Friday, March 25, 2011

testicles (tenuously connected) ... a complaint (from Alexander Portnoy)

I still plan to make a Phantoms 2 post this month as promised (I'll work on it next week), but in the meantime I wanted to take advantage of my previous post by using it as a silly segue for the following excerpt from Philip Roth's very funny novel Portnoy's Complaint (1969).

The pictures are all illustrations by Alfred Kubin, and I selected them because I thought they would make excellent covers for subsequent editions of the book. Kubin is a perfect pairing not only because of the deep sexual anxieties expressed in his drawings, but also because he tried to kill himself while standing on his mother's grave.

* * *

The Ape

     "Sometime during my ninth year one of my testicles apparently decided it had had enough of life down in the scrotum and began to make its way north. At the beginning I could feel it bobbing uncertainly just at the rim of the pelvis—and then, as though its moment of indecision had passed, entering the cavity of my body, like a survivor being dragged up out of the sea and over the hull of a lifeboat. And there it nestled, secure at last behind the fortress of my bones, leaving its foolhardy mate to chance it alone in that boy's world of football cleats and picket fences, sticks and stones and pocketknives, all those dangers that drove my mother wild with foreboding, and about which I was warned and warned and warned. And warned again. And again.
     And again.
     So my left testicle took up residence in the vicinity of the inguinal canal. By pressing a finger in the crease between my groin and my thigh, I could still, in the early weeks of its disappearance, feel the curve of its jellied roundness; but then came nights of terror, when I searched my guts in vain, searched all the way up to my rib cage—alas, the voyager had struck off for regions uncharted and unknown. Where was it gone to! How high and how far before the journey would come to an end! Would I one day open my mouth to speak in class, only to discover my left nut out on the end of my tongue? In school we chanted, along with our teacher, I am the Captain of my fate, I am the Master of my soul, and meanwhile, within my own body, an anarchic insurrection had been launched by one of my privates—which I was helpless to put down!
     For some six months, until its absence was observed by the family doctor during my annual physical examination, I pondered my mystery, more than once wondering—for there was no possibility that did not enter my head, none—if the testicle could have taken a dive backwards toward the bowel and there begun to convert itself into just such an egg as I had observed my mother yank in a moist yellow cluster from the dark interior of a chicken whose guts she was emptying into the garbage. What if breasts began to grow on me, too? What if my penis went dry and brittle, and one day, while I was urinating, snapped off in my hand? Was I being transformed into a girl? Or worse, into a boy such as I understood (from the playground grapevine) that Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not would pay "a reward" of a hundred thousand dollars for? Believe it or not, there is a nine-year-old boy in New Jersey who is a boy in every way, except he can have babies.
     Who gets the reward? Me, or the person who turns me in?
     Doctor Izzie rolled the scrotal sac between his fingers as though it were the material of a suit he was considering buying, and then told my father that I would have to be given a series of male hormone shots. One of my testicles had never fully descended—unusual, not unheard of... But if the shots don't work, asks my father in alarm. What then—! Here I am sent out into the waiting room to look at a magazine.
     The shots work. I am spared the knife. (Once again!)"

alfred kubin promenade
The Promenade

alfred kubin headless observation

What I would use for the cover if I were a publisher:

alfred kubin vagina
Death Jump

portnoy's complaint alfred kubin mock cover design
(Just to give an idea of what it might look like. Lacking a better program I used IrfanView, and I couldn't even figure out how to move "Portnoy's" and "Complaint" closer together...)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

i found these in my room the other day; i can't remember who gave them to me

A small booklet of tickets waiting to be placed on any of the over-sized SUVs I see purposely straddling two parking spaces (sitting directly on the white line). And perhaps I'll have the chance to place a ticket on the windshield of one of those obnoxious trucks I see too frequently (ie, more than zero times) -- you know, the kind with the sculpted steel testicles hanging from the back bumper, the kind that's driven by the type of person who will inevitably find a way to straddle 6 or more spaces (not including the one they parked their nuts in), a vehicle which renders redundant the mere mention of any specific parking violation since its very existence is a violation.

parking ticket humor satirical

(The attitude and language remind me a little of The Chap Manifesto.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

affinities (Brecht, Fleet Foxes)

"Back when I was young, I was brought to realize
What a very special person I must be
(Not just any old cottager's daughter, what with my looks
   and my talents and my urge towards Higher Things)
And insisted that my soup should have no hairs in it.
No one makes a sucker out of me!
(All or nothing, only the best is good enough, each man for
   himself, nobody's telling me what to do.)
Then I heard a tit
Chirp: Wait a bit!
   And you'll be marching with the band
   In step, responding to command
   And striking up your little dance:
   Now we advance.
   And now: parade, form square!
   Then men swear God's there —
   Not the faintest chance!

In no time at all anyone who looked could see
That I'd learned to take my medicine with good grace.
(Two kids on my hands and look at the price of bread, and
   things they expect of you!)
When they finally came to feel that they were through
   with me
They'd got me grovelling on my face.
(Takes all sorts to make a world, you scratch my back and I'll
   scratch yours, no good banging your head against a brick
Then I heard that tit
Chirp: Wait a bit!
   And you'll be marching with the band
   In step, responding to command
   And striking up your little dance:
   Now they advance.
   And now: parade, form square!
   Then men swear God's there —
   Not the faintest chance!

I've known people tried to storm the summits:
There's no star too bright or seems too far away.
(Dogged does it, where there's a will there's a way, by hook
   or by crook.)
As each peak disclosed fresh peaks to come, it's
   Strange how much a plain straw hat could weigh.
(You have to cut your coat according to your cloth.)
Then I heard the tit
Chirp: Wait a bit!
   And they'll be marching with the band
   In step, responding to command
   And striking up their little dance:
   Now they advance.
   And now: parade, form square!
   Then men swear God's there —
   Not the faintest chance!"
                                                                                  —"The Song of the Grand Capitulation"
                                                                                     Mother Courage and Her Children (Bertolt Brecht, 1939)

Pieter Bruegel mother courage brecht mad meg Dulle Griet
Dulle Griet / Mad Meg - Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562)
One of the inspirations for Brecht's Mother Courage.

