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Wine Grab

April 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Gail and I attended the annual fundraiser for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture two nights ago. The evening was fun-filled, with behind-the-scenes visits to the museum’s research and storage spaces, a cocktail hour, dinner, a live auction, and much more.

Among the much more was a “wine grab,” in which participants donate a fixed amount of money to the museum, in return for which they get to choose a bottle of wine from a tableful. The bottles have their identities hidden in paper wrapping, lending a lottery-like feel to the enterprise. But every bottle retails for at least the donation amount, so that no one loses. Plus, of course, the museum raises some money.

This year, the wine grab had two tiers, $25 and $50. While I was talking to some of the guests at our table, Gail was off grabbing four $50 bottles. At the end of the evening, we received our bottles (still wrapped) in a wine-carrying tote bag. Once we got home and settled, we did the unveiling.

Here’s what we found.

1. One Burgundy: Morey-Saint-Denis 1er Cru “Mont-Luisants”, 2000, Jean-Paul Magnion.

2. One Washington wine: Leonetti Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006, from the Walla Walla Valley.

3. A Napa Valley wine: Sullivan Vineyards Estate James O’Neil Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008.

4. A second Napa wine: Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc.

From what little research we’ve done, it appears that we made out well in terms of cost, though of course the point is to support the museum, cost aside.

As a bonus, we also happened to bid successfully during the auction for two-day wine-tasting tour in the Walla Walla Valley, featuring four winery visits each day. Joining us will be a wine guide, the museum director (a geo-archaeologist, and a good friend), and the director’s husband (a geologist and friend as well). Thus we will learn simultaneously about the region’s wine and geology, returning far wiser.

A successful evening.

Categories: Museums, Wine

An Afternoon at the Met

April 29, 2012 Leave a comment

[Metropolitan Museum]

We were in New York three weekends ago to visit family. The evening we arrived, I wrote about our dealings with TSA that morning in Seattle. A long series of posts followed about our time in North Carolina after the weekend, but I had nothing more to say about New York. Before I completely forget, let me say a little about our afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, three weeks ago today.

The context: following lunch with my parents, the three of us (Gail, Joel, and I) had several free hours in Manhattan before it would be time to drive over the Triborough Bridge in order to drop Joel at LaGuardia for his flight back to North Carolina. We would then drive farther out on the Island for dinner with my brother and his family. We had already decided that we would start at the Met, and had parked there in the morning in anticipation of this. Following lunch, we headed back.

A year earlier almost to the day, our same threesome had spent an afternoon at the Met, at which time we were able to get a preview of the Islamic Galleries. As I wrote at the time, it was “closed for renovation, expansion, and reinstallation, [but] we got a sneak peak of a small new room with wooden ceiling and walls being carved as we watched by Moroccan craftsmen. This will be a must-see when the space re-opens near the end of the year.”

They opened in November, under the official name New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. Here’s a description from the website:

More than one thousand works from the preeminent collection of the Museum’s Department of Islamic Art—one of the most comprehensive gatherings of this material in the world—have returned to view in a completely renovated, expanded, and reinstalled suite of fifteen galleries. The organization of the galleries by geographical area emphasizes the rich diversity of the Islamic world, over a span of thirteen hundred years, by underscoring the many distinct cultures within its fold.

This was my first priority.

Despite our having agreed to go here first, we momentarily split up for reasons I won’t go into. When Gail and I emerged at a space on the second floor from which several corridors emanate, while I was trying to orient myself and find the new Islamic galleries, Gail asked a guard where the Islamic art was. He pointed way down a corridor leading westward, a corridor I know well, well enough to realize this must be wrong. But Gail said let’s go, and only as we began to walk out did I see some wording on the wall suggesting that the corridor ninety degrees to the left was the very entrance to the desired space.

Following the guard’s directions, we found our way not to the Islamic permanent collection, but to Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, an extraordinary temporary show that I hadn’t even read about. The good news: we got to see an exhibition we probably would have otherwise missed. The bad news: where the heck was Joel?

