living in the truth, Risk, Surprise, Uncertainty

September 11 Anniversary & Challenges Facing the First “Post-9/11” Generation

Artists are known to like blank canvases. They don’t fear a blank sheet of paper. They summon creativity, courage, and insights in ways that they themselves often don’t understand. The best of them tend to be open to new ideas and influences from anywhere. Their most successful outputs tend to be surprising, breaking the mold. In my thoughts about 9/11 this morning, I realized that these challenging times call for the natural strengths, if not the natural predispositions (since many eschew “politics”), of artists. I indulged myself in thinking this through while enjoying my morning coffee today, on the 18th anniversary of 9/ll. I have a niece who turns 18 in a few weeks, and I’m thinking about what her generation faces. In many ways, though, the issues raised here are similar to those we considered in depth in an interdisciplinary seminar I co-taught in recent years on Climate Change and National and Global Security. The similarity is due to the fact that the issues are the same, only getting bigger and more challenging especially in the absence, or near-absence, of suitable public policy (the area of my professional education).

(08:05 am First cup of coffee musings…)  It’s the morning of September 11th, the 18th anniversary of “9/11,” and everything is far from normal in America and our world.  (True enough, it’s never been “normal’ but I refer to a pervasive unease about the dis-ordering of basic assumptions that have informed most of international relations since the end of World War II.) An entire global generation is reaching adulthood this year without ever having lived in a non- “post-9/11” world. Other countries around the world had their own “9-11” tragedies subsequent to ours–Madrid, Bali, Mumbai, etc.–but the point is that the world itself was transfigured by the aftershocks of 9-11. Perhaps 9/11 has become normalized to the point of not needing acknowledgement. But it’s not normal for me, so maybe readers not expecting this fare here will tolerate a diversion today.

Based on a quick review, there is no mention of 9/11 in The Washington Post today, a major national newspaper, only the usual unusual sub-header, to which we’ve become accustomed in these times: “Democracy Dies In Darkness.”  The front page focus is on the firing/resignation of John Bolton, the U.S. National Security Advisor, who is known as a war hawk and who “helped” the US get into war with Iraq–which had nothing to do with 9/11–as America’s military response to the terrorist attack. (Let’s not forget:  He still supports that action, which was based on false premises, also known as lies.)  Bolton is out reportedly due to many “policy” differences with the administration, only a few days–surely not coincidentally–after the President tweeted out that a secret meeting at Camp David between the administration and Taliban leaders from Afghanistan was cancelled.  The policy contradictions of this administration are a towering mountain range by now, with regular avalanches of all kinds of cognitive dissonance-causing boulders. But it’s year three, and the daily contradictions barely deserve a footnote. Indeed, it appears that they are a feature, not a bug, as the saying goes: mind-crushing absurdities can also be spirit-crushing.  An aside, however, is warranted and that is:   absurdities that are simultaneously ridiculous, deadly and deeply disturbing  are part of the genre of this type of rule (which is not really governance, at least not the type called for in the U.S. Constitution).

Today, the paper reports, the President’s focus is on raiding another population of helpless people, a tactic favored by shady landlords.  This time it’s homeless people. This doesn’t mean that the administration is done with terrorizing terminally ill children who are here in the U.S. on special visas so that they can receive the life-saving medical treatment they need.If you haven’t been paying attention to this story, it basically involves sick or dying children from other countries who are receiving critically necessary medical care in the U.S., some of them invited here by medical researchers due to their rare illnesses that need further study. The U.S. administration wants to send them home where they will die.  The latest twist is that the administration backed off when the story became public but is now requiring the children to apply for new visas entering the same prolonged process now well known to readers paying attention to what is happening along the southern U.S. border.

Eighteen years have passed since the horrific attacks of 9-11, the first time America was attacked by foreign adversaries, even if nonstate ones, on the soil of the continental United States.  Americans rallied together against a common if ill-defined and elusive enemy, and NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time ever, which directs NATO member countries to aid an allied NATO member under attack.  The point of the attacks seems to have been to target symbols of American power–Wall Street, the Pentagon and possibly the U.S. Capitol.   Most of us know what happened thereafter:  a massive counter-terrorism movement, and new wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have changed the geopolitics of the Middle East and South Asia and neighboring regions but not to anything noticeably better.  An entire national security industry was immediately directed to combat terrorism, and ballooned in size as if on steroids, which it was in the form of defense contracts.

