Standing in the Christmas Lay-Away Line at a Florida Walmart

It’s seventy degrees outside
while at Walmart the Christmas music plays
for those standing in line at the lay-away counter
looking in their checkbooks
mentally figuring out if they have enough
to pay for the children’s gifts
and next month’s rent
while on a giant flat Samsung screen
streaming news of impeachment and murder
a struggle lacking a name
taking place before our eyes
in the halls of power, streets and schools
as police choke a cigarette seller
and armed children kill each other
while bloodied teens, arms linked
stand still, lighting candles, carry signs
as those at Walmart wait in lines
to purchase gifts they can ill afford.
When did we begin to hate our neighbors
take our guns to the movies
fear the future and one another?
Which day was it when the sun set on our best days;
days when we ran free
not worrying about the future;
when we truly loved our country
because we didn’t know any better?

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On Perpetually Wanting More – (It’s That Time Of Year!)

From the archives – 2016

gekko1

“Money’s a bitch that never sleeps”

Remember Michael Douglas’ famous line in the movie “Wall Street?”

His character Gordon Gekko speaks – “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.  Greed is right.  Greed works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

Gordon Gekko was a prophet.   Greed has not only resulted in the concentration of wealth in the hands of the very few and the dramatic decline of the “middle class,” it has changed our culture.

While CEOs walk off with millions or billions in their pockets the workers in their companies struggle to pay the rent or keep the car running while the company stashes billions overseas in tax havens utilizing loopholes passed by a bought and paid for Congress.  And tens of millions believe that not only is this perfectly normal; it is right and good that it is so.

These are not only causes of our present predicament.  They are symptoms of a culture of greed and consumption which permeates American life.

“We live in a society that constantly celebrates having more, but rarely celebrates having enough. Americans want more money, more food, more clothing — bigger servings at restaurants (think buffet), bigger boxes, bigger cups of coffee. Imagine an advertising campaign in the U.S. that encouraged Americans to be satisfied with enough, rather than to want more — right, it’s very hard to imagine that. ”

We are more interested in having more than being satisfied with enough.  We are more interested in having more than finding sustainability.  We are more interested in having more than in a reasonable distribution of income so that all, or mostly all can have enough.

“Symptoms of that culture are evident not only in ridiculous compensation packages of corporate CEOs or college football coaches, but also in the closets of regular people with 50 pairs of shoes or the wallets of those maintaining high amounts of credit card debt as a result of buying too many, and too expensive, Christmas presents. They can be found in things like car leases that reduce the price of driving a luxury vehicle around so that one can look rich in a car they cannot actually afford to buy. And they also lurk in the desire to purchase expensive jewelry for loved ones, because somehow the monetary value ascribed to a rock is evidence of the value of love. More cost means more love.”

The most serious problem is not the CEOs themselves, but what they represent: A culture that sanctifies beliefs that more is better, acquisition is the goal of life, and having a lot makes one happy. The heads of corporate America can sell their own staggering ideology of greed to the public because a large part of the American public already buys into the belief that greed is good and having a lot of things makes one happy.

Now do you expect those on the Forbes List of Wealthiest Individuals to lead the way toward changing this culture?   Doubtful that they will do so–there is little motivation to truly work to improve society when you have control over so much of its wealth.

Our billionaires on the Forbes list have more money than they can ever spend and more than enough for their families for generations to come. Many of them (not all) are totally preoccupied with making more at the expense of virtually everything else.

When does such avarice and ambition become obscene?

Tens of millions are driving their broken down cars and can’t replace their worn out couch or see a doctor. Yet they constantly vote against their own interests, supporting candidates who seek to lower taxes, slash Medicare and Social Security, “make America great again” – what ever the hell that means.

Look at Trump supporters -solid working class people supporting a billionaire born with a golden spoon in his mouth – believing that he gives a rat’s ass about the lives of the people supporting him while he revels in the fact that he pays no taxes – and you do.  That is why you will never see his tax returns – because old Toritto pays more than he does.

When will the grasping materialism of the billionaire class become the very definition of obscenity and carry the stigma of shame?

Don’t hold your breath.

Donald Trump would think, nay publicly call you stupid for holding such a view.

 

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Yet take comfort ye ordinary folk.  Emperor Marcus Aurelius once wrote “Remember this – it takes very little to make a happy life.”

The quotation comes from “Meditations”, the Emperor’s thoughts on how to live a good and honorable life..

Reading it, one can immediately criticize it. “Sure! Easy for an Emperor to say!”

