What I’m Reading – January 22, 2017

Minoru Niizuma, Yoko Ono and others at the Chambers Street loft, 1962. Gelatin silver or digital print, printed 2016, 8 x 10 in. Collection of Yoko Ono, New York. © Yoko Ono Left to right: Toshi Ichiyanagi, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Yoko Ono
Minoru Niizuma, Yoko Ono and others at the Chambers Street loft, 1962. Gelatin silver or digital print, printed 2016, 8 x 10 in. Collection of Yoko Ono, New York. © Yoko Ono Left to right: Toshi Ichiyanagi, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Yoko Ono [Source: Inventing Downtown:Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965 – Grey Gallery]

  • Review: Remembering the Tenth Street Galleries – WNYC News – WNYC 011317
    Deborah Solomon: Can we ever go back to Tenth Street? Probably not. I refer not to a specific place but to a vanished era in New York’s cultural history, a romantic time when the art scene was still centered in Greenwich Village. This was in the mid-1950s, when rent was cheap and the concept of the art market had nothing to do with American art. The main art galleries, up on Fifty-seventh Street, favored pedigreed French landscapes and portraits. Desperate to show their work, New York artists began opening galleries in nothing-special spaces along Tenth Street, between Third and Fourth Avenues. The Tanager Gallery was across the street from the Brata; the Hansa was around the corner.
    Now we have an exhibition about exhibitions. “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965,” at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, offers a piquant and all-important chronicle of the years before the art world became its current investment-crazed self. Curated by Melissa Rachleff, the show is an energetic and even exuberant mix of 200 works by nearly as many artists who belonged to some 14 galleries, all but one of which were located downtown. You can go through the show seeing it as a history of a defunct gallery scene; or you can see it instead an as alternative history of the painting and sculpture of the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Either way it will broaden your understanding of an era that tends to be packaged by our major museums as the story of Jackson Pollock & Company.
  • Inventing Downtown:Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965 – Grey Gallery
    Between the apex of Abstract Expressionism and the rise of Pop Art and Minimalism, the New York art scene was transformed by artist-run galleries. Inventing Downtown presents works from fourteen of these crucibles of experimentation, highlighting artists’ efforts to create new exhibition venues for innovative works of art—ranging from abstract and figurative painting, assemblage, sculpture, and works on paper to groundbreaking installations and performances.
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda Performs at the White House Poetry Jam: (8 of 8) – YouTube 2009
    Writer and star of the Broadway musical In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda performs “The Hamilton Mixtape” at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word on May 12, 2009. Accompanied by Alex Lacamoire. (public domain)
  • The Meaning of Michelle: A Homage to the First Lady – The Takeaway – WNYC 011817
    Author Veronica Chambers has compiled an homage of original essays from a diverse group of contributors, like filmmaker Ava DuVernay, chef Marcus Samuelsson, and WNYC’s Rebecca Carroll, in a book called “The Meaning of Michelle: 16 Writers on the Iconic First Lady and How Her Journey Inspires Our Own.”
    Chambers is an author of numerous books, including the critically acclaimed memoir “Mama’s Girl.” Currently a JSK Fellow at Stanford University, she has also been a senior editor at The New York Times Magazine, Glamour, and Newsweek.
  • What Will the Trump Administration Mean for People With Disabilities?
    Julia Bascom: Naturally, at the top of the nightmare list is a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The ACA is arguably second only to the Americans With Disabilities Act when it comes to game-changing disability rights law. No insurers would meaningfully cover us, so many disabled Americans historically had to live in poverty in order to qualify for Medicaid. By banning discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, the ACA made it possible for millions of Americans with disabilities to enroll in commercial insurance, afford needed medical care, move, and change jobs. I can vividly remember a health insurance broker sitting in our kitchen with my parents when I was a teenager and urging them to kick me off our insurance and put me on Medicaid (and into a life of enforced poverty) as soon as possible, to bring our premiums down and take the burden off my father’s small business. They didn’t, and under the ACA, that nightmare was relegated to the past where it belongs—unless, of course, Trump brings it back.
  • When Outside Art Became In: Obama’s Cultural Legacy – WNYC News – WNYC 011817
    In the spring of 2009, the White House held a poetry jam. Out walked a young man, sporting short hair and a sharp black suit. Looking like he was just out of college.
    “I’m actually working on a hiphop album,” he said. A concept album, he added, about the man he felt best embodied hiphop: Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.
    The crowd giggled, unconvinced. President Obama, just a few months into his first term, covered his mouth in an effort to suppress a smile.
    “You laugh! But it’s true!” insisted Lin-Manuel Miranda, before finally launching into song. This was six years before “Hamilton the Musical,” well before Miranda became a household name. He looked nervous.
    Outside, the U.S. economy was in free fall. The unemployment rate was about to hit ten percent. But if there was one place where the Obama administration was consistently ahead of the curve, it was in the cultural sphere: over eight years, the White House served as a staging ground for countless artists, intellectuals and activists, especially those from communities of color, especially cultural producers from New York, long exiled from Washington.
  • Vladimir Putin Cold Open – SNL – YouTube 012117
    Russian President Vladimir Putin (Beck Bennett) and Olya Povlatsky (Kate McKinnon) assure Americans that everything will be fine under President Donald Trump.