* * *

(lyrics below)

"I was raised up believing
I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
Unique in each way you can see

And now after some thinking
I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

What's my name, what's my station
Oh just tell me what I should do
I don't need to be kind to the armies of night
That would do such injustice to you

Or bow down and be grateful
And say "Sure take all that you see"
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls
And determine my future for me

And I don't, I don't know who to believe
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

If I know only one thing
It's that every thing that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable
Often I barely can speak

Yeah I'm tongue tied and dizzy
And I can't keep it to myself
What good is it to sing helplessness blues?
Why should I wait for anyone else?

And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
I'll come back to you someday soon myself

If I had an orchard
I'd work till I'm raw
If I had an orchard
I'd work till I'm sore

And you would wait tables
And soon run the store

Gold hair in the sunlight
My light in the dawn
If I had an orchard
I'd work till I'm sore

If I had an orchard
I'd work till I'm sore

Someday I'll be
Like the man on the screen."
                                                                                  —"Helplessness Blues"
                                                                                      Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes, 2011)

Pieter Bruegel fleet foxes dutch proverbs
Netherlandish Proverbs - Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1559)
Used for the cover of Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut album.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


"To be wise is to be eternally curious." —Frederick Buechner

"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers." —Voltaire

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist." —Dom Câmara, Roman Catholic Archbishop

"A stand can be made against invasion by an army; no stand can be made against invasion by an idea." —Victor Hugo

"When the great lord passes the wise peasant bows deeply and silently farts." —Ethiopian Proverb

* * *

"[W]hat I have to say about the nation has more to do with the history of Man... This issue has come to a stage when the moral man, the complete man, is more and more giving way, almost without knowing it, to make room for the political and the commercial man, the man of limited purpose. This, aided by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming gigantic proportion and power, causing the upset of man’s moral balance, obscuring his human side under the shadow of soulless organization. Its iron grip we have felt at the root of our life, and for the sake of humanity we must stand up and give warning to all, that this nationalism is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over the human world of the present age, eating into its moral vitality." —Rabindranath Tagore, Nationalism in the West (1917)

"Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind." —Albert Einstein

"What is patriotism now, and how do we get rid of it, and what do we put in its place, if anything? The word is politically incorrect, of course. Patria-pater-father. So where is Mom? Didn't she help Dad turn the American wilderness into a cement desert bright with golden arches? Didn't she help Dad kill those pesky redskins? Anyway, whose patria are we talking about? The so-called Indians are the original Americans whose homeland European invaders stole. My own family settled on Cherokee land in South Carolina and on Chickasaw land in Mississippi. In due course, the remnants of dozens of tribes were finally dumped in what is now Oklahoma, a place none of us wanted any part of until the oil started to gush at the Osage reservation..." —Gore Vidal, Patriotism (written for The Nation in 1991)

"People ask me 'are you proud to be an American?' and I say 'I don't know, I didn't have a lot to do with it. My parents fucked there, that's about all.' I hate patriotism. I can't stand it. It's a round world last time I checked." —Bill Hicks

* * *

"Two movies on war didn't work, mine, The Carabineers, and Jean Dewever's The Honors of War. They were two sincere and very simple war movies that were complete failures. But the other movies like The Longest Day, were huge successes. People love to watch people being slaughtered, women being tortured, old ladies being raped... That they love, but it has to be for the salvation of the homeland... But our movies showed what war was really like... In the end, if the folly of war came from people's own folly... then they get suspicious. They didn't want to face it." —Jean-Luc Godard

"What is up with our cultural fascination with fathers avenging the rape/murder/kidnap of their daughters? There is something vaguely incestuous in this obsession. The image of daddy’s-little-girl being symbolically violated is too much to bear. We go to theaters to be teased with its taboo implications. It is an aggressive formulation of patriarchal domination. The father must protect the women from themselves. The atomic family unit is the most important thing in the universe: it trumps the wholesale destruction of our planet and the imbecilic notions of “Government” on display here. It’s quite perverse. We are not willing to question the illusion of these institutions, but we masturbate to fantasies of their violation." —Andrew (the kinodrome)

"Hollywood has melted everyone's brains. In the old days you had one murder and that was enough for a story. Now you have to kill 300,000 people just to get the audience’s attention." —Aki Kaurismäki

"[T]he degree to which children's genres have colonized the entire movie industry goes beyond overkill. More often than not, these collectively infantilizing movies are breeding an audience—not to mention a generation of future filmmakers and studio executives—who will grow up believing that movies aimed at adults should be considered a peculiar and antique art. Like books. Or plays." —Mark Harris, The Day the Movies Died

"The other day, while strolling a humid Brooklyn street, I overheard a twentysomething woman talking to her friends about her movie predilections. Her life is stressful, as it turns out, her work hours long and her job serious. When she goes to the movies, she wants to unwind, to take in easily digestible entertainment—to, as she put it, “put her brain on autopilot.” That this person plausibly represents a key urban intellectual demographic that was once connected and clued in to what was going on in film outside the multiplex and is now resigned to Hollywood’s paltry offerings, while justifying her artistic and emotional laziness on grounds of taste, is a matter too depressing to wrestle with at this juncture. But what’s also fascinating about her casual commentary is what it reveals about many viewers’ idea of escapism in film, and what we’ve come to label as such. If one wants to escape from the toll of the daily grind, why must it necessitate putting one’s brain “on autopilot”? Why has film culture split so drastically between high and low that any alternative to Hollywood fare is perceived as difficult and forbidding? In order for film to survive as a valid art form, audiences need to wish to escape to worlds not commercially prescribed to them. One need not retreat to fantasy to escape." —Michael Koresky

* * *

"[Jean] Renoir's belief is that everyone, in a way, transforms their life into a film. Meaning they don't see reality, but only the convention of reality. They focus on and accept only the convention. More clearly, society has given us stereotypical roles and situations, and our idea of reality is defined by these conventions." —Jean Douchet (from an extra feature on The Criterion Collection's Boudu Saved from Drowning DVD)