Yet the “Meditations” were not written for an audience nor for public consumption. The Emperor probably never intended them for publication. They are his personal thoughts in twelve volumes written down on battlefields and in winter camps. He was considered the last of the “good emperors”.

“Meditations” is still a literary monument to a government of duty and service and Aurelius personifies what was best about Roman civilization.  Truly, the noblest Roman of them all.

So how much does one need to be happy?

The Emperor had it right 1,800 years ago.

“Words that everyone once used are now obsolete, and so are the men whose names were once on everyone’s lips: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus, and to a lesser degree Scipio and Cato, and yes, even Augustus, Hadrian, and Antoninus are less spoken of now than they were in their own days.

For all things fade away, become the stuff of legend, and are soon buried in oblivion.

Mind you, this is true only for those who blazed once like bright stars in the firmament,  for the rest, as soon as a few clods of earth cover their corpses, they are ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ In the end, what would you gain from everlasting remembrance?

Absolutely nothing.

So what is left worth living for?

This alone: justice in thought, goodness in action, speech that cannot deceive, and a disposition glad of whatever comes, welcoming it as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from the same source and fountain as yourself”.

On the other hand, Steinbeck wrote:  “When the majority of people are hungry they will take by force what they need; when property accumulates in the hands of too few it is taken away. How can you frighten a man whose hunger is in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t, because he knows a fear beyond any other.”

Take it from an old man; contentment in old age comes not from things. It comes from knowing you have tried your best to live a good and honorable life.

 

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Vogue!

Maternal grandpa and paternal grandma with our common grandson Clark at the movies over Thanksgiving to see Frozen II.

As you can see, Clark has taken up vogueing!

“Strike a pose!”

🙂

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Love Those Palm Trees!

Everyone loves palm trees.

They represent the tropics and sub-tropics;  when you see them you know the weather is going to be warm.  Mild winters.  No snow.  No shoveling driveways or scrapping windshields.

Pictures of palm trees make us smile.

I can see 5  large Queen palms while taking my morning coffee out on the lanai.  Queens are one of the giants of the specie.  Three of them are 60 feet or so high while 2 are well over 80 feet tall.

I, however am lucky.

They are not mine.  Not on my property.  Far enough away from hitting my home in case they fall down in a hurricane.

And I don’t have to worry about trimming them.  As the trees get taller the older fronds will fall to the ground;  they are larger and heavier than they look.

I have watched young guys (and a few older ones!) climbing the trees with a stout leather belt around their waists and the tree trunk, hoisting themselves upward with blades on the inner side of their boots.  They literally walk up the trunk of the tree with their blades, moving the belt upward as they progress.  Once atop they trim the excess fronds from the crown with a chain saw.

Hard and dangerous work at that height.  Luckily I don’t have to pay for it.

Which brings us to cousin Alice and her husband Carmel, two retirees living in Phoenix.  Alice and I grew up together; in our early youth we lived across the street from each other in Brooklyn.  Later we lived perhaps a mile apart.  Our fathers were brothers.

So Alice and Carmel own this really comfortable home in Arizona (I’ve visited twice since I retired) with 10  giant palms, 80 feet plus tall on the property.

The trees had gotten much to large to trim regularly and I’m sure the cost was becoming prohibitive.  Additionally, it is not easy (at least near me) to find young men willing (and able!) to climb an 80 foot palm with a chain saw.  There are also clear liability issues which need to be addressed.

So Alice and Carmel decided to have eight of the trees removed.

How do you remove an 80 foot palm without having it fall on the house?  Well it can be cut down in sections from the top by those young guys with chain saws, with the pieces falling to the ground.

Or you can use a crane.  The video was made by the tree removal company and uploaded to YouTube.  It was taken on Alice’s job.  Good marketing!

Enjoy the show.  And remember it when you are looking at that lovely retirement home you are thinking of buying because you ABSOLUTLEY LOVE the giant palm trees!

🙂

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The Chosen One

A sold gold coin of King Cyrus and Donald Trump being sold on the Jim Bakker Show

Those of you who read me know I have written occasionally about religion – or my lack thereof.   Most of the ramblings have been historical; how the Vatican became a state or on the “Pope’s Banker.”

Other writing have been more personal; why I am not a believer or my opinion on the mental health of “true believers” such as snake handlers in Appalachia.

While others scurry off to Mass or church services, make Novenas or pray before dinner, I go about my life completely devoid of any religious inclinations.  Notwithstanding, I still know right from wrong and try to live an ethical life.

