A month ago we posted a piece about houses and mansions, because houses are so much bigger than they used to be and mansions are so very much bigger than even your average big house. Being rich is all about square footage when we talk about housing. And here we have a poem by Marilyn Robertson about mansions and what happens when they lose all sense of propriety, go wild and break the law.
When Mansions Go Bad
Bad news for big houses this morning:
COUNTY PURSUES TOUGHER RULES ON MANSIONS.
When mansions go bad, you’ve got to get tough.
They’ll start parking any which way on your street.
When you come home, they’ll be sprawling on
your front steps, smoking on your lawn.
A mansion can swallow a meadow in a single afternoon.
It can block a view, turn a clearing into a gym,
a lane into a bowling alley.
They’ve already hijacked a couple of houses over on Elm.
Just sat their big butts down and took over,
spreading conservatories, wine cellars, ballrooms
clear out to the neighbor’s fence.
Now mansions must keep to a modest 5,000 square feet.
But what mansion is going to stand for that?
They’re going to rebel.
They’re going to put their thousands of extra feet down wherever they damn please.
We now have a deal between Iran on one side and the United States, plus five other countries, on the other. Essentially, the agreement compels Iran to freeze its nuclear program for six months and to destroy its stockpile of near-weapons grade uranium, an amount almost enough to make one nuclear bomb. In return, the US and the five other nations will temporarily reduce, ever so slightly, the economic sanctions which have chopped Iran’s economy to a shambles.
Whether this is an careful first step toward a final agreement, or whether it is actually a scam carried out by crafty negotiators from Iran who have pulled the wool over the eyes of the stupid United States and five other stupid nations — that seems to depend on who is talking about it.
Israel’s ultra conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it’s a “bad deal,” not a historic agreement, but a “historic mistake” that makes the world a more dangerous place. Or, as he put it in a Tweet the day after the agreement was reached, “Without continued pressure, what incentive does Iran have to take serious steps that actually dismantle its nuclear weapons capability?”
But Netanyahu’s Tweet misrepresents what’s going on: the slight easing of our economic stranglehold on Iran leaves a crushing array of sanctions still in place. Nonetheless, conservative members of the Congress of the United States have voiced the same sentiments as Netanyahu, and some Democrats are also against it.
Yes, it may be that ministers from the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia and China, along with their nuclear authorities and security experts, have witlessly allowed themselves to be fooled by super sly negotiators from Iran. And now that Iran’s economy is falling apart and Iran’s president has come forward to negotiate, it may be that, No, the current sanctions haven’t really worked, we have to add even more weight on their collapsing economy to really make sure the Iranians will be really truthful and really honest.
On the other hand, heaping on more sanctions at this point would end the negations and the Iranian nuclear program would then resume at full speed. And then what?
The art critic Blake Gopnik said that when it comes to a painting by Andy Warhol, the bigger the price of the work, the better it is as art. Gopnik is writing a book about Warhol and certainly knows what he’s talking about. Warhol began his artistic life as a commercial artist and in a sense he never ceased being exactly that. Whether it was a popular brand of canned soup or popular movie actress — you get the references, right? — it was something pop that was also big money.
Gopnik was talking about the 8-foot by 13-foot Warhol painting “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster).” He went on to say, “If this thing goes for a hundred million bucks, it’s a kind of the apotheosis of what Warhol was all about — maybe everything that Warhol was all about.” Gopnik pointed out that Warhol had taken a scene of horrific tragedy — a demolished car with a dead body in it wrapped around a tree — and turned it into a glitzy commodity. And, said his biographer, “That’s what Warhol did with his own life, right? He turns himself into the ultimate commodity.”
Blake Gopnik’s assessment of the painting and the price it might fetch and what it all meant was on the Marketplace Morning Report, broadcast by National Public Radio in the morning. Later the same day, the painting went on auction at Sotheby’s York Avenue salesroom and sold for $104.5 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for a Warhol. That beats the hundred million bucks that Gopnik was talking about. That makes this painting a very, very, very good work of art.
At Critical Pages we have an ongoing campaign to encourage reading, support independent bookstores and save writers from starvation. And we think the best way for you to do all three Good Works is to visit your independent bookstore and buy a book. Or splurge and buy half a dozen. Or a dozen and a half. And keep in mind our upbeat motto: Book Lovers Never Have To Go To Bed Alone.
That photo up there is charming, but what we meant was that if you were a reader you could always take a book to bed. So you’d never need to be alone. You’d have the company of all the characters in the book. That’s what we hoped you’d understand. The photo below is an excellent example of what we mean.
That’s better. Book Lovers Never Have To Go To Bed Alone. Book lovers can take a book to bed.