"There is a place where you create yourself and a time in which you play yourself. The space of everyday life, that of one's true realization, is encircled by every form of conditioning. The narrow space of our true realization defines us, yet we define ourselves in the time of the spectacle. Or, put another way: our consciousness is no longer consciousness of myth and of particular-being-in-myth, but rather consciousness of the spectacle and of particular-role-in-the-spectacle." —Raoul Vaneigem, 1962

* * *

"I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple. But now realize that tv and popular film and most kinds of “low” art—which just means art whose primary aim is to make money—is lucrative precisely because it recognizes that audiences prefer 100 percent pleasure to the reality that tends to be 49 percent pleasure and 51 percent pain. Whereas “serious” art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort. So it’s hard for an art audience, especially a young one that’s been raised to expect art to be 100 percent pleasurable and to make that pleasure effortless, to read and appreciate serious fiction. That’s not good. The problem isn’t that today’s readership is “dumb,” I don’t think. Just that tv and the commercial-art culture’s trained it to be sort of lazy and childish in its expectations. But it makes trying to engage today’s readers both imaginatively and intellectually unprecedentedly hard." —David Foster Wallace, interview

"Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn't shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we'd be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make use feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us." —Franz Kafka, from a letter to Oskar Pollak (1904)

"It's impossible to awaken someone who is pretending to be asleep." —Navajo Proverb (according to John Perry Barlow)

* * *

"The man who is angered by nothing cares about nothing." —Edward Abbey

"Those trapped in the blighted inner cities that are our internal colonies or brutalized in our prison system, especially African-Americans, see what awaits us all. So do the inhabitants in southern West Virginia, where coal companies have turned hundreds of thousands of acres into uninhabitable and poisoned wastelands. Poverty, repression and despair in these peripheral parts of empire are as common as drug addiction and cancer. Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and Palestinians can also tell us who we are. They know that once self-delusion no longer works it is the iron fist that speaks. The solitary and courageous voices that rise up from these internal and external colonies of devastation are silenced or discredited by the courtiers who serve corporate power. And even those who do hear these voices of dissent often cannot handle the truth. They prefer the Potemkin facade. They recoil at the “negativity.” Reality, especially when you grasp what corporations are doing in the name of profit to the planet’s ecosystem, is terrifying." —Chris Hedges, How Our Empire Crushes Opposition

"To not have your suffering recognized is an almost unbearable form of violence." —Andrei Lankov, Escape From North Korea

"No system of total control, including corporate control, exhibits its extreme forms at the beginning. These forms expand as they fail to encounter resistance." —Chris Hedges

"A curious paradox characteristic of every kind of courage here confronts us. It is the seeming contradiction that we must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time we might possibly be wrong." —Rollo May, The Courage to Create

* * *

"Civilizations are not realities, but only dreams; dreams of the mind, not of the heart, and therefore fictitious, and perishable; they have never affected the heart and therefore have made no valuable progress." —Mark Twain

"This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress." —Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Work Harder! Hundreds of Corporations on Welfare Depend on You!

What follows is a guest post written by my friend Sean Gill, with blockquotes and pictures added by me. It covers much more than what is suggested by the title (in lieu of something better, we opted for a wry take on a bumper sticker we recently saw), such as balanced budgets, deficits, and spending -- recent hot-topics -- as well as things like the Wisconsin protests (which are showing up elsewhere), and recently formed groups like US Uncut.

The post is not as long as it might seem; a good bit of the length is due to footnotes and photos.

* * *

"So strongly are the Erewhonians impressed with this, that if a man has made a fortune of over £20,000 a year they exempt him from all taxation, considering him as a work of art, and too precious to be meddled with; they say, "How very much he must have done for society before society could have been prevailed upon to give him so much money"; so magnificent an organization overawes them; they regard it as a thing dropped from heaven." —Samuel Butler, Erewhon (1872)

In 2005, the 5th leading philanthropist was T. Boone Pickens. This was, in part, due to his $165 million gift to Oklahoma State University’s golf program. Within an hour, OSU invested the money in a hedge fund that was controlled by Pickens, and thanks to a Katrina relief provision, his "gift" was also 100% deductible. [X]

We have a problem in this country.

A lot of people can agree with that statement, even if they can’t pinpoint why. Their difficulty isn’t really so hard to understand, because we don’t have just a problem in this country. We have lots. Some problems only affect a portion of the population, some affect us all, but most people are affected in one way or another, in varying degrees.

Here are some of the problems we face:

23.4% of Americans live in poverty.1 Another way to say this is that nearly one out of every four Americans lives in poverty. If this number seems high, consider that in 2011 a single individual living alone and working full time at a minimum wage job would not technically be in poverty2, despite the fact that 60% of her GROSS income would go to rent alone.3 In fact, working 28 hours a week at a minimum wage job is enough to keep you out of poverty, even though 89% of your gross income would then go to rent. Therefore, for any real understanding of poverty, the number must be even higher. Things were made worse for those Americans living in poverty when President Obama’s Making Work Pay tax credit was cancelled in December. In a recent article, investigative journalist and former tax reporter David Johnston explains that some poverty stricken Americans, making as low as $6k annually, saw a 4% increase in their taxes as a result. "Looked at another way, some workers will labor for 23 days this year and next just to pay increased taxes."4

Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage has fallen 27.5% since its peak in 1968. [X]

Officially 1 in 10 of us is unemployed - which is the 108th worst unemployment rate in the world.5 This, of course, means that many people are employed and still in poverty. As with the poverty figure this number is deceptive, because it does not take into account people who are underemployed or who have otherwise stopped looking for work - so again, the real number may be higher still. As a result of this massive unemployment, some states have been forced to borrow money from the federal government simply to pay for unemployment benefits. This money comes in the form of a loan, which must be paid back to the federal government with interest.6 To pay back these loans the state has three options: increase tax revenue, decrease spending, or incur a deficit. All of these options would incur further problems on someone, somewhere down the line.

