July 26, 2005

One More For Theo van Gogh

by Jerome du Bois

[I've written about Theo van Gogh in Seven Statements for Muslims, Theo Makes His Case, Theo van Gogh Calls on Yasser Arafat, and Theo van Gogh Calls On Mohammed Bouyeri.]

The worthless Muslim sonofabitch who murdered Theo van Gogh in the name and for the cause of Islam, was formally sentenced today to what the cops call Life Without Possibility, or El-Wop. Life without the possibility of parole. Good. I hope somebody kills him in prison. He doesn't deserve to live because he has no remorse and he would do it again and he would do it in the name of his religion. I am not surprised. Islam is anti-life. People need to start saying it more often. (Also, while in prison he will proselytize, just as he did in jail. He needs to be silenced.)

Please, Muslim, quote to me the beautiful Koranic verse. You know, the one that everyone quotes like they quote the 23rd Psalm or the Song of Solomon or Ecclesiastes or the Beatitudes or the Song of Ruth. No? Nothing? I didn't think so.

Pieter Dorsman of PeakTalk, who has the goods on the van Gogh story, also has some moving things to say about Theo van Gogh today:

Today I think it's appropriate to remember that a fellow human being died in a horrendous and unimaginable way. A human being who:

Deeply loved his young son Lieuwe and cycled him to school whenever he could;

Believed that his son probably had a better future in America and wanted to take him there on as many trips as he possibly could;

Would mortgage his house to get hard-to-finance movie productions off the ground so he could pay a screenwriter;

And who consequently had deep arguments with said screenwriters because he would totally screw up the movie's plot;

Had deep, deep rifts with his cinematographers;

Was actually one of the first Dutch bloggers (after having been terminated by all major publications for whom he produced columns);

Loved life so much that he stopped drinking, which was quite something for him . . .

Excelled at interviewing people in an informal setting (he ran a few very successful TV-shows);

Excelled in getting the best out of actors, at least those whom he preferred to work with;

Loved to work on many projects all at once, sometimes losing focus altogether;

Gladly displayed his mother's infidelities in one of his columns as a way to cleanse himself of the deep frustrations over his parents' difficult marriage;

Remained deeply furious with the Dutch government for never having paid him and his family any royalties on all the famous paintings produced by his great-great-uncle that are now on display in state-owned museums;

Made lots of money but spent it just as fast as he'd earned it;

Was simply a unique and intense person whose creative career had yet to peak.

And who did not deserve to die just because a worldwide religion, in its unholy book, demanded it, and a human being who believed what that book said unsurprisingly followed through on its exhortations.

That flawed man, Theo van Gogh, was a better exemplar of humanity than anything or anybody in that odious and human-hating religion, Islam.

Islam killed Theo van Gogh.

Posted by Jerome at 01:10 PM | TrackBack

July 20, 2005

The World Only Spins Forward

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Today, in 1969, astronauts from The United States of America landed on Earth's Moon.

Update: For some reason, this seems appropriate:

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That's one large step for a small man.

Posted by Jerome at 11:51 AM | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

Is London Burning? Not According To M. Zuhdi Jasser

by Jerome du Bois

Arizona Muslims have very few spokespeople to the rest of us Arizona citizens. The most prominent, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, I have written about four times so far. This will be the fifth.

Today, on azcentral.com's pluggedin, six days after the unconscionable London terror attacks carried out by highly-motivated, highly-educated British Muslim men, this is what he wants to discuss with us:

The Filipino government appears today to be single-handedly walking the entire world across that grizzly [sic] nexus of terrorist negotiation and appeasement. It appears that Manila is in the process of bowing to the kidnappers, and has agreed to withdraw its humanitarian aid workers from Iraq by August 20.

Manila might shake the world? Losing those aid workers might bring Iraq to its knees?

Hey, Zuhde . . . look over here. See the red bus, all flayed and bloody?

No, he doesn't, apparently. In his whole column, which is about appeasement, it's those bendover Filipinos, not his murderous co-religionists in England, that we need to condemn, according to him.