No big deal, right? I could text him our location. But that’s when I discovered that our AT&T connection was all but dead. I texted texted texted texted. I called called called. I sent email. I re-sent and re-sent. Nothing would go through. Okay, maybe I could go outside if things got desperate, get a connection, and call. But if he stayed inside while I was outside, he might fare no better with his own AT&T phone. Gail kept telling me not to worry, he’ll find us. Well, yes, if we were in the agreed-upon Islamic space, which she believed we were, since the guard told us so. The more we explored the exhibition, however, the more certain I was that we weren’t where we were supposed to be.

I can’t exactly say I panicked. I mean, he’s not a child. He can get by. But, in the worst case scenario, what if three hours later we still hadn’t connected? How would he get to LaGuardia, with his bag in the car?

I know, I should have relaxed. But I didn’t, and the unexpected gem of a show that we had fallen into was not getting its due. Speaking of which, here’s a description:

As the seventh century began, vast territories extending from Syria to Egypt and across North Africa were ruled by the Byzantine Empire from its capital, Constantinople (modern Istanbul). Critical to the wealth and power of the empire, these southern provinces, long influenced by Greco-Roman traditions, were home to Orthodox, Coptic, and Syriac Christians, Jewish communities, and others. Great pilgrimage centers attracted the faithful from as far away as Yemen in the east and Scandinavia in the west. Major trade routes reached eastward down the Red Sea past Jordan to India in the south, bringing silks and ivories to the imperial territories. Major cities made wealthy by commerce extended along inland trade routes north to Constantinople and along the Mediterranean coastline. Commerce carried images and ideas freely throughout the region.

In the same century, the newly established faith of Islam emerged from Mecca and Medina along the Red Sea trade route and reached westward into the empire’s southern provinces. Political and religious authority was transferred from the long established Christian Byzantine Empire to the newly established Umayyad and later Abbasid Muslim dynasties. The new powers took advantage of existing traditions of the region in developing their compelling secular and religious visual identities. This exhibition follows the artistic traditions of the southern provinces of the Byzantine Empire from the seventh century to the ninth, as they were transformed from being central to the Byzantine tradition to being a critical part of the Islamic world.

A week ago we got our new issue of the New York Review of Books, in which Peter Brown reviews the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue. If only we could go back. He explains that the exhibition

embraces the last century of the pre-Islamic Middle East and the first two centuries of Islam. To our surprise, we do not find ourselves in a world swept by a mighty wind. Instead, we enter a series of quiet rooms where time seems to stand still. Like a perfect late fall day, only the occasional rustle of a falling leaf startles us into realizing that the seasons are about to change. The few clear signs that Islam had, indeed, become politically dominant in the Middle East by the end of the seventh century strike us with almost ominous intensity. For there are so few of them.

And he concludes:

The exhibition is, frankly, about those who made it. The mosaics, the silverware, the parchment volumes, the ivories, and the textiles (even the poignant little shirts of those who died young) once gave confidence and joy to those who could afford them. This is an exhibition not only about what people worshiped, but also about what they loved and what they hoped for. Landowners, administrators, and clergymen, they were not necessarily saints, heroes, or heroines. But their mute remains take us back to centuries whose final outcome they themselves could not have imagined. They form a human—and, let us hope, a humane—link between our own times and a distant, major turning point in the history of the world.

When we had gotten about halfway through the exhibition, I decided we had to get back to the “real” Islamic exhibition space in hopes of finding Joel. Dragging Gail through the remaining rooms, I headed past the 19th century European paintings toward the entry space where we had been mis-directed, only for Gail to call ahead to me to stop, for in my rush I had walked right past Joel, coming toward us. He had, of course, been in the proper galleries. Having walked through them and failed to find us, he had struck off in our direction, why I still don’t know.

Now reunited and properly oriented, we returned to the new permanent Islamic galleries that Joel had just seen. I had waited a year for this. But I needed some time to regain my equanimity. Since I wasn’t absorbing much, let me turn once more to Peter Brown, who wrote about the newly opened space and the catalog last December.

The curators of the Islamic collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art have faced a different and more challenging task: how to do justice to an entire galaxy of cultures touched by Islam, which spread from the Atlantic to South Asia and the borders of China, and which changed constantly over the course of a millennium. In this immense galaxy, the arts of late-medieval Iran and Mughal India, displayed in the Morgan Library, are no more than a single, incandescent cluster. The curators have displayed the changing galaxy with an intellectual determination and with a visual discretion that make their new installation a delight to the eye and their meticulous new catalog a thrill to the mind.

