The best satire makes you laugh at a serious issue and then you quickly realize that it’s absolutely no laughing matter.
Two days ago, artist Nelson Shanks admitted that when, in 2006, he painted a portrait of then former President of the United States (POTUS) Bill Clinton, he included in the portrait a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to Clinton becoming only the second president in history to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the portrait, pictured here, you can easily see the reference, and Shanks explained the reference to the media thusly:
“If you look at the left-hand side of it there’s a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things,” Shanks said. “It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there.”
The shadow “is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him,” Shanks said.
Full Disclosure: I’m NOT a social or political conservative. I am an unapologetic liberal.
And yet, Clinton’s affair with his intern Monica Lewinsky, and how he responded to getting caught, caused me to lose all respect for the man whom I twice voted for.
Right wingers like to smear liberals by suggesting that, in addition to all kinds of sins and transgressions, we’re just fine with people sleeping around and having affairs. Not true.
So, since I’m not a fan of the religion’s judgmental rubber stamp known as “sin”, let me explain why I objected to Bill Clinton’s behavior and why he lost my respect, with this list of reasons, in no particular order:
- I don’t think stupid people should be President of the United States, and any man or woman who has made it through the court of public opinion and the media gauntlet involved in running for any office — Clinton was elected Arkansas Attorney General, Governor of Arkansas five times, and, of course POTUS — knowing all that that entails and how under the spotlight and microscope these offices are, and yet chooses anyway to have an affair with an intern…in the White House!!!…is stupid, Rhodes Scholarship notwithstanding, and should not be chief executive and commander in chief of the most powerful country in the world. The affair was, of course, wrong for other reasons, for example…
- When people get married they are making a solemn vow to commit to another human being, until death do they part, and it’s a beautiful thing to do, not because the bible or some other religious document says so, but because marriage is a powerful contradiction to how humans otherwise see each other as replaceable and expendable. And if our president breaks his wedding vow, how do we know, then, how seriously he takes his oath of office? Some might argue that human beings can be failures at relationships but geniuses and very effective and successful in other areas of their lives, maybe that’s true, but I still don’t approve and they still lose my respect.
- When you are the most powerful man in the world and you have an affair with an intern, you obviously have no clue about the relationship between privilege, sexism, and oppression. This man should not be POTUS, and when, under another oath, this man characterized the affair as “I did not have sex with that woman!” because, reportedly, only oral sex was involved, well, that’s just disgusting insult to injury and a disgrace to the office.
While the Shanks portrait, as mentioned, painted in 2006, five years after Clinton had left office, IS part of the permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery (though currently in storage), the official presidential portrait was painted by artist Simmie Knox, commissioned in 2000, while Clinton was still in office, completed in 2002, and it now hangs in the East Wing of the White House.
I’m not naturally inclined to hold grudges, but at least for now, I still think Bill Clinton deserved the portrait he got. He abused his power, he lied, he was stupid, and we need SO much more than that from our president.
If the polarized, dysfunctional, corrupted state of our government didn’t have such dire consequences, if we weren’t entrenched in perpetual war, doing nothing substantial about climate change, and allowing the wealthiest 0.1% to own as much as 90% of the population does, combined, I might be more forgiving.
And, his middle name, well, it couldn’t be more appropriate.
His name is Julian Brave NoiseCat, he’s a member of the Canim Lake Band of Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation of central British Columbia, Canada, and his personal account, posted at Salon, of his efforts to earn a Rhodes Scholarship is just about the most inspiring and moving thing I’ve read lately.
The Rhodes scholarship wasn’t designed or intended for me or my people, and that’s why I wanted it so badly.
I spent months pouring my heart and soul into becoming a Rhodes scholar.
As the grandson of multiple generations of genocide survivors (who endured everything from the Cariboo Gold Rush to the scandal of Native American residential schools), and the only begotten child of a broken interracial marriage between a spunky Irish-Jew and an alcoholic artist who stumbled off the reserve and into a New York bar, I recognize the irony here.
The Rhodes is funded by the estate of Cecil Rhodes, a decidedly terrible man who profited unequivocally from the colonization and exploitation of African peoples and territories. A proud imperialist, Rhodes believed that the burden of both history and progress belonged to the Anglo-Saxon who must strive to triumph over the savagery of the “ape, bushman and pigmy.” Although Rhodes’ explicit endorsement of global white supremacy is noted only in hushed tones and seldom in polite company, the spirit of his vision — to find and enable the most elite talent among the young and educated so that they can lead a righteous crusade forward for humanity — remains. Every year, a short list of scholars from around the world shoulder what was formerly known as the “White Man’s Burden.” Fortunately, these days, it is a bit browner and more feminine than Rhodes originally envisioned.