He writes as if London didn't happen.

That speaks volumes to me.

This is the guy who is best-known for organizing a fizzled-out Muslim March Against Terrorism, still the only one since 9/11. (A so-called second rally, in DC, was even more pitiful.)

No march for 7/7/05, so far.

As I've said before, I expect no support for the USA from Dr. Jasser or any American Muslim. In the light of taqiyya, I doubt I'd believe anything they say.

But I do note what they say, and omit, for the record. And, for the record, in his first column since the London terror attacks, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser completely ignored them.

Posted by Jerome at 02:45 PM | TrackBack

SUMMER OF LOVE

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Flower arrangement and photography by Catherine King.

Posted by Jerome at 12:18 PM | TrackBack

July 10, 2005

ENCHANTED 10

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Captured by Catherine King.

Posted by Jerome at 07:00 AM | TrackBack

July 06, 2005

Sometimes A Public Art Notion: The Phoenix Liberty Pole

by Jerome du Bois

Introducing the fourth post in a retrospectively-named occasional series: Sometimes A Public Art Notion, on the sidebar. Readers may not be aware of the new, expanded Glorious Golden Grand Avenue Vision, just below. Enjoy. And yes, I know this one should have gone up a couple of days ago. Technical problems. Let's just call July Independence Month.

[The key to this piece emerged in conversation with my wife, when I mentioned that the Liberty Pole, unlike the Liberty Tree, was rootless. "So is Phoenix," she said. "Nobody was living here not so long ago. They even had to change the course of a river to help create the city." That got us thinking . . .]

I first read about Liberty Poles in 1998, in Richard Rosenfeld's matchless magnum documentum American Aurora, whose main action takes place in Philadelphia, the US Capital, between 1798 and 1801. Because of lacunae in my self-education at the time, I didn't know this was the second incarnation of Liberty Poles, raised up in reaction to the Sedition Act, which the newspaper Philadelphia Aurora inadvertently helped to create by its insistent individual intransigence and dedication to the truth. (It is also a continuing inspiration for this blog.) Its motto, set below the image of a rising sun, was Surgo Ut Prosim --"I rise that I may be useful." Amen to that.

New Yorkers raised the first Liberty Poles thirty years earlier (1766-76), which I discovered near the beginning of another history I am now sampling in large chunks, more thematically than sequentially: David Hackett Fischer's lucid and encyclopedic Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History Of America's Founding Ideas. (We're political opposites, by the way.) In what follows I will discuss --quoting liberally from Dr. Fischer-- Boston's Liberty Tree, its effigy and detailed boot, and how the Tree relates to New York's Liberty Poles --with a very brief digression about the decline of imagination in political art.

Finally I'll describe a public art project for Phoenix for Independence Day and the whole following year: an updated, multi-media replica of the 90-foot Sixth New York Liberty Pole of 1770, to be realized at the northeast corner of Indian School Road and Central Avenue, at the southwest edge of Steele Park, Phoenix, Arizona, on July 4, 20??.

The Boston Liberty Tree was a large elm that belonged to Deacon Jacob Elliott, part of his grove along Orange Street. I'll have Dr. Fischer describe what happened around that tree on August 14, 1765:

In the half light of dawn, a passerby glanced at the largest of these trees and was amazed to see a body hanging from a branch. People began to gather around the tree. As the light improved, they discovered that the body was an effigy, marked with the initials A.O., which everyone took to be Andrew Oliver, a Boston merchant who had agreed to collect the new Stamp Tax that Parliament had levied on the colonies . . .

Beside the effigy was a big riding boot, which many recognized as a visual pun on the earl of Bute, a Scottish aristocrat who was thought to be the moving spirit behind the Stamp Tax. The boot was "stuffed with representation," according to one eyewitness. Climbing out of the boot-top was a grinning image of the Devil himself, with an evil gleam in his malevolent eye and the Stamp Act clutched in his sinister claw.

