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It’s Your Ass That’s On The Line

August 6, 2009

Pondering plastic Jesuses and sea monsters earlier brought to mind The Laocoon of El Greco which I had a chance to see in person at the Seattle Art Museum several years ago. The painting depicts the Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons being eaten by snakes sent by Hellenic-friendly gods to punish him for trying to warn his fellow citizens about the big horsie the Greeks had parked outside the city gates. There was a little history and interpretation of the painting hung beside it and I remember that whoever wrote it claimed that it was unknown what the mysterious godlike figures on the right were meant to represent. Sister Wendy echoes that sentiment here. Maybe the S.A.M. was cribbing from the nun. Who knows.

Anyway, I’d like to offer my own interpretation which may help to alleviate centuries of confusion about this particular work. Back in the Renaissance, the artists who are still remembered didn’t make art just for the sake of it – if they wanted to actually eat they had a patron who was generally some rich guy or the Church. El Greco was born on Crete but he moved to mainland Europe and did most of his painting in Spain. He converted to Catholicism after leaving Greece, possibly to gain the acceptance of potential patrons – he may have realized much like his contemporary Henry IV that “Paris vaut bien une messe”. El Greco was somewhat of a rebel and was way ahead of his time – he didn’t paint in the generally accepted style of the Renaissance masters and thought Michelangelo was a nice guy who could use some painting lessons according to a citation found here. The vast majority of his paintings depict Jeebuses or saints or fat comfortable bishops. And some skinny ones – being painted by El Greco made everyone look twenty pounds lighter.

But the Laocoon was the only classically themed painting El Greco ever made. Perhaps after a lifetime of kissing rings to earn his daily bread, El Greco used this non-biblical theme as a way to subtly criticize the Church. The three figures in the painting on the right who seem to float above the others are the gods who stand aloof checking their manicures while the priest and his scions are devoured. The artist is saying that you can pray until you’re parched, hymn until you’re hoarse, and tithe until you’re tapped out but none of it matters because the deity of your choice doesn’t really give a rat’s ass and in the end all of us, even the priests, are worm food. Or giant snake food. Nikos Kazantzakis greatly admired his fellow Cretan and his autobiography “Report to Greco” is addressed to his countryman. There’s a review of the book here for anyone who cares to check it out. Kazantzakis, who taught that we should hope for nothing and learn to laugh into the abyss which stares back at us all in order to be truly free, definitely did not envision an afterlife full of harps and angels. Deus ex machina only happens in the theatre and in this world there is no deity who will swoop down to save you. Ultimately it’s your ass that’s on the line.

Maybe I’m projecting my own views onto El Greco. Maybe Kazantzakis was too. But that’s my take and I’m sticking with it. Thus ends today’s dilettante art history lesson.

I’ll let The Persuasions with their rendition of Frank Zappa’s The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing take us on out. And remember the Golden Rule –

Do what you wanna
Do what you will
Just don’t mess up
Your neighbor’s thrill.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. cometman permalink*
    August 6, 2009 4:06 pm

    Now this could be interesting. Mean Jean Schmidt might get a little more than she bargained for this Saturday. Schmidt filed a complaint against her challenger from the last election, arguing that he lied about her by saying that she had taken “blood money” from Turkish groups. Now it’s going to court and Sibel Edmonds has been subpoenaed to give a deposition.

    Edmonds has confirmed her intentions to answer any questions asked of her during the sworn proceedings, fully and publicly, during conversations with The BRAD BLOG this week. She notes that her agreement with her former employer, the FBI — who fired her illegally after she filed whistleblower allegations about corruption and foreign infiltration in the linguistics department — includes certain non-disclosure requirements. However, those requirements do not preclude her answering to a legally issued court subpoena.

    Maybe we’ll finally get to hear what she has to say.

    • cometman permalink*
      August 10, 2009 8:40 am

      Sibel Edmonds gave her deposition Saturday – you can read about it here and here. Evidently the DOJ tried to dissuade her from speaking but they did not invoke the state secrets privilege this time so she went ahead and talked. Unfortunately, nobody from the major US media outlets was there to listen. From what I can gather the transcript hasn’t been made public yet and journalists weren’t allowed inside, so at this point there are only bits and pieces of what she talked about. One thing she did mention was that Turkish interests were blackmailing a female Congresswoman who is bisexual and was having an affair with another woman. That would be something you’d think the degenerate corporate media would be all over.

