For shame

Italian artist Salvatore Garau recently sold at auction his latest work, entitled Lo Sono. The buyer paid over $18,000.

Garau describes Lo Sono as being “made of air and spirit.” He says he likes to think of it as a vacuum, and calls the work an “immaterial sculpture.” As he told Spain’s Diario AS, “The vacuum is nothing more than a space full of energy, and even if we empty it and there is nothing left, according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, that nothing has a weight. Therefore, it has energy that is condensed and transformed into particles, that is, into us.”

Confused? Don’t be. The piece of art doesn’t actually exist. There’s truly nothing there.

The buyer will instead receive a “certificate of authenticity” and “display” instructions. Garau insists the “work” must be exhibited in a private house in a roughly five-by-five-foot area free of obstruction.

“Lo Sono,” translated, means “I am.” Garau at least has a sense of humor.

When I was a boy, my brother and I decided to create our own superheroes and sell homemade comic books to the neighborhood suckers. I don’t recall the entire cast of characters we came up with, but Caterpillar Man was a featured player, spinning his own silken threads. Watch and learn, Spidey.

The comics were a series of colored drawings in standard comic book format, stapled together just like the, er, pros do it, and they were even given a brand: Stars and Stripes Comics. And after only a few minutes of showing the wares to the local crew, we found one taker, who gave us our asking price of a nickel each for a couple of issues.

When my mom found out, she made us give the nickels back. Charging for such tripe. No, this was not money we were going to keep. One of us would later work as an artist for Disney Animation and “South Park,” so the art couldn’t have been that bad, but Mom would not be shamed seeing her boys dupe some neighborhood simp.

The buyer hasn’t been disclosed, but be it a simp or a sophisticated modern art tastemaker (same thing you say?), I’m pretty sure Mom would feel at least as shamed were Garau one of hers.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “shame” thusly: “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.” The second meaning is: “a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute.”

For all the instances of the second meaning we have seen in recent years, we sure seem to have a serious shortage of the first.

Bronze mettle

A month ago, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland committed to repatriating to Nigeria its lone Benin Bronze, becoming the first Western institution to return any of the thousands of bronze sculptures looted from the Kingdom of Benin (part of present-day Nigeria) in 1897. This week, the government of Germany became the second, promising to return to Nigeria in 2022 all Benin Bronzes held by state-run museums. The Ethnological Museum in Berlin alone holds over 500 Bronzes.

The 1897 Benin Punitive Expedition stands as a monument to the greed and destruction of colonialism. At the behest of corporate interests looking to get ahold of new resources, James Phillips, the new Acting Consul General for the Royal Niger Company set out to overthrow the Oba, or King, of Benin. The Oba didn’t want to trade with the Brits, and forbade his people from doing so on punishment of death. Warned of Phillips and his party approaching, the Oba set an ambush. Only two of Phillips’s party escaped with their lives. Phillips wasn’t one of them.

To avenge their deaths, the British army sent a punitive expedition that razed Benin City and stole thousands of bronze sculptures from the kingdom. The sculptures have since been scattered throughout the world. Until now.

The Bronzes themselves became symbols of the argument, within the world of antiques and cultural heritage, about the ill-gotten gains of colonialism, and how best to protect the works of art involved, so that people can enjoy and learn from them. Some today argue Western museums can better protect the Bronzes, and that the Nigerian climate might damage the works. The harmattan is real, people.

And while the West might once have been able to claim that it better protected cultural works than less-developed countries, and might once have been able to claim it could better display cultural works, unfortunately, those claims are increasingly dubious.

Of course, Western museums are preeminent in the technology necessary to best protect works. And though there’s little danger of a disaster like the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas occurring anytime soon — our rioters prefer to loot sneaker stores rather than museums — the West has its own problems with cultural destruction.

Song of the South” is an Academy Award-winning live action/animated hybrid musical produced by Walt Disney, based on the Uncle Remus stories and released in 1946. But because its racial imagery is controversial, with a too-sunny depiction of blacks in the American South during the Reconstruction era, the studio has withheld release of its film on home video and has not made it available for streaming on Disney+.

Disney actually found one of its films it refuses to convert into merchandise.

In the U.S., corporations withhold our cultural heritage for political reasons. That’s its own kind of cultural destruction.

The problem is, political winds change. Who’s to say only the wrong racial politics will be forbidden? Why stop there? Mao didn’t.

