100 years ago at the Armory

ArmoryShow-1913
It is 100 years since the Armory Show, an influential exhibition of European and American visual art that toured New York, Chicago and Boston.   Some 70,000 people attended the New York exhibition (which ran from 1913-02-15 to 1913-03-17), and almost 190,000 the Chicago event.    The viewers included former President Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote a review of the show, here.  Although not a fan of the cubists and futurists, he was surprisingly open to innovation.   An excerpt:

The recent “International Exhibition of Modern Art” in New York was really noteworthy. Messrs. Davies, Kuhn, Gregg, and their fellow members of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors have done a work of very real value in securing such an exhibition of the works of both foreign and native painters and sculptors. Primarily their purpose was to give the public a chance to see what has recently been going on abroad. No similar collection of the works of European “moderns” has ever been exhibited in this country. The exhibitors are quite right as to the need of showing to our people in this manner the art forces which of late have been at work in Europe, forces which cannot be ignored.
This does not mean that I in the least accept the view that these men take of the European extremists whose pictures are here exhibited. It is true, as the champions of these extremists say, that there can be no life without change, no development without change, and that to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life. It is no less true, however, that change may mean death and not life, and retrogression instead of development. Probably we err in treating most of these pictures seriously. It is likely that many of them represent in the painters the astute appreciation of the powers to make folly lucrative which the late P. T. Barnum showed with his faked mermaid. There are thousands of people who will pay small sums to look at a faked mermaid; and now and then one of this kind with enough money will buy a Cubist picture, or a picture of a misshapen nude woman, repellent from every standpoint.
In some ways it is the work of the American painters and sculptors which is of most interest in this collection, and a glance at this work must convince any one of the real good that is coming out of the new movements, fantastic though many of the developments of these new movements are. There was one note entirely absent from the exhibition, and that was the note of the commonplace. There was not a touch of simpering, self-satisfied conventionality anywhere in the exhibition. Any sculptor or painter who had in him something to express and the power of expressing it found the field open to him.  He did not have to be afraid because his work was not along ordinary lines. There was no stunting or dwarfing, no requirement that a man whose gift lay in new directions should measure up or down to stereotyped and fossilized standards.”

What with TR’s imperialism and all, it is easy to forget how good a writer he was, being a published author before becoming President.   Like another Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning President.
Reference:
Theodore Roosevelt [1913]: A Layman’s Views of an Art Exhibition. Outlook, 103 (29 March 1913): 718–720. Reprinted in Roderick Nash [1970] (Editor):   The Call of the Wild (1900–1916). New York: George Braziller.

My heart remains in Orchard Street

Just recalled this sad break-up letter from John Vorwald to the Lower East Side, published two years ago.