First of all, the galleries now bear a distinctive name. They are the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia. It is a mouthful. But behind the title lie decades of careful thought on the relation between the universal and the particular across a far-flung commonwealth of cultures. The notion of Islamic art as a single, uniform system that spread with monotonous insistence across the territories ruled by Muslims is effectively dismantled. The essays of the four editing curators, Maryam Ekhtiar, Priscilla Soucek, Sheila Canby, and Navina Najat Haidar (along with the other contributors), make this point clear. The galleries have been reinstalled with the express purpose of doing justice to the distinctive flavor of each region.

It is not often that an intellectual contention is turned into a work of beauty in itself. But this is what Michael Battista and his fellow installers and designers have done with the layout and décor of the new galleries. Their work has allied itself with the discreet, almost subliminal beauty that radiates from the objects themselves. Lattice screens, made for the purpose in Egypt, transform the light from the courtyard around which the galleries are placed. Their firm horizontal lines point the visitor forward from region to region. The floor itself seems to move. Each room, dedicated to one region, is paved with a different stone—from bright Egyptian marble, patterned with great sunbursts, stars, and cartouches in the entrance hall, all the way around to the gentle sandstone of India.

Alas, I didn’t allow myself to give full appreciation to what we were seeing. Next time.

Once outside, we agreed to split up for the next couple of hours. I recommended to Gail that we head to the American Wing, since I remembered reading about some new installations recently. I hadn’t remembered what, but here’s the explanation:

The Metropolitan Museum’s collection of American art, one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world, returned to view in expanded, reconceived, and dramatic new galleries on January 16, 2012, when the Museum inaugurated the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts. The new installation provides visitors with a rich and captivating experience of the history of American art from the eighteenth through the early twentieth century. The suite of elegant new galleries encompasses 30,000 square feet for the display of the Museum’s superb collection.

This final phase of the American Wing renovation project is comprised of twenty-six renovated and enlarged galleries on the second floor. The new architectural design is a contemporary interpretation of nineteenth-century Beaux-Arts galleries, including coved ceilings and natural light flowing through new skylights. The redesign, which has added 3,300 square feet of gallery space, also allows for a chronological installation of the American paintings and sculpture, and improved pathways connecting to adjacent areas of the Museum.

On our way from the south end of the Met to the north, we zipped past any number of interesting works and exhibitions, stopping momentarily here or there. The entrance area to the Asian Wing. European paintings of the seventeenth century. Oh, look, there’s El Greco’s View of Toledo with some girl sitting on the floor staring intently at it.

[From Metropolitan website]

On we went, through doors leading to the balcony that overlooks the arms and armor exhibit of clothed riders, on past the historic instruments, into the big American wing central space, and through more doors into the new American wing galleries (only by chance). They are splendid. We chose well. And through the main axis, in the distance, always in view, was Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. He couldn’t be missed, patiently waiting for us to reach him, as you can see at the top.

From the paintings, we descended half a floor to a mezzanine that is wonderful in an entirely different way. It is open storage, showing object upon object from the American collection, with no explanation but with labels that allow you to go to one of the monitors spread throughout the space to look up what each object is. Like this:

And this:

Soon it was time to meet up with Joel, at the cafeteria, so he could get some food before going to the airport. We realized that once again we might fail to meet up, there being many eateries. Only one “cafeteria,” in the basement, but there was room for ambiguity. And the pity is, there was a wonderful cafe right where we were standing, at the American wing in the big open space, with an outlook onto Central Park. We tried once again to text and call him, suggesting he meet us there, but when nothing would go through, we dutifully headed to the cafeteria.

Ten minutes past our meeting time, I got anxious and began to head up the stairs to look for him. Once again, we bumped into each other. He had indeed, looked for us initially elsewhere. We all agreed that the cafeteria was dismal and went back to the American wing cafe for a snack.

When we were done, there was still some time to explore. We took Joel back through the American open storage area for a look, coming out at a small baseball card exhibition, Breaking the Color Barrier in Major League Baseball.