I might rather take my chances with the harmattan.

Equity is mediocrity

Virginia Department of Education this week announced the “Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative” (VMPI), a plan to reorient Virginia’s mathematics curriculum that will rid their public schools of all advanced math classes for students prior to the 11th grade. No longer will those students who excel be given the opportunity to challenge themselves until they are almost in college. As the VMPI’s “Essential Concepts” Committee member Ian Shenk admits in their webinar, the new program means removing algebra, geometry, and algebra II from the curriculum for anyone before their junior year in high school.

Advanced math students typically take algebra by 8th grade, and in the webinar the committee even noted students that were taking geometry in 8th grade.

The new program means those kids would be denied those challenges for three years, in which they will be forced to wallow in “learning” concepts they had likely mastered years before.

Why would the Department of Education purposefully hobble the education of its students?

“Equity.” The VMPI even spells it on in PowerPoint: the project’s number one goal is “improving equity in mathematics learning opportunities.”

It’s the Left’s obsession, and like every Leftist obsession, it’s destructive to anything it touches.

Instead of letting advanced students advance, for Virginia’s educrats, “equity” means bringing everyone down to a lower level. It means limiting the opportunities for hard-working, excellent students.

That’s one way to decrease any racial, class, or sex discrepancies in academic excellence. If you don’t allow anyone to excel, everyone will be limited to mediocrity.

That’s generally been the Left’s way, anyway, so it should come as no surprise. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

It’s similar to how the Left speaks of billionaires. Bernie Sanders can bleat about how “billionaires should not exist.” He doesn’t explain why billionaires should not exist, of course.

Whatever else they are, billionaires are often people who excelled at business. But the real problem is that billionaires are powerful, and for the Left, all power must be held by the Left.

Billionaires might have visions that their billions allow them to accomplish, like eliminating malaria or becoming a multi-planet species. Sorry, Bernie, but we should have more billionaires, not fewer. Wouldn’t mind being one myself, truth be told (though to be fair, Bernie’s got a significant head start on me, if this is a race).

It’s better than he Left’s alternative vision: “equity” in mediocrity.

Democrats warn the Court

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey and three House Democrats announced their plan to expand the Supreme Court from 9 to 13 Justices this week. They were careful to couch their bald power grab in media-friendly terms, sputtering their concern for the “Court’s legitimacy” and insisting they were not packing the Court, they were “unpacking” it. Orwell had today’s Democrats in mind when he wrote “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Hardly a day goes by where they aren’t caught trying to change the very definition of words to suit their political needs.

The plan, notwithstanding media hype, is DOA. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had “no plans” to bring it to a vote. Associate Justice Breyer, one of the stalwart liberals on the Court, warned against expanding the Court as well. And with the late revered-by-progressives Justice Ruth Ginsberg – whose opinion, you might think, would matter to leftists on Court matters, of all things – on the record as against the idea, there’s little pressure on Senators Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema to fall in line. The Democrats don’t have the votes.

Which isn’t the point anyway. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t expect to win votes with the charisma-deficient Markey leading the charge. Instead, the whole announcement was about something else entirely.

Like everything else the Democrats do with respect to the Court, this was all about abortion.

The Democrats are terrified that Republicans might actually have the votes to seriously curtail, if not outright overturn, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (and Roe v. Wade by extension). Which would throw the issue of abortion back to the state legislatures.

So the Democrats are simply attempting to warn the Court what might happen if they do.

Did I mention Markey’s announcement came two weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to hear their first abortion case since Associate Justice Amy Barrett gave conservatives a 6-3 seeming majority?

There was similar noise back in 2012, prior to the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of Obamacare. And with his decision to uphold President Obamas signature law, Chief Justice Roberts proved to the Left he could be intimidated.

Can Kavanaugh? Gorsuch? Barrett?

We may soon find out.

The royal standard

Americans are republicans, so it seems perhaps not entirely an American thing, to be pro-monarchy.  But there is something to be said for the British royals, at least as they used to pull it off. True, there is something inherently “unfair” about a system that elevates someone by virtue of the family to which they are born. But is there really so much difference, between a Prince Harry and a Prince Hunter? They both have opportunities presented to them due solely to their names, but at least Prince Harry hasn’t sold out to China.