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Celebrating Our Cultural Legacy: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2009 White House Debut

Today is Barack Obama’s last full day in the White House. If that saddens you as it saddens me, here is a consolation. Lin-Manuel Miranda performed a nascent version of “Alexander Hamilton” at a White House poetry jam in 2009. It’s a national treasure, part of a rich cultural legacy hosted by the Obama White House. A retrospective story by WNYC News (When Outside Art Became In: Obama’s Cultural Legacy) describes Miranda’s White House debut:

Out walked a young man, sporting short hair and a sharp black suit. Looking like he was just out of college.
“I’m actually working on a hiphop album,” he said. A concept album, he added, about the man he felt best embodied hiphop: Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

The crowd giggled, unconvinced. President Obama, just a few months into his first term, covered his mouth in an effort to suppress a smile.

“You laugh! But it’s true!” insisted Lin-Manuel Miranda, before finally launching into song. This was six years before “Hamilton the Musical,” well before Miranda became a household name. He looked nervous.

Outside, the U.S. economy was in free fall. The unemployment rate was about to hit ten percent. But if there was one place where the Obama administration was consistently ahead of the curve, it was in the cultural sphere: over eight years, the White House served as a staging ground for countless artists, intellectuals and activists, especially those from communities of color, especially cultural producers from New York, long exiled from Washington.

The WhiteHouse.gov clip belongs to the public domain. I hope the barbarian billionaire populists who take over tomorrow do not purge it from the Internet.

 

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The Presser Was A Snoozer, But The Pee Party Gushes On

John Locke might disapprove, but Rabelais would howl with laughter.

Donald Trump Press Conference Cold Open – SNL – YouTube 011417
President-elect Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) holds his first press conference since getting elected.

Maureen O’Conner explains the origin of all the Donald Trump pee jokes this week in The Sheer Perfection of Donald Trump’s Golden Shower in | New York magazine:

Wabi-sabi is the Japanese term for that which is perfect not in spite of its imperfections, but because of them. It’s a teacup whose cracks enhance its beauty, or an asymmetrical tableau that is nevertheless balanced. Things that are wabi-sabi are not perfect, but they feel perfect. Looking at them fills you with serenity — wabi-sabi is when everything is right, including things that are wrong, because they too are essential to the whole.

Last night I — and perhaps you too — encountered a wabi-sabi rumor. I didn’t think the rumor was true, but it was so deliciously satisfying that I could not look away. It was masterpiece of evocative specificity, a glorious symphony of sordid particulars. I couldn’t believe it, nor could I disbelieve it. More accurately: I didn’t care if I believed it. It was wabi-sabi, perfectly imperfect, wildly lopsided, and yet, somehow, balanced enough to stand. It was the tale of Donald Trump’s Russian prostitute pee party.

Wabi-sabi rumors are stories that are so unbelievable, they become perversely believable again. They feel right, even when you know they aren’t, and so they take on the force of legend. Examples include Richard Gere’s gerbil, Catherine the Great’s horse, and Taylor Swift’s immortal life as a Satanic priestess. They’re rumors so compelling that even when you realize they’re false, you stay up all night reading about parallel universes — because if Mick Jagger didn’t eat a Mars Bar out of Marianne Faithfull’s crotch in our universe, then surely there is some alternate reality out there, where he did?

Such is the case with Donald Trump’s golden shower. In retrospect, the most surprising thing about the golden-shower rumor is that we didn’t come up with it sooner. Though America spent the better part of last year cracking lewd jokes about our presidential candidates, the biggest joke of all was the product of overseas labor: a self-described “former British intelligence officer” who, in a widely discredited and error-riddled memo, claimed Russian spies may have filmed Donald J. Trump hiring prostitutes to “perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him” in a Moscow hotel room, as part of a psychosexual revenge plot against the ghost of President Obama, Michelle Obama, and their mutually respectful love for one another. The rumor appears on the second page of the document, which BuzzFeed published last night, where it’s highlighted in, um, yellow.

