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Posts For: November 23, 2007

Hillary Clinton Prays To Be Thin

Like death and taxes, there are certain things in life we’ve come to anticipate. Another item to add to the list: vapid front-page articles by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor (a wunderkind who was once Howell Raines’s pick to lead the Times‘s Arts & Leisure section). Today’s edition: What the candidates eat!

Along with images of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Rudy Giuliani gorging on trans fats, we can savor other nuggets about the candidates’ eating and health habits. For example, did you know Hillary Clinton “said she prayed to God to help her lose weight”? Or that Mitt Romney eats the same thing every day, an ascetic diet that includes homemade granola and a whole lot of chicken? Or that Mike Huckabee “sticks largely to salads”?

Among the many ways filmmaker Michael Moore undermines his credibility is when he uses an image of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, running his hand through his hair to prove a point—as though Mr. Rumsfeld’s hair were emblematic of the evil-doings of the Bush administration. I wonder what epiphany Ms. Kantor expects us to have by exposing Mr. Romney’s weight or Mr. Giuliani’s predilection for pizza in Iowa. Or is this morsel, like the others Ms. Kantor has fed us in the past, just so many empty calories?

Like death and taxes, there are certain things in life we’ve come to anticipate. Another item to add to the list: vapid front-page articles by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor (a wunderkind who was once Howell Raines’s pick to lead the Times‘s Arts & Leisure section). Today’s edition: What the candidates eat!

Along with images of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Rudy Giuliani gorging on trans fats, we can savor other nuggets about the candidates’ eating and health habits. For example, did you know Hillary Clinton “said she prayed to God to help her lose weight”? Or that Mitt Romney eats the same thing every day, an ascetic diet that includes homemade granola and a whole lot of chicken? Or that Mike Huckabee “sticks largely to salads”?

Among the many ways filmmaker Michael Moore undermines his credibility is when he uses an image of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, running his hand through his hair to prove a point—as though Mr. Rumsfeld’s hair were emblematic of the evil-doings of the Bush administration. I wonder what epiphany Ms. Kantor expects us to have by exposing Mr. Romney’s weight or Mr. Giuliani’s predilection for pizza in Iowa. Or is this morsel, like the others Ms. Kantor has fed us in the past, just so many empty calories?

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Bookshelf

• I can’t think of an art critic whom I admire more, or read more attentively, than Karen Wilkin. Not only does she write about modern art with stylish, jargon-free clarity, but she is immune to the trendiness that is the driving force behind the “thinking” of so many American critics. Her essays and reviews invariably help me to see the painters about whom she writes with an enhanced clarity that owes nothing to the factitious charms of fashion. Her name figures prominently on the very short list of critics whose books I will buy and read regardless of their subject.

As it happens, Wilkin has just published two new books, though one of them is not “new” in the usual sense of the word. Giorgio Morandi: Works, Writings and Interviews (Ediciones Polígrafa, 160 pp., $45) is an exceedingly well-made folio based in substantial part on a Morandi monograph published by Wilkin nine years ago in Rizzoli’s Twentieth-Century Masters series. Not only has the text of the earlier volume been reprinted here without change, but so have most of the illustrations (I assume that the same plates were used). The main difference is that the new book also includes a selection of the Italian painter’s writings, including four letters, two interviews and a 1928 autobiographical statement, all of which shed much light on his artistic thinking:

I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see. We know that all that we can see of the objective world, as human beings, never really exists as we see and understand it. Matter exists, of course, but has no intrinsic meaning of its own, such as the meanings that we attach to it. Only we can know that a cup is a cup, that a tree is a tree.

I’m sorry that Wilkin was (apparently) not given the opportunity to update what she wrote about Morandi in light of the important revelations about his life in wartime Italy included in Janet Abramowicz’s Giorgio Morandi: The Art of Silence, which was published virtually without notice three years ago. Nevertheless, her 1998 essay remains the most perceptive criticism of Morandi to have appeared in English, and those who don’t already own the Rizzoli volume in which it was originally published will want to acquire it in this format in order to have access to Morandi’s own writings. Though his work is comparatively little known in the United States, he is an artist of near-inscrutable power whose still lifes have the power to silence the grinding racket of everyday urban life and spirit the harried viewer away to a place of intense stillness. Wilkin has done more than any other American critic to spread the word about Morandi in this country, and I hope that Giorgio Morandi: Works, Writings and Interviews will do still more to advance his cause.