Dear Lower East Side,
I don’t know how to say this.
It’s over.
For years I defended you.  I stood by you — faithful to a fault. When people said you were dirty or unkempt, I called it character. When they said you were running with a shady crowd and staying out too late, I said it was a phase. And when they shook their heads and said you’d sold out, I’d say you’d come back around.
But I was wrong.
Recently, on the corner of Rivington and Ludlow (the once-proud site of the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” album cover), a photo shoot was taking place. Two rugged men — shaved heads, chiseled jaws, cultivated stubble — were decked out in full prep-school regalia. Tweed plaid pants, sweater vest, looming crest. Pose, flash, pose. A bearded photographer angled for an incongruous blend of uptown couture and downtown street grit. Princeton ghettoway. Slytherin in the City. Call it what you like.
At that moment, I knew two things were true: Somewhere, someplace, Lou Reed was crying. And you and I were finished.
Sure, we’ve had our good times; you’ve been there for me. When I was coming off a breakup with a sleepier borough, you gave me your stripped-wire energy. I loved your pulse — the crackle and hum that only downtown Manhattan could provide (shut up, Fort Greene). Who needed pretty brownstones and an inferiority complex? I had your tenement castles. Forget backyard gardens; I had your grid of fire escapes, my own urban picket fence.
I’ll always remember our early days. I wasn’t exactly promiscuous, but I’d been around — Greenpoint, SoHo, East Village, Boerum Hill. You reminded me of a gracefully aging rocker, grizzled and sage. I admit it, I liked the cougar in you.
By the early 2000s your renaissance was well under way, but it was your past lives that spoke to guys like me. A simple walk along Orchard Street conjured nickel-and-dime vaudeville, turn-of-the-century Jewish grandparents, ’70s punk, bargain leather and the odor of garbage and sour beer. Richard Price once described you as a modern-day Byzantium. You were more like my very own Alexandria, richer for your rag-and-bone ruins. So, I nestled into a fourth-floor perch over Ludlow and listened to the street pop like a 45 track, like so many broken bottles.
It was perfect. For a while.
True, I’m no Reagan-era squatter. My forebears did not immigrate to your streets. But I know a thing or three about you now. Only a few years ago, you’d reserve your special mayhem for the weekends. Amateur nights in your arms — a beautiful mess. All trussed up like a ’50s-era pinup model, you were the Queen Bee welcoming one and all with a knowing wink. We were still O.K. then, you and I. I knew that the workweek was our time, when I could still catch glimpses of the real you: the Chinese ladies returning from the Essex Street Market, the local kids playing ball at Roosevelt Park, the tattooed cartoonist stationed in the window across the courtyard. Even the din of bands rehearsing in errant basements along Ludlow.
Then they came — your new friends.
You gussied yourself up with shiny new hardware: Thor, Fat Baby, Spitzer’s. Hordes of banker boys in J. Press checked shirt/chino uniforms and manicured necklines swarmed to you faster than to the promise of a government bailout. They enjoyed sausage-party dinners at Schiller’s (“It’s like Pastis, but edgy!”), used winter as a verb and eyed sun-speckled Germans and Australians “on holiday.”
Toothsome Upper East Side girl packs (never fewer than four) tarted up in too-new Lilly Pulitzer dresses and slurped down sugar-free Red Bull and Grey Gooses at the Stanton Social. Hipster millennials, rocking extra-skinny jeans, oversize Elton John glasses and cocked-back fedoras, turned Pianos and Welcome to the Johnsons into their own private Thompson Twins video. Hold me now. Hold my heart.
At first you shrugged, as if to say, “Can I help it if I’m so popular?” The truth is, you liked the attention. And who could blame you? Wasn’t it better than the heady days of strung-out junkies on every corner? So, I tried looking in the other direction. I took whole weekends away. I’d leave you to your affairs — the girls and the boys.
I told myself that you’d get it out of your system, that you’d grow out of it. I visited neighbors — precious NoLIta, wizened East Vil — but I kept coming back to you, forgiving your indiscretions. Then, one day, I realized we had both changed. Truth is, you like the new you, this Guitar Hero version of yourself: the mallternative bands, the squeaky-clean beer halls, the rooftop parties at glass hotels. And me? Well, I could say that the ironic T-shirts have lost some of their charm (they have), or that I am not like them (I’m not). But, really, isn’t the awful truth that yours is a love only for the very young and carefree? And I am decidedly neither.
So, as the new year dawns, I must vow to leave you, dear L.E.S.
Not sure yet where I’ll end up. I should let you know that I’ve been seeing someone, someone a little less flashy, someone who isn’t trying nearly so hard, and — it must be said — someone who actually enjoys the company of an older man. No, it doesn’t matter who. What matters is that we’ve come to the end, my lovely Loisaida. I know I’ll miss you, and the spell you once cast over me. But as an old flame of yours named Lou Reed once said, “There’s a bit of magic in everything, and then some loss to even things out.”
Regretfully,
 
John Vorwald


The photo shows The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Orchard Street, New York (photo credit: Sheila Scarborough).

Old Etonians

Congratulations to Rory Stewart, newly-elected Conservative MP for England’s largest electorate, Penrith and the Border.