This tale of “TRUMP’s (perverted) conduct in Moscow” is so preposterous that it feels, strangely, inevitable. Donald Trump, a germaphobe who brags about never hearing his wife fart, secretly orchestrated a Russian-prostitute pee party? Donald Trump, a “clean-hands freak” with golden hair, golden skin, and a golden home, paid a bunch of hookers for a golden shower. Donald Trump, who said Hillary Clinton “got schlonged” after taking a bathroom break during a debate: “I know where she went,” he said, face screwed with distaste. “It’s disgusting! I don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting!” Donald Trump, a man who doth protest quite a bit about corporeal disgust. Donald Trump. Loves. Pee.

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What I’m Reading – January 8, 2017

  • Trump Finds That Attack-Dog Strategy Has Its Limits – The New York Times 010617
    Glenn Thrush: As a political underdog and now as president-elect, Donald J. Trump has employed the same brutal but effective go-to move when he’s tweeted or talked himself into an impasse: | Attack the attacker. | That aggressiveness served him well in the presidential campaign, and allowed him to muscle through scandals and self-inflicted management mistakes that would have scuttled a lesser politician. But Mr. Trump’s postelection effort to minimize intelligence assessments about Russia’s actions came to an abrupt end Friday after a detailed classified briefing from the nation’s top intelligence officials at Trump Tower and the release of an unclassified report concluding that the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, had a “clear preference” for Mr. Trump. | By the end of the day, it was clear that the strategy of intimidation and bluster that served Mr. Trump so well in the presidential campaign would not prove nearly as effective in Washington. Here was a reminder, should Mr. Trump heed it, that a president’s critics, especially the lords of Washington’s national security establishment, can’t always be cowed by a flash-grenade tweet or a withering quip about the possibility that a “400-lb. hacker” might have breached Democratic servers.
  • How Henry Kissinger Conspired Against a Sitting President – POLITICO Magazine
    Zach Dorfman: Watch out, Donald Trump: This could happen to you, too.
  • Bill Perry Is Terrified. Why Aren’t You? – POLITICO Magazine 010617
    John F. Harris and Bryan Bender : “Nuclear bombs are an area of expertise Perry had assumed would be largely obsolete by now, seven decades after Hiroshima, a quarter-century after the fall of the Soviet Union, and in the flickering light of his own life. Instead, nukes are suddenly—insanely, by Perry’s estimate—once again a contemporary nightmare, and an emphatically ascendant one. At the dawn of 2017, there is a Russian president making bellicose boasts about his modernized arsenal. There is an American president-elect who breezily free-associates on Twitter about starting a new nuclear arms race. Decades of cooperation between the two nations on arms control is nearly at a standstill. And, unlike the original Cold War, this time there is a world of busy fanatics excited by the prospect of a planet with more bombs—people who have already demonstrated the desire to slaughter many thousands of people in an instant, and are zealously pursuing ever more deadly means to do so. | And there’s one other difference from the Cold War: Americans no longer think about the threat every day. | Nuclear war isn’t the subtext of popular movies, or novels; disarmament has fallen far from the top of the policy priority list. The largest upcoming generation, the millennials, were raised in a time when the problem felt largely solved, and it’s easy for them to imagine it’s still quietly fading into history. The problem is, it’s no longer fading. “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War,” Perry said in an interview in his Stanford office, “and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.”
  • Putin Ordered ‘Influence Campaign’ Aimed at U.S. Election, Report Says – The New York Times 010617
    Intelligence officials said President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia turned from seeking to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton to developing “a clear preference” for President-elect Donald J. Trump.
  • Declassified report says Putin ‘ordered’ effort to undermine faith in U.S. election and help Trump – The Washington Post
    U.S. intelligence agencies: Putin ordered intervention in presidential election A declassified report says that the Kremlin aspired to help elect Trump and discredit Clinton.
  • Putin’s Real Long Game – POLITICO Magazine 010117
    Molly K. McKew : The world order we know is already over, and Russia is moving fast to grab the advantage. Can Trump figure out the new war in time to win it?
  • So Far, Donald Trump Stands Alone When It Comes To Russia : NPR 010517
    According to Molly McKew — an expert on information warfare and a foreign-policy consultant who has advised the governments of Georgia and Moldova — the national-security community can’t quite figure out Trump’s unwavering devotion to the Russian line. But theories abound.
    “I think the discussion in the region and intelligence services that deal with Russia,” McKew said, “is that his behavior looks like someone who may be compromised or may be concerned about something and nobody knows what that is — if it’s financial ties or financial leverage, if it’s something more than that. I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of different things. I think there probably are long-term relationships with Russians and Russian oligarchs that we don’t understand, that we don’t see.”
  • Trump’s Twitter feed traumatizes Washington – POLITICO 010517
    Donald Trump’s unique, chaos theory of presidential communications is upending Washington, leaving lawmakers, government officials and lobbyists aghast that they are beholden to a single leader’s whims, not to mention the uncertainty about his true thoughts and intentions.
  • Former CIA head Woolsey quits Trump team as standoff intensifies over Russia.
    Former CIA director James Woolsey resigned from the Trump transition team Thursday, as the president-elect’s dismissive attitude towards the U.S.
  • [toread] U.S. intercepts capture senior Russian officials celebrating Trump win | Washington post January 6, 2017
    U.S. intercepts capture senior Russian officials celebrating Trump win
    Intelligence showed that Russians “felt pretty good” after the Nov. 8 vote, an official said.
  • Trump’s team tries to stifle rift on Russia – POLITICO
  • [toread] Anonymous “Officials” Say There’s Evidence Russia Gave Emails to WikiLeaks Through Third Party | Slate 010517
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Lou Bourgeois: A Charming Man Celebrates a Century