Another of Wilkin’s critical causes is the “color-field” abstraction of Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and their contemporaries and followers, which was widely admired in the days of Clement Greenberg’s ascendancy but has long since come to be regarded as passé. Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975 (Yale, 128 pp., $45) is the catalogue of a retrospective curated by Wilkin that just opened at the Denver Art Museum (it closes on Feb. 3) and will travel from there to the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Feb. 29-May 26) and Nashville’s Frist Center for Visual Arts (June 20-Sept. 21). Rarely has a catalogue made a more powerful case for the revaluation of a now-disdained style, not least because of Wilkin’s pithy, characteristically straight-talking introductory essay:

Modish critics and art historians, reared on a diet of art that insists on elaborate verbal explication, and deeply mistrustful of anything that doesn’t come fully bolstered with words, have decried Color Field painting as merely decorative . . . Unfortunately, the minds of many spectators, who include makers of art, as well as art historians, critics, and curators, have been carried so far into regions so purely literary that they seem to have forgotten that the visual is as much a cerebral function as the verbal.

I can’t wait to see the show.

• I can’t think of an art critic whom I admire more, or read more attentively, than Karen Wilkin. Not only does she write about modern art with stylish, jargon-free clarity, but she is immune to the trendiness that is the driving force behind the “thinking” of so many American critics. Her essays and reviews invariably help me to see the painters about whom she writes with an enhanced clarity that owes nothing to the factitious charms of fashion. Her name figures prominently on the very short list of critics whose books I will buy and read regardless of their subject.

As it happens, Wilkin has just published two new books, though one of them is not “new” in the usual sense of the word. Giorgio Morandi: Works, Writings and Interviews (Ediciones Polígrafa, 160 pp., $45) is an exceedingly well-made folio based in substantial part on a Morandi monograph published by Wilkin nine years ago in Rizzoli’s Twentieth-Century Masters series. Not only has the text of the earlier volume been reprinted here without change, but so have most of the illustrations (I assume that the same plates were used). The main difference is that the new book also includes a selection of the Italian painter’s writings, including four letters, two interviews and a 1928 autobiographical statement, all of which shed much light on his artistic thinking:

I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see. We know that all that we can see of the objective world, as human beings, never really exists as we see and understand it. Matter exists, of course, but has no intrinsic meaning of its own, such as the meanings that we attach to it. Only we can know that a cup is a cup, that a tree is a tree.

I’m sorry that Wilkin was (apparently) not given the opportunity to update what she wrote about Morandi in light of the important revelations about his life in wartime Italy included in Janet Abramowicz’s Giorgio Morandi: The Art of Silence, which was published virtually without notice three years ago. Nevertheless, her 1998 essay remains the most perceptive criticism of Morandi to have appeared in English, and those who don’t already own the Rizzoli volume in which it was originally published will want to acquire it in this format in order to have access to Morandi’s own writings. Though his work is comparatively little known in the United States, he is an artist of near-inscrutable power whose still lifes have the power to silence the grinding racket of everyday urban life and spirit the harried viewer away to a place of intense stillness. Wilkin has done more than any other American critic to spread the word about Morandi in this country, and I hope that Giorgio Morandi: Works, Writings and Interviews will do still more to advance his cause.

Another of Wilkin’s critical causes is the “color-field” abstraction of Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and their contemporaries and followers, which was widely admired in the days of Clement Greenberg’s ascendancy but has long since come to be regarded as passé. Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975 (Yale, 128 pp., $45) is the catalogue of a retrospective curated by Wilkin that just opened at the Denver Art Museum (it closes on Feb. 3) and will travel from there to the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Feb. 29-May 26) and Nashville’s Frist Center for Visual Arts (June 20-Sept. 21). Rarely has a catalogue made a more powerful case for the revaluation of a now-disdained style, not least because of Wilkin’s pithy, characteristically straight-talking introductory essay:

Modish critics and art historians, reared on a diet of art that insists on elaborate verbal explication, and deeply mistrustful of anything that doesn’t come fully bolstered with words, have decried Color Field painting as merely decorative . . . Unfortunately, the minds of many spectators, who include makers of art, as well as art historians, critics, and curators, have been carried so far into regions so purely literary that they seem to have forgotten that the visual is as much a cerebral function as the verbal.

I can’t wait to see the show.