In 18 years, a little-remarked upon impact has been the privatization of so much that was once considered the realm of government, or public sector, work.  This includes the job of making sense of what has happened, is happening, and may happen in the future. At least the terrorist attack on what were seen as the pillars of American society–the economy, the financial sector, and the defense sector–seemed to have failed, if judged by their size and wealth today.  But what other factors underlie American strength and prosperity?  This is the key unexamined question on this 18th anniversary of 9/11, and it must be asked in the context of a starkly altered environment both on a national level and a planetary level. And yet, these questions are barely asked today. Why aren’t they? Is it because there is no money in it?

In 2019, America is facing unprecedented challenges on all fronts which already are converging into that dreaded “perfect storm.” These are inexorable developments that will happen no matter what, so they can be said to be “beyond politics.” Into this wide category of “beyond politics” happening-no-matter-what are greater migrations of people, harsher climate crisis realities, and accelerating technological advances, to name a few. But, given today’s realities, is this what success looks like after so many people have died in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are we more “secure?”

Almost two decades focused on counter-terrorism have left this country so weakened that most Americans are not even sure that a long-time foreign adversary – Russia (and perhaps others, even) – is not calling the shots in the White House.  Could it be that the singleminded resolve of our nation’s top security institutions to defend this country against a repeat of a 9/11–successful so far–left the United States dangerously exposed to and unprepared for equally deadly challenges?  What are those deadly challenges?  Who is even mapping them? The problems are bigger than anyone’s in-box, bigger than an institution’s capability to handle, even bigger than the United Nations…

In a way, the US Administration’s response this week to desperate Bahamians fleeing their island homes now laid waste by Hurricane Dorian encapsulates in a microcosm the United States’ complete lack of readiness for the world in which we already live.  People are migrating in larger numbers all over the world not because they really want to abandon their homes but because for many of them it’s not optional. It’s life or death.  The perils come in different guises, often overlapping and aggravated by wars and ethnic conflict.  These include ‘unnaturally’ enhanced ‘natural disasters,’ drought, terrorism, government brutality, malnutrition, gang violence, drug cartels, and extortion–but the result is the same:  when people’s lives are in danger, their children cannot be children and their very survival is at stake. Can a nation founded on the principles that “all men are created equal” with “men” now signifying humanity (men, women, and children) remain secure and turn its back on most of humanity? And what is a human without humanity?

A common refrain is that America is not responsible for the world; i.e., we are not the “world’s policeman” and should mind our own business, and thus (it’s implied) be more successful, without draining our resources and putting our soldiers’ lives at risk in others’ wars and calamities.  We are not responsible for failed or failing states, goes the argument. This is a long-standing American debate that needs to go on, with new public policy formulation democratically achieved as the goal.  Every day, and especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, we see the need for this.

(Second cup of coffee musings…)  With no warning earlier this week, the U.S. turned back a ferry carrying desperate people from the Bahamas, their children in their arms, who were seeking refuge from their destroyed island nation, where there is no shelter, food, water, or medical assistance.  The reason: they lacked a visa–a visa that had not before been required, until this very minute, for Bahamians with a passport and no criminal record.  Suddenly, people with only the shirts on their backs had to go to the Embassy to apply for a visa.  A father is shown on video, with a toddler in his arms, explaining that he must now go back to his devastated land where he cannot, obviously and through no fault of his own, take care of his children. (This current story has some obvious echoes with the more famous and tragic one of a German ship, the St. Louis, filled with German Jewish refugees refused asylum in 1939 at the port of Miami and forced to return to Europe where reportedly a quarter of them died in the Holocaust.)