Stitched to the bottom of the boot was a bright green sole. Green had long been the color of liberty and freedom in English folklore, since the day of Robin Hood and his Green Men in the fourteenth century. Rural rebels in Kent and East Anglia wore sprigs of greenery in their caps during the sixteenth century. The first English Whigs (as friends of liberty and freedom were called) organized themselves as the Green Ribbon Club in the seventeenth century.

As the morning wore on, the crowd at Deacon Elliott's tree grew larger. Its size alarmed the governor, who sent for the lieutenant governor, who summoned the sheriff of Suffolk County, who ordered his deputies to cut down the effigy. They came running back to report they "could not do it without imminent danger to their lives."

There follows a very eventful day, to say the least, which ended when the men of Boston

marched on to Andrew Oliver's home, broke its windows, and burned the effigy in a bonfire made from the Stamp Office.

How economical! After that day, Deacon Elliott's elm became a gathering place and symbol of liberty and freedom for Bostonians, and was reproduced in many forms.

[Before we move on to New York, a brief digression on political symbolism in art: it has vanished, along with subtlety. As the last election season made clear, and as anti-Bush exhibitions still sprout here and there, it's obvious that direct sadistic pornography has taken the place of discourse. Ellipsis, displacement, irony, cleverness, confection . . . all gone bye bye.

I have another example, from America's middle period, so to speak, which I found, serendipitously, in another book I'm reading: Flag: An American Biography, by Marc Leepson. On page 232 he describes a 1969 antiwar poster by my favorite artist, Jasper Johns, who did this dumb thing:

The colors of the fifty-star flag in Johns' poster, titled "Moratorium," make a subtle antiwar statement. The stars and six stripes are black; seven stripes are done in a green camouflage pattern. The canton's field is painted orange. The word "Moratorium" is stenciled underneath.

"Johns' print successfully became a symbol of protest," the artist Deborah Wood wrote, "because he changed his approach. The image is immediately recognizable as a symbol for America, but there is obviously something wrong because the colors are distorted. A single word "Moratorium" requires no complex analysis."

No kidding, because there is none available. She's blowing smoke. Johns couldn't tell you why the canton was orange (Agent Orange? I think not), but everyone looking at that effigy and boot in 1766 knew what everthing referred to without the heavy-handedness of direct address. Nowadays people are so easily impressed with vagueness, or fame, like exhausted Romans barely able to lift their languid arms to point to something significant. The Loyal Nine of Boston and New York's Sons of Neptune kick these wankers' asses aesthetically, even now; and they weren't even "artists."]

Since "No self-respecting New Yorker was content to imitate a Yankee," New Yorkers' take on the Liberty Tree --the Liberty Pole-- was sui generis. It was the brainchild of four men, the Sons of Neptune: John Lamb, Joseph Allicocke, Isaac Sears, and Alexander MacDougall. Dr. Fischer describes them:

All were self-made men, humble in their origins and mixed in their ethnicity. John Lamb was a prosperous wine importer, the son of an English convict who had been transported to Virginia for burglary. Alexander MacDougall was a fiery Scottish immigrant who came to New York as a poor seaman, opened a secondhand slop shop on the waterfront, married a woman of means, and became a prosperous merchant. Joseph Allicocke was described as the son of "mulatto woman," an African American who worked as an employee of the British provision contractors in New York and became a merchant in his turn. Isaac Sears was a Connecticut Yankee, the son of an oysterman who followed his father's trade, became captain of a small sloop, married a tavernkeeper's daughter, and settled on the New York waterfront.

People sometimes have burdensome pasts. They overcome them. They rise above them, and they even rise above themselves. Why? Because they stand on the solid ground of liberty and freedom and mutual respect!

The Liberty Pole these self-made people (you forget their wives at your peril!) created was

a tall mast that rose high above the rooftops of their town and rigged it with stays and halyards. At its peak, New Yorkers hoisted "a large board fixed on a flag staff, with an inscription that read "George 3rd, Pitt-- and Liberty." Other elements would be added later: a flag with the cross of St. George as an emblem of loyalty, a gilded weathervane with the word LIBERTY in large letters, and a liberty cap on top of the pole.

