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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Surprise, Watercolor Painting

Stone Gables B&B soon to open in Virginia countryside

B&B

Illustration; “Stone Gables,” approx.  6.5 ” x 10.25 ” watercolor and Uniball white gel pen on Saunders Waterford 300 lb watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Last weekend we were hosted for an afternoon get-together at a soon-to-open bed & breakfast establishment tucked away in the rolling hills of Virginia wine country.  Once a barn, this establishment is now more like an estate with lush green fields, hills, a pond and a pool.  A  tall water fountain, the view beyond of outdoor terraces, a screened-porch bar area with tall tables and high chairs for enjoying the view, a gorgeous dining room and enormous well-appointed kitchen are only what greets you when you enter.  Beyond this are six beautiful bedrooms each with a modern well-designed bath, including a bridal suite.   You simply cannot imagine that this was a barn though some of the features of the barn have been kept in the current design.

Best of all, I’ve known one of the owners since she was a very little girl–many years ago in a distant land in Asia–where we both were living as part of foreign service families assigned abroad.  This B&B is a dream of hers and it’s now coming to life.  We were so pleased to get an early bird look at what will soon be available to others.  It’s called Stone Gables B& B and is near Leesburg, VA and a half hour’s drive from the Silver Line Metro station in Reston, VA, from which point it’s only 30-40 minute train ride into the heart of Washington, D.C.  Future guests here are in for a wonderful surprise!

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living in the truth, Surprise, Uncategorized

The “Other”, DACA & Diversity Watercolor Studies

Flamingo with chick

Illustration: “Flamingo and chick”, Watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Thinking about the intense efforts (as, for instance, reported upon just yesterday on the Lawfare Blog, “Beware the Slippery Slope…) by some to paint (figuratively speaking) people as “other” and somehow lesser human beings just because of their birth circumstances and, in the case of DACA young people, because of the choices of their parents, I have forged ahead during some quiet spells recently with some illustrations related to the volume on ‘diversity’ I have in mind.

Peacock 2

Illustration: “Green-gold Peacock”, Watercolor, gouache, and gold gel pen by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Painting–literally painting–is definitely a way to displace some energy that otherwise would be fruitlessly wasted watching the already-absorbed news, for instance.  It’s also very interesting to consider trying to explain concepts of diversity and discrimination through a medium (drawing) that is addressed to children.

Hippos

Illustration: “Hippos by the Water”, Watercolor and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Why now?  It appears to me that current events must capture the minds of those concerned about individual human tragedies, including families being separated, which are being reported in the news.   How a nation treats its own people, moreover, and other nations’ people tells us a lot about its future (and its security).

Flamingos

Illustration: “Flamingos on Rocks”, Watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

There is no better age to gain lifelong appreciation of the world’s diversity and wonder–and to nurture lifelong curiosity and thirst for learning–than  when very young…  Ensuring that children retain their curiosity is essential now more than ever to the survival of the planet.  The issues we face are not in some far off future.  They are here and now.  Already mankind needs unprecedented amounts of talent and imagination to cope with very real challenges we face today–challenges which inevitably will combine and interact in ways we can’t precisely predict.

Giraffes

Illustration: “Giraffes”, watercolor and gouache and pen-and-ink  by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

 

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living in truth, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, Watercolor Painting

Goodbye 2017

blue hippo

Illustration: “Blue Hippo” in watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

It’s been a hard year for many people. May the new year 2018 remind us of the potential we all represent to address our world’s serious problems and thereby contribute to helping future generations.  To do this, we’ll need to appreciate what each of us brings to the table–we need to appreciate our differences.  So I’ll end the year on this blog with some hippo watercolor studies I’ve been playing around with for a side project on appreciating our differences. Happy Hippo New Year!

Hippo 2

Illustration: “Mother Hippo”, watercolor and pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

 

Hippos on rock

Illustration: “Hippos sunning” in watercolor, gouache, and pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Hippo with baby

Illustration: “Mother and child” in watercolor and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

 

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Surprise, Uncategorized

Zoo Tranquility

Zoosketch

Illustration: “Waterfall at the National Zoo,” watercolor and pen-and-ink in 9″ x 12″ Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Things must be getting pretty crazy if, oxymoronically, the zoo becomes an oasis of peace and quiet.  On a recent Sunday, however–with absolutely perfect weather in Washington, D.C. (while sadly, elsewhere, the opposite conditions prevailed)–that’s what happened.