It’s a natural human inclination to admire or hold up someone in a group as someone somehow superior in certain respects, at least, to others, someone to perhaps model ourselves after. Every high school in America crowns each autumn a Homecoming King and Queen. But homecoming royals notwithstanding, in high school and beyond, pop culture predominates, and tends to hold up celebrities and athletes as these models for ourselves. It’s not entirely clear this is an advancement over royalty.

The very word “royal” is synonymous with the highest possible standards. From getting the royal treatment to booking the royal suite, use the word “royal” as a descriptor and it’s referring to the grandest, the biggest, the highest, the best. There’s a reason the royal straight flush is the highest possible poker hand (unless you’re the type who plays with jokers).

Unfortunately, all too often, the British royals, the world’s most prominent, fail spectacularly to live up to even decent standards, let alone royal standards. From King Edward VIII to Prince Charles to Princess Margaret to Prince Andrew to Prince Harry, the Windsors have steeped themselves in a miasma of sex scandals, mostly. With evidence like Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne in favor of a tarty American divorcée and Prince Andrew’s apparent Jeffrey Epstein-fed taste for underage children, an argument that royals can set standards tends to end with the question, how low?

Which makes Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, stand even taller, even from six feet deep in his newly dug grave, as the great British royal, the one-time Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, has finally, at the age of 99, passed to the next world.

Adventurer, pilot, sailor and yachtsman, consort of the Queen, Prince Philip helped sink Italian cruisers and destroyers as a 19-year-old midshipman during World War II, in a battle in the Mediterranean Sea opposite the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Taenarum, and he was the first British royal to cross the Antarctic Circle, on an expedition aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1956-57.

He was also patron to some 800 organizations, helping to found the World Wildlife Fund, for which he served as UK president for over twenty years.

He carried himself with distinction and class and humor, and truly did set a royal standard. It’s a standard his grandson, Prince William would do well to imitate, if there’s to be any hope for the Windsors.

Otherwise, well, there must be other European royals capable of setting a royal standard. I mean, this is the land of fairy tale castles, right?

Is there a Hapsburg in the house?

Cloud communities

Politics continues to infect every facet of American life, with Major League Baseball now chiming in on the “controversial” Georgia election law by removing its All Star Game and 2022 Draft from Atlanta. This comes just days after MLB announced a partnership with Chinese conglomerate Tencent. Apparently MLB is fine with doing business in China, where they systematically rape Uyghur women, and also fine with punishing fellow Americans in Georgia, where they require you show ID to vote. Just like they do in pretty much every other democracy in the world.

And most other European democracies ban mail-in ballots, too. Will MLB also be boycotting the Toronto Blue Jays? It’s always striking how the Left, which loves little more than to pine for European-style socialism, ignores European levelheadedness.

But that’s the state of things. Corporations continue to choose the woke Left’s call to politicize everything over middle America’s cry to shut up and play ball. Writer Roger Simon argues that it’s time for conservatives to build an alternate world, and there’s something to be said for that.  It’s unfortunate, because it further divides Americans when that’s the last thing we need, but to otherwise surrender to emotional bullying is likewise unacceptable.

Which makes what investor Balaji Srinivasan recently launched sort of interesting.  Srinivasan is the former Chief Technology Officer of major cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, and a founder of multiple startups. He also holds a MS in Chemical Engineering and an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering, all from Stanford University.

One of those guys.

But he recently launched a project called 1729, which he calls “the first newsletter that pays you.” And that’s what it is — a newsletter. Its goal is to create a “cloud community” of “technological progressives” — people interested in “cryptocurrencies, startup cities, mathematics, transhumanism, space travel, reversing aging, and initially-crazy-seeming-but-technologically-feasible ideas.” And with the newsletter, he provides incentives – typically, cryptocurrency, at least so far — for subscribers to achieve goals based around certain concepts, such as new business ideas, health-oriented goals, educational goals (subscribers could earn $100 in crypto by learning some computer coding).

It’s an interesting attempt at creating a unique community, and as the online and virtual worlds make remote or cloud communities possible, there will likely be more of them.

Worth keeping an eye on, perhaps especially as an example for conservatives.

At least, so long as the overlords allow it.

Mandarin for Mandarins

China ratcheted things up a notch or two in Western Pacific on Friday, with the Taiwan defense ministry reporting that twenty Chinese military aircraft violated Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, including four nuclear-capable bombers and 10 fighter jets. Taiwan sent warnings and no confrontation was reported. This was the largest violation yet by China, which has made a habit of testing Taiwan’s air space.