This device was thought to be a new invention. Its novelty appeared in the fact that people did not know what to call it.

So they bandied about names, some of which I'll skip. At the end:

Seafaring men thought of it as a mast, which was the model for its construction, but landsmen began to call it the Liberty Pole. That simple name suited the blunt speechways of Manhattan. It quickly caught on.

Alert readers will recall my reference to the Sixth New York Liberty Pole. That's because the British kept cutting them down or blowing them up, so the designers and builders of these poles had to keep reinforcing them. When the fifth pole was cut down by the British, the ensuing violence ("sharpened sleigh-rungs") was so bloody it earned a name: The Battle of Golden Hill. The city fathers were aghast at the violence of their fellow-citizens, and refused another pole location on public city land.

But Isaac Sears bought an adjacent lot and exercised his private rights against public authority, in the spirit of New York. In defiance of the town fathers, the radical Whigs raised a new Liberty Pole, much larger than the others, and taller than any structure in town.

This is the piece I would like to see reproduced, with some additions and electronic embellishments.

Its lower part was a ship's mainmast sixty-eight feet long, so big that six horses were required to haul it through the streets. It was surmounted by a topmast of twenty-two feet and crowned by a gilded vane with the gleaming word LIBERTY. From halyards it flew a large flag, probably the British Red Duster, which the seamen used at sea, with the word LIBERTY added in large letters.

The massive base of this new mast was heavily armored with iron bars, studded with nails, and bound with metal hoops. Thousands of New Yorkers escorted it to the Fields with weapons in their hands. To the people of the town it became a sacred object, baptized by the blood of its defenders. This Liberty Pole stood for six years, until the Revolution.

Dr. Fischer points out important differences between the Liberty Trees and the Liberty Poles:

Like most political emblems, New York's Liberty Pole combined its central symbolism with other meanings. It was constructed in the manner of a ship's mast by maritime artisans who represented a social class and had a strong sense of class consciousness. The Liberty Pole came to be associated with that idea, always stronger in New York than other American towns from the seventeenth century to our own time.

Its origin also gave it another significance. Unlike the Liberty Tree, it was a human artifact. Its mast, spars, shrouds, stays, halyards, and blocks made it a human construction that was more mechanical and less organic than New England's favorite symbol.

Further, a Liberty Pole had no roots. It could be constructed anywhere on the spur of the moment and in many different sizes. Some Liberty Poles were bigger than the tallest building in old New York. Others were small enough to be carried by a man or even a child. The Liberty Pole became a versatile symbol of authonomy for an individual group, sect, class, party, guild, town, colony, or an entire country.

Even --or maybe especially-- a rootless city like Phoenix.

When I originally got the idea of reproducing Liberty Poles, I wanted to recreate about two dozen of them in their authentic historical locations around New York State and the New England states, hook them all up interactively with televisions, feeds, and satellite links --so that each location could channel every location-- and then live-feed and record the fireworks all at once. . .

But we can scale the idea down without losing impact. Set up the Liberty Pole in Steele Park: a real mast, a real topmast, with at least three custom-made flags flying, with all their gear and tackle and trim; the base complete with defensive nails and criss-cross grids of welded and riveted steel hoops. (Everything would be modular, including the buried counterweight, so that the Pole may be reassembled anywhere.) Floodlights all around. The great golden four-foot sign at the tip, LIBERTY on one side, FREEDOM on the other, a true weathervane pointing withersoever the wind may blow, but always toward glorious individual freedom and mutual respect in all directions. All of it topped by a twice-lifesize wooden Liberty Cap, painted bright red. And, around the base, a dozen large (damage-proof) televisions, each broadcasting live the fireworks (just the fireworks; no talking heads) from feeds at a dozen prominent locations around the Valley of the Sun on July 4, 20??.