In October 1945 Wesley Branch Rickey (1881–1965), general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919–1972) from the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs to the Dodgers organization, thus breaking the color barrier that had existed in professional baseball since 1889. On April 15, 1947, Robinson took the field for the first time as a Brooklyn Dodger, earning the title “Rookie of the Year” in the National League at the end of the season with twelve homers, twenty-nine steals, and a .297 batting average. Shortly after Robinson’s debut, Larry Doby was signed by the Cleveland Indians, who then brought over the Negro League’s star pitcher, Satchel Paige, to join Doby the following year. With these developments, baseball’s long-entrenched segregation began, slowly, to crumble; it took another twelve years for the Boston Red Sox—the last team to integrate—to hire Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, three years after Robinson retired from the game.

The selection of baseball cards illustrating some of the earliest and most illustrious players who moved from the Negro Leagues into the Majors is taken from the Jefferson R. Burdick Collection. The more than thirty thousand baseball cards collected by Burdick date from 1887 to 1959 and represent the most comprehensive collection outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Speaking of the Burdick Collection, Joel grew up with two posters from the Met on his wall, each showing an array of cards from the collection. Here are the two cards that end the exhibition, Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson side by side.

It was time go to. We headed back to the south end of the museum, stopped at the museum store, headed out the back door into the garage, and off we went.

Regrets? We missed The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde. And Red and Black Chinese Lacquer, 13th–16th Century. But we were content. And Joel made his flight.

Categories: Art, Family, Museums

Eisenhower’s Wisdom

April 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I received my new issue of The New York Review of Books yesterday. The previous issue had come while we were away. In getting caught up on other fronts (including writing a series of posts on our time in North Carolina), I had failed to get far in that old issue. Fortunately, last night Joel mentioned that it contained an interesting article about Eisenhower, and this morning I read it first thing. I recommend it highly. (Alas, it’s behind the NYR paywall.) The article is a review by Thomas Powers of two recent books: Eisenhower: The White House Years, by Jim Newton, and Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith.

Whenever I think of Eisenhower, I recall the single most boring book I ever read, his memoirs. Looking him up in Amazon, I see that it must have been The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956, from 1965, although I don’t recall that it only covered Eisenhower’s first term. What I remember is a frightfully thick paperback. And I remember learning about several events from my infancy and toddlerhood that I hadn’t read treatments of before, such as the end of the Korean War, the McCarthy hearings, and the Suez crisis. This wasn’t the place to learn the basics, which I would only make sense of years later. I don’t entirely remember what made the book so tedious. For that, I would need to have a new look.

In any case, back to the biographies and Powers’ review. Early on, Powers describes how Eisenhower acquired

a learned understanding, firmer than that of perhaps any other president, of the nature of the power wielded by nations—that thing, described by Thucydides, which explains why “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Eisenhower himself would never have described what he knew in language so plain, but it is what marks the mind of the man who emerges from two new biographies.

… The education of Dwight David Eisenhower began with books—the tales of Hannibal and Caesar he loved as a child, the deeper study under [General] Fox Conner—but more important was his experience of war, which came late.

Powers continues with an overview of Eisenhower’s World War II experience and its lessons, a survey of Eisenhower’s handling of assorted international crises, and a concluding passage that captures Eisenhower’s greatness:

Eisenhower’s special gift was not for practice of the traditional military arts but for sensing the inertia of war—why it is so difficult to back away from threats of force, once issued, and almost impossible after shooting starts.

Respect for the danger of this inertia, deep enough to make a difference, seems to come only from direct personal experience. Even President Clinton’s secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who had lived long enough to know better, thought armies could apply useful pressure. “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about,” she said once, “if we can’t use it?”

Eisenhower was surrounded by people who believed roughly the same thing, but he had learned respect for modern war as an all-or-nothing game. During his eight years in the White House he never seemed to get the big things wrong, but in the decades that have followed horrible examples abound. For all their differences, American presidents since Eisenhower seem to share an abiding temptation—they can’t let peace alone. They wish to look bold; defiance makes them pugnacious; and the military leaders promise quick victories with little pain.