16.7% of all Americans are uninsured.7 America ranks #37 in the World Health Organization’s schema, despite the fact that Americans spend more money than anyone in the world on healthcare.8 Uninsured Americans, of course, still get sick - and caring for them represented a loss of $125bn in 2004 alone. The government pays for a large part of this in subsidies to hospitals and the uninsured pay for it with untreated illnesses, missed time at work, and, presumably, shortened life spans.9 Franklin Roosevelt felt that healthcare was a basic human right, and while this is debatable it is still problematic that Americans should suffer from lack of access to healthcare in the most medically advanced nation on Earth.

Only the wealthiest 20% of Americans spend more on entertainment than on health care. [X]

On the subject of life span, our infant mortality rate is 6.14 to every 1,000 live births: here America is ranked #177 in the world. By way of comparison, your baby has a better chance in Cuba.10 Bringing perspective to this data in terms of the problems it creates is especially hard, except in that it is a problem for a country as advanced as the United States of America to have a higher infant mortality rate than Cuba. On the same note, our average life expectancy is 78.37 years which ranks #49 in the world. People in Bosnia live longer. And just a few miles north, the Canadians live even longer than that.11 These are issues that can and should be addressed - metrics which America can and should lead.

The Gini index provides another interesting look into the problems that we face. The Gini index is a way of mathematically observing the distribution of wealth in a nation and is represented as a number between 0 and 100. In a nation with complete inequality, where one person holds all the wealth and everyone else owns nothing, the Gini coefficient would be 100. Conversely, if everyone possessed an equal share of wealth, the coefficient would be 0. Our GINI index is 45.0 and globally we are ranked #43. This is a truly damning figure, because it means that in India - which has the largest concentration of poor people in the world - wealth is more evenly distributed than in the United States.12 13 This number has risen steadily since 1967. If the trend continues, the United States will reach the extreme levels of Mexico by 2043.14 This fact, it almost goes without saying, is a death knell for our middle class.

income inequality in america graph
The richest 10% controls 2/3 of Americans' net worth. The top 1%: 34.6%; the top 1-10%: 38.5%; the bottom 90%: 26.9%. [2007 data, includes home equity. Sources: Federal Reserve, Edward Wolff, Bard College]

Yet America is not made up wholly of its people - it also consists of its government buildings, its complex and once extremely modern interstate system, its dams and waterways, its water filtration plants and public schools. These, too, have problems.

In 2009 the American Society of Civil Engineers completed a "report card" on America’s infrastructure. It’s not the sort of thing you’d want your child to bring home:

Aviation: D.
Bridges: C
Dams: D
Drinking Water: D-
Energy: D+
Hazardous Waste: D
Inland Waterways: D-
Levees: D-
Public Parks and Recreation: C-
Rail: C-
Roads: D-
Schools: D
Solid Waste: C+
Transit: D
Wastewater: D-

Overall GPA: D15

Assuming that our infrastructure has adopted the same "no D" policy that the majority of our school systems have, our infrastructure is failing. Even if it isn’t, another way of conceiving "D" is "about to fail." Thus, our infrastructure - and so our very ties to the civilized, modern world - is about to fail us. The problems created by the failure of these elements would be immense and disastrous, shuttling almost all of us very quickly into the third world. Imagine a world in which there is inconsistent, or completely absent, power. A world where the water from your tap cannot be consumed. A world where the roads connecting you to your family, to your work, to the grocery store where you buy your food are impassable. For some Americans these may already be problems; seemingly, for the rest of us, they will become problems soon.

The solution to all this is, ostensibly, spending. If everyday people (who aren’t impoverished or unemployed) spend more money then more jobs will be created. If more jobs are created then unemployment will of course lower, and people will be raised from poverty and be able to afford insurance. They will live longer and get better prenatal care. If the government spends more money it can fix those infrastructure issues and return America to its place as a world leader. The drinking water will be safe and the roads a pleasure to drive.

But the problem with spending more as a solution to our problem is yet another problem that America faces: As John Boehner recently said to reporters at the RNC: "We're broke! It's time for us to get serious about how we're spending the nation's money."16

And so, faced with a seemingly undeniable dilemma, we find we have no ways to deal with it. Leaving the previous list aside and looking at the idea of spending only makes things worse.

The projected deficit of the United States Federal Budget is $1.01 trillion.17

A deficit is incurred when you spend more than you take in - there are, in its simplest form, two parts to the equation: The amount of money you spend in government programs and the amount of money you make in tax revenue.18 With the February 14th unveiling of the proposed 2012 budget there has been ample discussion about the amount of money the federal government spends, and in truth the number is quite high, an estimated $3.729 trillion dollars. The projected income that the United States will take into its coffers from taxes in 2012 is $2.627 trillion.19 Thus the aforementioned deficit. The US budget deficit went from $239bn to $1.4tn in 2009 due to the TARP signed into law by George W. Bush at the end of 2008, making it the largest federal deficit in the history of the country, giving some idea as to what the deficit has generally been.20

Faced with an essentially bankrupt system, politicians are forced to see what areas of government spending they can curb. In some cases this is not necessarily a bad thing. Certainly some spending areas do need to be addressed - black holes like that notorious $640 toilet seat and the Bridge to Nowhere of Palin fame, or the billions spent on unfilled defense contracts.21 Obviously no institution is perfect and many who have had interactions with government institutions will tell you as much. However, there are times when government programs can help to alleviate some of the problems that Americans face - but only when they can be funded.

These cuts were made in President Obama’s proposed budget:

In fiscal year 2012 $157 million was cut that would have gone to water infrastructure upgrades.22 Remember that D- we got in that category? On top of that, another $950 million was removed that would’ve gone to state clean water and drinking funds.23 This money could help the people of Pensacola, Fl, whose water tests positive for cyanide and was recently ranked the worst water in America.24 Or perhaps to certain citizens of Pennsylvania whose water is radioactive.25

gasland fracturing fracking pullted water pennsylvania
Toxic Contamination From Natural Gas Wells (click here for a more detailed map). See also THIS recent New York Times
article, as well as the documentary Gasland, now out on DVD (essential viewing for all Americans).