I heard Stewart speak in December 2009, shortly after his pre-selection, at a bookshop in Penrith.  At the time, he was walking across his prospective constituency as a way to learn about it and to meet people.  He was most impressive – intelligent, urbane, witty, sincere, respectful, and also very laid-back.  He read from his book on Iraq, and talked about Afghanistan and Iraq, even quoting the poetry of TS Eliot.  The audience then had a good debate with him and with each other about do-gooding foreign wars and about the UK-USA relationship.  From their comments, I would say about half the audience were probably Labour voters.
Stewart, as good a facilitator as Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, got us all to say who we were and what were our concerns.     He did not  interrupt anyone, listened attentively and respectfully (even when he disagreed), and remembered everyone’s name and profession; I’m sure he charmed some of the audience there and then into voting for him.    When someone said they’d like to vote for him personally, but could not face voting Conservative (calling it “the Work-House Party”), he laughed at the description and said this was a decision they’d have to make for themself.  He didn’t even present a case for voting for him personally while ignoring the party label, as most politicians I have known would have done at that point.    In fact, he proceeded to give an honest assessment of his own strengths and weaknesses as a candidate – if he was selling himself, this was an extremely soft-sell.
The whole event struck me as remarkable:  Here was a modern-day soldier, colonial administrator, and educator of America’s nomenklatura campaigning in rural Cumbria and doing so very explicitly on his Iraq and Afghan experience.  And, more surprisingly, people seemed to respond with great passion to his message, with its key theme being that the West needs to understand and accept the limits to its own power to change other societies.  It says something about the effect these two wars have had on people in Britain that such a message would have even been listened to seriously in a local campaign, let alone that it would resonate with people.
Some British commentators have compared Stewart to Winston Churchill, who also had had colonial military adventures and had written some damn fine and exciting prose before entering Parliament.   I think that other writer and warrior Teddy Roosevelt is a better comparison, as TR appears (from this distance) to have been more respectful of human diversity and difference than was young Winnie.    One does not have to be a Conservative to be pleased that a person of Rory Stewart’s intelligence, sophistication, integrity, courage and wisdom should now be in the Mother of Parliaments.
NOTES:
Another account of the same meeting here.   My memory is that the dog was not small, as the photographs confirm.
Here is a profile from National Geographic (undated, but before Stewart’s appointment as a Harvard professor).
And here is Ian Parker’s profile in The New Yorker (2010-11-15).
Through his American mother, Winston Churchill knew TR, and once stayed with the Roosevelts in Albany when TR was Governor of New York.

Political activists of renown

Recently, I have listed the teachers and writers who have influenced me, along with the managers whom I admire.  I now list the politicians and political activists whom I admire.  Some of these led conventional political careers, others were community organizers or single-issue advocates, and yet others were spies, or were accused of being such.

Edmund Campion, Robert Persons, Robert Southwell, Thomas Aikenhead, Tom Paine, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Solomon Plaatje, Franklin Roosevelt, Ted Theodore, John Curtin, Doc Evatt, Richard Sorge, Imre Nagy, Zhou Enlai, Milada Horakova, Bram Fischer, Salvador Allende Gossens, Lyndon Johnson, Donal Lamont, Rudolf Margolius, Gough Whitlam, Helen Suzman, Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Dubcek, Nelson Mandela, Zhao Ziyang, Martin Luther King Jr, Zdenek Mlynar, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vaclav Havel, Michael Schneider, Bella Subbotovskaya, Paul Keating, Vadim Delone, Jes Albert Möller, Barack Obama and Rory Stewart.

Australia (5), Czechoslovakia (5), and South Africa (5) have produced more than their per capita share of political heroes, it would seem, but the distribution no doubt reflects my reading and interests.  Of course, it hardly needs to be said that I do not necessarily agree with any or all the views these people have expressed or hold, nor necessarily support all their actions.

Next, the Literature Nobel

Robert Draper has an interesting essay in GQ on Barack Obama the writer.  As I noted before, Obama shares this characteristic with Teddy Roosevelt (and with no other US President).  And like TR and JFK, Bam is also a cosmopolitan urbanite.

“I think he sees the world through a writer’s eye,” says senior White House adviser and former Chicago journalist David Axelrod. “I’ve always appreciated about him his ability to participate in a scene and also reflect on it. I mean, I remember when we were meeting clandestinely with the guys who were vetting the vice presidential candidates. There was this courtly southern gentleman who was doing the vetting. The president said to me, ‘This whole scene’s right out of a Grisham novel.’
“I also have to say, one of the great thrills is to watch him work on a speech. It’s not just the content—he’s very focused on that—but more than anyone I’ve ever worked with, he’s focused on the rhythm of the words. Like, he’ll invert words. He’ll say, ‘I need a one-beat word here.’ There’s no question who the best writer in the [speech-writing] group is.”

Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1953, after writing — or perhaps supervising the writing of — his History of the English Speaking Peoples), so there’s hope yet for Bam’s next Nobel.

Congratulations, Bam!