I live as good a life as any Christian.  Maybe better.  Without the trappings.

Among the religious however, both Catholic and Evangelical Protestant, there are groups of politically active folks – people who would, if given the chance, establish a theocracy in this country.  Others actively work to bring on the “end times” – thus the right wing Christian support of anything Israel does.  Isreal, you see, is necessary for the comming of Armegeddon and the Messiah.  It says so in the Book.

There are Christian groups, whom I would characterize as beyond the fringe, operating all over Washington D.C.  One of these is an evangelical Christian organization called The Fellowship Foundation, or “The Family,” as it is referred to internally by its members.  It is a group that operates with its own higher purpose — quietly building its influence on global politics “in the name of Jesus.”

“Internally, it is spoken of primarily as a ‘recruiting device’ with which to draw ‘key men’ into smaller prayer cells to ‘meet Jesus man to man.’”  “Practically, the Prayer Breakfast has functioned from the very beginning as an unregistered lobbying festival.”

Abraham Vereide started the first edition of the Fellowship in Seattle in 1935 when he hosted 19 business leaders with the aim of crushing organized labor. However, using the National Prayer Breakfast , held each February, as a discreet Christian recruiting platform was perfected under longtime leader Doug Coe, who was considered one of the most powerful influencers in the Beltway before his death in 2017.

One of Doug Coe’s beliefs was that if you lifted up the name of Jesus, that God would draw people in, all sorts of people from all over the world — thus the National Prayer Breakfast — that people would have a desire to learn and embrace the teachings of Jesus and come to Washington to support the breakfast.

“Doug Coe very intentionally took the group underground. There was a recognition that they could do their best work anonymously.”

Citing 2006 documents, it was estimated the number of dedicated organizers who handle recruitment at just 350. Those organizers, however, have built a network of prayer cells that the late Christian Right leader Chuck Colson pegged at 20,000-strong, calling it, “a veritable underground of Christ’s men all through government.”

So a couple of weeks ago on Fox News, Energy Secretary Rick Perry called Donald Trump “The Chosen One” comparing the President to a number of biblical Kings.

“God’s used imperfect people all through history,” Mr Perry told the broadcaster. “King David wasn’t perfect, Saul wasn’t perfect, Solomon wasn’t perfect.”

He revealed that he gave Mr. Trump “a little one-pager on those Old Testament kings about a month ago.

“I shared it with him and said, ‘Mr. President, I know there are people that say you said you were the chosen one and I said, ‘You were,’” Mr. Perry said.

Yikes.

“I said, ‘If you’re a believing Christian, you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.’”

After the interview was aired on Fox & Friends, Fox News journalist Ed Henry claimed that Mr Perry said the president was “sent by God to do great things”.

In a series of tweets, the president quoted Wayne Allyn Root, a noted conspiracy theorist and Messianic Jew, who said that “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the History of the world,” and “The Jewish People love him like the King of Israel.”

If being named king was not enough, the president would go on to state later that day at an impromptu press availability with the media that he was “the Chosen One” to take on China.

To use a Yiddish term, oy vey, indeed.

Trump’s two announcements this week reveal why some evangelicals see him as “God’s Chosen One” — a King Cyrus-like figure, anointed by God to save America from cultural collapse. That claim was made in books and even a feature film about a so-called Trump Prophecy. Some charismatic Christian followers of Trump even created a coin with images of Trump and Cyrus on it to use during their prayers.

There have been a series of paintings of Trump as a kind of redeemer figure by John McNaughton. Others depict Trump being hugged by Jesus, or signing bills at the resolute desk with Jesus standing behind him. These images, for some evangelicals, are fan images of the hopes and the realities they believe President Trump’s election has wrought.

Others, especially those who are Dominionist, are pleased that President Trump is finally being recognized for who they really believe that he is. Some evangelicals have spent a great deal of time since 2016 extolling Trump in this manner. So it is no surprise that he is accepting these accolades. Dominion theology is a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians based on their understandings of biblical law.

Meanwhile, Trump’s acceptance of being “the King of Israel” may just sound strange to ears not attuned to some quarters of Christian belief. But for those quarters of Christianity who believe in end-time prophecies and other beliefs about famous men, it is a sobering moment.