On the subject of water, another $125 million was taken from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program designed to combat the rampant industrial pollution there (part of the Hazardous Waste grade).26 The Great Lakes are home to some of America’s busiest ports and some of its largest cities - as well as 22% of the world’s fresh water and 4.2% of the US drinking water supply.27

And one last thing: $59 million was cut from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.28 This is the agency that ought to have presided over the Gulf oil spill disaster, and while it seems it was horribly inept toward that end, that truth only lends credence to the idea that we need to spend more money and time overseeing what’s happening in our waters - not less.

$172 million was cut from new housing construction for seniors and people with disabilities.29 There are 38.9 million seniors in the US today - 13.9 million of them are veterans. On average they make less than $30,000 a year and 20% do not own a home.30 This says nothing for the nation’s disabled: In 2008 3.2mn workers were disabled on the job.31 According to the Social Security Administration, "almost 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67."32 This means that you are as likely to become disabled as you are to end up in poverty, and of course there’s no reason you can’t do both - so there is certainly some incentive for everyone to protest spending cuts here.

63% of federal housing subsidies go to households earning more than $77,000. 18% go to households earning less than $16,500. [X]

On the subject of poverty, and the fact that 1 in 10 Americans is unemployed, the department of labor received an overall budget cut of 5%.33 One of the primary missions of the department of labor is to "advance opportunities for profitable employment."34

Finally, $2.43 billion was cut from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a program designed to help the poor pay their energy bills, generally in relation to heating their homes for the winter.35 This cut touches on several problems discussed earlier: poverty, life expectancy, infant mortality - the ties to our humanity failing. If we are unable to find in our budgets the money needed to keep our neighbors from freezing to death then we have fallen very far indeed.

These cuts are enormous and only a portion of the spending cuts sought by both the president and congress. The real cuts may go much deeper, and may even attack non-discretionary spending like Social Security. Noam Chomsky recently said, in a video series for The Nation magazine, that you have to ask yourself what you’re entitled to as a citizen of the richest country in the world.36 The answer, apparently, is not much: and less next year.

We have problems.

Some of us, however, are doing rather well.

wall street profits chart graph wall street screwing us

Corporations are turning in record profits.37 CEO pay is at least 475 times average worker pay.38 They seem to be doing quite nicely. And there are a few reasons.

ceo worker pay chart

If the hourly minimum wage had risen at the same rate as CEO compensation since 1990, it would now stand at $23.03. [X]

The first is that they are often very good at what they do, and that shouldn’t be taken away from them. But there’s more. Recently a handful of representatives offered up a bill to cut $40 billion in subsidies to the oil industry. "A subsidy (also known as a subvention) is a form of financial assistance paid to a business or economic sector. Most subsidies are made by the government to producers or distributors in an industry to prevent the decline of that industry."39 Thus, the American citizenry was paying $40 billion to "prevent the decline" of one of the most profitable industries in the world.40 Not surprisingly, the motion was soundly denied. The oil industry isn’t alone. Subsidies to American businesses play a huge role in their survival:

"Currently, it takes between fourteen and twenty-five kilowatt hours to smelt one kilogram of aluminum. Consequently, governments all over the world have subsidized electricity to huge aluminum companies, tying the price of electricity to the worldwide price of aluminum. Right now it takes about two to five dollars’ worth of electricity to produce a single pound of aluminum, which then sells for about $0.70. In the Pacific Northwest, aluminum smelters consume one-third of the region’s cheap electricity - cheap because the hydroelectric dams were built at taxpayer expense decades ago. Of course you could argue that these smelters create jobs [...] but if you divide the number of jobs in the aluminum industry in the United States by the size of the subsidy, you discover the tax payers pay $135,000-$150,000 per employee..."41

David Johnston said this in a recent interview:

"Here in western New York, where I live, one of the counties gave Verizon, effectively, over $600 million to create 200 jobs that will pay, I expect, about $50,000 on average. That’s crazy! That’s just - that’s over $3 million per job. Yahoo! got a deal at over $2 million per job. Alcoa has a deal for cheap electricity from the public that’s way beyond the wages of the workers. These are massive transfers of money from you and me and the audience in this show to the already wealthy, because they’re not running their businesses well enough to make profits on their own. So why do we have massive subsidies and welfare for these very large corporations and attack well-funded government programs?"42

And he has a very good point, but subsidies are only one way in which corporations are managing to do well while so many of us are doing so poorly.

In 1985, THE FORBES 400 were worth $221 billion combined. Today, they’re worth $1.13 trillion—nearly the GDP of Canada.

Corporations in America are required by law to pay 35% of their profits to the government in tax.43 Most of them - nearly two thirds - do not.44 There are various ways that they get around this, with varying degrees of legality45, from clever deductions to tax havens to transfer pricing abuse46 to simply not paying, but get around it they do. The IRS estimates its annual tax gap (the amount of taxes that go unidentified and uncollected each year) to be nearly $300bn.47 The actual number may be much higher. A recent article from CNN, using Government Accountability Office figures, suggests that, in 2005, "28% of foreign companies and 25% of U.S. corporations with more than $250 million in assets or $50 million in sales paid no federal income taxes. Those companies totaled a combined $372 billion in sales for the largest foreign companies and $1.1 trillion in revenue for the biggest U.S. companies."48 If these figures are correct - and the government itself says they are - then the actual money from proper taxation of these corporations would be closer to $515bn.

The IRS also estimates that an additional $100bn a year is lost strictly to offshore tax havens - countries with exceptionally lax laws and standards regarding taxation where corporations or their subsidiaries can pretend to be headquartered without worrying about taxation at all. "Some of the characteristics [of tax havens] included no or nominal taxes; a lack of effective exchange of information with foreign tax authorities; and a lack of transparency in legislative, legal, or administrative provisions." "According to GAO, over 18,000 companies exist in one five-story building in the Cayman Islands. President Barack Obama, as a candidate in 2008, once remarked, ‘That's either the biggest building or the biggest tax scam on record.’"49 As an example, industry giant Morgan Stanley - the 21st largest corporation in the United States - has 273 subsidiaries in tax havens, 158 in the Cayman Islands alone.50 That’s 1.58 subsidiaries per lush, tropical square mile.51

Public companies spend 10% of their earnings compensating their top 5 executives.

