October 17, 2016 § 2 Comments
Reader, in case you haven’t noticed, I have exactly zero shame when it comes to picking low hanging societal fruit. I’ll do the job most Americans won’t do. And to be fair, the Social Justice Warriors leave plenty of fruit hanging for the likes of me to pick so here goes. You see what I’m going to talk about today concerns a small little college in Annville, PA known as Lebanon Valley College. Sounds pretty innocuous right? The school is often named to those annual “Best of” lists that tell you the best places to send your money. I mean your kids! It’s a rural campus founded in 1866, a bunch of brick buildings, some level of learning going on, a few thousand students, some sports teams nicknamed the Flying Dutchmen. Uh oh. Gender specific, Eurocentric, something fishy there. But you have no idea reader. You can’t imagine the seething cauldron of racism, paranoia, and violence hidden inside those ivy-choked halls. And you also can’t imagine the depths of guilt, shame (and apparently boredom) in the hearts, souls, and alleged minds, of some of the student body. For you see this little slice of Americana nestled in the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania is home to Jim Crow incarnate. The civil rights movement of the 60’s rolled through America and apparently bypassed this little backwater and only the work of some courageous students at the college has brought all this to light.
It all goes back to one of the presidents of the college Dr. Clyde A. Lynch who held his position from 1932 through 1950 when he died while still president of the school. So the man ran the school during the turbulence of the Depression and World War II and even drove a fund-raising campaign that was able to raise over half a million dollars (actual money back then) that enabled the school to construct a new physical education building where sporting events and locker room hi-jinks have been taking place ever since. Okay, you say, obviously this guy was a bad dude. I mean it was the 30’s through the 50’s so we all have a mental picture about the level of race relations at the time. Wink, wink. I mean, where there’s smoke, something’s burning. This guy was no doubt at least a closet sympathizer of the Klan, perhaps wrote some things that were less than progressive when it came to racial relations and thereby did enough to give us all an icky feeling towards him that would merit his name being removed from campus buildings. That is after all, the latest craze. Unpeople-ing institutions or physical places that have any whiff of that ol’ fashioned racism. This type of feel-goodism isn’t going to lead to the end of the world, there’s plenty of other things coming that will do that job, but it’s just intellectually lazy and a bad idea. As bad as my idea of setting loose a cage full of flaming bats at a 5 year old’s birthday party in an effort to “spice things up?” Perhaps not, but close. Pinatas are so gauche after all and truth be told a form of, duh duh Duhhhh! Cultural appropriation.
So anyway wiping the doctor’s name from a campus building is what some students at the school came forward and demanded as part of the proverbial list of demands that they presented to school administrators in the latest example of academic blackmail. Whoops! I mean an academic demand (without any overtones of skin color) in order to procure a wanted goal. They wanted the former president’s name removed from a college hall in order to help heal those who somehow cannot get through their day without meditating on the hurt and humiliation caused by his actions over 70 years ago. So when hearing about this concerned group of students and their fight against injustice at the school I immediately sprang into action in order to suss out the man’s transgressions and help to forever wipe his besmirched name from this place of higher learning. I mean why have a slave master’s ghost hanging over the school and interfering with all that critical thinking that was taking place?
So I did some digging to find out just what the evil doctor, Clyde A. Lynch was doing at his own little plantation all those years. However the more I dug the less I was able to find. It just didn’t seem like there was anything in the public record as to his crimes. I then figured what the heck, I’d take the lazy route and go straight to the students who lodged the complaint and read through what they found out about the good doctor. Far be it from me to keep hunting for the Easter eggs when there are some lying in plain sight. So I looked up what exactly Clyde A. Lynch did as put forth by the students who wanted to erase his name from the school and found out…………….They wanted to get rid of his name because of his name. Lynch. I told you at the beginning of the post this was low hanging fruit. And if you’d read the title of the post carefully (which I always tell you to do but I know you don’t) you would have noticed the foreshadowing taking place there.
That’s right reader, or read writer, the problem with Lynch is his last name since it evokes images (apparently) of people being lynched during the days of slavery and Jim Crow. Actually the term lynching has its origins in the American War for Independence where a certain Captain Lynch used to hang suspected British loyalists with little or no due process. So in reality we should see protests being led by the bewildered descendants of these loyalists as they try to forever remove that insensitive word from the Lebanon Valley campus. We won’t see that though will we reader. I mean no one would be silly enough to equate a verb with a person’s given last name. * While lamenting the loss of the ability by many to think clearly and logically Gross has forgotten what he has just written a 900 word blog post about. Further, he is now searching identity databases for additional name criminals. Be on notice all you Strait’s, White’s, and Mann’s, we’re coming for you and it’s time to pay for your crimes.