Afterwards the fireworks feeds will be edited and rebroadcast into a half-hour show every night for the rest of the month, with sound, on a special screen built above the Arizona Lottery Billboard on the northwest corner of Indian School Road and Central Avenue. Across the street, the Liberty Pole will be emblazoned with light from newly-sunken base to golden forecastle. The twelve televisions surrounding the base of the Liberty Pole will be available for perusal 24/7, with choices on touch screens. Most will be pictorial collages of American ideas, with occasional onscreen written summaries. There will be nothing negative; no Abu Ghraib pantyheads, no police dogs attacking black men, no Wounded Knee whining.

Some ideas include:

-- A replay of the local July 4th fireworks;
-- A selection of fireworks displays nationally;
-- A pictorial survey of the number and variety of American flags, with narration;
-- A pictorial collage of film clips of the World Trade Center towers, up to but not including their destruction;
-- A pictorial collage called Smaller Faster Cheaper Better, showing the paradox of shrinking physical computer size with the expansion of computer power;
-- A pictorial collage of the American (strummed, not bowed) stringed instrument, from the African slave's drum which became the banjo, including the mandolin, acoustic and electric guitars, down to the nearly-air electronic guitars of today;
-- A pictorial collage of the use of bald eagles as symbols in American history;
-- A collage of American entrepreneurial and trade signs (as distinct from corporate advertising), from Colonial Times on down to our times;
-- Live feeds when appropriate, such as broadcasts of public meetings.

Many other ideas apply, and, as the Pole travels, it allows for local feeds. (Other city's leases will help recoup the costs for Phoenix.)

Picture it: a ship's mast rising in the desert, like the audacious triumph of an irresistible idea. From whatever direction you arrive at this busy crossroads, you'll easily be able to see from far off the Golden Words that crown that proud Liberty Pole.

Ah, Phoenix, can you not see how beautiful it could be?

Posted by Jerome at 05:16 PM | TrackBack

July 04, 2005

LIBERTY AND FREEDOM FOREVER

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Posted by Jerome at 08:00 AM | TrackBack

July 02, 2005

Fisking Hector Ruiz

[Updated 7/3/05; scroll down]

by Jerome du Bois

We received an email yesterday from local artist Hector Ruiz, whose anti-American politics, as expressed in his art (but not his art show itself) was the subject of my previous post. His response was prompt, I'll say that much, though its ad hominems did nothing to advance any conversation. But I'm glad of the opportunity to look closer at both the man and his art (from reproductions and descriptions only). Like some other local artists, he may regret attracting the sustained attention of this tar baby, but he asked for it. He wrote:

Oh Jerome --what a great article from an aging over 50 angry white guy afraid of pretty much every new thing he sees or hears. Thanks for taking so much of your time to write an article on my show (WHICH OBVIOUSLY YOU DIDN'T SEE). Your description is so far off that I wonder if your [sic] even talking about the same show. Another critique [sic:he means critic] who can criticize an exhibition without ever going to see it (nice integrity). You are welcome to bring your work to the Chocolate Factory, in fact, I would love you to come and say what you have to say to my face ------------------- But word is on the street that your [sic] a big p*ssy, a failed artist, a hack writer, and a kept man.

come on by 1105 Grand Ave. ----Hector (come to the opening tonight and see what the public thinks of the work--it's up for 8 months)

Let's go fisking now.

Oh Jerome --what a great article from an aging over 50

ageist!

angry

emotionist!

white

racist!

guy

sexist!

afraid of pretty much every new thing he sees or hears.

Name one. Waiting, waiting. I'll tell you: I'm afraid of the next 9/11. Everything else new --no problem. Bring it on. Your stuff is not new; it's old, and dry, and dead. Red Grooms and Ruckus did your big paper people long ago, and Abel Barosso, the castro-sucking Cuban artist, carves far better than you do, and on superior wood. (The fat, clunky, useless hands you carve ring a tell like a bell. Also the fact that they dwarf the head, the source of reason.) Your carvings look like the sidewalk fare of every faux-primitive Santa Fe Indian that's been shucking the tourists there for the last fifty years. Kickapoo, watcha gonna do but what they all do? Now it becomes clearer why the neo-colonialist Heard Museum drew you in for such a long gig: tourist trade is their stock-in-trade. (Catherine asks, "Will your work be remaindered to the gift shop after the show closes?" Ouch! You can see why I love that woman.)