There are threads running through the vignettes of post-9/11 America today that make a sufficiently awake (caffeinated, if necessary!) person wonder where we went wrong, and whether we can recover lost time, credibility, and foresight rapidly enough to regain our national footing in this radically altered world.  Young people turning 18 in 2019 represent the first fully post-9/11 generation who have known nothing else but a national security ‘industry’ focused on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan somehow tied to the counterterrorism battle.  What do they conclude when they consider their own opportunities in a county that is so divided at home that their compatriots cannot even agree on what is worth fighting for?

What values will America need to embody in a world transformed by tens of millions of people on the move, not out of choice but out of desperation?  How can we think bigger, better, and with more nations’ people–together–to come up with some appropriate policy responses to these new challenges?  If our undeniably bloated defense industries and overly bureaucratized academic systems do not help us to rapidly make these needed changes, what can we, Americans, do about this?  Why are defense industries making $750+ per day, per person held, incarcerating refugees and asylum seekers?  Is this the needed policy response and agreed upon by U.S. taxpayers who are footing the bill? Why are children in these detention centers? Why is the U.S. detaining people coming here for help and, according to numerous credible reports, treating them in a way no one would treat their dogs? Why can we not provide them with even a flu shot, sufficient diapers, or feminine hygiene products at a rate $750/day per detained person? Why are we incarcerating human beings who have asked for asylum?  Who gains and who loses? What is the point? This is what I am asking in the post-9/11 era but I am not an American post-9/11 teenager, and I wonder what they think.

(Sip of now tepidly warm coffee…)  Winston Churchill is thought to have said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  He allegedly was referring to the conditions after World War II that were ripe for the formation of the United Nations.  What type of response(s) are necessary in the world today?  Is the first post 9/11 generation equipped to craft them?  Where is the epicenter of needed new thinking about how to deal with the “perfect storm” already here?  Won’t the future of our youth be affected very consequentially by our choices and even by the things we’re not paying attention to today? After all, the people now trying to flee the Bahamas were not refugees as recently as a week or so ago? Who among us can be sure today that he or she will not be a refugee in the future?

 Is it not actually a form of “security”–even if not debated and vetted by public opinion–to choose and prioritize what matters in these turbulent times? Whose needs would such a prioritization focus upon: the needs of the post-9/11 generation, for instance, or their children not yet born? Should not the public be very much more involved in choosing public policy responses to these issues? Do you as a citizen want to be left out of these consequential policy decisions even if they will put your children on a course that may be soul- and opportunity-shrinking? Who is questioning how our priorities are set, and will we do it in time, time that is so clearly running out?  How will we deal with inter-generational and international inequities that are becoming starker by the day, aggravated by the inevitable weather disasters made more dangerously intense by climate change?  What is “security” in a climate change-disrupted world and who should define it; those who are already incarcerating vulnerable people or people who are questioning that approach and its hidden threats to our nation’s viability and stature in the world?

These are the very questions we considered in an international graduate-level seminar I co-taught from 2014-2018, and all of us in class learned a lot. We were all students because, aside from basic facts such as we gain from science, there are no facts to teach about how we will surmount these challenges. It was an entrepreneurial approach to learning in a world that is no longer familiar. Education itself must change under these circumstances. It’s an exciting time for the intellectually curious and anyone who wants the best for his or her country and future generations including the first post-9/11 generation coming into adulthood this year.

In conclusion, it seems to me that we need to reach out not only for the best ways to ask new questions and think new thoughts, but also identify those who are doing needed work in this area. I’ll mention that yesterday I heard an inspiring talk given by Dr. Michael Crowe, President of Arizona State University, at a thought-provoking conference I attended on 21st century challenges involving “deep space” and “deep fakes.” Crowe’s focus on was rethinking education in our altered world and it was and is very much on point with the types of questions and concerns I am raising in this post. (If he shares his slides, I will attach them through a link to this post.) We need to emphasize what is going right and where this is being done and how, in order to get to new ways of thinking and dealing with the challenges of our world in time. For those who like challenges, and even big blank canvases without so much as an outline as a guide–like most artists around the world!–one message of this long post is the world needs you more than ever. Unfortunately the processes of the artistic mind (literally, beyond analysis) are not well woven into most academic training or, certainly, analytic (or sense-making) processes, so this is yet another frontier to explore in this exciting and consequential new era.