September 12, 2016 § 2 Comments
You’re back friends! Or else this is your first time here after your keyword search of “Gross Cheese in Mousetrap” dropped you squarely at this site. Either way all are welcome here at Cháteau Gross. Just stay away from the servant girls.
Okay reader, this post may cause me to run up the Relevancy Alert flag over the Free Cheese compound. It’s so rare I write a post about a current topic though that I’ve seemed to have misplaced the flag so maybe I’ll just attach a copy of People Magazine (if reading this thirty years from now search for “vapid” and “magazine” in your computerized brain) since nothing is more topical than the juicy celeb mags. Anyway, like I said this post is kind of, sort of, concerning events that took place recently and this little gem has it all. We’ve got Islamic terrorists, government ineptitude, G-men waving badges and guns around, a hot little Russian number who overstayed her visa, more government ineptitude, and a bitchy ICE field officer who takes a hard fall.
For those reading this in the distant future, first can you please somehow assure me that we never had a President Kardashian? Okay so anyway, let me recap what happened in San Bernadino in 2015 since a lot of things have happened in San Bernadino. *Fun Fact! It was once the largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy only to be superseded one year later by those jealous Detroiters. We’re number 2! We’re number 2! Yes you are San Bernadino, yes you are. So anyway, in December of 2015 a married couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wifey Tashfeen Malik (silly Scottish names!) decided they were going to do a little jihadin’ in the San Bernadino area. So Farook, who was employed by the State as a food inspector, went in along with his wife and shot up the State funded place where he worked, killing a bunch of his co-workers. They were both later killed in a shootout with police. Neither he nor his wife were on any State maintained terrorist data base. Okay, we can’t lay all this at the feet of the State right? I mean, these were people acting on their own volition and the State handled them correctly after the killing by at least laying them both out in a hail of gunfire.
But wait reader. It’s what came after this event that this post is truly about. Rule #1 of creative writing for you youngsters out there, explain the point of your writing in the first paragraph. Not 374 words in. Or else you’ll work for a non-revenue generating blog.
Okay so the story picks up the day after the massacre. You see there was this guy named Enrique Marquez Jr. who was a friend of the killers, and a pretty wacky dude in his own right, and Homeland Security (HS) agents wanted to talk to him about any possible ties he had to the perpetrators. I’ll shoot <– (a sad attempt at pun points) forward here and tell you he did in fact have a few ties in that he bought some of the guns they used and then illegally provided them to Farook and Malik. So naturally, the agents investigating the case were more than a little interested to speak with him. And as it turned out Marquez’ wife, a Russian national named Mariya Chernykh, had an appointment at a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office the day after the shooting in order to change her immigration status. The Homeland Security agents were naturally interested in talking to Marquez but also fearful that the two might try to pull off another mass shooting at the ICE building so Homeland Security sent in a five agent tactical team to apprehend the couple before the body bag brigade needed to show up and do their worst.
As it turned out, the couple weren’t doing any shooting but the HS agents ran into some extremely fierce resistance………..From ICE. Yes, that’s right, these two government entities squared off in a battle of nerves as the ICE field office director, later identified as Irene Martin, kept them waiting in the lobby for a good half hour while she conferred with her superiors. Seems she got cold feet when the HS agents rolled in and she naturally didn’t trust them to guarantee the safety of the immigrants in her charge so she pulled the old, “hold on I’m drying my hair” routine straight out of Three’s Company (it’s California after all) as she dialed up her boss for further instructions. So as the tactical team sat among the plants and the magazines in the lobby, on ice as it were……………….let it sink in reader, that’s right, let it penetrate the cerebrum, the place where all bad puns go…………….the possible crime committing duo of Marquez and Chernykh could have been roaming the halls of the building looking for the danish cart and even softer targets.
So the HS agents were stuck in the lobby for a bit while Martin ran the problem up the chain of command. Then the agents were informed they could leave the lobby and entered another room, a conference room where they sat for another 10 minutes or so. Anyone who has ever been to the doctor can imagine their disappointment as they keep shuttling you from room to room as you get closer to the inner sanctum. This would all come out later during an investigation of the incident by the Office of Inspector General. During this investigation it was determined that ICE officer Martin was less than truthful and gave the dreaded “inconsistent answers” when questioned about her role in l’affaire Marquez.
But back to the present. Or the past present I guess. So the HS agents finally got their face time with Martin, again still not knowing whether Marquez and his Russkie squeeze were walking the halls of the building, and again Martin did the rope a dope and conferred with an ICE counsel in Washington D.C. After some more dithering and Martin’s refusal to hand over Chernykh’s file to the agents someone from headquarters more or less told Martin to un-sass her ass and give the HS agents whatever they were looking for.