      Going to go see if lukery wrote anything about it yet.

      • cometman permalink*
        August 10, 2009 9:11 am

        Not much new from lukery – he mostly just links back to the Bradblog coverage of this.

        I did check out Sibel Edmonds’ site and found this very interesting article about recent elections in Kyrgyzstan. There were quite a few anomalies there and the main challenger actually dropped out and cited widespread fraud as the reason. But there were no tweets or videos for weeks on end about this one. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that the US recently signed a deal with Kyrgyzstan to keep a US military base there, as we talked about here a little while ago.

        The article gets into all kinds of skullduggery and a lot of the same names come up again that we’ve seen thwarting democracy all over the place, especially USAID. The article also mentions Fethullah Gülen. I checked out their website and after seeing the guy’s picture I swear I’ve seen somebody post about this before on one of the blogs I frequent, but I can’t remember where or in what context. Anyway, supposedly this is some sort of “educational” movement that is setting up schools, etc which made me think of those Turkish PACS that were supposedly just to educate Americans about Turkish interests.

        I don’t know if Sibel Edmonds has the answers or not, but something stinks to high heaven about US goings on in Central Asia and Turkey seems to be right in the middle of it.

        • Stemella permalink*
          August 10, 2009 9:21 am

          I followed that too over the weekend. Lukery posted at klubk and mentioned that the testimony had been filmed and would ultimately be made available. It is odd that no one covered the story, seemingly intentionally, to keep it on the fringe where they no doubt want it.

          We should revisit those Turk-America sites, or rather keep an eye on them.

          It smells like rotten Feta cheese with fishhead stew

          • cometman permalink*
            August 10, 2009 10:07 am

            Just checked the klubk story and not surprisingly it didn’t get that much traction. but at least only one of the usual suspects chimed in trying to claim it was bunk without bothering to read first. Very sad what that site has become.

  2. cometman permalink*
    August 6, 2009 9:29 pm

    Looks like BofA may not get off so easy after all. A judge refusing to accept the $33 million settlement between the bank and the SEC.

    Federal Judge Jed Rakoff said the parties had not explained why $33 million was appropriate, or whether those funds might have actually come from federal bailout dollars.

    “The proposed consent judgment in no way specifies the basis for the $33 million figure or whether any of this money is derived directly or indirectly from the $20 billion in public funds previously advanced to Bank of America as part of its ‘bailout,'” Rakoff wrote in his judgment.

    Rakoff added that the agreement did not get to the bottom of the “very serious allegations” the SEC had made against Bank of America.

    Rakoff has scheduled a hearing on Monday to discuss the proposed settlement.

  3. Stemella permalink*
    August 7, 2009 8:11 am

    Great essay and nice art lesson! I didn’t know much detail about Greco’s background though his figures have always stood out when I’ve seen them, gaunt and pale, floating forward from the the dark. Very unique style. I’ll bet you are correct in your read of his attitude towards the Church and his benefactors. I trust a rebel Greek to recognize another one. :)

    I always find it amusing to see if Gods portrayed in art have belly buttons. It looks like the middle figure who is looking away does have a fuzzy navel, but a navel indeed. Though I hadn’t seen this painting before, the face of Laocoon looked so familiar to me and then I found this one St. Peter The faces look the same. Same model I guess.

    • cometman permalink*
      August 7, 2009 9:25 am

      Thanks. This is my favorite painting by El Greco. I also got to see a really big El Greco exhibit in Athens a few years ago but the Laocoon wasn’t in it. Some of his paintings are quite large and they had restored the original vivid colors so the exhibit was really astounding. Small copies in print that look washed out really don’t do him justice. Nice catch with the St. Pete – that definitely looks like the same guy.

  4. Stemella permalink*
    August 7, 2009 8:17 am

    Here’s a fun little game for our times: How Is America Going To End?

    or the direct link Choose your own apocalypse

    The first couple of times I tried it, it said I was an international humanist. The third time it said I was a bloodythirsty murderer! hah!