“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” That quote is ascribed to Mark Twain, and maybe he did say it. And maybe we can re-write it to say that God created war so that we could learn about other societies and what they eat. Or maybe we should just talk about Conflict Kitchen.
The people who run Conflict Kitchen have announced this about their restaurant. “Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus country. The restaurant rotates identities every few months in relation to current geopolitical events.”
We think it’s a very interesting idea. And if we were close enough to Pittsburgh to have lunch there, we’d definitely stop in the Kitchen and sample whatever they were serving. Past versions have had menus from Afghanistan, Iran and Venezuela, and currently the Cochina del Conflcto is focused on the food, culture and politics of Cuba. Their next iteration will focus on North and South Korea.
As you might expect, their Job Opportunities paragraph is unusual, too. Among other things: “We expect our employees to be expert conversationalists, deeply versed in the culture and politics within our focus county. We also expect our employees to learn how to produce our cuisine in an efficient, consistent, and professional manner.”
Conflict Kitchen has a stylish website that can give provide you with what you need to know about their project. If you get to the new post-industrial Pittsburgh drop in, and tell us about the food, the politics, the culture.
Having a certain amount of money — and we mean a certain large amount — insulates the rich from the hardships suffered by the poor. The rich have been doing quite well since the end of the Great Recession. But they’re trying not to flaunt their wealth. The divide between the rich and poor is getting so large that, well, if you’re rich, you can’t be too careful these days.
Luxury homes — let’s call them mansions — have shrunk in size. It’s hard to believe, but Laurie Moore-Moore of the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, says there’s a trend toward smaller mansions. Biggies in the fifteen to twenty thousand square foot range are becoming hard to sell.
In case you don’t know square footage, the average American home grew from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,349 square feet in 2004. As you rise above 2,349 square feet, you come first to what’s sometimes called a McMansion, and only if you continue to rise and get real interior acreage do you come to the true mansion. The McMansion is simply a bloated dwelling with an exterior style which mimics a French chateau or an Italian villa, whereas the true mansion looks more like an exclusive hotel. A true mansion would have, or used to have, eight or nine times the square footage of the average dwelling.
But for the rich, the new, post-recession size is smaller, around five thousand to seven thousand square feet. Modesty has become important to the wealthy. In terms of square footage, anyway. It turns out that the inside of these smaller mansions are packed with more luxuries. After all, you have to do something with that money, you can’t just give it away.
We linguistic grumps at Critical Pages received an email from Amazon the other day. It was about Amazon Prime and FREE unlimited two-day shipping. They said, “We thought you’d like to know that for just $79 a year, you can take advantage of unlimited FREE Two-Day Shipping with Amazon Prime.” Now, we don’t want to be seen as old-fashioned, out-of-touch, mossback reactionaries, but we’re pretty sure that if the two-day shipping is really FREE we shouldn’t have to pay $79 for it. No, sir! We weren’t born yesterday.
Marilyn Robertson feels pretty much the way we do when it comes to finding good reasons to do what we want for our aching muscles, our morale, our spiritual well being and — oh, yes — our sanity. And it’s pretty good therapy after listening to the news or reading the paper’s editorial page. Here’s a new poem from her new collection, Living With Light.
That Time of Day
Don’t you love that time of day when
you can shed those dirty clothes and head for the bath?
This feels so good, I always say,
easing down under the bubbles, knowing that
a clean person can no longer go out and do more
yardwork, move more rocks, trap more gophers.
A clean person may sit at the piano and play
an etude, may read an old book
on an old couch, may have some cashews
and a piece of gorgonzola.
Evening will come the the clean person
as it will to the dirty one, but the clean person
will be better able to enjoy it,
having had both the nuts and the cheese,
plus a little something in a minor key.
We hope to use a bubble-bath graphic is by Sasukexkaname, but thus far we’re unable to find Sasukexkaname’s e-mail address.
Who’s to blame for the government shutdown? The news analysts on radio and TV say, “There’s lots of finger pointing and plenty of blame to go around.”
Radio and TV people like to use phrases like “lots of finger pointing” and “plenty of blame to go around.” The phrases don’t help us understand what’s going on, but we hear them just about every day. And it isn’t sharp and insightful when news analysts call the current bitter dispute between Republicans and Democrats “bickering.” Now they’re beginning to say that “both sides are digging in their heels” and “both sides refuse to compromise.” That doesn’t shed much light either.
Using those and similar phrases is intended to show that the media is even-handed and not taking sides, not saying that one side or the other is to blame for the shutdown. Honest media people strive for objectivity, and they really want to be even handed and balanced as they report what’s going on. But being balanced doesn’t mean reporting that both sides are equal in responsibility for shutting down the government. Being honest in analyzing the situation means saying who is responsible if, in fact, one side is responsible.