Okay so this has been a shit show up to this point but it gets better. And keep in mind, my main source for this post is Federal Times magazine. In other words written by, for, and about Federal workers. So anyway, the piece in the magazine clearly indicates a damning level of ineptitude, bureaucracy, and negligence. But it gets so much better. Picture a long hallway in the building with a bunch of doors on each side and members of both the HS team and ICE staff running in and out of the doors, chasing each other, bumping into each other, in 1970’s comedy style while funny music is playing. You see, after all of these back and forth power struggles between government agents, the tribalism amongst branches that was supposed to be torn down after 9/11, after all the heart pounding moments in that building where it was unknown if two killers were stalking the halls getting ready to continue the bloodshed from the previous day the Federal Times story dropped the following unintentionally funny line.
Martin and her staff later determined that neither Chenykh nor Marquez were in the building.
There it is. The money line. And in that line we have a perfect summation of the glory of government agencies. I hope you feel safe because I know I do.
August 10, 2016 § Leave a comment
Yes this blog-writer-to-the-stars has been silent but I’ve neither been abducted by a Statist death squad nor contracted a horrific, painful, embarrassing, and slightly debilitating STD. *long pause in typing
Anyhoo, it’s obvious that I haven’t posted in a while but I will be back soon, stagnant but stable, once this minor health scare blows over like a saggy, deflating Bullwinkle the Moose balloon in a parade. <− Just so you know Boomers, that reference was for you and after you’ve passed on no one is going to understand it. So you should feel more special right now than you usually do.
July 12, 2016 § 1 Comment
Hey readers, it’s me Latte!
Huh? *Rereads first sentence. I mean it’s me Gross. My many lives are finally beginning to cross over each other and confuse this dancer. I mean writer! *Nervous laughter.
Anyhoo. I want to discuss something today and it involves high-end, elite, globe-trotting internationalists who fly around in planes full of money. I’m talking about the upper one percent of the income spectrum, you know the people everyone reviles but this post isn’t about how we view those people but instead how they view themselves. And to be honest, this post will also deal with some who aren’t quite as wealthy as the first group I just mentioned but more run-of-the-mill rich including the nouveau riche and/or star athletes and celebrities in general. Basically the hoi polloi of the wealthy. Regardless these aren’t people who write or read sparsely read blogs so they’re presumably different from me and you.
So besides money what do these people have in common? Well at least for the athletes and the celebrities I would say a lower than average IQ and a tendency to be Lennonists (see Free Cheese Glossary) but that’s beyond the scope of this post. No, what many of these folks have in common is a simple phrase that they throw around to be eaten up as red meat (or vegan mock-meat) by an adoring media and the common schlub. *Quick Vegan Joke* How can you tell someone’s a vegan?…………Just wait, and they’ll tell you. Anyway, trust me reader, you know this heinous phrase used by the rich as well as I know the phrase “Get in the house and put your clothes on!” They mostly end up using it at a press conference or on feel-good talkie shows with an enraptured host or two just hanging on every word they say as if something brilliant could drop out of their mouths at any moment. They use it in conjunction with discussing how they’re going to give away a bunch of their cash to charity or else spend time doing something for free just to make the world a better place. It goes like this: “I just want to give something back.” There it is! The money shot.
We’ve all heard it and instinctively we say “Ahh, that’s nice. They’re giving something back. Look honey, they’re giving something back! Why can’t we be good people like them?” But much like my back hair when I’m wearing a shirt something sinister lurks beneath. I guess. That was probably odd to read since it felt pretty odd while I was writing it. Anyway, the point of this post (432 words in) is to tell you that the whole “give something back” line is total, unmitigated bullshit. And it’s bullshit on so many bullshitty levels.
Like the goiter on my neck let’s start with the glaringly obvious. “Giving back” signals that you “Took away” to begin with. So the implication when making this statement is that the gains of the individual who is giving back were ill-gotten booty (or ill-booten gotty) and basically would have belonged to someone else if the one doing the giving hadn’t stolen them from their rightful owners. So Bill Gates let’s get this straight. With your “giving back” you’re admitting that all those billions you have banked were actually someone else’s dough and you just ended up having them dropped into your bank account either through something evil you did or by complete accident? And now you plan on giving that money back to society since you didn’t earn it? Of course this makes great PR for any company so we can’t discount that possibility. Also, there’s a thing called virtue signaling whereby an individual goes out of their way to make it glaringly obvious that they’re a good person and doing the right thing based on the perception of the majority as to what that right thing actually is. We can spot virtue signaling everywhere but that will have to wait for another post. I’m on a self-imposed word limit reader! Sheesh!