    • triv33 permalink
      August 7, 2009 9:07 am

      Huh, apparently I’m an humanitarian internationalist. How does that differ from international humanist? I’m confoosed…

      • cometman permalink*
        August 7, 2009 9:34 am

        Hey I’m one of those too, at least when I put in the answers I thought likely. I’m going to go try again with gray goo and robot overlords and see what happens :)

        • cometman permalink*
          August 7, 2009 9:41 am

          Ha! Those last two options combined with electromagnetic pulse and supercollider make me a bloodthirsty misanthrope.

          You are a bloodthirsty misanthrope. You believe mankind is stupid and fallible and that America will destroy itself in a bloody mess. You’ll know you’re right when: The United States succumbs to a torrent of Russian nukes; we clone ourselves, get bum genes, and die.

          I also liked that they had the US being divided up into nine countries as an option. That’s a meme I’d like to see spread, so I’m spreading it :)

          • triv33 permalink
            August 7, 2009 9:58 am

            Wow, I must really be this humanitarian internationalist of which they speak. I’ve now picked five different sets of scenarios and although my yellow dot moves about the quarter, I keep coming up with the same result.

  5. Stemella permalink*
    August 7, 2009 8:21 am

    Why the French eat frogs

    and why everyone should stop except for Cane Toads, of course

    • cometman permalink*
      August 7, 2009 9:54 am

      So it was the damn monks’ fault! May they be eaten by serpents.

      And Thighs of the Dawn Nymphs?!?!?! Verbally spicing them up isn’t enough to make me try one. That whole practice seems incredibly wasteful, like killing whales just for their oil or sharks just for the fins.

      • Stemella permalink*
        August 7, 2009 10:06 am

        That’s how I feel about sweetbreads, mountain oysters and calimari! You can’t fool me. Them’s brains, balls and squid legs! Yuck! :)

  6. Stemella permalink*
    August 7, 2009 10:02 am

    One year ago today Russia and Georgia had a little war. In honor, they are flipping each other off again. Here are four related articles from the Guardian.

    Internet attacks ‘targeted Georgian blogger’

    Widespread internet attacks that hit services at Google, Facebook and Twitter on Thursday could have been the result of an online assault against a single blogger.

    According to senior industry figures, the strikes that affected hundreds of millions of web users around the globe on Thursday were part of an attempt to damage just one individual – a controversial Georgian known only as Cyxymu.

    Red October can’t hunt – Russian subs patrolling US

    Georgia: Shooting yourself in both feet

    Russia has secured Turkish approval to build the so-called South Stream gas pipeline through Turkish waters. Prime minister Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, signed an agreement on constructing part of the pipeline through Turkish waters in the Black Sea. It will run from Turkey’s Black Sea town of Samsun to the Mediterranean oil hub of Ceyhan. Russia hopes the pipeline will help maintain its energy dominance in Europe, which is threatened by the EU’s backing of the Nabucco pipeline that will supply Europe with gas from central Asia via Turkey, free of Russian influence.

    gobble gobble

    • cometman permalink*
      August 7, 2009 11:52 am

      Interesting articles. These internet attacks are very strange – a few weeks ago there was one which was blamed on N Korea. Every time one happens it seems nobody really knows who did it or why, nothing bad really happens anyway except a little slowed service, and then it’s all forgotten until the next one.

      The way the US handled the situation in Georgia contrasts sharply with the two articles on Honduras I just read. The 3rd one you posted mentions that it sure looks like Georgia was the instigator, despite claims to the contrary by the US media last year. But in that case we tried to give Georgia quite a bit of support.

      But now in Honduras it looks like the US is dropping the pretense that the government is at all upset by the coup. The US government couldn’t even make a statement until the rest of the world had already condemned the action and called for Zelaya’s reinstatement. Now the US is still doing some finger wagging about the coup but isn’t calling for Zelaya’s return any longer saying that he brought it all upon himself with his own actions.

      While condemning the coup, the letter pointedly failed to call for Zelaya’s return. “Our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual,” said the letter to Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

      The new U.S. position is likely to undercut diplomatic efforts to bring about Zelaya’s return, analysts said.


      While condemning the overthrow of Zelaya and his pre-dawn expulsion, the Aug. 4 letter said that Zelaya, who’s allied with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, was largely to blame for his plight.

      “We also recognize that President Zelaya’s insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarization of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal,” said the letter, signed by Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma.

