". . . the source of bringing to Tropico many prominent artists.'  Tropico is now Adams Hill and the neighborhood still has many artists.

It is comforting to know that Weston could, on occasion, find something nice to say about the neighborhood.


Upcoming:  The Getty is now devoting an entire floor (7000 square feet) in the West Pavilion to displays drawing on its formidable collection of photographs.  In what appears to be a long term program of highlighting major figures in the medium, the Getty will follow the current Weston show with a career-spanning retrospective of the work of André Kertész (opening December 18).