Another obvious problem with the whole giving back idea is this little thing called the tax code. Are we supposed to forget that these people who are suddenly so philanthropic have had their asses taxed off in most cases and that the only tax avoidance they’ve been able to pull off has been through legal loopholes placed in the tax code by their buddies in the political realm? Assuming they didn’t break any laws tax-wise they’ve certainly “given back” far more than you or I have or ever will. And what has this tax money done? It has acted as a lifeline for a bloated, unproductive State that steals liberty and keeps coming back to your door with its hand out demanding (at gunpoint) that you pay, cue the nails on the chalkboard………….”your fair share.” And all this makes for great theater for the booboisie who love seeing the rich “get theirs” at the hand of the State but that doesn’t cloud the fact that it’s all bunk.
The final point to consider is the often unseen part of this whole picture. These people who want to “give back” have already given to more people than they will ever know. This is where you have to put your Bastiat hat on (I actually own one) and “see the unseen.” That star athlete who puts asses in the seats at the stadium? Yeah, he has hopefully brought satisfaction to his fans but he’s also done his share to create revenue and provide jobs for everyone from parking lot attendants to ushers to announcers to advertising agencies to clothing manufacturers to, you get the idea. Or do you? How about that billionaire computer geek with the Millhouse glasses? What has he done besides line his pockets? Oh, and the pockets of software developers, countless IT types, retailers, advertising agencies, etc. as well as making life better through his products for quite literally billions of people.
So just once I’d like to see someone out there talking about “giving back” to instead state things correctly. It would only take changing one word in the phrase as they step up to the podium and tell everyone that they’re not going to “give something back”, they’re going to “give something more.”
June 21, 2016 § Leave a comment
Readers if you know me by now and I feel some of you do, then you’ll know I just lurve writing about history and that’s what I’m going to do today. Being that it’s summer I can get a little work-brittle when it comes to the old blog and sometimes come down with a case of the big lazies but not this summer because this post I’m squeezing out today is calendar dependent. So I’ll come right out and say this post concerns a very important date that is coming up, though there’s a Free Cheese twist. You see the day we’re going to talk about and commemorate is July 1st but I’m getting this post out early to beat the rush. Because the market for offbeat, sparsely read blog posts about historical events quickly hits its saturation point when a historical date approaches. And since I haven’t written about England in a while this post concerns the English. Am I worthy to write a post about England after failing English in 11th Grade? I realize your shock right now, I agree, how could I fail English? That’s unpossible! Butt eye solder awn.
So what happened on July 1st besides the invention of sunglasses in China in 1200 and Canada making the decimal system uniform in 1871? Well besides those momentous moments July 1st, 1916, one hundred years ago this July, was the first day of the World War I Battle of the Somme. So big deal right? You —> “World War One huh? Mud and blood, blood and mud, the part of the high school history textbook that we never got to because we ended the year somewhere between Reconstruction and the robber barons. What is there to talk about?” Plenty, jaded one and the first day of the Somme might be the single event that encapsulates the death throes of the British Empire, the horror of modern warfare, and the end of Europe as it once was in one tidy, blood-spattered package.
Now when it came to the Great War there was plenty of dates and places that were just jam-packed full of all the carnage any armchair psychopath could ever dream of. Verdun, Tannenberg, Passchendaele, Arras and numerous others quickly come to mind. But to many, especially in the UK, the Somme is just special. And why so?
Well, the first day of the Somme, which was actually a battle that lasted from July into November, put a large portion of British and Commonwealth soldiers on the ground, some for good, and ended up making casualties of more men in that single day than in all British armies from the previous 100 years combined. And the Brits were no wallflowers when it came to military adventures so that’s pretty damn impressive. Or impressively damning. There were some successes by the British and French on the first day of the battle and the French and Germans often view it as a sideshow in comparison to the meat grinder of Verdun but to the British it remained as a stain mark on the psyche, some say to this day. Which may be giving people a little more credit than they deserve due to the fact that most are historical illiterates. <—- There will be no shortage of cynicism and sarcasm in this post as befits the subject. So you’ve been warned.
So let’s go big picture here first. The battle was set up to take pressure off the French who were being bled to death in the aforementioned Battle of Verdun. The British would attack on a huge front, punch through the German lines, roll up the enemy and head straight for Berlin. You know, just like every failed battle plan that had come before it but this time, this time! it would work. The element of surprise is a relatively important part of success in any battle but in this battle it wouldn’t matter because of the aerial bombardment that was going to precede the jumping off. This was going to be the step-mother of all artillery bombardments. Mean, nasty, and thoroughly disruptive. The bombardment that is. It was going to pulverize all of the German barbed wire and thoroughly destroy their trench system, dugouts, and gun emplacements. The first few trench lines would be obliterated allowing the Tommies to get out of their trenches and safely walk across no man’s land and there they would initiate contact with the bewildered, and no doubt shell-shocked German soldiers, who could be dispatched of quickly or sent to the rear as prisoners. In true Great War fashion though some things went wrong.