…Long ago, men like Rhodes — who amassed fortunes from actions that included the theft of the lands where our gods reside, our ancestors are buried and our people still struggle to live a decent life — decided that humans were players in a zero-sum game and that the resources and opportunities would not be ours but theirs. I imagined that when I won the Rhodes and raided his colonial estate, those men would turn in their graves while my ancestors danced in the revelry of vengeful success. I was going to take it all back — for Canim Lake (my home reserve), Oakland (where I grew up) and all of Indian Country. Maybe it was justice. Maybe it was delusion.
I highly recommend reading the entire piece, but if you do so, you may question why I used the term “inspiring” to describe it.
After all, (spoiler alert) while having been selected as one of 15 finalists in his region, only two were offered the scholarship, and Julian was not one of those two. What’s worse, he had to endure a horrendously out of touch, insensitive, and subtly racist inquisition by a member of the selection committee.
So, how can something so heartbreaking be inspiring?
Because Julian decided to pursue the scholarship despite its namesake’s past.
Because, though the Rhodes has been awarded to women and people of color in the past, even an Aboriginal Australian, no member of the Canadian First Nations or U.S. Native American tribes has, and Julian decided he could be the first.
Because Julian’s efforts offer inspiration to indigenous students all over the world.
Because Julian shared something his late grandfather used say — Shake the hand that shakes the world — and he proceeds to describe how he did just that, and he concludes his story with his own undaunted spin on it:
When you shake the hand that shakes the world, look that power in the face and do not tremble.
Even though some reply tweeters rush to point out that Time Warner likely does not make money from the sale of ALL Guy Fawkes masks, I think a valid point is made about the need to thoroughly think through the symbols we use.
Whatcom council wants more cost info before deciding jail ‘LEED’ status
Whatcom County leaders are not ready to give up on building the new jail in Ferndale to a widely recognized green-building standard, despite the high-energy needs of the facility.
LEED, for anyone not familiar with sustainable building practices, is, as the Herald describes, THE standard for sustainable buildings, but the question that begs asking is:
How sustainable is it to have over two million people incarcerated in the U.S.?
LEED standards, sadly, don’t apparently consider this question at all, and, according to the New York Times, this is not at all a unique situation.
While it is admirable that, as the Herald reported:
[Whatcom County] committed in 2005 to constructing all public buildings to the LEED silver standard, “where feasible.”
…the Times reports:
The Washington State Department of Corrections boasts 34 LEED-certified facilities, with 923,789 square feet of LEED-certified space added in fiscal year 2008 alone.
Irony can sometimes be funny.
This is decidedly not one of those times.
I love George Takei!
He will always be Sulu to me (sorry John Cho), I appreciate how he leveraged his celebrity by coming out as a gay man in 2005, becoming a strong, vocal LGBT advocate, and I find his Facebook feed consistently entertaining.
That he’s also a Buddhist is news to me, and since I dabble in the teachings of the Buddha, another reason to like him.
A week ago, I wrote about Yoga Joes, the brainchild of designer, entrepreneur, and Yoga enthusiast, Dan Abramson, who put his own spin on the classic little plastic army men of yesteryear, placing them in a variety of Yoga poses, evoking a wonderful tension between images of war and peace.
I shared my own childhood experience, having been raised on war movies on television, having played with these little plastic army men, until, that is, I became a pacifist and embraced the concept of Ahimsa that is central to the Buddhism and Yoga practices I came to dabble in.
Amazing timing, then, that yesterday, when my wife and I stopped in at the Smith & Vallee Gallery in nearby Edison, Washington, we should see this piece by Pieter VanZanden, a woodworker in Smith & Vallee’s Woodworks shop, working here not with wood but with little plastic army men, riffing on Auguste Rodin‘s most famous sculpture, The Thinker, and conveying what could be interpreted as an anti-war sentiment similar to that of the Yoga Joes:
If you can’t quite tell what’s going on here, click on these images to enlarge them.
I think this is fantastic and a powerful statement. Titled Think About It, clearly the suggestion here is that, perhaps, if we would think more about the consequences of war, the horrific loss of life, symbolized by this pile of bodies, then maybe we might be less inclined to rush into military conflict.
In a related work by VanZanden, the centerpiece of his exhibit, standing a good six feet high, he uses this same material on a huge scale, recreating one of the classic little plastic army men poses:
Here’s a closeup of the soldier’s head, which you can click on to enlarge for more fine detail:
Subversive and oh so cool!