Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tax Day: "I Fergot!"

Sometime about 1980 or so I recall watching Saturday Night Live (or who knows, maybe it was Johnny Carson?) and seeing Steve Martin's bit about how to deal with income taxes. "Just tell 'em, 'I forgot,'" he said. It was funny because Martin's ability to portray a state of earnest ignorance could make it funny. Everyone watching, and Martin himself, knew full well that earnest ignorance only carries you so far. You can't say, when the cop stops you for running a red light, "I didn't see it." Maybe you didn't. He did. That is not a hill to die on.

One of the most important paintings in the whole history of art is Picasso's Guernica. If you don't know anything else about art, you probably do know Guernica. All the people who want you to forget Guernica have spent a lot of time writing about how Picasso was, personally, a, well, difficult case. He had too many wives, and too many mistresses. He was arrogant. He realized in his later years that if he wrote his name at the bottom of literally any sort of doodle or scrawl, it was pretty much like printing money. None of that matters at all.

This is why we shouldn't let Sean Spicer get away with his alleged "gaffe" concerning the Holocaust, poison gas, and all the rest of the muddle he spouted the other day in his efforts to justify the seemingly random missile attack we launched on the Syrian airfield. It wasn't a gaffe, and we only let that go because mostly people feel sorry for Spicer. And indeed, he has a sorry damn job, defending every day the undefensible. For some reason Ms Conway seems to maintain a personal relish for this task. Her gibberish reminds me of an early Bob Dylan press conference. Everything is deflected, twisted. Of course Dylan was coming from a very different place. Like Picasso, he was an artist, and he didn't want to be cornered.

Spicer didn't make any sort of "gaffe." Chauncy Devega gets it right:

Spicer comes from a stew of right wing historical revisions, many nurtured over decades by utterly dedicated racists, fascists, misogynists, and other people who just can't stand that history hasn't gone "their way." In Spicer's world, there was no Holocaust, and Hitler didn't murder any of his "own people," using gas or anything else. We have a bunch of these folks in the North Carolina Legislature right now. One of them, the Right Honorable Mr. Pittman, put up a bill to contest the settled Supreme Court decision last year that same sex marriage is a civil right. Even his own people have knocked that down, which is certainly some kind of small victory. For Spicer, the revisions just got sorta tangled in his explanation. He has probably never seen Guernica, never heard that the painting was inspired by the obliteration of the Spanish town of Guernica by the German and Italian Air Forces, an early experiment in population bombing. They made sure it was market day. The number of dead is still not entirely known. Meanwhile, Pittman defended his bill on his Facebook page, and in the process compared Lincoln to Hitler. If Spicer had thought of it, he might have gone there too, although I'd imagine that most of the high level fascists who now occupy the Executive Branch have at least learned not to attack Lincoln, since they also want to use him in their ongoing attempts to pry gullible black votes (as such they may be) from the Democratic Party's ranks.

Down here the Republicans still are ok with attacking Lincoln. The Southern Strategy is alive and well. And in most eastern NC counties, you'd best not talk nice about General Sherman at the local diner--I mean the local "white diner" anyway. In the black communities, it's still a badge of honor to be named Sherman.

And it's true, as well, that the burning of Atlanta is something of a Guernica moment, starring the General and his Army. But if you're honest about the real world we live in, you can't quite say "War, what is it good for? Huh! Absolutely nothing." I love the song, and in a lot of contexts it's righteous. But you can't say that about Atlanta. And you can't say that Hitler, unlike Assad, didn't gas his own people.

The missile strike of last week has come down to a quibble about which method of death must be under all circumstances banned from the world. This is because it's all, as usual with Mr. Trump, an effort to explain and justify a decision which was unthoughtout and executed in the moment. This is all Mr. Trump can do. It is who he is. The United States must now address the abject failure of our system of choosing presidents. Whether this is even remotely possible is, to my mind, unlikely. We live now in a national quandary.

Quandaries yield muddles. Some of them are even funny. See, e.g., Steve Martin's humor concerning the income tax. Wonder if Mr. Manafort can use the same argument, or if he was careful to pay taxes on even the bags of cash he was receiving via "wire transfer" from Eastern Europe.

It takes a lot of obfuscation to obliterate the painting Guernica. Much more than it took to obliterate the little Spanish/Basque town. We've had decades and decades now, of Limbaugh and all the other apologists. Down here they will argue with you about how "Lincoln's War" was "illegal." And if you go over and talk to the Russians right now, they'll offer questions about who did what, if poison gas was even involved, and anyway, the whole little town was full of "terrorists.

I've been watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain's shows recently, his "Parts Unknown" pieces. He reminds us, in each show, that there are actually real people involved. Perhaps he'll even get to Guernica at some point. Surely there's a kiosk or two that's sprouted amongst the rubble by now. Grass grows up in the cracks of sidewalks and stones. Life struggles to survive. Bourdain will ride up on a scooter, eat the best ham sandwich he's ever tasted (it being Spain), and then head on out to Bilboa and the big art museum. I was hoping he'd find Guernica there, but it's hanging in a museum in Madrid, where it can be seen by even more people. My daughter lived for a while in Madrid. She often remarked on the ham there. The road goes on forever, the party never ends.

There's a reason most of the good ones are in minor.

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