One problem was the size of the battle front and the depth of the barrage ordered by the British command. By shelling such a vast area and so deeply into the trench line even a barrage the size of this one was somewhat diminished on a yard per yard basis. Another problem was the number of dud shells fired in the battle. Estimates range from 1/4 to 1/3 of the shells fired never went off until years later when plowed up by unsuspecting, and no doubt unpleasantly surprised farmers, and there have been conspiracy theories ever since based on the American origin of many of the shells and the large number of American factory workers of German descent. Another problem was that the German dugouts were dug so deeply that the shells that did go off were unable to penetrate or destroy them and vast numbers of German soldiers rode out the barrage, nervously no doubt, 30 feet or so below ground level. One last thing. The wire that was strung out across the front and that certainly was not going to be there when the British infantry advanced was certainly there when the British infantry advanced. It seems wire can be very tough to destroy via artillery especially when a large number of the shells being fired were shrapnel shells which are great for ripping holes in people, horses, and possums but not so good at ripping apart wire.
Okay so on the morning of the 1st of July the British Tommies waited in their trenches for the whistles to be blown at 7:30 giving the order to advance. The men carried around 60 lbs. of extra gear on top of their usual kit and since they were told they would face only token resistance they were ordered to walk and not run in order to keep from exhausting themselves. Many of these men were green and were facing their first true test in combat though they were at the peak of their training and were certainly in excellent physical condition. And without generalizing too much their morale would have been extremely high so all in all they would have been a fairly sharp tip of the spear. Large portions of these men were part of the Pals Battalions therefore many of them were from the same town or workplace and personally knew the men who were serving with them shoulder to shoulder. Of course that’s great until those shoulders start getting ripped apart by modern mechanized warfare and you have the stigma, if you’re lucky to survive, of forever remembering what it was like watching all your close friends die horrible, bloody deaths right before your eyes. And let’s not forget the effect on the home front when the town sends off a hundred of its best and brightest and 45 come back alive and a number of them with far fewer body parts.
So what happened at the first day of the Somme? You already know don’t you reader. I know too. They didn’t know though. Maybe a few of them did. Maybe a few of the officers looking through field glasses and nervously noting that much of the wire remained uncut knew. Certainly some of the old timers who’d seen things bollocksed up more than a few times knew. For the most part though the men (and boys, let’s face it) who climbed over those parapets were probably pretty surprised when those first chunks of lead started ripping into them.
You see the Germans were not dead and their defenses weren’t destroyed. As for bewildered, their were probably less shocked by the bombardment than they were at seeing thousands of men calmly walking towards them as they manned their weapons and trained them on the attackers. And once the shelling stopped that’s what they did. They raced to the parapets, readied their weapons, and began picking out targets in their fields of fire just as they’d been trained. The machine gun allowed the Germans at the Somme to create a human tragedy in the space of about one hour. Let’s tally it up. On that horrible first day the British lost around 60,000 men of which around 21,000 were killed and again that’s mostly in the space of one hour. There are stories, no doubt true, of Germans on top of the trenches telling the Tommies to go back knowing how hopeless the whole thing was but for the most part the Germans did their job and just kept shooting the men who came towards them. Very similar to Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 the first day of the Somme illustrated the strength of dug-in defensive positions and the inability of artillery of that era to dislodge said defenses as well as the overestimation of the ability of armies by commanders so heavily invested in war plans that involved a mass attack across open terrain.
The British historian Robert Keegan quotes another writer, Robert Kee and adds his own commentary concerning the trench warfare of the Great War:
“The trenches,” wrote Robert Kee fifty years later, “were the concentration camps of the First World War”; and though the analogy is what an academic reviewer would call unhistorical, there is something Treblika-like about almost all accounts of July 1st, about those long docile lines of young men, shoddily uniformed, heavily burdened, numbered about their necks, plodding forward across a featureless landscape to their own extermination inside the barbed wire. Accounts of the Somme produce in readers and audiences much the same range of emotions as do descriptions of the running of Aushwitz — guilty fascination, incredulity, horror, disgust, pity and anger — and not only from the pacific and tender-hearted; not only from the military historians; but also from professional soldiers. Anger is the response which the story of the Somme most commonly evokes among professionals. Why did the commanders not do something about it? Why did they let the attack go on? …There were reprieves, but the majority of battalions scheduled to attack did so, no matter what had happened to those who had preceded them…
So July 1st is coming and there’s no sense being maudlin as nothing I say here can change anything except maybe the way you look at that day reader. Take one moment of your day and simply think about all the dead men of a generation lying below the ground of Northern France. That moment will no doubt leave you feeling hollow and helpless, as it should. But it’s one hundred years later and if nothing else those men deserve one minute of your time and my time as well.