We may imagine Eisenhower’s response, if he had been sitting in the room when Kennedy’s advisers told him they planned to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government by invading Cuba with a thousand men, or when they told him later to send a few thousand American soldiers to stave off defeat in Vietnam—but not too many, and as “advisers” only. Would Eisenhower have told Lyndon Johnson, oh yes, certainly, send hundreds of thousands of soldiers to do what Kennedy’s few could not? Would he have encouraged Johnson to help the Air Force pick bombing targets in North Vietnam? Would he have advised George W. Bush that seizure of Kabul and dispersion of the Taliban into the mountains were victory enough in Afghanistan? Would he have backed the urging of Cheney and Rumsfeld to send an army to invade Iraq, but not too big an army? What would Eisenhower say now about Iran?

The successors of Robert Taft share the dead senator’s views on cutting federal spending and celebrating the Christian religion, as well as his sullen dislike of such measures as Social Security, but (save Ron Paul) they are full of appetite for threatening Iran with America’s superb military. Mitt Romney was briefly in his youth a member of the Boy Scouts, but his time in uniform ended there. He avoided the Vietnam War through student deferments and thirty months as a Mormon missionary in France. But Romney supports tough action to back up tough talk on Iran, and once suggested that continued Iranian defiance on nuclear matters would merit a sharp rap “in the nature of blockade or a bombardment or surgical strikes of one kind or another.”

Hearing this, Eisenhower might have asked himself: Where do you begin?

I am, of course, no fan of Mitt Romney. Eisenhower surely would have much to teach him. But I have no illusion that Obama (or Hillary Clinton) is much better. Indeed, Romney’s dishonest attacks on Obama’s foreign policy notwithstanding, the essentials of their war strategies are likely to differ little, whichever is elected. We search in vain for a new Eisenhower, a voice of wisdom and maturity who can change our direction.

Categories: History, Politics, War

Emma Turns 16

April 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Emma turns 16 tomorrow. There she is, above, just 10 minutes ago.

We have no big plans. None that I’m aware of anyway. We’ll spend the evening with her, maybe give her some treats, but that’s about it. Whatever we do, she’ll be content as long as we’re here. And as long as we let her sit by the open door, or maybe step out for a bit. Her needs these days are simple.

Happy Birthday, Emma.

Categories: Cats, Family

Porter Creek Pinot Noir

April 23, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been writing about Porter Creek Vineyards since we dropped in during our Healdsburg trip of October 2008. The following March I took note of a NYT wine column by Eric Asimov on California Pinot Noirs that featured Porter Creek as part of a “rebellion”:

From Mendocino and Sonoma through the Santa Cruz Mountains and Arroyo Grande south to the rolling hills of Santa Barbara County, a rebellion is brewing. The dominant style of California pinot noir remains round, ripe and extravagant, with sweet flavors of dark fruit and alcohol levels approaching and sometimes surpassing 15 percent.

But on a recent trip through these leading pinot noir areas I was thrilled to find a small but growing number of producers pulling in the opposite direction.

Last November, we joined Porter Creek’s wine subscription program, which has two options. There’s the Pinot Noir subscription, which provides “a selection of our most current Pinot Noir releases, including limited production single vineyard and reserve bottlings. An example shipment may include 2- Estate PN, 2- Fiona Hill PN, 1-Hillside PN and 1- Reserve PN.” And there’s the Winemaker’s Selection, “a tasting menu of our most current releases. An example shipment may include a bottle each of Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Carignane, Syrah and Zinfandel.” We signed up for the Pinot.

Shipments are sent each November and April, with the result that we had just missed the November selection. Since we didn’t want to wait for months, I called in December and arranged for a version of their winemaker’s selection shipment. This was the subject of a post the day the wines arrived and a follow-up post two weeks later.

Today, our first Pinot Noir subscription arrived, exactly as described in the example: two each of Porter Creek’s less expensive Pinots — the Estate and the Fiona Hill — plus one each of their more expensive Pinots — the Hillside and the Reserve. All are 2009 vintage, as shown in the photo at top. The website has the following descriptions, with wines listed in ascending order of price.

2009 Estate: A classic Russian River Pinot Noir with bright red fruits on the nose, a rich palate and nice mineral notes on the finish. Drink now through 2014 or so.