(09:30 a.m., Author’s note:  I am working on a book about the above issues but I’ll be back to sketches and watercolors very soon, including of some incredibly beautiful places–(hint: famous ports and beaches)  not covered previously on this blog! )

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Painting the town in Washington, D.C.

Here it is already June! What do I have to to show for it being almost mid-year 2019? I’ve not been painting as much this year– due partly to some work-related priorities but mostly due to a combination of too many choices with regard to painting media and some news-overload paralysis, I’d say. Painting more frequently is absolutely essential to becoming more proficient and I’ve totally failed so far in that goal this year. I keep watching other painters’ blogs though, and am finding that some painters whose work I respect are rediscovering the value of working from reference photos (which means painting inside).

But we’ve had gorgeous weather beckoning me outside. And: I finally broke open a packet of watercolor paper I bought on the trip to Germany earlier this year–paper that’s hard to get in the U.S. (Being interested in paper, this is a sort of ‘me’ thing, I guess.)

Illustration: “Georgetown Waterfront Park,” Hahnemühle ‘Leonardo’ cold press watercolor paper, 2019 by Black Elephant Blog author

Since we had a gorgeous weekend, I found myself down at the Georgetown Waterfront where there is an unbelievably tranquil park. Enjoying gentle breezes and the surprisingly wide-ranging discussion with me (immigration, climate change, human trafficking, mangroves, wetlands…and how they are all interconnected!! So very impressive!) of a young lady visiting from Utah, I created the following scene without spending much time setting it up. The paper is amazing and so thick it would be shame not to follow up and paint something else on the reverse side.

Illustration: “Enid A. Haupt Garden,” Watercolor on cold press paper (2019) by Black Elephant Blog author

Earlier this year, I managed to get out and do other scenes of some parts in Washington, D.C. This city is famous for many things but people out of town may not be aware of how many absolutely gorgeous and well-maintained parks there are in this region, many in the heart of D.C. while others are in surrounding neighborhoods. It would be a shame to miss some of them no matter how short your visit. I’ve included below a few painting sketches from last year as well!

Illustration: “Springtime in Farragut Square,” watercolor on Arches cold press paper, 2019, by Black Elephant Blog author
Illustration: “Oak Hill”, watercolor, gouache, and ink on “15x “11 Arches 140# watercolor paper
Illustration: “Spring colors”, 15″ x 7″ watercolor, gouache and ink on Fabriano Traditional White 140# watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author
Illustration: “Orangery,” at Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown, watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Art,” Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Fabriano Artistic paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “U.S. Capitol,” Watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP paper approx 14″ x 9″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “Colvin Run Mill,” Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author
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Uncategorized

A new blog on climate change as well as a new blog post

Photo of Gray Whale spotted off the coast of Israel on 8 May 2010

Here it is almost mid-May and it’s been a while since I’ve even done any art work at all. Mostly that’s been due to some work that needed doing, including sorting out the art room and emptying out a big storage room in the basement. It’s the sort of thing that many people do in the spring. In fact, my next stop today will be to a donation center.

I’ve been thinking about how to pursue some interests related to climate change in our chaotic world and it’s harder to thread these subjects around my art experiences than I thought originally it would be. I had hoped to fuse art with climate change into a book of some sort, but I find I need more space to collect my thoughts on the latter–for a book proposal I’m working on. Not everyone is as interested in this topic as I am so I won’t keep coming back to it here on this blog, which was–however–created to discuss surprises, anomalies, discontinuities and warning challenges. (The first posts in 2014 and 2015 do just this.) Instead, here’s a link to the brand new WordPress blog with one blog post–“Whale-watching and New Realism in Global Affairs” so far on it: https://wordpress.com/view/caroldumaine.com