June 6, 2016 § 2 Comments
Okay readers, this post is one of those little vignettes (are there large vignettes?) that more or less just tells you an interesting story from our past. Perhaps there’s no grand theme or life lesson but it’s worthwhile reading it just the same. How’s that for a buildup? Between the online blog self-promotion webinar and the intermediate cake-decorating class at Hobby Lobby which do you think I attended? Hint* I have the Silver Pastry Piping Bag Award™ sitting on my credenza at this very moment.
So for years we’ve been listening patiently to the artists complain that they need government dollars in order to pursue their craft because the free market just doesn’t get it done. I mean, who would ever pursue art as a career if it weren’t for tax dollars paying them? Well, plenty of people but that’s not the point. There’s a vocal group of artists who certainly have no problem reaching into other’s wallets for a source of funding to allow them to pursue such things as…well…you’ve seen some art right? One could argue there’s several reasons why the State shouldn’t fund art. For one, when they’re paying the bills it’s pretty easy for the suits to clamp down on art they don’t like and censor it. Another is that people already give a lot of money to support the arts so private funding can certainly put a lot of art out into the open market. This leads to the third reason. We don’t have the friggin’ money. Have you checked out the debt lately? I mean I like seeing Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS as much as the next guy but really, the money’s all gone. And that’s taking into account all the complainers who use the old “Would you rather have another aircraft carrier or artwork?” argument. I get it. But we don’t have the money for either and honestly some people consider an aircraft carrier to be a work of art. Eye of the beholder and such.
So in the art world there’s this tussle between those who want to take the State dime and those who would rather cut their ear off. But when looked at historically it turns out that there were times when the State was funding the arts without going through the messy channels of Congress. How so? Well it takes us back to the Cold War. You see back then when you had the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. at each other’s throats each side was always looking for an edge in any realm. And this was no different in the arts. The Soviets predominant style of art during the early and middle parts of the 20th century was known unapologetically as Socialist Realism (<— oxymoronic juxtaposition of words whose irony was no doubt totally unrecognized by whoever coined the term.) This style of art was interested in the glorification of the Communist system, depicted images realistically (obviously), and usually revolved around scenes of everyday Soviet life. Meanwhile in the West the art form that was coming to the forefront was known as Abstract Expressionism (or AbEx if you’re looking for a shorter, glib way to say it and/or yearning for someone to punch you in the face.) It was created in New York City during the 1940’s and was a truly American form of art that received international recognition. Suddenly there were dozens of American artists pursuing this brazen new form with the most well-known being Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning. Oh, and Robert DeNiro Sr. (it’s true.) So anyway, you can see how this is setting up with two competing styles of art set against the massive backdrop of the Cold War.
So, say what you want about Abstract Expressionism such as this,
Mark Rothko, #61 (Rust and Blue)
Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110
Hans Hoffman, The Gate
but with art being perhaps the most subjective subject there is, besides my writing ability and Johnny Depp’s intelligence, I’m not here to judge the merits of the work produced by the Abstract Expressionists or the Socialist Realists. That would make for a damn boring post, sort of like the early days of this blog when I discussed my never-ending fascination with the sport, (sport?) of bog snorkeling. Instead, or Usted if you’re one of the many Undocumented Californians who possibly read this blog, I’m going to tell you how all this high art discussion ties together with the State.
You see you had all these American artists smashing convention and pursuing their new form of art for art’s sake. They certainly owed a debt to the Surrealists and were considered to be at the zenith of the American avant-garde scene. Generally their art dealt with chaos, fear, anxiety over the postwar world, and overall personal expression of these themes. Not exactly Norman Rockwell you know. Many of them came up as leftist radicals politically and though perhaps softening a bit on that stance as they grew older they were no doubt very far from being on friendly terms with any portion of the military industrial complex. And that’s what makes it so strange (and strangely satisfying) for me to say that at least some of their art was funded, perhaps unknowingly to the artists, by none other than………..the CIA. Duh, duh, duh!!! That may or may not come as much of a shock to you as I’ve been kind of foreshadowing something like this since the first paragraph but don’t blame me if you’re not a close reader silly buns. It’s okay, we can’t all be the sharpest knife in the fridge like me.
So just how did this go down you should probably be wondering right now if I’ve done my (unpaid) job as a writer. It should be obvious by now that the Cold War made governments do strange things and this story ties in with Clausewitz who might or might not have said that Art Battles are the continuation of state politics carried out by different means. With paintbrushes, and canvas, and pastels. Anyway the way it worked was the CIA would get in contact with certain individuals who had a love of the arts and a healthy appetite to defeat the Soviets. An organization would be created with some innocuous name say, Center for Improvement of the Arts, or CIA (I’m glad I wasn’t involved in the naming of these programs) and then money would be funneled into the hands of these bodies who would in turn provide patronage to these up and coming artists. Obviously this was all done in the name of the West fighting for the hearts and minds of people around the world who were possibly getting a little too comfortable with the idea of communism. This was a time when the CIA had their hands in various parts of society (not like nowadays, heh heh) all in the name of defeating Ivan. And it truly seemed like they were fighting a life or death struggle with their Soviet counterparts who were no doubt doing the same kinds of things.