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Something To Be Really Thankful For

If any more evidence were needed of how dramatically things have changed in Iraq, a senior military official sends along statistics that show snapshots of three dates: this Thanksgiving; last Thanksgiving, November 22, 2006; and the midway point between them, May 22, 2007.

On Thanksgiving 2006 there were 126 enemy attacks across Iraq and 26 of them were “effective,” meaning they caused injuries or damaged buildings, vehicles, or other infrastructure. Six months later, attack levels were virtually unchanged: May 22 saw 122 attacks, 35 of them effective. And then came the big turn: On Thursday, there were 53 attacks and only 18 of them were effective—drops from a year ago of 58 percent and 31 perecent respectively.

Baghdad, which had been the primary center of violence on November 22, 2006, and May 22, 2007, no longer had that distinction on Thursday: It saw only 10 attacks (half of them effective), compared with 37 in northern Iraq (less than a third of them effective). It’s still cause for concern that the violence level remains so high in the north, but it is cause for celebration that Baghdad is becoming so peaceful. Given that it is the capital of the country, improvements are more significant politically if they occur there than in the provinces.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping result was the change that occurred not in Baghdad, however, but in Anbar Province, which saw 28 attacks (seven of them effective) a year ago and none—repeat none—yesterday.

Those are the kinds of results that should make us grateful to the hard work of the soldiers in Iraq, not only Americans but Iraqis and other coalition partners, and to their commanders in Baghdad and Washington who had the wisdom to implement a new strategy after it became apparent that the old one was failing.

If any more evidence were needed of how dramatically things have changed in Iraq, a senior military official sends along statistics that show snapshots of three dates: this Thanksgiving; last Thanksgiving, November 22, 2006; and the midway point between them, May 22, 2007.

On Thanksgiving 2006 there were 126 enemy attacks across Iraq and 26 of them were “effective,” meaning they caused injuries or damaged buildings, vehicles, or other infrastructure. Six months later, attack levels were virtually unchanged: May 22 saw 122 attacks, 35 of them effective. And then came the big turn: On Thursday, there were 53 attacks and only 18 of them were effective—drops from a year ago of 58 percent and 31 perecent respectively.

Baghdad, which had been the primary center of violence on November 22, 2006, and May 22, 2007, no longer had that distinction on Thursday: It saw only 10 attacks (half of them effective), compared with 37 in northern Iraq (less than a third of them effective). It’s still cause for concern that the violence level remains so high in the north, but it is cause for celebration that Baghdad is becoming so peaceful. Given that it is the capital of the country, improvements are more significant politically if they occur there than in the provinces.

Perhaps the most jaw-dropping result was the change that occurred not in Baghdad, however, but in Anbar Province, which saw 28 attacks (seven of them effective) a year ago and none—repeat none—yesterday.

Those are the kinds of results that should make us grateful to the hard work of the soldiers in Iraq, not only Americans but Iraqis and other coalition partners, and to their commanders in Baghdad and Washington who had the wisdom to implement a new strategy after it became apparent that the old one was failing.

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I’ll Take Disingenuous Sophists for $1,000, Alex

Mark Krikorian calls me a “pedantic bore” on National Review’s The Corner for having had the temerity to point out that a “winking headline” he put on a blog post the other day was an exact echo of George McGovern’s isolationist slogan “Come Home, America.” The word “winking” in his wondrously suggestive riposte is clearly a delightfully ironic witticism far too imaginative for a pedantic bore like me to understand. But let me analyze it, pedantically and in a very boring manner, for a just a split second. In essence, by calling his headling “winking,” Krikorian is acknowledging that his desire to see all American troops removed from Europe is, in fact, firmly and precisely in the isolationist tradition of McGovern. He’s only “winking” because he knows full well that as a poster on a conservative website of a magazine that is notably internationalist in its outlook, he is introducing a note of purely isolationist cutesiness.

How un-pedantic of Krikorian! Regrettably, however, there are some pedantic bores out there whose eye for the obvious are unable to appreciate his magnificent subtlety and can see only the disingenuous sophistry at his core. As for complaining that I did not make an argument in opposition to his, let me just offer this: His original post contained nothing resembling an argument, merely a populist sneer at the notion that it might be prudent to keep a rather small contingent of American forces in a state of forward deployment in Europe. But then, there is little point in arguing anything with Krikorian, whose career is dedicated to gussying up noxious views in terms that sound calmly reasoned. (Perhaps, Mark, you should consider adding that last sentence to the book blurb you intend to make of my statement that you are “the leading immigration restrictionist in America.”)