If you visit my new blog, you’ll find that the first post is about….gray whales! “What do they have to do with climate change?” you might ask. That is, in fact, the point of this first blog post. We are seeing anomalies in the behavior and migrating patterns of these magnificent creatures and scientists who have studied them for many years don’t understand these anomalies. Imagine, the gray whale is a descendant of a whale that roamed the seas some 30 million years ago! If ever we’re going to see a signal of changes on our planet, it would probably be with a living creature with such an unimaginably long lineage. (There are many connections to art in all this line of thinking, some of which I’ve explored in previous blog posts; the main connection of interest to me is one of re-perceiving the world around us, in a way that overcomes “analytical” thinking that conditions us to see what we are prepared to see, and little else! Learning how to re-perceive our world may be central to the “security” of the human species going forward so, you see, that’s how I connect these disparate subjects.)

My interest in the gray whales was sparked nine years ago this week, when a gray whale was spotted in the Mediterranean Sea. Gray whales had not been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean, let alone the Mediterranean, up to that day in May 2010 for at least the last 300 years. Gray whales went extinct in the Atlantic for reasons still unknown sometime around 1800. No one was prepared to see a gray whale in this location, and it’s clear that they could barely believe their eyes. This was not really possible, said their minds, but their eyes said it was. This gray whale would have been from the North Pacific ocean most likely, so scientists wondered how and why it traveled to the Mediterranean. Scientists thought that perhaps gray whale populations had somehow reconstituted themselves in the Atlantic and no one had noticed it. However, almost a decade has gone by…and we still don’t know.

If this type of question interests you, please follow my new blog, “Rethinking Everything in the Anthropocene” at: https://wordpress.com/view/caroldumaine.com, where I also welcome your comments and suggestions.

Thank you.

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Equestrian arts at Frying Pan Park

Today the sun came out after a somewhat overcast morning sky and, after various Saturday must-do’s were done, it seemed like the right time to go find horses to paint.  I went for the first time in many years to a certain nearby park and before too long discovered I had truly overachieved.  After  sketching out the scene on my paper, I realized a major equestrian event was about to start literally right around me.

FryingPanPark

Illustration: “Frying Pan Park,” Watercolor, gouache, and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

Riders on beautiful horses waited their turn just a few feet away, and judges, photographers and a large audience were perched on a hill below some trees to my left. I couldn’t have planned this better since I arrived just beforehand.  Fortunately my spot next to some conveniently large and flat rocks was not in anyone’s way.  I managed to focus on the scenery and capture some of the horses and riders warming up on lower field before the big competition.   The spring colors of the trees and fields were striking, but I also tried to capture some of the scene right in front of me.  As usual, the master works of such scenes that I know best (from Degas or Dufy, for instance), are in oil paint, not watercolor, and I am thinking to try an oil painting of this scene before too long.  Drawing horses can be difficult but the style of Raoul Dufy is quite loose and freeing, and that is probably what I’ll try next as an experiment.

Illustration: “Chateau and Horses,” by Raoul Dufy

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pastel, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Spring Colors

Spring is finally here even though a chill wind creates little choppy waves and white caps on the lake near my house.   But now, new blossoms around our neighborhood are blindingly radiant.  They won’t last long so we’re trying to take it all in now.  When we’re out walking, they bounce in the breezes overhead  as if tossing folds of white and pink skirts to show off.  Bright forsythia complete the color show.  It’s tempting to set up an easel immediately but a quick check this morning confirmed that the temperatures are just above freezing.

Lake scene

Illustration: “Spring colors”, 15″ x 7″ watercolor, gouache and ink on Fabriano Traditional White 140# watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author

It’s hard to believe a year that starts off with such a gorgeous spring could be anything but fabulous (though, of course, sadly, there’s many more reasons geopolitically at least why it might not be–but that surely is for another blog post, and maybe even another blog).  Art is a great way to escape from whatever is preoccupying one. Anyway, it’s time to get out the paints and the pastels, pencils and erasers, and experiment.   No pressures, just to see what happens.

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Illustration: “Bouquet,” hard and soft pastel on Claire Fontaine Ingres Pastel “Bright” paper, by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

Here’s a bit of the latest work, including a pastel on a Claire Fontaine Ingres colored pastel paper made in France.  (Note: this paper has a sort of grid imprint that shows up in one’s work, not an effect everyone is seeking, but I was using it for the background color.)  I’ve found that I can make copies of these on a little printer and give them out as cards, when I need one.