The following is a selection of the largest US corporations, their revenue, and the number of subsidies they have in known tax havens:

Exxon Mobile - 2nd largest corporation, 372,824mn in revenue, 32 subsidiaries in tax havens
Chevron - 3rd largest corporation, 210,783mn in revenue, 23 subsidiaries in tax havens
GM - 4th largest corporation, 182,347mn in revenue, 11 subsidiaries in tax havens
Morgan Stanley - 21st largest corporation, 87,879mn in revenue, 273 subsidiaries in tax havens
Merrill Lynch - 30th largest corporation, 64,217mn in revenue, 21 subsidiaries in tax havens
Target - 31st largest corporation, 63,367mn in revenue, 8 subsidiaries in tax havens
Wachovia - 37th largest corporation, 55,528mn in revenue, 59 subsidiaries in tax havens
Wells Fargo - 40th largest corporation, 53,593mn in revenue, 18 subsidiaries in tax havens
Safeway - 54th largest corporation, 42,286mn in revenue, 4 subsidiaries in tax havens
Sunoco - 55th largest corporation, 42,101mn in revenue, 5 subsidiaries in tax havens
SuperValu - 61st largest corporation, 37,406mn in revenue, 5 subsidiaries in tax havens
Best Buy - 65th largest corporation, 35,934mn in revenue, 13 subsidiaries in tax havens
FedEx - 67th largest corporation, 35,214mn in revenue, 21 subsidiaries in tax havens
Hess - 76th largest corporation, 31,924mn in revenue, 5 subsidiaries in tax havens
McDonalds - 100th largest corporation, 23,231mn in revenue, 5 subsidiaries in tax havens52
Bank of America - 9th largest corporation, 119,190mn in revenue, 115 subsidiaries in tax havens

Those names should be highly familiar: they all have retail outlets very near your home.

National People's Action NPA protest bank of america shut downus uncut tax protest bank of america NPA
03/07/11 (above): "In Washington, D.C., 600 activists with National People’s Action shut down a branch of Bank of America Monday to protest the bank’s record of dodging taxes. National People’s Action recently issued a report about how Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes. The study found that over the past two years, the six banks paid income tax at an approximate rate of 11 percent of their pre-tax earnings in the United States, far less than the 35 percent that they are legally mandated to pay. By avoiding the taxes, the banks saved $13 billion. National People’s Action reports this potential tax revenue could have been used to cover more than two years of salaries for some 132,000 teachers who lost their jobs since the economic crisis began in 2008." [X] [photo source]

Between tax evasion and tax havens the corporate shortfall is now $615bn. This number is enough to totally solve our school, drinking water, energy, rail, and dam infrastructure problems this year, with money to spare.

Yet it doesn‘t end there. The Government Accountability Office estimates that there are currently $58bn in outstanding corporate payroll taxes.53 These are taxes which the government is aware are owed, but has not collected. Often these are taxes which a corporation has collected from its employees and failed to remit to the government. So, in effect, the corporation has stolen both from its employees and the government.

Thus the number climbs to $673bn, just by holding corporations accountable for what the government, and therefore the American people, are owed. That amount of money would go a long way in solving many of the problems discussed earlier. And how many of those problems were actually caused by corporations in the first place?

The TARP funds which caused the deficit to balloon to its current state were distributed, all of them, to major corporations, to solve problems created by major corporations. Regardless of whether they had to be distributed or not, they were distributed to some of the wealthiest corporations in the world because they had failed to do their job. As a result, should you be one of the lucky 25% of Americans who will become disabled before retirement, possibly while doing your job, there may not be enough money for your government to help you.

wisconsin collective bargaining protests teachers
Above: Wisconsin.
(update: 3/12/11) "On Wednesday, weeks after its Democrats fled the state to defer voting, the Wisconsin state legislature called a meeting on 110 minutes notice to vote on a bill that strips public-sectors unions of many of their negotiating rights and raises their pension and health care premiums. On Thursday, a 13 year old on the Upper East Side knowing nothing of Wisconsin remarked to me that “the poor pay for the poor more than the rich do.” Amid insane collusions of government, business, capital, and populism over the past two administrations, Wisconsin has offered some relief of common sense and an easy foothold onto a more naked, almost mythic drama than the news usually allows: [...] the privileged few, conspiring in the halls of power for more power and working to crush the working class."
Below: Ohio.

wisconsin teachers budget cuts koch brothers

The water in Pensacola, Pittsburgh, and the Great Lakes is polluted because of major corporations - and, of course, the Gulf of Mexico is too. The public money that would be spent on providing those citizens with clean water would only be necessary because corporate production had sullied the water already there. The clean up efforts that were cut from the EPA’s budget were only necessary because corporations made them so. There are 350,000 Hazardous Waste cleanup projects primarily because of corporations.

kliban what's good for business is good for america water pollution cartoon comic gasland

The unemployment rate? Between 2005-2008, Exxon Mobile - the second largest corporation in America, heavily subsidized by American taxpayers - saw its profits go up an average of $2bn a year while the number of employees dropped by 950 yearly.54 While this does not mean that Exxon is responsible for all unemployment problems, it does give pause against the commonly held idea that increased profits for corporations will result in an increase in jobs. The truth, it seems, it quite the opposite.

Of course, every American corporation on the above list, built on American soil, got there using public roads, public water, and - to one degree or another - publicly educated employees. They depended on, and continue to depend on, police, firefighters, road crews, and sanitation workers to survive.

So it’s clear they owe the money - and possibly even more. But, it’s also clear that it will never be collected.

bank of america tax protest us uncut
(unless... perhaps...)

That $673bn will never be collected because it was used to fund political campaigns for politicians who, in turn, make sure it will never be collected.55 Between 1989-2005 the oil industry alone had donated $180mn to political candidates.56 With the passing of Citizens United in 2010 corporations may now make unlimited campaign donations, and so in 2010 Koch Industries contributed $2.13mn to the congressional and gubernatorial races alone.57 The amount spent on lobbyists is considerably higher.

tax rate graph chart inequality corporation exploitation

That $673bn will never be collected because when you owe $673bn in taxes it means that you have an awful lot of money already - and it’s a lot cheaper to buy a new law, or a new politician, than to actually ante up. These are, after all, government figures that we’re discussing, readily available to anyone and mostly reported at the behest of the US Senate. Obviously the government knows what money is owed it - it just doesn‘t seem to care all that much. Do you think it would be so lackadaisical in collecting from you if you forgot to pay your taxes?