      WTF?!?!? Now the US is accusing him of being the instigator when he clearly was not. What exactly was provocative???? Was it trying to return to the country where he was the legitimate democratically elected leader without asking Queen Hillary for permission first? Was it having the temerity to *gasp* raise the meager minimum wage? Have to say that article is a bit disappointing in that it pretty much repeats the bogus story that we keep seeing in the US media, like in this passage:

      The crisis began when Zelaya insisted on staging a June 28 referendum on a constitutional change to allow him to seek re-election. Zelaya had only six more months in office before a non-Chavez ally was likely to take over as Honduras’ next president.

      Chavez and two of his South American allies, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, have won public approval for new constitutions that are allowing them to extend their terms in office.

      The Honduran Congress, the attorney general’s office and the state prosecutor all advised Zelaya that Honduras’ constitution didn’t permit the referendum.

      He went ahead anyway and was ousted.

      Those leaders aren’t having their terms extended – they only won the right to run for re-election. Kinda like the right our elected officials have here. Ferchrissakes Morales and Chavez aren’t perfect but is it really necessary to distort the facts like that? This article does a much better job of explaining what’s really going on:

      The story most U.S. readers are getting about the coup is that Zelaya — an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — was deposed because he tried to change the constitution to keep himself in power.

      That story is a massive distortion of the facts. All Zelaya was trying to do is to put a non-binding referendum on the ballot calling for a constitutional convention, a move that trade unions, indigenous groups, and social activist organizations had long been lobbying for. The current constitution was written by the Honduran military in 1982, and the one-term limit allows the brass-hats to dominate the politics of the country. Since the convention would have been held in November, the same month as the upcoming presidential elections, there was no way Zelaya could have remained in office in any case. The most he could have done was to run four years from now.

    • cometman permalink*
      August 7, 2009 12:08 pm

      And the fact the the US has the nerve to get on the high horse and preach to anybody about their economic situations or their military adventures as Biden did is laughable. And I think the rest of the world knows we’re full of it and is probably having a good chuckle when they see statements like that. China sure as hell did a few weeks ago when Timmeh the Elf stopped in. I’d love to see some of these foreign leaders calling our bluff publicly, because there really isn’t a hell of a lot we can do about it.

  7. Stemella permalink*
    August 7, 2009 10:18 am

    Bizarro. I just clicked on the auto link that relates to your post, c-man and it refers to a large painting with several historical and contemporary figures discussing Dante. Here is the link to the painting People of Influence

    Check out Bill Clinton. Is he holding a squid in his hand? Why? hahaha What the fuck?!? There is quite a bit of strangeness in this painting, to be sure.

  8. cometman permalink*
    August 7, 2009 12:15 pm

    Huh. Not sure what to make of all that :) I think that’s Dante in the upper right on the Great Wall. So is that supposed to be hell? If so, I can’t argue with most of the inhabitants, at least the ones I recognize. Not sure Einstein belongs there though. And what did the sheep do to deserve damnation? And why do they all have such big feet?

  9. cometman permalink*
    August 7, 2009 1:12 pm

    Good read here from an ex-fundie wingnut spilling the beans on the tactics used by the idiots who are disrupting town meetings for all the wrong reasons. And he isn’t afraid to use the f -word either. F****sm.

    • Stemella permalink*
      August 7, 2009 6:40 pm

      This guy was on the Rachel Maddow program tonight. He reiterated what he says in the article, but even more forcefully. He takes this stuff very seriously. His father was a complete wingnut Jeebus thumper who helped establish that very movement in the 80’s.

      Here’s an interview Frank did with Amy Goodman last fall.

  10. Stemella permalink*
    August 7, 2009 7:12 pm

    Friday nite news dump

    3 more bank failures

    Community First Bank, Prineville, OR
    Community National Bank of Sarasota County, Venice, FL
    First State Bank, Sarasota, FL

    Elvinweenie wants more mula for debtitude

    U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner formally requested that Congress raise the $12.1 trillion statutory debt limit on Friday, saying that it could be breached as early as mid-October.

    “It is critically important that Congress act before the limit is reached so that citizens and investors here and around the world can remain confident that the United States will always meet its obligations,” Geithner said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that was obtained by Reuters.

    A Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter.