Mark Krikorian calls me a “pedantic bore” on National Review’s The Corner for having had the temerity to point out that a “winking headline” he put on a blog post the other day was an exact echo of George McGovern’s isolationist slogan “Come Home, America.” The word “winking” in his wondrously suggestive riposte is clearly a delightfully ironic witticism far too imaginative for a pedantic bore like me to understand. But let me analyze it, pedantically and in a very boring manner, for a just a split second. In essence, by calling his headling “winking,” Krikorian is acknowledging that his desire to see all American troops removed from Europe is, in fact, firmly and precisely in the isolationist tradition of McGovern. He’s only “winking” because he knows full well that as a poster on a conservative website of a magazine that is notably internationalist in its outlook, he is introducing a note of purely isolationist cutesiness.

How un-pedantic of Krikorian! Regrettably, however, there are some pedantic bores out there whose eye for the obvious are unable to appreciate his magnificent subtlety and can see only the disingenuous sophistry at his core. As for complaining that I did not make an argument in opposition to his, let me just offer this: His original post contained nothing resembling an argument, merely a populist sneer at the notion that it might be prudent to keep a rather small contingent of American forces in a state of forward deployment in Europe. But then, there is little point in arguing anything with Krikorian, whose career is dedicated to gussying up noxious views in terms that sound calmly reasoned. (Perhaps, Mark, you should consider adding that last sentence to the book blurb you intend to make of my statement that you are “the leading immigration restrictionist in America.”)

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Ian Smith

There’s a telling sentence towards the end of the Daily Telegraph’s story about Ian Smith, the last white prime minister of Rhodesia, who died Tuesday at the age of 88:

But Mr. Mugabe treated Smith with great magnanimity, allowing him to stay in Parliament until 1987 and keep his farm.

What magnanimity (though, at least in comparison to the treatment meted out to most of the country’s whites over time, Mugabe’s disregard of Smith was indeed exceptional). The circumstances of Smith’s removal from parliament were just a minor blip in Mugabe’s descent into full-bore totalitarianism: Mugabe suspended him in 1987 for publicly stating that sanctions against neighboring South Africa would help that country become more economically independent.

Smith was not a great man; indeed, his intransigence—which led to Rhodesia’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)—and refusal to allow even the most basic of democratic rights for blacks, prolonged Rhodesia’s internal political crises, worsened racial relations, and generally created the conditions in which a man like Robert Mugabe could later rise to power. Contrary to what some of Smith’s latter-day apologists might today claim, the roots of totalitarian rule existed in Zimbabwe long before Mugabe: detention without trial, press censorship, the frittering away of the rule of law—none of these things were suddenly or even gradually introduced into Zimbabwean life during the Mugabe years. They were planted by Ian Smith and his crypto-fascist Rhodesian Front party.

Yet as much as Smith was a white supremacist, Mugabe has been a black—and tribal—one to boot. The sad fact is that Rhodesia’s authoritarianism was preferable to Zimbabwe’s totalitarianism, and no knowledgeable observer of Zimbabwe can conclude otherwise. (And Smith, at least over time, was probably right in his boasts–made frequently before his death–that he was ultimately more popular amongst Zimbabwean blacks than Mugabe.) This is not an expression of nostalgia for Rhodesia’s colonial past, but merely an acknowledgment that the sort of diplomacy which allowed a man, openly preaching his desire for continued violence and one-party rule, to take control was ultimately a failure. (And that the story’s lessons can be applied to similar situations—for instance, whether or not to engage with Hamas diplomatically.) But Ian Smith, given his own culpability in violently delaying democracy—and certainly in light of what Mugabe has done to most of his other political foes—sure got off easy.

There’s a telling sentence towards the end of the Daily Telegraph’s story about Ian Smith, the last white prime minister of Rhodesia, who died Tuesday at the age of 88:

But Mr. Mugabe treated Smith with great magnanimity, allowing him to stay in Parliament until 1987 and keep his farm.

What magnanimity (though, at least in comparison to the treatment meted out to most of the country’s whites over time, Mugabe’s disregard of Smith was indeed exceptional). The circumstances of Smith’s removal from parliament were just a minor blip in Mugabe’s descent into full-bore totalitarianism: Mugabe suspended him in 1987 for publicly stating that sanctions against neighboring South Africa would help that country become more economically independent.