Thanks for taking so much of your time to write an article on my show (WHICH OBVIOUSLY YOU DIDN'T SEE). Your description is so far off that I wonder if your [sic] even talking about the same show. Another critique [sic:he means critic] who can criticize an exhibition without ever going to see it (nice integrity).

Maybe I should have said I didn't see the show --as if the Heard would give me a sneak preview --but people who read our reviews --of Mel Roman, Lesley/Leslie Dill, HairStories, Arizona Biennial '03-- know that we never do general, thematic surveys or short squibs; we linger over piece after piece after piece. We prize detailed description. It should have been obvious that I was riffing solely on the short notice in the Phoenix New Times, which had plenty enough information for me; but people are slow nowadays. My piece was about his attitude, not his art, which is unexceptional and without imagination.

Ruiz does not correct my description; it's just so far off . . . far off what? You mean you are pro-American? Or that your position is, like, excruciatingly ambivalent? I'd like to hear about that, but . . . No explanation, no clarification. No examples. No quotes of my actual words. And if I had seen the show, would I have come away with a different view? No: not based on the descriptions of the sculptures.

Another critique [sic:he means critic] who can criticize an exhibition without ever going to see it (nice integrity).

I saw the ad for his "Artist's Wall" in the new Java yesterday. I really don't critique art anymore, but consider this wandering doodling --the repeated stencils of the goose-stepping man, the dumb stacks of one-stroke red-paint circles, black profiles with hands stuck on their heads, weeping black sweat and tears --all done in the clunkiest schoolboy brushstroking, like lousy Guston or Basquiat, who were pretty lousy themselves. The last wall work we saw, by Brad Kahlhamer at SMoCA, exuded the same smug sense that everything this artist extrudes, no matter how silly or crude, is worthy of the wall. It ain't. (Reader, I now say something I thought I'd never say: go pick up a copy of Java and see for yourself. Read the review of Ruiz, too, which I'll refer to below.)

You are welcome to bring your work to the Chocolate Factory, in fact, I would love you to come and say what you have to say to my face . . .

One of the last sentences in my piece said that I would never take anything from him. So he just wants me to come down there so he can try to provoke something physical. What would that solve? I'm pro-American, he's anti-American. Spilling blood won't change anthing. I don't care to change his mind anyway; he's a grown-up, after all, and I say he's an ungrateful, spoiled American and a political idiot. I point it out and support my argument with his words and my reasons. If he wants to call me out on my politics or anything else, the email pipeline is open. But stop with the macho posturing and the nyah-nyah and get specific or get out of the conversation.

Oops, too late about the nyah-nyah:

But word is on the street that your [sic] a big p*ssy, a failed artist, a hack writer, and a kept man.

There are scads of words on the street where you live. It's zombie-tweaker talk. That's what they do --that's all they do-- and they will not stop --ever-- until you are a zombie-tweaker too!

Seriously, though . . . a big p*ssy? More false bravado; should I fire back that he's nothing but a metrosexual? or is that too strong? A kept man: hey, honey, did you know you're rich? If only. A failed artist? Who knows? We're working on an online gallery right now, which, when it debuts, will be really new.

A hack writer.

No. No way I let that one get by. I'm one of the best writers around. I am a master of sentences, including multileveled rhythm, submerged rhyme, and consciousness of subvocal breathing. I take a back seat to no writer on the internet, and not many in print.

I'll give you a couple of examples, Ruiz. Recently I wrote, in a fantasy conversation with Ward Churchill, "They drummed for you, skin!"

Well, I laughed anyway. The pun with drum and skin, you know . . . forget it.

Second, in my piece on comic-book knitwit Mark Newport, I wrote, "His knitting is kryptonite for us all." Modestly, I claim this sentence contains, in masterful poetic compression, the several levels of my argument, using a material from the comics. Kryptonite saps strength silently, making the strong weak and pliable and safe as leche. Also, more subtly, the silent soft k of knitting becoming vocalized in the hard k of kryptonite. (For more on the letter K, see here.)