So did any of this work? That’s hard to say. Again like art it’s pretty subjective. Maybe we wouldn’t have some of the art that was created by the Abstract Expressionists and maybe Central Park would be called Brezhnev Square. But probably not. Those artists most likely still would have found a way to create those things they created and I find it highly doubtful that an ideology as rotten as Marx’s teeth would have swept the world but the CIA felt they couldn’t take that chance and the Cold War had a way of bringing out the oddness in people.
May 16, 2016 § 1 Comment
Ok readers I think time for you to receive a little time, love, and tenderness the Free Cheese way. With words, that is. So while I often like to write posts about the minutiae of the social, political, and economic scene this post is going to be different because I’m going to take on a grander theme. This post is going to deal with the political history of the United States from its inception up until the present day. Consider me the Will Durant of the blogosphere. Reader if you were familiar with early 20th century historians that comparison would have really hit home. (Sigh) Anyway in my view the U.S. has gone through three broad and somewhat overlapping phases which I call the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Republics, obviously in that order.
The 1st Republic was in fact just that, a republic. It existed from the beginning of the nation until the beginning of the 2nd Republic (brilliant.) This 1st Republic was based on the U.S. Constitution. There was a healthy skepticism of central power based on the colonist’s dealings with England and a willingness of the common people when fed up with British poltroonerie to powder up the old wig and grab the musket and start defending liberty. The young nation was unable and unwilling to project power around the globe and had little interest in going abroad in search of monsters to slay to filch a line from our old pal John Adams. Though not to go all rose-colored glasses on you, the Founding Fathers often viewed Cuba with a covetous eye and had thoughts of making it a state. Why couldn’t it have been Cuba instead of Puerto Rico which, if you’ve been following the news hasn’t been looking very “Rico” lately? Early Americans liked limited government and apparently limited government participation too because voting restrictions were tight and varied from state to state. Often only landowners, and thus taxpayers were permitted to vote. *Gross stops typing and looks dreamily out the window. Cue the wavy lines on the tv screen. “Voting restricted to landowners and taxpayers huh? What a concept. Surely if a time machine were ever perfected I could get used to buckled shoes and knee-length pantaloons.” Tied in with this abhorrence of mass enfranchisement of the people the early leaders of the nation clearly feared the idea of direct democracy and that’s why they established the nation as a republic and not a democracy. You hear that all you holdout Marxists in the electronic internet world and/or college dorms and faculty lounges? It’s a republic for a reason.
So this 1st Republic chugged along like that for a while and it was great if you were a lover of liberty. Of course unless you were a slave but more on that in a bit. People lived freer lives than any time in our history and no doubt went about their day often without noticing the government, especially the central one that resided in some far off place and more or less left them alone. Economically the nation boomed and it just wasn’t because of all the natural resources as some state. There’s more involved including rule of law, small government and strong property rights. If it was just about an abundance of natural resources then Russia would be the world’s premier economy and Africa would be an economic juggernaut instead of African’t.
But then at some point it came to an end. Where exactly? That’s hard to nail down. The early point that some look at (including David Thoreau) is the Mexican War where we smacked around an incompetent Mexican Army and took away a large part of Mexican territory as a prize. Some in my small libertarian circle point to the U.S. Civil War where the central government forced several of the U.S. States at gunpoint to remain in what was considered by the Founders to be a voluntary union and coupled with Abe’s suspension of certain parts of the Constitution one could easily point to this as the end of the 1st Republic. Of course the war did end up freeing a whole bunch of slaves so there was some additions to the side of liberty but clearly power became more centralized as a result of the war. Others cast the evil eye on the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 and jump out of the closet and say “Ah-Ha!” (not sure why they were in the closet) and believe that is the point we crossed over as it now became fully possible for the State to finance its own ventures, both foreign and domestic, by simply making money out of nothing at all. Which dovetails nicely with my personal crossing over from a boy to a man after listening to Making Love Out of Nothing at All by 80’s soft rockers Air Supply. (See closet reference above. It was a confusing time.) I have a somewhat esoteric pivot point (does that surprise anyone?) when it comes to the moment when I think the U.S. entered the 2nd Republic. To me the Spanish-American War is when the U.S. decided that it had had enough of this staying home on a Saturday night and that it was time to get out there and start dancing with the other colonial powers. The country was settled from coast to coast, the “Injuns” had been finally put in their place, and it was time to knock down a sixer and go out and start flexing our beer muscles. I wrote a splendid post about the subject some time back called Cause We are Living in an Imperial World and I urge you to go back and read it now. Don’t worry, it will open in a new window so you can come right back to this post without missing a juicy bite. In here it’s always Friday! (that’s a great line. Why can’t some behemoth national chain offer to by that from me.) sigh, genius remains unrecognized.