This comes only hours after China hit the United Kingdom with sanctions in retribution for the UK daring to criticize China’s multitude of human rights depravities in the western province of Xinjiang.

Which comes as China disappears major Western retailers Nike, Adidas, Burberry and H&M in retaliation for the companies refusing to source cotton from Xinjiang, where the local Uighurs are enslaved on cotton farms.

Which comes just days after Chinese diplomats came to Alaska and mocked American strength to American Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s face. Blinken took it, surprising no one.

Meanwhile, China’s military is trying to create biologically enhanced supersoldiers, experimenting with the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR.

So it seems a strange time for the U.S. military to worry about maternity outfits for pilots, weakening competencies for women soldiers, and providing “gender reassignment surgery” for military members. But then, the Biden Administration is making all kinds of strange decisions. The depressingly progressive military leadership seems so concerned about making safe spaces for wokesters they’ve forgotten their duty is to make the United States itself a safe space, and that’s done through actual physical strength and force.

It should be an interesting few years, in no small measure because China itself is facing a steep population decline, which could make its widely predicted global dominance a short-lived thing — and offer a shorter window for reclaiming Taiwan, for instance, than perhaps they previously expected. Seems the one-time one-child policy worked a little too well. Pity.

Well, we had an American Century. How bad could a Chinese Decade be?

L.A. traffic report

Based on a couple of drives around Los Angeles the last couple of Friday mornings, traffic in the city has distinctly increased from a few months ago, at the height of the pandemic. While a couple of drives are hardly conclusive, others have noticed, too. The days are growing longer, the California sun is feeling warmer, and the shutdown is, if not quite in the rear view mirror, at least in the slow lane, everyone zooming past.

American cities are about to undergo a unique experiment. The rise of remote work has made much office space obsolete. A friend of mine, an animator on a popular cartoon series, has been working remotely since the pandemic began. The producers recently told much of the staff that they won’t be required to return to the studio, once the city opens back up. They can continue to work remotely, out of state, for all the producers care. In California, the top tax rate is 13.3%, with anyone making more than $58,000 paying almost 10%. That’s going to chase people out of state, especially when Nevada is next door, with no state income tax.

Strange time, then, for new District Attorney George Gascon to hollow out law enforcement. Gascon, sounding like some Tea Party pork cutter, touted the hundreds of millions of dollars the county will save by reducing prison sentences for convicts. He’s also vowed to do away with the death penalty, and is going after police officers accused of misconduct. Gascon apparently kept up with how such reforms have treated Minneapolis.

Back in L.A., these “reforms” have so far prompted the city of Beverly Hills to issue a vote of “no confidence” in the district attorney, and L.A. suburb La Mirada is expected to do the same. And a victims’ group is launching a recall effort against the D.A., with support from the county sheriff. So things are going great in L.A.

Now with crime bound to rise, demand for office and industrial space collapsing, commercial property values sinking, city budgets reliant in large part on property taxes, and so city services dwindling — the city previously announced deep cuts to the police force — and with drought to only worsen, L.A. may soon resemble one of those wasteland dystopia’s the city’s artisans are so fond of depicting on screen.

Tough luck. I always preferred “Blade Runner” over “Mad Max,” but you get the dystopia you deserve, I guess. Installations have consequences, after all.

Schooling California

The California Department of Education will vote next week on the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, a proposed new program for all public elementary, middle, and high school students.  The curriculum, focused on “African American, Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x, Native American, and Asian American and Pacific Islander studies,” aims to “guide” California schools and is marinated in progressive ideological language, requiring that the curriculum “validate students’ lived experience” and “creat[e] space for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, or citizenship…” It seeks to “decolonize” California education, and promotes the Marxist-based “ideology of the oppressed” that denigrates Western Civilization. The curriculum discusses how ethnic studies can “address the causes of racism and other forms of bigotry including, but not limited to, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, xenophobia, antisemitism, and Islamophobia within our culture and governmental policies.” The curriculum is another nail in America’s coffin, casting white European Christians in the villainous role of “colonizer” and further dividing our society by race.