Recently, over the weekend, we had a warm Saturday afternoon, so I set up a watercolor easel downtown in the driveway of an unoccupied ($8 million!) house opposite this cemetery gate.  It was a great spot, just out of the way of the pedestrians with a direct view of the gate.  I’ve been fascinated for several years by the famous Fauvist Raoul Dufy’s treatment of gates (he mainly painted in oils), so perhaps I’ll give this one another try.  It’s the gate to the Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.  The cemetery was founded in 1849 and overlooks the Rock Creek Parkway.

OakHillCemetery

Illustration: “Oak Hill”, watercolor, gouache, and ink on “15x “11 Arches 140# watercolor paper

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oil painting, Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Journey through Childhood Memories

I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Germany and Austria, mostly to visit with family but also traveling with close family.

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Illustration: “Sunset in Heidelberg,” oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

This turned out to be the long-awaited time when I would return to Vienna, Austria and the international high school from which I graduated many years ago.  It was so special to discover that I still recall the streetcar and bus numbers to get from the inner city to the outer district where my former school is.  The weather cooperated throughout this trip, with snow flurries and cold suitable for January (but no worse).  Lunch over in the neighboring wine district of Grinzing, with light snow falling outside and settling on ledges around the onion domes of a church across the street, finished off the visit to the outer district. Later it was back by the efficient streetcar system to the inner city and, from there again by streetcar, to the Belvedere Schloss to see Klimt art and other paintings.  We had a hot drink in its warm gold and ochre royal cafe with the Belvedere gardens outside covered in snow and a blue-purplish early evening light seen through the windows.

In such weather, however, and in a group of travelers there is less incentive to stop and try to paint or, more likely in such weather, draw.  Outside of Stephansdom, the main cathedral in central Vienna, one hardy soul was painting in oils in close-to-freezing weather.  He was set up to sell them so perhaps had an incentive to paint in his fingerless gloves out in the cold, but the prospect did not hold any appeal to me.

My trip also took me to the Pfalz area for a memorable wine-tasting, to Stuttgart, Karlsruhe,  Heidelberg, and much smaller towns along the Rhine; my early school years were in Bonn, Germany north of where we were on this trip.  One can get most anywhere at almost anytime on the dense network of streetcars, inter-city railroads, and the faster ICE, and in Austria, the OBB trains.  There was almost no need for a car (except for hauling all the wine home after the wine-tasting!)

Back home now, there is some time for reflection and recreation of scenes, including the memory of a sunset over Heidelberg in Germany, as this painted scene from the castle above the town recalls.  A special book in German about Heidelberg fell into my hands during the visit there, recommending itself to me through the wonderful watercolor on its cover and on plates throughout its pages.  It turns out to be a book by a former director of the city’s archives, chock full of history and insights.  Also in Heidelberg, we visited an amazing museum which can be found by going down a quiet drive into a palace area off of the main pedestrian street:  called the Museum of the Palatinate, it has excellent displays covering the history of the many peoples (Celts, Romans, various tribes) who settled in this area.  If you need to get off your feet for a while, you can take a snooze here on a cushioned Roman bench in a recreated Roman dining area; signs in German encourage you to do just that, so long as you take off your shoes!  (For artists and urban sketchers, it may be of interest that the LAMY headquarters is in Heidelberg and a new flagship store full of temptations is on the main drag in the old city.) There is something about travel, and seeking to restore a rusty foreign language ability, that awakens the need to create, to remember, to connect, and to imagine…so perhaps there will be more scenes from my youth coming to this blog.

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Surprise, ucertainty, Uncategorized

Lessons Not Learned in a Pile of Books

There’s no art work in this blog post.  That’s partly because it’s that time of year for one last push to clear the house of extra things that might be useful for someone else–and thus could be donated to charity–and I inevitably get side-tracked in the process of sorting.  This year it’s a whole lot of books on my bookshelves dating back from, well, not so long ago that are distracting me.  One by one they fall into my hands, like this one called Superpower:  Three Choices for America’s Role in the World by Ian Bremmer (Penguin Random House, 2015), and I can’t help but take a look at the first page.  It reads:

“America will remain the world’s only superpower for the foreseeable future.”