My review of Lesley/Leslie Dill's show was an extended prose poem on hands, attachment, and the juice of life. (More on hands below.) There's not a wasted word in the piece.

Finally, in my piece "The Burning One In The Broken World," a paragraph I am most proud of. Put it on my tombstone:

Maybe we humans got smart and visionary real early, in the morning of our selves, and we created a common dream. [Harold] Bloom says, “Our dreams are less individual than we are.” So now, yes, I see it now, by the light of the Burning Man -- we shall form an Unfalling Angel from an uncanny incorporation, a constitution of souls, but without giving up our I-ness. And this Angel’s scintillating outline may be the fractally fertile Web/Net, the world’s infant Body Electric with its seething hive mind -- which, in the fullness of time, we shall awaken and use to clothe ourselves in glory as the nine billion blinding stars of the Garment of Light!

That's how I look at the world, Hector Ruiz. You just caught a glimpse of my heart. Does that sound pinched, angry, astringent, or aging to you? If so, you're deaf. Catherine and I have a firm, shoulders-back, wide-eyed hold on an inexhaustible rocket to the future; you're still bent over resentfully picking little red stones out of pinto beans.

So enough about me, let's get back to you. That Java article contained some mind-blowing facts and statements about you, at least to me. (They went in and out of Scott Andrews's ears without ruffling a cilia.)

First (and I wish I could hot-link it but, after at least eight years, Robert Sentinery still stubbornly refuses to join the 21st Century):

Hector Ruiz has lived his entire life near the border. He grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas, then Piedras Negras, Mexico, then again in Austin, Texas. Ruiz continues to make border country his home --he currently lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona. Ruiz is Mexican-Indian (Kickapoo) and American, and has lived with three identities in two countries.

Does this mean, then, that the "two years abroad" mentioned in the earlier article meant he was living in Mexico? And he dares to criticize the US? I hope I'm wrong, or this guy is thicker than I thought.

Pat Conroy wrote a novel about someone born and raised on a South Carolina island. It begins: "My wound is geography." I was born and raised on an island, too --Oahu-- and it marked me in ways I can never change, reaching down to the rhythm of the tides in my veins. Most of my friends were not Caucasian. But I wonder about Hector Ruiz, who seems to have learned nothing about the subtleties of multiple identities. Instead, once the Mexicans and Mexican-Indians cross the border, according to his sculpture MIA (Mexican In America),

the tiny figures that top the huge hand's fingers represent, to the artist, the states of attaining more (or less) English by Mexican immigrants. Less English results in the figure of the Dead, The Laborer or The Incarcerated. More English is represented by the figure with the briefcase --The Assimilated Hispanic.

How can he think so little of the range of talent of his own people? Is that another tell about himself? And where do you think he fits in this lineup? Duh. Briefcase dude! Cock gun, pull trigger, shoot foot.

Oh, Hector, what the hector you doin'? How can you walk into these logic traps so easily?

It gets worse:

. . . his personal reality of fluid identity has impacted the artist's work strongly, influencing his choice of media and method. "Everything I do is hecho a mano (made by hand). Every cut, every hole, every print is done entirely by hand . . ."

Done, but not well done. What's the big deal about saying it in Spanish? It doesn't help. After so many years of woodcarving, his work should be continually refined. Clunky-funky, hokey-folky --they're getting old; doesn't he want to get better? Of course, maybe he can't; maybe he literally doesn't have the chops.

You want to talk about hands? Ruiz depicts useless, sausage-bound, cartoony, clubby hands. As far as I know, he has the use of both of his. (And you can shove your stigmata, Hector.) When my wife, Catherine King, was twenty-three years old, her right hand, her main hand, got smashed in a Heidelberg press. It was late, she was alone, working overtime. She couldn't look at her hand, which resembled something the butcher throws in the trash after all the good meat has been trimmed off.