Broadcaster Lou Bourgeois prepares for woek in the studio of radio station CHAB in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan circa 1937.

Lou Bourgeois was born 100 years ago today in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. As he celebrates the day simply with his loving daughter Maggie, JoAnn and I will mark the occasion by saying it is an honor to know him as a friend. He is the most charming man I’ve ever known: an engaging raconteur, a vivid yet self-effacing storyteller, a keen and genuinely curious listener, a passionate lover of music and books. He’s been a thoughtful reader of this website since its inception. And he’s the only person on the planet who still refers to me as “Young Mark.” When I grow up, I want to be just like him!

Lou grew up in Moose Jaw at the peak of the Great Depression, when Saskatchewan was Canada’s hardest hit province. He deferred university plans after high school when his rich baritone voice earned him a broadcaster position at radio station CHAB. His radio days ended in 1941 when he joined the Canadian Army in World War II.

After the war, Lou made a career in the Army, rising steadily through the ranks during 32 years of service. He served in WWII, Korea, and as an observer in Cyprus. During that time he did two tours of regimental duty (King’s Own Rifles and Queen’s Own Rifles), graduated from the senior Canadian War Staff College and held staff appointments in Canada, the UK and Germany. His final appointment was at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa where in 1963 he was appointed the Department’s head of public affairs, a position he held for 10 years, serving under five different defence ministers. In this capacity he spent much time on Parliament Hill and traveled often to Europe for NATO meetings.

Lou retired with the rank of Brigadier General in 1973.  Then he was asked to establish and manage a Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce to foster trade and investment between the two nations. He led that organization until 1987.

In retirement Lou has continued to indulge his love of travel, music and books. A longtime member of the Probus Club of Oakville, Ontario, he chaired that group’s nonfiction book club for 16 years. Most of the book club’s members were retired engineers with little patience for the creative liberties of narrative nonfiction. I met Lou in those years and was fortunate to hear all about his close reading and careful plans for book club discussions. He prepped like a college professor, led like a general, and coaxed persuasively like a consummate diplomat.

Every time we visit Lou we hear new stories, along with rich renditions of old favorites. After the war one of his early Army assignments was teaching raw recruits how to disassemble, clean, and reassemble 50-calibre machine guns. Just remember,” he would tell them, “your life might depend on this.” Fast forward 70 years, and there is Lou in front of a daily pre-dinner exercise class at the retirement center where he now lives: always the leader, teacher, and role model.

On Lou’s 94th birthday in 2010 we had a wonderful conversation about books and music. He told us about reading Eric Siblin’s The Cello Suites, an account of Pablo Casals’ rediscovery of Bach’s resonantly profound masterpiece. To celebrate your 100th birthday, Lou, here is Yo-Yo Ma performing Suite No. 1 in G major (BWV 1007).

Happy birthday, Lou. We look forward to talking with you again tomorrow.

About the photo: Broadcaster Lou Bourgeois prepares for work in the studio of radio station CHAB in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan circa 1937.

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