Fortunately, the public school teachers of Los Angeles have bravely stood up for our children and refused to return to the classroom until all their Wuhan flu “safety” demands are met, heroically dooming the nation’s second-largest school district’s children to online – and, praise be to God, ineffectual – online “learning.” The teachers last week voted 91% in favor of condemning the children to classes held via tiny camera and small electronic screen, so that the children may more easily be distracted and never learn the curriculum the state promotes. The teachers’ representatives even wisely advised teachers to keep their spring break vacation photos off social media, lest people get the wrong idea. Bravo to the noble and courageous public school teachers!

Although UTLA, the teacher’s union, announced just days ago an agreement to return to the classroom in April, opposition among the “grass roots” is reportedly growing, with the far left calling the plan “homicidal.” The UTLA members will vote next week on whether to accept the agreement. We can only hope they maintain their courage and protect our children from the dangers of a California education.

As for the proposed Ethnic Studies Curriculum, what the California Department of Education fails to understand is, often – of course, not always – and in many and perhaps the most important ways, colonization and empire are good.

It is an inescapable rule of nature that the strong survive. Empires are made by strong societies. If they were not strong, they would not be empires. The Roman Empire brought many benefits to its citizens and to those they ruled, including, among other things, aqueducts, roads, and hygiene — not small things. Of course, those they enslaved may feel differently, but then, the enslaved came from weaker societies, didn’t they?

The British Empire spread concepts of human rights that have blossomed across the globe. As but one example, in the 1840s, When Hindu priests in the British colony of India complained to the British commanding general that burning widows alive on their husband’s funeral pyre was their custom, General Charles Napier famously responded, “My nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.” Widows are no longer burned alive in India.

Before the Spanish Empire conquered them, the Aztecs ripped the still-beating hearts from the chests of their slaves, all from weaker tribes whom they themselves conquered. That custom, too, is no more, thanks to colonialism.

The concept of empire and colonialization includes enough shades of grey to make an athleisure fashion designer drool. But there’s little denying that overall, the people living under the rule of the Roman Empire were better off than those under the rule of some petty local tyrant. What’s even better than empire, of course, is a loose central government allowing for local control of the provinces. Maybe one day we’ll get there.

California’s Ethnic Studies Curriculum, finding this concept difficult, instead includes having the children chant to the Aztec god of cannibalism and human sacrifice.

Fortunately, in L.A. at least, our children are still safe at home, and our society remains strong enough. For now.

Screams of whiskey

We constantly hear how we need to get the money out of politics. Everyone knows money corrupts, so getting the money out of politics? By all means.

But while we’re at it, can we get the celebrity out of life?

It’s bad enough we have these often undereducated but very, very rich actors, actresses, musicians and athletes use their precious award-show or post-game camera time sputtering some banal but “important” political point, instead of doing what they’re good at: entertaining us with a droll or witty story (well, at least the actors, actresses and musicians; I’m still not quite clear on what the post-game athlete interview offers).

The actors, actresses, musicians and athletes say they speak out because they can “change” things. They might be right, and that’s a poor reflection on the voters or anyone else who lets celebrity opinions affect their own. But the celebrities use their fame as the currency to get themselves on the air in the first place, so they can spout their opinions. Why this is more acceptable than a successful businessman using his money to buy airtime to spout his opinions is a mystery to me.

The problem is, more and more, celebrity culture is like some bamboo tree with a root system tossing up new shoots all over the field. The similarities between show business and politics left one hoping it was a natural grafting of two branches of the same species, both favoring a mulch heavy in narcissism and vapidity, and that the damage would be limited.

But it is not so.

Jamie Foxx is buying a flavored whiskey company.

Weird, I thought whiskey already had a flavor, called “whiskey.”

The only value Jamie Foxx brings to whiskey is his money and celebrity. He’s not even getting into whiskey because he loves flavored whiskey. As he admits in the trade publication, the Hollywood Reporter, he’s getting into it because he saw it was a popular drink at the parties he threw. Other people liked it. He saw an investment opportunity.

As the Hollywood Reporter also notes, Foxx follows in the footsteps of actor Ryan Reynolds and Aviation vodka, and actor Dwayne Johnson and Teremana Tequila. And, in Foxx’s dream of dreams, in the footsteps of actor George Clooney, who sold his tequila company, Casamigos, for $1 billion.

Now, none of those actors know anything about making a worthy liquor. They’re just rich dudes with too much money sitting around, and people will buy their liquor and we’re going to have something called flavored whiskey everywhere now. Well done, people.

I mean, if you’re going to buy a celebrity whiskey, at least make it a proper Irish whiskey.