This current conflict between Republicans and Democrats has arisen because the Republican members in the House of Representatives want to defund the Affordable Care act – the law commonly called Obamacare. Republicans may be right or wrong about Obama care, but that’s beside the point – they don’t like it and want to kill it by starving it. House Republicans have sent more than 40 bills to the Senate, each one designed to kill Obama care. Each one has been flatly rejected by the Senate’s Democratic majority.
Ordinarily, when you’re outvoted — well, you’re outvoted, so you move on. Or, when it comes to sending bills between the House and the Senate, if your bill is rejected, you try to modify it enough to get it accepted, or you move on to other matters. That’s not happening now.
What’s new here is that House Republicans have said that if they don’t get their way, if the Democrats in the Senate won’t agree with them, and if the Democrat in the White House won’t sign their bill into law, they won’t fund anything and the government will stay shut down. President Obama has called that legislative maneuver extortion and blackmail. Maybe the media can’t find words to substitute for “extortion” and “blackmail,” and maybe that’s why they can’t quite fix the blame.
Problem — the word that Google defines as “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome” is fading from the dictionary. Ours is a living language. Words come and go. Google says that problem is synonymous with difficulty, trouble, worry and complication. Of course, difficulties, troubles, worries and complications sometimes do occur. But when that happens it’s bad for business and, furthermore, it undermines belief in the military and in academia and makes government the butt of jokes.
To avoid these kinds of disasters, business and the armed forces, as well as the government agencies and virtually all academic institutions, have quietly done away with the word problem and all its synonyms. In it’s place they now use challenge or issue. Upper echelon government and military personnel feel much better when facing challenges than when dealing with problems or complications, and university administrators believe they can handle issues with discretion, whereas worries tend to become public and become very difficult to manage.
Now a populist movement among workers is growing to get rid of deficiency. No one feels good about being deficient, and employees feel especially bad about being stigmatized as deficient in skill or knowledge essential for the job they’re being paid to do. Middle managers and foremen have suggested that the felicitous phrase opportunity for growth be substituted for the old fashioned and discriminatory word. You wouldn’t be deficient in your ability to prioritize your workload, instead that would become an area where you had an opportunity for growth. Everyone likes opportunities. Ours is a living language. It’s great!
Bashar Hafez al-Assad has caved in and, under the tutelage of his Russian arms suppliers, has agreed to give up his entire stockpile of chemical (gas) weapons. Incredibly, some analysts thought that Obama was weakened, or at the very least “appeared weak,” by negotiating a deal with Russia under which Russia’s client state, Syria, would give up its stockpile of poison gas. Weak? The Syrian government, under the pressure of a threatened attack, gives up it’s poison gas, and Obama appears weak? Does that make any kind of sense?
Or, again incredibly, some analysts asserted that by “partnering with a terrorist,” meaning al-Assad, Obama was legitimizing the Syrian regime. The US is partnering with Russia in this deal, not Syria. Furthermore, no one can “legitimize” or “de-legitimize” a government that holds power. Popular power or military might does that; nothing else matters. And, of course, this deal weakens al-Assad.
And, finally, there was talk that Vladimir Putin had emerged as a
leader of great stature by pressuring his clients in Syria to give up their chemical weapons. Oh? Putin had repeatedly blocked US efforts to handle this matter in the UN Security Council, but when US missile warships moved close to Syria, he came around to the US position. That raised Putin and reduced Obama’s stature? Really?
But surely the dumbest remarks were made those who wished that President Barack Obama could be more like Lyndon Johnson. Now, about Lyndon Johnson, they said, “There was a man who really enjoyed politics, a man who got his way with Congress because he knew how to twist arms, how to make deals, how to win. ” And that’s true. But either those commentators are purposely leaving out a crucial fact or they’re simply ignorant — Lyndon Johnson had the luxury of working with a Congress that was dominated in both chambers by his own Democratic Party. But even with a House and Senate of his own party, Lyndon Johnson finished his presidential term so politically ruined by his Vietnam policy that the only places he could give a speech without being heckled and booed and swamped by protesters were military bases.
Maybe you know the opening lines of Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” — When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all. Some of the grumps at Critical Pages feel that way after listening to the talking heads on Sunday morning news shows.
By the end of the day, most of us had heard the news — somebody had gone on a shooting rampage at the naval Sea Systems Command and thirteen had been shot dead, including the gunman. But this is the United States in 2013 and though most of us heard the news, most of us weren’t absolutely shocked, weren’t stunned that such a thing could happen here. Unfortunately, we’re getting used to it. This is the way we live now. This is who we are.