Well if you’re still reading this sentence then you either went back and read my previous post or else you didn’t and you want me to lay it out for you because you know I will. How you use me! So the quick dirty version is this. The U.S. by the end of the 19th century had enough people both in and out of the government who viewed the role of the nation to be to head out and play the imperial game and at the same time spread American democracy and values around the globe. This was no longer the country of the Jeffersonians and the Madisonians. This was the country of the Teddy Roosevelts and his white-water Navy and the Randolph Hearsts who through his media empire and playing loose with the facts helped by using his propaganda machine to turn us into the dreaded policeman of the world. (Note to my PC enemies, “Female Police Officer of the World” just doesn’t have the same punch and you know it.)
Regardless of when we entered the 2nd Republic, and honestly history rarely has clear-cut defined moments when marking different eras, the new nation had some recognizable characteristics that you’ll no doubt uh, recognize, characteristically. This new country had become a victim of its own laissez-faire economic success and was swimming in money. And what does that naturally lead to? People who think some have too much and some too little and that a little bit of that old-time redistribution is necessary. And that could be the overall theme of the 2nd Republic. A thread runs through this 2nd Republic that links the Progressives with FDR and the New Deal all the way up to LBJ and the Great Society. It was a Republic now powered through mass voting which allowed more individuals than ever to vote in positive ways to affect the country but at the same time enabled them to vote for positive ways to affect their wallets at the expense of another. It was a trade-off. In order to help FDR’s “forgotten man” another man had to be forgotten, the one whose taxes were being used. This person was supposed to grin and bear it because hell, there’s plenty to go around.
And that brings us to our present 3rd Republic. Again, when did it start? That too is hard to pin down. Perhaps after the sixties when the old social order seemed to be turned upside down. Maybe it was Vietnam. Personally I think it was the Cold War itself where you had social programs chugging along here at home while more and more people even on the political Right (looking at you Buckley) said we all had to get comfortable with some big government war collectivism if we were ever going to defeat Ivan. These people gradually became okay with one world government. As long as it was our government. We magically had the guns and the butter and no one need go through their day without the loving touch of the State. From the single mom with 6 little crumb crushers on her hip to the Northrupp-Grumman executive looking for that next big defense check, the invisible hand of the State suddenly became pretty damn visible and Jesus, that was just alright.
You can look around yourself at this moment, (I’ll do it right now. There.) and see the 3rd Republic everywhere. See if any of this sounds familiar, Mmmkay? The 3rd Republic is post-Constitutional, post-logic, post-critical thinking, post hardcore property rights, post-personal responsibility. Emotion and public perception have come to the forefront driven in part by that marriage from hell of the mass media and the public education system. Oh, and it’s also post-economic law. That tab, paid for with all that created funny money? It will get paid somehow. (see post-logic above) Power has been amassed in one humid city that sits there and churns like a giant whirlpool pulling in both wealth and people’s liberty while a large portion of the population seems oblivious or resigned to the fact. “I got my phone to look at after all.” The quality of the human stock certainly seems to have declined and with so many semi-rotten apples shuffling around the truly rotten ones just don’t stick out like they used to.
The 3rd Republic is also recognizable for its politically correct argument-enders. What are these you ask? Do any of these words sound familiar? Racist, homophobe, misogynist, sexist, ageist, facist, statist (I’m guilty of that one.) These epithets go hand in paw with the post-logic world where arguments need not be refuted but instead one of those words comes out and boom, you’re left retreating like a Roman Legion at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. Oh My! Let me pause here and revel in that historical simile for a moment. Whooo! Is it getting hot in here because I’ve got history geeks all over the internet crashing into their bathrooms to grab a cold shower.
And it hurts me to say this, (no it literally hurts, I have a sore throat) but those who are liberty/Constitutional minded are pretty much just fighting a rear-guard action to hold off the inevitable. That war was lost a while back. That doesn’t mean you don’t keep fighting but just don’t expect some politician to come riding over the hill with a copy of the Constitution, or for that matter an Austrian economist using both hands to carry Man, Economy, and State as the hordes realize the error of their ways and flock to the banner of liberty. Have you noticed the way those sworn to uphold the Constitution actually hold it up to treat it like Charmin? The Constitution is a dead letter. Your job is to be ready to go when it’s time to pick up the pieces and start over.
I know this is all pretty depressing and I have no idea what comes after the 3rd Republic. Maybe nothing. I’m just H.R. Gross doing my best to survey the American scene and stealing your heart in the process.