That $673bn will never be collected. Because in America when a major corporation speaks we listen. And if a major corporation says that it wants to be rich while you’re poor, that’s the way it’s going to be. If a major corporation says you can pay for the roads that keep it alive because it shouldn‘t have to, then you‘re going to pick up the tab. And if a major corporation says it doesn’t give a damn if you want to retire before you die, then I’d suggest you start dying now - because it’s the only way you’ll ever get out of working. If you don’t believe me, then just look outside: the great United States of America - the richest, most powerful country in the world - is lagging behind the world in almost every major metric. Meanwhile, CEO pay is at least 475 times average worker pay.58 Meanwhile, corporations are turning in record profits.59 Meanwhile, our government is broke, and our citizenry is getting there.

How much income have you given up for the top 1 percent?

flow of wealth distribution inequality middle class paying for top rich

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the Country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed." —Abraham Lincoln

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." —Thomas Jefferson

corporate rule or democracy protest

1 United States. United States Department of Commerce. United States Census Bureau. American Community Survey. Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months. 2005-2009 American Community Survey. Web. 26 Feb. 2011. .

2 Wikipedia contributors. "Poverty in the United States." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.

3 "American Housing Survey - Frequently Asked Questions." Census Bureau Home Page. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. "In 2007, the median monthly housing cost (rent, utilities, and garbage and trash collection) for renter occupied homes was $755." Current minimum wage is $7.25/hr.

4 Johnston, David Cay. “Obama and the GOP: United Against the Working Poor.” - The Tax Daily for the Citizen Taxpayer., 6 Mar. 2011. Web. 6 Mar. 2011. .

5 United States. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .


7 Associated Press. "Census: 1 in 7 Americans Live in Poverty - CBS News." CBS News. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .

8 World Health Organization. "World Health Organization Assesses the World's Health Systems." World Health Organization. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .


10 United States. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .

11 United States. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .

12 United States. Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. < countryname="United%20States&countryCode=" regioncode="na&rank=">.

13 Wikipedia contributors. "India." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Feb. 2011. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.


15 American Society of Civil Engineers. “2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” American Society of Civil Engineers. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.

16 Thai, Xuan, and Deirdre Walsh. "Boehner: If Some Federal Workers Lose Jobs Because of GOP Cuts, ‘so Be It’ – CNN Political Ticker - Blogs." CNN Political Ticker - Blogs. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .

17 Wikipedia contributors. "2012 United States federal budget." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. Information for FY 2012.

18 Wikipedia contributors. "Deficit." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.

19 Wikipedia contributors. "2012 United States federal budget." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.

20 Wikipedia contributors. "2009 United States federal budget." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 Mar. 2011. Web. 7 Mar. 2011.

21 Sanders, Bernie. "Defense Contractor Fraud - Newsroom: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont)." U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont). Web. 26 Feb. 2011.

22 United States. Executive Office of the President of the United States. Office of Management and Budget. By Barrack Obama. Fiscal Year 2012 Budget of the U.S. Government. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .

23 United States. Executive Office of the President of the United States. Office of Management and Budget. By Barrack Obama. Fiscal Year 2012 Budget of the U.S. Government. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .



26 United States. Executive Office of the President of the United States. Office of Management and Budget. By Barrack Obama. Fiscal Year 2012 Budget of the U.S. Government. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .


28 United States. Executive Office of the President of the United States. Office of Management and Budget. By Barrack Obama. Fiscal Year 2012 Budget of the U.S. Government. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .

29 ElBoghdady, Dina. "Budget 2012: Housing and Urban Development." Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .




33 United States. Executive Office of the President of the United States. Office of Management and Budget. By Barrack Obama. Fiscal Year 2012 Budget of the U.S. Government. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .


35 Goodman, Amy. "Obama's Budget: Freezing the Poor." Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines. Web. 26 Feb. 2011. .

36 How Climate Change Became a Liberal Hoax. Dir. The Nation. Perf. Noam Chomsky. Peak Oil and a Changing Climate. On the Earth Productions. Web. 26 Feb. 2011. .

37 Rampell, Catherine. "Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter." The New York Times. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .

38 Zinn, Howard. The Twentieth Century. London: Harper Perenial, 2003. 457. Print.



41 Culture of Make Believe p573


43 Wikipedia contributors. "Corporate tax." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Nov. 2010. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.

44 United States. Government Accountability Office. Tax Administration: Comparison of the Reported Tax Liabilities of Foreign- and U.S.-Controlled Corporations, 1998-2005. By James R. White. Government Accountability Office Strategic Issues Team. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. .

45 As with UK Uncut, the argument is obvious that if the law ALLOWS you to circumvent the law, it should be changed, simplified, and enforced. 35% is 35%.

46 United States. Government Accountability Office. Tax Administration: Comparison of the Reported Tax Liabilities of Foreign- and U.S.-Controlled Corporations, 1998-2005. By James R. White. Government Accountability Office Strategic Issues Team. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. “A foreign parent corporation with a subsidiary operating in the United States charges the subsidiary excessive prices for goods and services rendered (for example, $1,000 instead of the going rate of $600). This raises the subsidiary’s expenses (by $400), lowers its profits (by $400), and effectively shifts that income ($400) outside of the United States. At a 35-percent U.S. corporate income tax rate, the subsidiary will pay $140 less in U.S. taxes than it would if the $400 in profits were attributed to it.”

47 United States. Government Accountability Office. Tax Compliance: Businesses Owe Billions in Federal Payroll Taxes. By Steven J. Sebastian. Government Accountability Office Financial Management and Assurance. Web. 25 Feb. 2011. This polemic contains information specifically about corporate tax - but as the GAO shows in this report the way corporations handle their payroll tax responsibilities tends to be just as damning.