Congratulations to President Barack Obama for the award of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace!
Former speechwriter to President Jimmie Carter, James Fallows, analyzes Bam’s speech yesterday here.   The Peace Prize is yet another commonality between US Presidents 44 and 26.
I am stunned that much of the commentariat seems to think Obama has not done anything to deserve this, as if ending the Bush-Cheney doctrine of global bullying was nothing at all.  Let us not forget that an unelected US Administration made, in August 2002, a decision to invade Iraq, which decision said administration and their allies refused for several months to provide the public with reasons for (a refusal which led the Australian Senate, for example, to pass its first-ever and so-far-only motion of censure against a sitting Prime Minister, and which led to the largest public demonstrations in Europe for four decades), and which decision was then justified to the public on grounds the justifiers appear to have known at the time to be misleading and possibly also false.  For 8 long years, the US Government was led by a secretive, macho, power-hungry, war-mongering, torture-mongering, jingoistic, neoconservative cabal, and as a consequence the peace and safety of all us around the world was lessened.   The prospects for global peace improved dramatically at 12 noon on 20 January 2009, immediately upon the removal of that cabal from office, a removal that was itself also a major achievement, and the Nobel Committee has recognized that real achievement for peace with this award.
Among the churlish commentary, I was most surprised by former Polish President Lech Walesa’s reaction, who apparently said, “So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far.  He is still at an early stage.”   But the Nobel Prize for Peace is sometimes awarded to people or groups as a statement of solidarity by the Nobel Committee, and thus the world, for the person or cause receiving it.   Recent examples include a courageous national political leader under house arrest (Aung San Suu Kyi,  1991), a courageous dissident scientist also held under house arrest by his Government (Andrei Sakharov 1975), and the leader of an outlawed trade union, whose cause appeared at the time not only to have failed completely but to have been entirely counter-productive, leading as it did to martial law and more political repression in response than would otherwise have been the case (Lech Walesa, 1983).
Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan quotes an anonymous correspondent:

Remember how Obama should have stepped aside and let Hillary win the primaries? Remember how America wasn’t ready for a black President, of course, so why didn’t he just realize it and wait his turn? Remember last summer when the candidate went to Germany and gave speech before hundreds of thousands of adoring fans?  How arrogant.  Who does he think he is?  Only a president should do that.  He should have at least waited until he won. And then he did win.  And he took a world tour and gave a game changing speech in the Cairo.  Who did he think he was?  A rock star?  The arrogance and audacity – it’s breathtaking. If the man would just wait his turn, dammit.
 

Step right up! Step right up!

Good morning and welcome to everyone who’s just arrived from Normblog!  Do come right in, and make yourself at home.  There are still seats up here near the front, and also over there by the poets.  (We apologize for the peanut shells some of the Beat poets left on the floor over there.)

Feel free to engage in an argument with us, especially regarding decision-theory or forecasting or even prophecy.  Although professionally we are interested in market planning and marketing strategy, we also have a special  interest in that hard-proving ground for data gathering, inference and complex reasoning, intelligence.  Indeed, some of our heroes worked in that arena, as well in politics and telecommunications and project management.  Eventually, though, even heroes become history.

What’s that? Oh, our tagline?  It’s from the opening of The Scalp Hunters: A Romance of Northern Mexico, by Captain Mayne Reid, published in 1860, and one of the young Teddy Roosevelt’s favourite books:

Unroll the world’s map, and look upon the great northern continent of America. Away to the wild west, away toward the setting sun, away beyond many a far meridian, let your eyes wander. Rest them where golden rivers rise among peaks that carry the eternal snow. Rest
them there.

So, browse around, stay as long as you wish, and do visit with us again when you have a free mo’.

Presidential worldiness

He was now, if not yet a man, then at least a youth of more than ordinary experience of the world.  He had traveled exhaustively in Britain, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, visiting their great cities time and again and actually living in some for long periods.  He had plumbed the Catacombs and climbed the Great Pyramids, slept in a monastery and toured a harem.  He had hunted jackals on horseback, kissed the Pope’s hand, stared into a volcano, traced an ancient civilization to its source, and followed the wanderings of Jesus.  He had been exposed to much of the world’s greatest art and architecture, become conversant in two foreign languages, and felt as much at home in Arab bazaars as at a German kaffeeklatsch, or on the shaven lawns of an English estate.

Ed Morris’ description of Teddy Roosevelt at 15, appropos 44 and 26.
Reference:
Edmund Morris [2001]: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York, USA:  The Modern Library.  Revised and updated edition.  First edition published in 1979.  Except is from page 47.

Ol' 57 Varieties

Yesterday, in a ceremony awarding prizes to a successful US Navy football team at the White House, President Obama greeted a fellow Hawaiian with a “hang loose” sign (aka the Shaka gesture), which was of course returned. 

