Amateur Hour


Hot mics.

This man needs to go back to Hyde Park and devote his life to raising Sasha and Malia.

He’s either:

1. a commie spy, or

2. a total amateur, which is closer to what I’ve believed all along. He’s evidently pretty good at campaigning, but not at all at running the White House. I’m surprised the professionals are still letting him out in public in front of anything other than a crowd of union members or yellow dogs.

The Mamone Index!

The chart plots the relationship between the price of default insurance on selected European countries and their degree of male “boomerangness” — what percentage of male adult children 25-34 live with their parents: the Mama’s Boy Index. At one extreme, Finland, where the price of insuring against government bond default is as low as it gets and less than 10 percent of 25-to-34-year-old boys have boomeranged back home; at the other extreme, Greece, with nearly 60 percent of the boys back in the fold and a credit default swap price that translates into a 30 percent chance of default in the next 12 months.

In other words, Italy does really badly — only Portugal and Greece are worse.

I’m happy to be in Upstate New York for the winter . . .

. . . especially when I contemplate having to carry gold to get through Spring 2012 in Rome: British embassies in the eurozone have been told to draw up plans to help British expats through the collapse of the single currency, amid new fears for Italy and Spain.
You know, I haven’t taken so much as a travelers check with me to Europe in the last decade. Maybe the old days of running into people you know while standing in line at the American Express office near the Spanish Steps is about to return?

What happens when Nazi-stolen art is returned?

The sale of a Klimt landscape yesterday gives a little insight into one way the return of art stolen from a Jewish family might play out.

Klimt’s Litzlberg am Attersee (Litzlberg on the Attersee) was bought by David Lachenmann, a private dealer from Zurich, who was bidding on behalf of a private collector who will remain anonymous and who acquired the work because it was “a masterpiece in perfect condition”. The work follows the sale of Klimt’s landscape Kirche in Cassone (Landschaft mit Zypressen) (Church in Cassone – Landscape with Cypresses), which set an auction record for a landscape by the artist when it achieved £26.9 million ($43.2 million) at Sotheby’s London in February 2010 (est. $19/28.5 million).
Both landscapes – originally in the famed collection of Austrian iron magnate Viktor Zuckerkandl and his wife Paula, and descended to Viktor’s sister Amalie Redlich – were stolen after the annexation of Austria in 1938. Both have since been restituted to Georges Jorisch, great-nephew of Viktor and grandson of Amalie, after intensive research revealed that his memory of the works hanging in the family’s home in Purkersdorf was correct. Litzlberg am Attersee was returned to Mr. Jorisch this spring from the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, and a portion of the proceeds from its sale will be donated to that museum for the building of a new extension to be named in Amalie Redlich’s honor.

So Mr. Jorisch retrieved 2 Klimt paintings stolen from his family and sold them for a total of $83 million. But “a portion of the proceeds will be donated” to the museum that was hanging one of these — and a pretty considerable portion if the museum is going to build a new wing. This is an example of a very structured deal — no one just said “Oh, sorry, wicked Nazis took your art!” and handed it back.