2009 Pinot Noir – Fiona Hill Vineyard: This meticulously planted, steep hillside vineyard is situated along Westside Road at the entrance of Porter Creek with an ideal southern face. Hard clay top soil with a fractured stone bedrock places continual stress on these Pinot vines, resulting in a very expressive, unique vineyard designate wine. The nose has aromas of wild berries and forest floor, a weighty mid-palate and long silky finish.

2009 Pinot Noir – Reserve: Our 2009 reserve is a special selection originating from the steepest parts of the Fiona Hill Vineyard. It was vinified with one third whole cluster fermention and 40% new French oak barrels. The result is bolder, broader-shouldered wine with serious aging potential.

2009 Pinot Noir – Hillside Vineyard: Among the oldest Pinot Noir plantings in the Russian River Valley, this vineyard produces a wine that demonstrates the multi-layered complexity achieved only with old vines and very low yields. Shows an incredible range of fruit and a density, leading toward age worthiness. Planted in 1974 and yields just 1 to 1.5 tons per acre.

Curious as we are, I suppose the last two will repay patience. I’ll let you know what we think in a few years.

Categories: Wine

Gauguin in Seattle, 2

April 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Two months ago, I wrote about the new exhibition Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise that had just opened at the Seattle Art Museum. I quoted from the exhibition description at the website, which explained that the “show highlight[ed] the complex relationship between Paul Gauguin’s work and the art and culture of Polynesia” and “includes about 60 of Gauguin’s brilliantly hued paintings, sculptures and works on paper, which are displayed alongside 60 major examples of Polynesian sculpture that fueled his search for the exotic.”

Given the circumstances of the opening evening, we did not linger over the art. We had listened to a presentation by Chiyo Ishikawa, the Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, and Pam McClusky, Curator of Art of Africa and Oceania and eaten hors d’oeuvres before entering the exhibition. I wrote at the time that

the distinctive feature of the exhibition is its juxtaposition of Gauguin’s paintings (presented chronologically) with Polynesian sculpture and artifacts. This is surprisingly effective, as one passes from a room of paintings to a few artifacts, more paintings, an entire room of Polynesian objects, a room of woodblock prints, and so on. I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would want to see a show of 60 Gauguins, but the alternation helps to keep one’s eyes fresh and one’s interest piqued. Plus, the opening lecture oriented us well. Many of the objects were already familiar, allowing us to examine the art without fussing with the signs or bothering with the accompanying audio headsets.

Of course, it was late, we were hungry (those hors d’ouevres not quite adding up to a complete dinner), and I didn’t want to be out too late. So we didn’t give the show its due. We got a pretty good overview, which had to do. We have until the end of April to return for a closer examination. And we will.

We found ourselves in danger of not returning for that closer examination, what with our trip two weeks ago and the show closing in another week. We were down to the final two weekends, during which the show will be mobbed. But, by chance, we learned at the beginning of last week that for museum members at a suitable level (like us), it was possible to write ahead and ask for special entry at 9:15 on a Tuesday or Thursday morning, before the 10:00 opening of the museum. I wasted no time requesting entry for this past Thursday. We got the okay and headed downtown first thing in the morning.

As instructed, we entered by the volunteer door, signed in with security, then waited for a museum staff member to meet us. She brought us up to the exhibit, walking us through part of it in order to get to the start. Along the way, we passed a whole class of students being led on a tour. They looked high school age, about thirty in all, and had a one-room head start on us. Other than them, we had the place to ourselves. The woman who brought us up also got us some audio guides to use if we wished.

We worked our way through the exhibit at a slow pace, always being sure to hang back from the tour group. Over time, a few other singles and pairs arrived, moving past us and beyond the group as well. We were content to take our time. As for the audio guides, they were painful to use. When a painting or object is marked as available on the guide, one presses the three-digit code, then a man comes on to state the obvious, and slowly. The painting’s name, year, size. What’s in it — a red figure left of center, a yellow field, on and on. There was no way to skip past this. Only when he was done would he offer to have you push the play button so you could hear a commentary. He returned to say a few words, then offer curator Pam McClusky for a few words of comment. After she was done, he would make more remarks, then give the stage to her again. Forget it.