Reading this in the context of the photos simultaneously coming in from the G-20 meeting this past weekend (December 1-2)  in Argentina made for some cognitive dissonance. I thought: when we did begin to see things differently?  Less than two years after the publication of this book, it seems to me.

Right next to it on the shelf was this book by the former Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, called Beyond the Crash:  Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalization (Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 2010).  Ignoring the cardboard boxes of boots and old frames precariously stacked beside me, I opened this one too.  Here again we have someone –a former British Prime Minister–reflecting on the tattered concept of “efficient markets” in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.  He writes:

And now in the first decade of the twenty-first century we have come to realize again that markets too can be shaped by vested interests, that economic players are not always rational, that markets are not self-correcting, that employment does not automatically recover, and that a wholly deregulated, passive model of capitalism and of absentee government cannot cope with extreme fluctuations and the shocks of the sort we saw in the banking crisis.”

This book could just as easily have been tossed into the box with raggedy old sweaters that have seen better days but instead, for some reason, it is the book out of the many on the shelf that I chose to consult more closely later that day on a train trip into town.  What were the lessons that Gordon Brown derived from the Financial Crisis and how do these lessons read in the light of today’s very different era?, I wondered.

Here was another one, for heaven’s sakes:  The Breaking of Nations:  Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century, by Robert Cooper (Atlantic Books, 2003).  Going down memory lane now, I decided to sit down and look at this one.  “To understand the present we must first understand the past,” Cooper writes in the first chapter.  Later he foreshadows trouble for the European Union, writing:

“It is striking that monetary integration has been achieved precisely by removing monetary policy from the hands of politicians and handing it over to the technocrats.  This may be no bad thing but, in the deeply democratic culture of Europe, the development of the European Union as a continuation of diplomacy by other means rather than the continuation of politics by other means may in the end exact a price.” He explains:  “International institutions need the loyalty of citizens just as state institutions do; and that can be achieved only by giving the citizen some more direct involvement in their management.”

And, finally, this one from 2014:

“Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings.  The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely.  Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts.  But we need not be spectators in all this:  politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too.”  This excerpt is from This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs The Climate by Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster paperbacks, 2014).

Within the last few hours, my pile of charitable donations has been picked up outside my house, but I could not discard these and other books from the last decade or more.  It seems to me that there are some lessons we haven’t quite absorbed from the past that they cover, periods of crisis in the years since the end of the Cold War.  I’m thinking, as I put these books back on the shelf, that finding our way collectively to a better future might involve some real shifts–perhaps to more inclusive concepts of economic wellbeing or security (even “national” security!!).  At the very least, there might be some clues in this pile of books to how we got to now, which our social media-fueled Twitter-verse is usually poor at explaining.  (Without disrespecting the fine minds truly evident out on social media, there surely will be serious consequences if we do not tear ourselves away from Twitter now and then to dig deeper into questions regarding mankind’s current plight today.)

I am going through these books now with our present in mind.  It occurs to me that I cannot imagine a single book coming from the hand of any of our current US policymakers (at least at the cabinet-level) to explain and reflect on the policymaking being carried out in the name of the US since 2017.  It takes a policymaker or someone who cares about policy and its public impacts probably to even want to write a book.  So, therefore, I’ll look at what previous policymakers said, and thoughtful observers said at the time, and perhaps craft some lessons I hope will prove useful in guiding future policymakers –ones who care about the publics they’ve been elected to serve–at the end of this personal project of mine.  The results of my efforts may, meanwhile, be jotted down on a different blog (as this one has become more an art journal in recent years). If so, I’ll be sure to share the new blog’s name and address as soon as it is active.  I hope some of you will want to follow me over there, even as I continue to share impressions of my art journey here!  In the meantime, all the best for a wonderful Christmas and holiday season everywhere!

 

 

 

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