Smith was not a great man; indeed, his intransigence—which led to Rhodesia’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)—and refusal to allow even the most basic of democratic rights for blacks, prolonged Rhodesia’s internal political crises, worsened racial relations, and generally created the conditions in which a man like Robert Mugabe could later rise to power. Contrary to what some of Smith’s latter-day apologists might today claim, the roots of totalitarian rule existed in Zimbabwe long before Mugabe: detention without trial, press censorship, the frittering away of the rule of law—none of these things were suddenly or even gradually introduced into Zimbabwean life during the Mugabe years. They were planted by Ian Smith and his crypto-fascist Rhodesian Front party.

Yet as much as Smith was a white supremacist, Mugabe has been a black—and tribal—one to boot. The sad fact is that Rhodesia’s authoritarianism was preferable to Zimbabwe’s totalitarianism, and no knowledgeable observer of Zimbabwe can conclude otherwise. (And Smith, at least over time, was probably right in his boasts–made frequently before his death–that he was ultimately more popular amongst Zimbabwean blacks than Mugabe.) This is not an expression of nostalgia for Rhodesia’s colonial past, but merely an acknowledgment that the sort of diplomacy which allowed a man, openly preaching his desire for continued violence and one-party rule, to take control was ultimately a failure. (And that the story’s lessons can be applied to similar situations—for instance, whether or not to engage with Hamas diplomatically.) But Ian Smith, given his own culpability in violently delaying democracy—and certainly in light of what Mugabe has done to most of his other political foes—sure got off easy.

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A Thanksgiving Insult

Yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry, reversing a previous decision, announced that it had given the U.S. Navy’s Kitty Hawk carrier group permission to dock in Hong Kong for a four-day Thanksgiving visit. On Wednesday, the State Department announced that China had, at the last moment, refused permission for the port call. The Navy had already flown hundreds of dependents to that city in anticipation of the long-planned visit, and the six ships of the carrier group had been idling in circles in the South China Sea pending Beijing’s expected approval. The Foreign Ministry gave no explanation for its earlier refusal. It said that its later approval was based on “humanitarian considerations.”

The 8,000 crewmembers of the Kitty Hawk and its fleet spent Thanksgiving steaming back to the carrier’s home port of Yokosuka in Japan. “The ships will not be coming back,” said a spokesman from the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. “They are 300 miles out to sea and there is a storm in the area.”

Storm or no storm, the Consulate should have announced that, after Beijing’s petty behavior, the Kitty Hawk would not be returning to Hong Kong—and that the Navy will no longer ask for permission to dock in Hong Kong or other Chinese ports. Why should we try to go where we are treated so poorly?

In 2006, American military personnel spent about $32 million in Hong Kong. Let’s support our friends in the region by calling at their ports, instead of those of petulant autocrats. How about, for instance, docking in Taiwan?

The Chinese were obviously trying to make some point with their insult. There has been speculation as to what they were upset about, but it really does not matter. It’s about time we stopped acting so magnanimously and started to make some points of our own.

Yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry, reversing a previous decision, announced that it had given the U.S. Navy’s Kitty Hawk carrier group permission to dock in Hong Kong for a four-day Thanksgiving visit. On Wednesday, the State Department announced that China had, at the last moment, refused permission for the port call. The Navy had already flown hundreds of dependents to that city in anticipation of the long-planned visit, and the six ships of the carrier group had been idling in circles in the South China Sea pending Beijing’s expected approval. The Foreign Ministry gave no explanation for its earlier refusal. It said that its later approval was based on “humanitarian considerations.”

The 8,000 crewmembers of the Kitty Hawk and its fleet spent Thanksgiving steaming back to the carrier’s home port of Yokosuka in Japan. “The ships will not be coming back,” said a spokesman from the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. “They are 300 miles out to sea and there is a storm in the area.”

Storm or no storm, the Consulate should have announced that, after Beijing’s petty behavior, the Kitty Hawk would not be returning to Hong Kong—and that the Navy will no longer ask for permission to dock in Hong Kong or other Chinese ports. Why should we try to go where we are treated so poorly?

In 2006, American military personnel spent about $32 million in Hong Kong. Let’s support our friends in the region by calling at their ports, instead of those of petulant autocrats. How about, for instance, docking in Taiwan?

The Chinese were obviously trying to make some point with their insult. There has been speculation as to what they were upset about, but it really does not matter. It’s about time we stopped acting so magnanimously and started to make some points of our own.

Read Less




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