Lost in a crowd

Beatification of John Paul II -- banners at the end!
I really don’t like crowds much — DI sports events, political rallies, stadium rock — and tend to avoid them. The same goes for papal mega-masses. Yesterday I didn’t resist.
I first saw John Paul II in Poland, of all places, in the summer of 1979. I was traveling with a school music group and everywhere we went our official translators (who must have been junior trainees – what kind of official translator gets stuck with a bunch of high school boys?) explained how excited all Poland was with the impending papal visit. And when we got back to Warsaw, we were lucky enough to be there for one of the great parades. I saw the John Paul from about half a block down a crowded street. I don’t think I have ever or will ever again feel such a concentrated dose of shared joy spilling over into optimism. We didn’t need translators that day.
I’ve never been up front at a papal mass, but 23 years after Warsaw, I happened to be here (here here – I was staying in the same apartment I’m in this morning) in the June of 2002. No one in Rome that month could not have known about the canonization of Padre Pio, and I had certainly read posters and figured out the schedule from newspapers. Here I was a block from the Ponte Sant’Angelo — I had to go, if only for cultural interest. That was a big crowd — and because it was all so much in the open it felt bigger than Warsaw. Latecomer as I was, I was able to walk about a third of the way down the via della Conciliazione without breaking pace and then to work my way forward until I was about half way to St Peter’s Square. Luckily, the average person with a strong devotion to Padre Pio was an Italian grandmother, so I could see clearly.
The mass itself didn’t impress me with strong memories, other than the crazy communion distributed by a cast of thousands. More impressive were the blessings from the Popemobile — the pope drove down the via della Conciliazione blessing the crowd. The crowd began to thin out and the little clutch of Americans I had found myself attached to (you know, we tall ones picked each other out in the crowd) began chatting, congratulating ourselves on the full papal experience — and he came driving back from a side street! And then again a few minutes later! Triple blessings, which I felt much more strongly than Padre Pio. By that time I had been a Catholic for about 10 years and had read a fair amount of John Paul’s less abstruse stuff, so I respected him as well as honored him as pope.
Saturday Rome filled up with pilgrims. There had been increasing crowds all week, but the backpackers got here in force on Saturday. There were churches open all night for vigils (go see my pictures from yesterday to see some people who were feeling the vigil more than the beatification), there was a carefully produced vigil-spectacle at the Circus Maximus, and everywhere I went there were groups of people following not just the usual raised umbrella of the tour guide but pilgrimage banners — not all of them red and white Polish flags, but certainly a lot of them.
Yesterday morning I didn’t leave the apartment until 9. I knew that any time I was willing to get up and go would have been too late to get into good view, but the best I could do was the intersection of via San Pio X and Borgo Santo Spirito. We didn’t have a view of a GODzillatron, but the sound was great. There was a patch of shade around the corner, to which I retreated occasionally. I would have stayed there but the sound fell off sharply, and I would have had only the Polish coverage from the radios of a group of very tired pilgrims (go back to flickr to see the folks in red cloaks).
Still, on the level of mere emotionality, this mass moved me in a way that the mass for Padre Pio didn’t, and it moved me twice. The first time was early on, at the formal proclamation of blessedness. In the applause and cheers and flag waving I felt something I don’t feel in cheers and flag-waving at sporting events or political gatherings — I felt the Sense of the Faithful. Maybe it’s because I’m one of them — but it was there, that oceanic feeling. We agree.
The ordinary of the mass was in Latin (the few English readings were in Australian, which was a bit of a shock!). The Lord’s Prayer was really something. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised with the self-selected crowd, but out of the million (or million and a half – estimates have been rising since I last looked), many if not most of the people in that out-of-sight intersection said the prayer together in Latin. And that was something — not cheering our assent but praying in one voice.
And for someone who doesn’t like crowds, that makes it worthwhile, for once.

Hitler and Germany

More than 65 years after Hitler’s death and the collapse of the Third Reich, the German Historical Museum is seeking answers to a question that each generation asks anew: How did Germany, known as a nation of poets and thinkers, fall under Hitler’s spell and let him commit some of the worst crimes in history?

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because Germany was also the nation of the Thirty Years War and the Prussians? Not that anyone else in Europe or the world is particularly less guilty. But still – can we stop asking stupid questions like this? Great artists do not inoculate against evil. In fact, plenty of interesting artists are pretty bad themselves.
Or maybe the average Westerner doesn’t expect anything better than Stalin or Mao of the Russians and Chinese, and so Hitler is a shock in comparison? That might explain why Hitlerism is frequntly held up as worse than regimes that killed so many more people (for what looks like an interesting corrective, though utterly neglecting Mao as a bad man, look here).
Why does human evil surprise? That’s what bewilders me.

Danteblogging – Inferno Canto XXXIII

Inferno Canto XXXIII
I first tried to read the Divine Comedy all the way through when I was in 11th grade – I think in the John Ciardi translation, which my high school library had just bought in hardback. I can’t say I did a very good job, but at least I’d already read big chunks of the Aeneid in Latin, so I was better prepared than some people. I still remember the creeps Canto XXXIII gave me – the story of the cannibalistic Count Ugolino.
Ugolino betrayed his city, Pisa, but was in turn betrayed by his bishop. They’re locked together in the ice of Antenora, Ugolino chewing on the bishop’s brain in a very Dawn of the Dead image. Except that Ugolino raises his gorey chops and tells Dante why he’s chewing the bishop’s skull – he and his offspring were nailed into a tower in Pisa (I’ve seen what purports to be the tower!). The boys died one by one of hunger. Dante leaves the conclusion a little ambiguous, but I assumed at 17 that Ugolino ate them – as he is now eating the bishop. Ugh! Dantesque, and in the bad way.
Ugolino perceives that Dante is a Florentine by the sound of speech, and by the failure of speech in the tower he is turned into a monster, a stone. Dante damns the Pisans with a linguistic touch, too:

Ahi Pisa, vituperio de le genti
  del bel paese là dove ‘l sì suona,

Ah Pisa, vile disgrace of all the folk
   in the sweet land where
is uttered (33, 79-80)

The land of Sì – not a polity, but a shared vernacular.
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