Near the Carousel, and opposite the tall rock waterfall of the enclosure for the lemurs on one side and dozens of turtles on the other,there was a perfect patch of higher ground for sketching.  The sound of falling water reduced all other sounds, including that of the Carousel music,  to a background hush, even though crowds streaming past on pathways below and to either side of me became thicker over time.

While the rest of my party was otherwise engaged for a spell, I tried to capture this tranquil scene, amazed really, that the zoo could offer such a peaceful spot with the constant sound of a waterfall.  I found the paper in the Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook initially pretty frustrating for watercolor; it is really for washes (as it says!) so appreciates a light touch.  But if you let your work dry and keep the cover closed on it, the page will smooth out and can accept more color.

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Surprise, Uncategorized

Bartholdi Park In DC

Bartholdipark

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink, “Bartholdi Park,”  in Canson Montval 5.5 in by 8.5in 140 lb cold press paper sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Weekends are great time for meeting up with other people of all ages and backgrounds who like to sketch, draw and paint–and so that’s what a bunch of us did on a recent beautiful and warm Sunday in Washington, D.C.  Through this artistic connection, I learned of a park I’d never noticed.

It’s called Bartholdi Park, after the sculptor who designed the beautiful fountain the middle of the park.  Bartholdi later went on to design and produce the Statue of Liberty.(A previous blog post on Bartholdi’s home in Colmar, France is here on this blog.)  This park is an oasis of calm in the middle of Washington, D.C.–on Capitol Hill, no less.  The two-acre park is actually part of the National Botanical Garden across the street, but it’s a place where you can sit under any number of shade umbrellas at tables with chairs and enjoy the sound of the fountain and admire the bright flowers and greenery all around!

The Bartholdi Fountain is known as the “Fountain of Light and Water” and was designed  for the 1876 Philadelphia exposition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the United States (see Wikipedia for more info).  Thus its presence in D.C. seems appropriate.  Certainly, its beauty is something amazing to behold.  It’s an ornate fountain that is very hard to capture in a sketch but intriguing enough to make you want to return and try again.

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living in truth, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Lake Reflections #2

LakeScene

Illustration: Watercolor sketch on 5.5″ x 8.5″ 140 lb. cold press Montval watercolor sketchbook paper by Black Elephant Blog author

On a day when a U.S. President seemed to threaten nuclear war (%@?*?!X?), further undermining our security relationships and standing around the world, the sanest thing to do seemed  to be to sit on a quiet lakeside beach and watch people on all manner of boats and boards enjoying a beautiful evening out on the water.  I have a whole lot of paintings to complete, mostly still in my head, from the recent trip to Europe.  Following the sudden, unexpected death of a sibling a couple of weeks ago–a sibling who so recently (only a month ago) was enjoying that same trip to Europe…he,clambering up steep cobble-stoned streets, admiring cathedrals, and admiring a replica of a Bronze Age village built on pilings over water on the edge of Lake Constance in Germany– I am finding I must ‘sketch-crawl’ my way back to working in the bright colors I prefer. It may take a while but enjoying the interaction of watercolor with paper seems likely to help me get there.

As I sit lakeside in the twilight of an evening, I do reflect on how uncommonly good people, such as my recently departed brother (who used to read this blog as it appeared in his email), sometimes have uncommonly rare things befall them, and are taken from us uncommonly early in their lives.  It is too soon to find any sense or solace in this.   But it has long been clear:   We must make more space for such people–the ones like him who are driven by a larger sense of global responsibility—to share their abilities with us while they are here in this earthly world.  The world needs uncommonly good people right now, who act in the awareness that we are all part of a larger whole.  Only by having a critical mass of such people exhibiting their genuine caring and leadership to making the world a better place, can we have a chance (in the remaining time left to us as a species) of tipping the planetary scales into a sustainable direction.  Nothing is more urgent these days, but it is restorative to watch people fishing and stand-up paddle-boarding on this evening as if they had no cares in the world. I will probably do more of that today.

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