The hand healed --it never really got professionally fixed-- and she went on to a steady 25-year career as a graphic artist, with one-and-a-half-hands. Her right hand hurts her every day. But she would have done it all anyway, one-handed, or drawing with her feet, or her mouth, if she had to. So when she sees the hands he makes, it makes her own hands shake --with anger. I suggest, before you carve another hand, Hector Ruiz, that you read Frank R. Wilson's The Hand: How Its Use Shapes The Brain, Language, And Human Culture. You might just learn something about what you take for granted. You also might want to look at what Catherine wrote about the hand in her narrative on one of my artworks (scroll down).

And while you're doing all this great stuff by hand, Catherine wants to know why you have a corporate-type, off-the-shelf, subdued steel sign. Why not some huge complex wooden carved sign (weatherproofed), all over the facade? That is what you do, supposublee, idnit? Plus, a woodcarver without a carved wooden door? It seems . . . inauthentic.

Finally, this privileged American, who bebops across borders like a jump-rope champ, said the most astounding thing, which will begin my final, long, looping riff:

. . . the terrain [of Ruiz's psychocultural landscape] is the place where knowledge of the self in the world is confounded by the insistence of consumerism, trade names and labels. "I am against the machine at all costs; all its impersonal marks, its unquestioned shortcuts, its blind speed and all its timesaving methods."

I am amazed that an educated adult can make this statement. This is the 21st Century. Tell you what, Hector: make me an inch. Freehand. Go on. Blank piece of paper. Five marks. It has to conform to international standards at microscopic level. I've got to be able to use it. Can you do it?

Who makes your chisels? How do you sharpen them? With an electric motor? What decides the grain size of your emery cloths? What are the tolerances of the valves in the cylinders of the car you drive? or the sprocket measurements on your bicycle, how did they get that way? How can you make such stupid remarks, when your entire world depends on the beauty of our system, you ungrateful prick. You ought to stand up tall, raise your arms, and praise the human mind for numerical control machines, which make your life run so smoothly.

You're a liar and a hypocrite, Hector Ruiz, when you disrespect your homeland. When you came back to this country from wherever you were after two years, you were thrilled. You felt such a lightening rush of relief and gratitude that it almost made you swoon. You could finally relax about the assurances: your cell phone will work --you can choose among phones; who put up the satellites? the US, for free-- the taxi or shuttle has a fixed rate, no mordida; gasoline is everywhere, food spills off the shelves, people speak your language, and, best of all --the system is in place.

You came back to the United States of America and found the machine had been humming right along, efficient as ever. You hooked right up with all your old friends, whom the system had been supporting, and your family, and all kinds of new people. Meanwhile, everything has improved since you've been gone, no thanks to you. You are welcome. Artist grants from the city, the state? Step right up! Want to rent a place cheap, no graft? Come on over! The water runs all day and night, and so does the electricity. Internet? The world of information, and endless contacts, await you at about a dollar a day. Alcohol? It's legal, drink up, no religious police to whack it out of your hand. You are free, Hector; tell me a better place to be.

[UPDATE July 3rd: Just to seal this topic properly, we received another email from Mr. Ruiz. I'll just give you the highlights, with the reminder that this guy didn't and doesn't owe me anything: answers, reasons, whatever. This is not, and never was, a dialogue.

First he says he didn't even read it all --"to boring." I think he read every word.

He dismisses my anti- / pro-American argument with a single comment that the country "could be better."

He offers to get me into his show free to "explain" the pieces, as if they were incomplete without discourse. But I can tell from photos his work would do nothing but make me angry; they have nothing to teach me.

Then he says he likes to box. Great. What an intellectual. I've already declined this invitation once, but now it occurs to me: what kind of woodcarver would risk his hands boxing? A person whose livelihood depends on his hands would, presumably, want to take the best care of them. He doesn't worry. (Is boxing the reason his carved hands are so swollen?)

He lists the countries he has been to, including India and Thailand and other Asian countries; also Scotland. This list just reinforces my argument that he is stubbornly anti-American, in the face of obvious facts that the US is a blessing to the world, not a curse.]

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