The Middle East
What a depressing spectacle. The sight of human beings indiscriminately killing each other for no better reason than mutual hatred and territorial imperative. And we call animals beasts! A propos of which, we were awakened last night by the furious barking of our dog, George: an unwelcome nocturnal predator, making his rounds, had stopped by the little pond outside our bedroom door to do some fishing. A raccoon. This morning it looks like we lost two of our six little fish, and the pond is a mess. At least our visitor had the excuse that he lacks those qualities we humans are supposed to have: a mind that's capable of reasoning, and a conscience to put the reins on the worst of our instinctive responses. This rapacious killer was just looking for food.
Another depressing spectacle, Bush. The sight of the powerful leaders of the world enjoying their good dinner while the Middle East burned reminded me of the scene from that French play--Gil Blas? Correct me, someone, if I'm wrong--where our hero bursts in on the power brokers as they plot together to divide the territorial spoils and cries, in that memorable but regrettably untranslatable line: "Bon appetit, messieurs!" Roughly speaking, "Enjoy your dinner, Sirs!"--but that's a pale echo of the original. Anyway, Bush, the sight of your presidential self lounging back and chewing on your dinner roll while you tossed off a casual remark about the "shit" that Hezbollah is doing was a less than noble example of leadership at work. I guess it was good for another despairing laugh.
Once, a while ago, I offered one of my "One Hour/One Painting" events at the invitation of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Bush. It's a pretty simple idea, and one that combines the fine arts of meditation and contemplation: I invite small groups of people to sit with me in front of a single painting in virtual silence for one full hour. Sound like slow torture to you, Bush? Well, actually, people have generally responded with enthusiasm to the experience. They are so used to walking past paintings in galleries and museums with barely a glance, and so used to rushing through their lives that it's an eye- and mind-opening experience for them to have to slow down in this way.
I mention this because the painting I chose at the Getty was the Belgian artist, James Ensor's "Christ's Entry into Brussels, 1889" (1888), a huge, seething, satirical canvas attacking the social and political evils of his time. Los Angeles-based artist Joel Pelletier was so impressed when he saw it, and so struck by its possibilities for reinterpretation in our own time, that he embarked on his own huge canvas, "American Fundamentalists (Christ's Entry into Washington in 2008)", which depicts the historical rise of American fundamentalism and its increasing influence in the halls of power in this country. It's a rowdy, triumphalist parade of business, judicial, and governmental fat cats. Pelletier brought the painting to DemocracyFest as a visual aid (albeit a massive one!) to his eloquent participation in a panel discussion on the religious right. Take a look at it, Bush, and read a bit about it. I think you'll be astounded and impressed.
I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that the panel in question was far from a rant against religion, even evangelicals. Several of those present in the audience identified themselves as ministers of various denominations, and the speakers were all clear that the vast majority of Christians in this country do not share the radical views of the relative handful of fanatics who seem to be wielding undue influence in court (if you'll excuse the expression, Bush.) The latest evidence of the success of their curious, rear-guard action against science is your threat to veto this week's stem cell bill. Unbelievable to think you might even get away with it!
Anyway, thanks to Joel for his excellent work, and for creating opportunities like this to show it to the world.