The night of the shooting, Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel MaddowShow,” pointed out that the Washington Post’s timeline of the 12 most lethal shooting incidents revealed that the first six occurred over a period of 50 years, but the most recent six have taken place in the last six years. “The first half of this awful list happens across half a century,” she said. “The other half-dozen of the worst killings in our history takes only half a dozen years until today. From Virginia Tech to the Navy Yard. The bloodshed of half a century is compressed into this blink of time.”
Nationals Park is just a few miles from the scene of the shooting, and a scheduled game between the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves was postponed because of the carnage. The day after the shooting, the game went on as the teams played a split double-header, and prior to the start of the first game the players and spectators observed a minute of silence for those killed at the naval base. A British newsman from the BBC, broadcasting on BBC America that evening, observed that mass shooting were getting to be as American as baseball.
Larry Summers, former secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, former Director of the National Economic Council for President Barack Obama, and former president of Harvard University, withdrew his name as candidate for the Chair of the Federal Reserve. When that happened, liberal Democrats cheered, investors relaxed, international markets rose and women rejoiced.
Lawrence Summers is a very bright guy — which is probably why President Obama favored him for the Chair at the Fed. At 28, Summers was already a tenured professor at Harvard. He’s been awarded the John Bates Clark Medal for his work in economics and is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Unfortunately, he sometimes behaves as if he’s the smartest man in the room and everyone else should keep quiet, listen, and do what they’re told. Talleyrand once said of a certain woman that she had only one fault, she was intolerable. A lot of people say the same about Lawrence Summers.
In popular mythology, Summers was ousted from the presidency at Harvard because he deprecated women’s intelligence. That makes a good story. True, he did raise a question about women’s inherent lack of smarts to explain why there were fewer women in science and engineering. Summers’ statements on that subject were, as he had clearly announced ahead of time, intended to be provocative and exploratory. But remarks about whether or not women have the brains required for science and engineering are red meat to feminists, and they were used by his opponents as a pretext for getting rid of him. Far more important was the unprofessional conflict he had with Cornel West, head of the African American Studies department and, on a wholly different matter, his support of a fellow economist and protégé, Andrei Shleifer. Mr. Shleifer violated ethics and U. S. law when he used his position as an adviser to the Russian government to engage in financial maneuvers for personal profit. These and other differences with the faculty led to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences giving him what amounted to a no-confidence vote.
Lawrence Summers was the wrong man for the Federal Reserve partly because he alienates people and mostly because his economic thinking doesn’t equal what we know about the way the world works. During his time in the Clinton administration, Larry Summers applauded deregulation of the banking industry and generally supported the idea the markets were self-correcting mechanisms that didn’t need so much oversight . Apparently he was quite wrong about that. Summers supported the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which removed the separation between investment and commercial banks, and he pushed for the deregulation of derivatives contracts. In other words, he opposed and helped dismantle many of the safeguards to our financial system that had been put in place over the years. And, finally, he thought that the Federal Reserve’s current stimulus policy was ineffective and should be stopped. Over the past year, even the hint of reducing it has caused global financial markets to worry. It’s good he withdrew.
Now, while the world of the Middle East is falling apart, while innocents are being undone by nerve gas or set afire by something very much like Napalm, yes, now we’re taking time out for a poem by Marilyn Robertson. Sometimes it seems that not thinking at all is best. Here’s her poem “Beautiful Nature” with its epigraph by Thomas Jefferson.
The object of walking is to relax the mind.
You should therefore not permit yourself
even to think while you walk.
It is Saturday morning.
A man, a boy, and a dog are out walking
in the woods. They stop to rest beside the trail.
The boy, dressed in camouflage, is chattering on
about AK47s and all the bad guys he killed
in a video game he played before breakfast.
But here we are in beautiful nature, says his father.
Can we talk about something else?
No, says the boy.
Two sighs drift into the ravine.
The boy is thinking, Sheesh! Parents!
The father is thinking, We are doomed.
The dog, waiting patiently for the walk to resume,
is following the advice of Thomas Jefferson
and thinking of nothing at at all.
content to watch a woodpecker pounding his beak
into a bay laurel, trying to find the nut
he left there last fall.
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Gene Mirabelli writes most of the posts here, so we're very pleased to announce that his recent novel, Renato, the Painter, has won a first prize for Literary Fiction in the 2013 Independent Publisher (IP or "IPPY") Book awards.
The Awards program was created to highlight the year’s most distinguished books from independent publishers. Award winners are chosen by librarians and booksellers who are on the front lines, working everyday with patrons and customers. Some 125 books competed for the literary fiction Gold Medal. These books are examples of independent publishing at its finest.
Publishers Weekly says "In prose as lusty and vigorous as Renato himself, Mirabelli captures the feeling of coming to terms - ready or not - with old age." For more about the writer and his book, turn to our contact page or to the author's web site.
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