For some evangelicals, thinking of Trump as “King of the Jews” means that because he is the protector of Israel, Jews are that much closer to becoming “saved” and converted to Christianity. For Dominionist groups, some of which are already in Israel waiting for the “last days,” Trump’s embrace of this statement is further confirmation that he is God’s man in the last days, who will help to bring Christ back to Earth.

A laugher from Reddit

For the Fellowship Foundation, the Family, any man chosen for leadership positions is chosen by God, no matter what his personal faith life or beliefs may be. (See Divine Right of Kings) In their theology, God can use any male leader to achieve God’s purpose. To put it another way, Jesus cares more for the wolf than the sheep. A strong man can make things happen.

A strong man is God’s man, no matter what sins he may or may not have committed.

This may be sobering, but in fact, hearing Trump call himself the Chosen One is the upshot of what some Christians believe to be the role of political leadership.

We are hearing is a hodgepodge of certain kinds of evangelical and End Time beliefs that are merging together along with conspiracy theories to empower his presidency with the evangelicals that back him.

Whether it is blasphemous or a unique election strategy, we may be hearing Trump make these kinds of statements throughout the 2020 campaign cycle.

In conclusion, IMHO these people are bat shit crazy, a serious threat to separation of church and state as well democratic values, transforming their beliefs into delusional politics.

And we think ISIS is crazy.

But what do I know.  I’m just an old crank living in Florida.

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Mona Lisa Who? – From the Archives

Back in the mid-1990s while on one of several business trips to Paris (somebody’s got to do it!) I made a special effort to cross off one of the items on my bucket list.

I went to see Mona Lisa.  My timing was great.  It was dead of Winter with a dearth of tourists.  After a relatively short wait, there I was, staring at Leonardo’s masterpiece.

La  Gionconda  –  “the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world”.  The Mona Lisa is also one of the most valuable paintings in the world. It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation in history at $100 million in 1962, which is worth nearly $800 million in 2017.

Recent academic work suggests that it would not have been started before 1513 though as you will see, there are arguments that it was painted earlier.   It was acquired by King Francis I of France and is now the property of the French Republic, on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris since 1797.

“The subject’s expression, which is frequently described as enigmatic, the monumentality of the composition, the subtle modelling of forms, and the atmospheric illusionism were novel qualities that have contributed to the continuing fascination and study of the work.”

We’ve all seen the painting whether in person or in a photograph.   “Mona Lisa bears a strong resemblance to many Renaissance depictions of the Virgin Mary, who was at that time seen as an ideal for womanhood.  The woman sits markedly upright in a “pozzetto” armchair with her arms folded, a sign of her reserved posture. Her gaze is fixed on the observer. The woman appears alive to an unusual extent, which Leonardo achieved by his method of not drawing outlines (sfumato). The soft blending creates an ambiguous mood “mainly in two features: the corners of the mouth, and the corners of the eyes”.

The painting was one of the first portraits to depict the sitter in front of a landscape and had no clearly visible eyebrows or eyelashes.   Some researchers claim that it was common at this time for genteel women to pluck these hairs, as they were considered unsightly.  In 2007, French engineer Pascal Cotte announced that his ultra-high resolution scans of the painting provide evidence that Mona Lisa was originally painted with eyelashes and with fine visible eyebrows, but that these had gradually disappeared over time, perhaps as a result of overcleaning.

This painting, considered the most valuable in the world, has been the subject of controversy in the art world for centuries.  There is disagreement over when in Leonardo’s life it was painted. whether in his prime or late in his life.  Whether it was started early and finished only later.  Whether there are two – one now lost.

And above all who the lady is;  a number of possibilities have been put forth as to her identity.  Some distinctly possible – some not so much.  Sigmund Freud postulated that Mona was Leonardo’s mother.  Typical Freud.

Others have expressed that Mona is Leonardo; a  “self portrait,”  It is generally conceded that Leonardo was homosexual.  He never married and lived with his “assistant” Salai (which means “little devil”) for 30 years although Leonardo considered him a thief and good-for-nothing.  He was however quite good looking.  Finally Leonardo was charged anonymously in his youth with two other well to do noble friends with sodomy of a known male prostitute.  The rank of the accused friends got the three off.  So is Mona Leonardo’s alter image?  Who knows.

When the subject arises, there are great differences of opinion among Mona Lisa ‘aficionados’. Almost since the time that Giorgio Vasari had published his identification of a certain Leonardo portrait as being of Lisa, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, historians, scholars and writers realized that there were inconsistencies between his description and the painting in the Louvre, and as a result, they have been jousting about its origin, authorship, provenance, and whether there might have been another, original version by the great master.