    I guess that means we are almost out of money again? Why don’t we take it back from AIG who made big bucks profits this week? We own it right? Fuckers.

  11. Stemella permalink*
    August 10, 2009 9:24 am

    Sergy the Ruskie codethief is biting the hand that fed him by filing a subpoena Goldie Sux

    Aleynikov has filed a subpoena on his former employer, seeking access to some information. And Goldman has responded by filing a motion in federal court to quash the subpoena. Goldman filed its motion on Aug. 6, a source familiar with the matter says.

    A hearing on Goldman’s motion to put the kibosh on Aleynikov’s request for documents will be heard Monday afternoon beofre Judge Paul Crotty.

    The hearing on Aleynikov’s motion comes as the attorney for the former Goldman employee and federal prosecutors continue to work towards trying to reach a potential plea deal in the case.

    Let there be a cover up! The cover up always nails them. Fuck ’emup Sergy!

    • cometman permalink*
      August 10, 2009 9:54 am

      Vey interesting. There’s an update now that says he is mainly seeking personnel records to show he was an employee in good standing and that Goldman had tried to retain him. And it looks like the Goldies have brough on a heavy hitter to fight for them:

      Maybe the most interesting thing in Goldman’s filing is that it has chosen David Boies’ law firm to represent it. The attorney handling the matter is Matthew Friedrich, a former federal prosecutor and member of the Enron task force. Friedrick most recently was deputy chief of staff to former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

  12. cometman permalink*
    August 10, 2009 9:58 am

    Good essay on the coming fascism at Truthout. The author thinks that with the recent townhall disruptions by the right wing no-nothing whackjobs, it’s pretty much already here.

    Now, the guessing game is over. We know beyond doubt that the Teabag movement was created out of whole cloth by astroturf groups like Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks and Tim Phillips’ Americans for Prosperity, with massive media help from FOX News. We see the Birther fracas — the kind of urban myth-making that should have never made it out of the pages of the National Enquirer — being openly ratified by Congressional Republicans. We’ve seen Armey’s own professionally-produced field manual that carefully instructs conservative goon squads in the fine art of disrupting the democratic governing process — and the film of public officials being terrorized and threatened to the point where some of them required armed escorts to leave the building. We’ve seen Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to “a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress.”

    This is the sign we were waiting for — the one that tells us that yes, kids: we are there now. America’s conservative elites have openly thrown in with the country’s legions of discontented far right thugs. They have explicitly deputized them and empowered them to act as their enforcement arm on America’s streets, sanctioning the physical harassment and intimidation of workers, liberals, and public officials who won’t do their political or economic bidding.

    This is the catalyzing moment at which honest-to-Hitler fascism begins. It’s also our very last chance to stop it.

    • Stemella permalink*
      August 10, 2009 10:45 am

      My ears ache from how loud the jackboots have become, in my area in particular. I scan the local teabagger blogs to see what they are up to. They are insane, racist and armed. They also have taken over the comment pages of all the local and regional papers and blogs. They are well funded, well organized, look like regular people, but are dangerously crazed. They are intimidating officials and citizens alike. I’m giving it another year to see how things shake out, but I’m thinking I have to move to safer grounds if things get much worse around here.

      • cometman permalink*
        August 10, 2009 11:07 am

        I think I sighted one here recently too. I went to see Chuck Collins give a talk on tax policy at a local college last week which for the most part was attended by intelligent people like state congresspeople and professors, etc. He talked about how to create a more equitable tax policy and when he opened up the floor for questions the first person who jumped up was some kid who looked about twenty. He was one of those people who used big words inappropriately in an attempt to pass themselves off as not completely brain dead, but after a sentence or two it was clear what he was up to. The kid mentioned that he only made $20,000 per year and asked why we should have the freedom to donate money to the charity of our choice taken away by being forced to pay taxes. This was to be the first in a long list of questions he had prepared. Collins politely explained that taxes (theoretically at least) were used for things that benefit everyone that charities don’t cover and moved on without allowing him to ask any more stupid questions. But the kid was obviously angry for all the wrong reasons and I suspect he was alerted to the meeting by one of these teabagger groups.

        I felt like telling the dumbass that if he only made $20,000 he wasn’t going to have any money to give to a charity any time soon whether he had to pay taxes or not.

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