The pity is, this was the rare occasion when we could plant ourselves in front of a painting, listen to the guide, and not be in anyone’s way. (Surely this is the worst feature of these guides — the natural tendency of the listener to stay put, listening perhaps without even looking, letting time pass, acting as a blocker to all others.) But so little information was forthcoming, all the more given the high quality of the explanations on the walls.

Well, no matter. It’s a wonderful show, and we were privileged to see it on our own. I did tire of that tour group, with the guide talking non-stop. She was loud, slow, and clear, a gem of a guide for those in the group. For me, it became an increasing nuisance, like trying to read a book when someone has a TV or radio on with non-stop talk.

Only when we got to the penultimate room, holding back while the tour group finished up in the last room — the guide talking about one final painting, then about Gauguin’s career as a whole, then taking questions — did I finally lose patience and join the group. And only then did I realize what should have been obvious all along: that the guide was none other than Pam McClusky. Not that it was our place to tag along, but we surely would have learned a lot if we had. Forget the audio guide, with occasional remarks by her. We could have had her non-stop, the very non-stop chatter that had been a distraction when I tried to ignore her, but could instead have been a joy.

What I really wished is that we had chosen a day when there was no tour. But maybe the deal is that she has been leading tours of the exhibition every Tuesday and Thursday before opening hours, which is why the space is open and available to a limited number of members as well.

I suppose that’s about all I have to say. I would have wished to insert photos throughout the post of our favorite paintings and objects, but photography wasn’t permitted, and there’s nothing at the exhibition website either. If you’re in the area, be sure to see the show in the next week. Otherwise, consider getting a copy of the book, one of which we brought home with us.

Categories: Art, Museums

Change We Can Believe In, XXXI

April 22, 2012 1 comment

Change We Can Believe In: Bug Splat

I’ve written what may seem to be more than my share of posts on US drone warfare, including one a week ago. Then again, can there be too many? Here we are, waging undeclared war around the world, killing people without warrant based on the argument that they are on the battlefield (this being an easy argument to make when you claim that the whole world is a battlefield). We can thank the Bush administration for this claim, but Obama and his enablers in the Justice Department have eagerly stuck by it. Obama won’t release full details on drone warfare or its legal justification on the grounds that that would jeopardize our security. So we continue down the path of lawlessness, making it the norm and ensuring that our security is indeed jeopardized. Some change!

But I’m no expert. For more, Michael Hastings’ article The Rise of the Killer Drones: How America Goes to War in Secret in the current Rolling Stone is essential reading. Here’s a passage from early in the article:

During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the military conducted only a handful of drone missions. Today, the Pentagon deploys a fleet of 19,000 drones, relying on them for classified missions that once belonged exclusively to Special Forces units or covert operatives on the ground. American drones have been sent to spy on or kill targets in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya. Drones routinely patrol the Mexican border, and they provided aerial surveillance over Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In his first three years, Obama has unleashed 268 covert drone strikes, five times the total George W. Bush ordered during his eight years in office. All told, drones have been used to kill more than 3,000 people designated as terrorists, including at least four U.S. citizens. In the process, according to human rights groups, they have also claimed the lives of more than 800 civilians. Obama’s drone program, in fact, amounts to the largest unmanned aerial offensive ever conducted in military history; never have so few killed so many by remote control.

And another:

For a new generation of young guns, the experience of piloting a drone is not unlike the video games they grew up on. Unlike traditional pilots, who physically fly their payloads to a target, drone operators kill at the touch of a button, without ever leaving their base – a remove that only serves to further desensitize the taking of human life. (The military slang for a man killed by a drone strike is “bug splat,” since viewing the body through a grainy-green video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.) As drone pilot Lt. Col. Matt Martin recounts in his book Predator, operating a drone is “almost like playing the computer game Civilization” – something straight out of “a sci-fi novel.” After one mission, in which he navigated a drone to target a technical college being occupied by insurgents in Iraq, Martin felt “electrified” and “adrenalized,” exulting that “we had shot the technical college full of holes, destroying large portions of it and killing only God knew how many people.”

Only later did the reality of what he had done sink in. “I had yet to realize the horror,” Martin recalls.

This is the warfare that Obama has embraced.

Categories: Law, Politics, Video Games, War