The title of the painting, which is known in English as Mona Lisa, comes from a description by Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari, who wrote “Leonardo undertook to paint, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife.  Mona in Italian is a polite form of address originating as “ma donna” – similar to “Ma’am”, “Madam”, or “my lady” in English.

Vasari’s account of the Mona Lisa comes from his biography of Leonardo published in 1550, 31 years after the artist’s death. It has long been the best-known source of information on the provenance of the work and identity of the sitter. Leonardo’s assistant Salaì, at his death in 1524, owned a portrait which in his personal papers was named la Gioconda, a painting bequeathed to him by Leonardo.  This is the painting now hanging in Paris.

Francesco del Giocondo was a well known silk merchant in Venice  at the time of the purported commission to paint his wife, Leonardo was one of the best known artists in Europe.  He earned commissions from Princes and Popes.  Would he have accepted a commission from a business man?  A common merchant not of the nobility?

Possibly.  Leonardo was acquainted with Francesco; the man was in court regularly charged with Usury and Leonardo’s dad was a lawyer who defended him.

So you are an ambitious silk merchant who has commissioned famed Leonardo to paint your wife who has just given you a child.  Would you want her painted like a Madonna?  Or would you prefer she is dressed in your finest silk product imported from the exotic East?

During this time Venice had a very efficient tax system for its inhabitants.  Business men had to report all income as well as changes in assets and liabilities.  The tax records of the time indicate that Giocondo never received the painting.  A piece of art from a renown European painter such as Leonardo would have to be declared.  Neither is the transfer recorded in Leonardo’s tax documents.

So apparently the painting was never delivered to Giocondo.  Is it the painting hanging in Paris? It is certainly the one Leonardo left in his will to his “assistant” along with two others, so he carried it with him to his death.    But is the woman Lisa del Gioconda?

There is a second strong candidate for the title “woman who sat for Mona.”

Pacifica Brandani, the mistress of Italian nobleman Giuliano de’ Medici.  Giuliano was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the powerful ruler of the Florentine Republic, and Brandani was a noblewoman at the court of Urbino.

The statue of Giuliano de’ Medici (1479 – 1516) at the Medici toumbs

This theory is based on the testimony of the cleric Antonio De Beatis, who saw the Louvre painting in Leonardo’s hands on 10 October 1517 at the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise, France when the artist lived and worked there under the patronage of King Francis. De Beatis wrote in his diary describing the work as being commissioned by “the magnificent Giuliano de’ Medici”.

Why?  Well Giuliano De’ Medici was married to a 16 year old at the time (strictly for political reasons) and Pacifica Brandani, his mistress was pregnant with his illegitimate child.  Pacifica would die in childbirth and a son Ippolito, would survive.  Legend has it that since Ippolito was illegitimate, the infant was delivered to the local cathedral in Urbino in a basket along with a coin bearing the image of Giuliano de’ Medici.

Everyone knew what this meant.  The child was delivered to the Vatican where Giuliano’s uncle, Leo X was Pope.  The child would grow up in the care of the Papacy.  He would be ordained a Cardinal at age 18 and eventually Bishop of Avignon.

Never being able to know his mother,, Giuliano it is argued.commissioned Leonardo to paint the portrait of Pacifica, to eventually be presented to Ippolito.  The theory is that, never having met her, Leonardo painted his “ideal mother” for the child.  Giuliano de’ Medici prematurely died before Ippolito was five years old and thus the painting was never delivered.

Did Leonardo carry it to his death?  Is this the painting in Paris? Is La Gioconda really La Pacifica?

The theory has gained weight since experts discovered the location of the landscape shown in the ‘Mona Lisa’. They identified parts of the painting as showing areas in the former Duchy of Urbino. the city of Pacifica Brandani.

And finally, was there ever a painting of the silk merchants wife?  Is it lost?  Perhaps in your attic?  Did your old uncle Saverio laughingly pick it up in a flea market in Florida because he thought it looked like Mona Lisa?

🙂

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Dolls – #5

“Michael”

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“Michael” was created by Yolanda Bello as one of her “Picture Perfect Babies” collection.  He is completely of fine porcelain produced at the Edward M. Knowles China Company, painted by and clothes sewn by hand.  He was a strictly limited edition and numbered, produced only in 1991 after which the mold was destroyed.

 

Though she never admitted it, I knew as soon as I saw it that JoAnn bought this doll because it was named Michael and looked like our late son of the same name.

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