48 Goldman, David. "Majority of Corporations Avoid Federal Income Taxes - Study - Aug. 12, 2008." Business, Financial, Personal Finance News - 12 Aug. 2008. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .

49 Tichon, Nicole. "Tax Shell Game: What Do Tax Dodgers Cost You? - U.S. PIRG." Home - U.S. PIRG. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .

50 United States. Government Accountability Office. INTERNATIONAL TAXATION
Large U.S. Corporations and Federal Contractors with Subsidiaries in Jurisdictions Listed as Tax Havens or Financial Privacy Jurisdictions. By James R. White. Government Accountability Office Strategic Issues Team. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.

51 Wikipedia contributors. "Cayman Islands." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 1 Mar. 2011. For size reference - the Cayman Islands are 100 square miles.

52 United States. Government Accountability Office. INTERNATIONAL TAXATION
Large U.S. Corporations and Federal Contractors with Subsidiaries in Jurisdictions Listed as Tax Havens or Financial Privacy Jurisdictions. By James R. White. Government Accountability Office Strategic Issues Team. Web. 25 Feb. 2011.

53 GAO Income Tax


55 Goodman, Amy. "Headlines." Democracy Now. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.



58 Zinn, Howard. The Twentieth Century. London: Harper Perenial, 2003. 457. Print.

59 Rampell, Catherine. "Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter." The New York Times. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. .

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

some paintings (up close)

I captured the following images using my favorite new website, Google Art Project.

* * *

St. Francis in the Desert bellini detail
Giovanni Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert (detail)

St. Francis in the Desert bellini
Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert (full painting)

(Did you find the shepherd?)

To give an even better idea of the kind of detail you can get by zooming in on some of the images, here's Pieter Bruegel the Elder's The Harvesters (1565):

harvesters bruguel

See the trees and the people (specks) in the background?

harvesters bruguel detail

Note the bathers on the left and the people playing on the right.

harvesters bruguel detail
harvesters bruguel close up detail

* * *

Aleksander Ivanov's The Apparition of Christ to the People (The Apparition of the Messiah) (detail)

Slightly less detail:


Full painting:


* * *

detail van gogh starry night
Close up of Van Gogh's The Starry Night (1889)

(No previous photographs - especially those in books - ever gave me any indication of just how much exposed canvas there was in the painting.)

Closer still:

starry night detail close up

* * *

No Woman No Cry Ofili
No Woman, No Cry (Chris Ofili, 1998)

no woman no cry detail
No Woman, No Cry (detail)

(a little kitschy) No Woman, No Cry when viewed in the dark:

no woman no cry dark blacklight

* * *

Les Grandes Baigneuses detail close up cezanne bathers
Detail of Paul Cézanne's Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)

(I like it because the painting becomes a landscape where two of the bather's heads are transformed into tulips.)

cezanne Les Grandes Baigneuses bathers
(full painting)

* * *

Detail of Johannes Vermeer's The Milkmaid (around 1660)

* * *

You can also make strange and/or humorous new paintings with the close-ups:

Battle of Aboukir Kenneth Pinyan

I call the above Homage to Kenneth Pinyan ("Mr. Hands"). It's taken from Antoine-Jean Gros's Battle of Aboukir, 25 July 1799.

* * *

van gogh bedroom
The Bedroom, Vincent van Gogh (1888)

The video that accompanies the above Van Gogh painting (on the Google Art Project website) recounts some interesting details concerning its restoration. (The following excerpt is taken from the Van Gogh Museum's website):

"The restoration also revealed that certain colors in the painting have been irrevocably changed. Around the edges of the painting and underneath previous filling and retouching work, traces of the original colors were discovered. These have retained their color because they were less exposed to daylight. For example, the walls and doors were originally lilac in color, a fact that Van Gogh also mentions in his letters. Traces have now been found during restoration that confirm this to be true. In the future, the Van Gogh Museum intends to conduct further research into the discoloration of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings.

The removal of the layer of varnish has brought to light a number of fascinating details. For example, light entering the room through the slightly opened shutters can now be seen on the floor. In the red bedspread and on the bed and chairs, traces of newsprint have been found. Even during Van Gogh's life, the painting became damaged by damp in his studio. To prevent the paint from flaking, Van Gogh stuck newspapers over the canvas and intended to have his brother Theo line the work (adhere a new canvas onto the reverse) to reinforce it. Research on the painting showed that this was indeed done and that the painting was relined again and extensively restored in 1931. It also emerged that during the 1931 restoration a small strip of the painting was folded over the left side of the stretcher, making it hard to read the clearly open door originally painted by Van Gogh."

van gogh bedroom detail
Detail of The Bedroom (one of the paintings on the wall)

My dear Theo —

At last I'm sending you a little croquis to give you at least an idea of the direction the work is taking. Because today I've gone back to it.
     My eyes are still tired, but anyway I had a new idea in mind, and here's the croquis of it. No. 30 canvas once again.
     This time it's simply my bedroom, but the colour has to do the job here, and through its being simplified by giving a grander style to things, to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. In short, looking at the painting should rest the mind, or rather, the imagination.
     The walls are of a pale violet. The floor — is of red tiles.
     The bedstead and the chairs are fresh butter yellow.
     The sheet and the pillows very bright lemon green.
     The bedspread scarlet red.
     The window green.
     The dressing table orange, the basin blue.
     The doors lilac.
     And that's all — nothing in this bedroom, with its shutters closed.
     The solidity of the furniture should also now express unshakeable repose.
     Portraits on the wall, and a mirror and a hand-towel and some clothes.
     The frame — as there's no white in the painting — will be white.
     This to take my revenge for the enforced rest that I was obliged to take.
     I'll work on it again all day tomorrow, but you can see how simple the idea is. The shadows and cast shadows are removed; it's coloured in flat, plain tints like Japanese prints.
     It will contrast, for example, with the Tarascon diligence and the night café.
     I won't write to you at length, because I'm going to start very early tomorrow with the fresh morning light, to finish my canvas.
     How are your pains? Don't forget to give me news about them.
     I hope you'll write in the next few days.
     One day I'll do you some croquis of the other rooms as well.
     I shake your hand firmly.

Ever yours,