December 7, 2015
“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) might have been the world’s most celebrated 20th-century artist. Although born in Spain, he spent most of his life in France. His father too was a painter as well as an art teacher. Picasso’s creative gift manifested itself while he was quite young, and when his family moved to Barcelona he was accepted into the city’s prestigious art school at the remakable age of 14. But the prodigy chafed at art school, which he also attended in Madrid. In 1901, at the age of 21, he said adios to Spain and opened a studio in Paris. After two brief periods–his Blue and Rose years–he began to revolutionize art in 1907 with his famous work, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”; this painting set the stage for cubism, which he developed with Georges Braques. In the decades that followed he would paint in a variety of schools and techniques. One of his most powerful surrealist works, “Guernica,” mourned the fascist murder of thousands in the Spanish Civil War; it has been praised as “one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history.”
This week’s episode of God Is Great: Kill! Kill! was in San Bernardino, California. Unusually, it featured a husband/wife terrorist team, and they murdered 14 people attending a Christmas luncheon as well as wound an additional 21. However, as gruesome as this random slaughter was, 75 years ago, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy inflicted an infinitely greater loss of life when carrier-based aircraft attacked American forces at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The 350 high-altitude bombers, dive bombers, torpedo bombers, and fighters came in two waves early on a serene Sunday morning and killed 2,335 members of the armed forces and 68 civilians. They also wounded 1,178. The surprise attack sank five battleships and damaged three others. Three light cruisers and three destroyers were obliterated as well as 188 aircraft–many on the ground. Japanese losses amounted to 27 aircraft and five midget subs. President Roosevelt, in seeking a declaration of war against Japan, called the Pearl Harbor sneak attack “a day of infamy.” Times were simpler then: you only had to worry about another government attacking you rather than a man and a woman who might be your neighbors.
On Sunday, December 6, President Obama spoke to the nation about San Bernardino and terrorism. This was not one of his best speeches. Although the expression “War on Terror” has fallen into disfavor, an updated sequel is “War on Isis.” If we are to accept this description as accurate, than Obama’s Michael Dukakis imitation didn’t serve the nation well. Instead of soaring and inspiring language the nation received a status report on existing policies that clearly have failed in many people’s eyes. Contrast Obama’s subdued, managerial style with that of Winston Churchill. When Churchill spoke of being at war, he roared, “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.” Which approach do you think made citizens more trusting that their leader was guiding their nation to safety?
The American Dream, an expression coined by writer James Truslow Adams in 1931, described “a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” But a number of factors have come together to reduce the opportunities for upward mobility in America. Possibly the most important is income inequality. The richest Americans are rewarded with an ever larger portion of the nation’s wealth while the middle class contracts and the number of those in poverty expands. Economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Steiglitz, in his book The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them, asserts that economic inequality inevitably leads to political inequality, a “vicious circle.” CBS News, which interviewed Steiglitz, noted that “The top 1 percent of Americans now take home 20 percent of all pre-tax income, or double their share in 1980. For most middle-class and lower-income families, income has either stagnated or fallen.” Today, American pre-eminence in championing upward mobility is a myth. In one study, the U.S. trails behind Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands in measuring the likelihood of upward mobility. In a second study, measuring the correlation between a father’s income and a son’s earnings, the United States does even worse: it trails behind Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, Spain, France and Switzerland. Drilling down into the data reveals variations in mobility within the U.S. In other words, as determined by multiple factors (race, class, education, income, etc.) upward mobility varies by geographic destiny. A second blow to they mythology of the American Dream comes in changing attitudes toward home ownership. A recent article was headlined, “Home Ownership Is No Longer the Linchpin of the American Dream.” The article points out that even though many people still aspire to own a home, other factors have conspired to block this goal–such as a concern over retirement income and student loan debt. The percentage of home ownership is now at its lowest rate since 1967. A writer in The Washington Post believes that this trend will continue at least until 2030.
Send a Love Card to someone and maybe they won’t buy an AR-15 assault rifle. According to a Swiss study, U.S. citizens own 35-50% of the planet’s guns. The Washington Post assesses the number of guns in the hands of American men and women at 270 million. Madness. My holiday note card harkens back to the 1960s when one of the most popular slogans was “Make Love, Not War.” The cards feature an original artwork and a sophisticated tinted area for your greeting. They are produced on a feel-good off-white stock and printed on a high-end digital press. They are 5 x 7, four pages, and are sold in sets of five for $16.99 at my shop on Etsy.com.
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