On the day before his Inauguration in January, an amateur video showed then-President-elect Barack Obama with his wife, greeting VIP guests at a concert held in his honour on the Mall, in Washington DC; many of these guests were black Americans, and Young Bazza spoke to them in a different accent, different tone of voice, and with different body language to his normal public persona.   As a state congressman in Illinois, he once remarked to an aide that the folks he met upstate were just like his Kansan relatives.  As is well-known, he was a big-city urban politician from Chicago, of a type that can be found throughout the North-East and in some cities elsewhere – think The Wire (Baltimore), or think larger-than-life city politicians from TR, Fiorello La Guardia, Richard Daley, John Lindsay, Ed Koch, Tip O’Neill, through to Rudy Giuliani and Cory Booker.  He was also Editor of the Harvard Law Review, putting him into the intellectual A-league alongside people like Adlai Stevenson, Henry Kissenger, Sam Nunn and both Clintons.
Perhaps the key reason for Obama’s sudden rise to national prominence  in the US is his ability to identify with people from all over the map, to make people feel that he is “one of us” in lots of different communities.   In this he takes after “Ol’ 57 Varieties” himself, Teddy Roosevelt.   Obama, of course, takes this to a new global level, with his family connections to Kenya and to Indonesia.
Two thoughts come to mind.  The first is that several successful politicians have had backgrounds or career experiences that enable them to connect with many different communities in their home countries:  [tag]Harold Wilson[/tag] for example, who traveled the length and breadth of Britain in his 20s as a researcher for [tag]William Beveridge[/tag] and for the Beveridge Commision; [tag]Eddison Zvobgo[/tag], another Harvard Law School graduate and Minister for Local Government in Robert Mugabe’s newly-independent Zimbabwe, who used the role to build a nationwide constituency; and [tag]Bob Hawke[/tag], Australian PM, who spent the main part of his career as first a researcher with and then President of the Australian Council of Trades Unions (the ACTU), a position which enabled him to travel widely, to meet people across the social spectrum, and to make connections internationally (eg, he negotiated with the USSR to allow greater Jewish emigration to Israel).
My second thought is that this provides us with another way to classify the various US Presidents.  Some Presidents, like Obama, are post-industrial nomads,  either not from one specific place or from several:  TR, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41.   Other Presidents are firmly perceived as being from one specific place:  Lincoln, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Carter, Clinton and Bush 43.  It is interesting that the only nomads before Obama were Republicans.

White House Cosmopolitanism

Following the first seder ever held in the White House, The Guardian’s US correspondent, Michael Tomasky, has a post arguing that the Obamas “are our first cosmopolitan first couple.”  Like the widespread myth that Barack Obama is the first urban US president (he is in fact the third), this is not the case.   Before the Obamas, Presidents John F. Kennedy (mentioned briefly by Tomasky, albeit grudgingly), Herbert Hoover and Theodore Roosevelt were as cosmopolitan as the Obamas.
TR was born into a family that had already lived in Manhattan for over 200 years, and his grandfather was arguably the richest man in New York City.  Roosevelt spent his 10th birthday in Europe, as part of a year-long Grand Tour his father had organized to educate the Roosevelt children, visiting Britain, the Low Countries, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.  He married his second wife in London, while staying in Brown’s Hotel, perhaps the most expensive hotel in the city.  While Governor of New York state, his dinner table included guests such as the Governor-General of Canada and a young English journalist named Winston S. Churchill.  That TR traveled west to the Dakotas to find himself after the death of his first wife, and so gained a reputation as a courageous frontiersman (a reputation fully deserved) is only evidence of a wider cosmopolitanism, not a provincialism; for instance, his western experience reinforced in him a respect for others according to their values and achievements, regardless of their social status or ethnic origin.  TR was the first US President to dine at the White House with a black American guest, Booker T. Washington in 1901, and he appointed the first Jewish-American to a Cabinet post, Oscar Strauss as Secretary of Commerce and Labor in 1906.  And TR had such a tendency to claim ancestry from different ethnic groups (Dutch, German, Irish, among others), he was nick-named “Old 57 Varieties”.
Hoover, too, had traveled widely before he became President, working in the mines of Western Australia and in China, and seeking to alleviate the suffering of refugees in Europe during World War I.  His fortune may have been ill-gotten, but he declined Lloyd George’s offer of a place in the Imperial War Cabinet during WW I in order to devote his efforts to raising money for war relief.  Whatever he was  – a scheming, get-rich-quick merchant before WW I, a do-nothing President paralyzed by ideology during the Great Depression, and full of self-righteous sanctimony afterwards – Hoover was certainly no provincial.   Indeed, both Hoover and TR were geographically restless – people we’d call Post-Industrial Nomads if they had lived a century later.
And even some other recent Presidents, although perhaps not as cosmopolitan as Obama, were not as provincial as George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan.  Eisenhower had seen overseas military service, in Europe during WWII, as had JFK, LBJ, Dick Nixon and George H. W. Bush,  in Australia and the Pacific.   Bush 41 had also been the US representative in China before becoming President.   Obama is certainly exceptional, but he’s not unique.