The rise of American political mobs

mobrule(click image for larger size)

We are all witnessing a massive political circus being played out on the national stage as two champions of populism are busy forming their supporters into a power base that can bring them into the seat of presidential power. On one side is Donald Trump, a real estate ‘mogul’ and a billionaire who promises to make American great again, on the other Bernie Sanders, a career politician and lifelong proponent of socialism and income redistribution.

I dont want to write what I fully think of these two candidates, that can take up a few pages, but I wanted to contrast the current state of politics with that of ancient Rome, and the rising tide of violence we are now beginning to see at Trump rallies.

Its become a cliche to compare and contrast US with Rome, but in this case I think the signs are true and obvious, and we can learn direct lessons from historical precedents. What we are seeing now is a slow burn of political hate, grievance and victim-hood politics and a loss of basic civility. These are all very very disturbing signs for the health of the American Republic.

Mob Rule as a political weapon

In the last two weeks or so, I’ve noticed a very disturbing phenomenon coming from both the left and right strands of these populist movements. On the Trump side, there are many documented cases of assaults and harassment of reporters, forced removal of protestors and an almost idol-like reverence for The Donald, who has made a lot of very large promises to his potential constituents based on a very shaky political history. On the Sanders side, the main element of forceful disturbance seems to be coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement whose followers even hijacked Sanders’ own rally at one point.

A more sinister Leftist movement however has been brewing for years on college campuses, where rabid ‘social justice warriors’ shut down any form of debate, dialogue or conversation and enforce political groupthink. This is a whole other topic in itself, but its a very dangerous trend because an entire generation of students are completely comfortable denying people their 1st Amendment rights and group-shaming them in order to promote their version of ‘equality’ or ‘justice’. This is in essence a form of fascism.

This strand of fascism is now translating itself into the current political campaign. The latest Trump rally in Chicago a few days ago was shut down due to anti-Trump protesters rushing the stage, trying to hijack the podium and disturb the rally, while some Trump supporters were also involved in fist fights and low-level violence. This is on top of the fact that a small minority of Trump supporters seem to be racist white nationalists and anti-Semites while a small minority of Sanders supporters are black supremacists within the BLM movement or unhinged leftists yearning for a ‘revolution’ egged on by the mostly leftist media spin. Together this creates a deadly cocktail.

This pattern will likely worsen and we may even see an attempted Trump assassination. Our Republic may very well descend into mob violence during this election cycle.

Res Publica

The Roman state began as a Republic, a Res Publica (of the People), built on rigidly defined social classes, a code of common Law and revered established wealthy political families like the Julia, Bruti, Aquilia and Sempronii. Politics were usually done in the same way they are done today, the common masses (plebs) in a constant struggle with the Patricians (wealthy aristocrat land-owners), promoted Tribunes who effectively argued the Plebian case to the Senate and had the power to veto laws seen as being unfavorable to the poor masses.

roman_republic

Roman power structure not unlike our balance of powers between the 3 branches

Like the Roman political system, our current system is run on patronage and influence in the form of political donors, interest groups and lobbyists, who spend lavishly on candidates to sway their voting in favor of a given interest. Hillary Clinton is seen as a prime example of the corruption within this patronage system and is one of the major reasons why Trump and Sanders are so popular, as they are viewed to be free of corruption or monetary influence (a notion more true of Sanders than Trump). The reason why Sanders is so popular is that he is a modern day People’s Tribune, arguing his case for more public spending towards social welfare at the expense of the Patrician class, which of course causes political pushback and resentment between the two sides. There are obviously more complex reasons behind the rise of each populist, but these ancient societal elements are a major factor.

Populism and Murder

Towards the middle of 2nd century BC, the Roman republic began to crumble and was finally dissolved in 27 BC in favor of a dictatorship under Augustus. There are many reasons why the Republic fell, which are better covered in many history books on this subject, but the one I wanted to focus on was the breakdown of civil discourse and mob violence.

Roman history is full of examples of political murder, assassinations and mobs. The massive civil war between supporters of Sulla and Marius was a precedent for bloody violence in the name of political orientation. Great orators like Cicero were slain by frenzied political mobs who went on witch hunts across Roman cities and usually confiscated property of the deceased to be given to political cronies. For all the merits of civilization, politics in Rome was a barbaric practice, Cicero’s head was cut off and placed in the Forum. All this for being a political opponent of Marc Antony.

cicero

But even prior to Sulla’s bloody dictatorship, a striking example of such violence was the case of the Gracchus brothers. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were plebian magistrates who argued for land reform to benefit Rome’s poor and landless classes. Their proposal would redistribute land taken from aristocratic families.

Central to the Gracchi reforms was an attempt to address economic distress and its military consequences. Much public land had been divided among large landholders and speculators who further expanded their estates by driving peasants off their farms. While their old lands were being worked by slaves, the peasants were often forced into idleness in Rome where they had to subsist on handouts due to a scarcity of paid work. They could not legally join the army because they did not meet the property qualification and this, together with the lack of public land to give in exchange for military service and the mutinies in the Numantine War, caused recruitment problems and troop shortages.

The Gracchi aimed to address these problems by reclaiming lands from wealthy members of the senatorial class that could then be granted to soldiers; by restoring land to displaced peasants; by providing subsidized grain for the needy and by having the Republic pay for the clothing of its poorest soldiers.[2]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gracchi

The reforms proved lethal to the brothers. Tiberius was clubbed to death at the Forum by a frenzied mob, some of it consisting of his fellow Tribunes who feared that these reforms would strip them of their own coveted estates and latifundias. Tiberius’ brother Gaius later committed suicide as a mob approached him for a lynching. The reforms died with the Gracchi brothers.

note the described aftermath of these events,

Aftermath[edit]

The emergence of new forces of urban factions, rural voters, and others, engaging in continued conflict with each other for their own interests, meant that the problem of effective governance awaited resolution. The populist government of the Gracchi had come to an end by violence; and this provided a brutal precedent that would be followed by many other rulers of Rome.[9]

 

A deadlocked government awaiting a resolution, in need of a rescue by an energetic populist making promises he can’t keep. Sounds very familiar.

The Roman republic subsequently dissolved when its citizens could no longer promote interests and ideas through elected representatives, nor engage in policy negotiation, but instead opted for a zero-sum game of political violence, choosing their champions who ultimately became “princips” and Emperors. The mob violence seen during the Gracchi years would return again and again during the subsequent centuries, and especially during the Late Imperial period with constant political in-fighting (see Year of the Four Emperors), cronyism, mob violence, blacklists and constant purges of political targets and their families. The civil discourse between the Senate and the interests of the people as represented by the Tribunes was over.

Cult of Personality

An especially repugnant and worrying trend is the idolization of Trump by some of his supporters. Despite objective facts about his political inconsistencies and statements, many Trump supporters have a very creepy tendency to idolize their champion and completely ignore fair questions about his policy. Reporters are often maligned, attacked or threatened with a lawsuit for implying or asking the wrong question. He threatens to use libel laws to enforce media compliance. Trump’s populism gives the people what they want to hear without making them analyze how those promises will be made true.

Historically, political idol worship precedes a dictatorship. Augustus was the first to propagandize himself as the First Citizen, a Princip, who ‘found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble’. His later followers established a cult to worship him as a demigod.

Julius-Divine-coin

Roman denari showing Octavian aka Augustus Caesar “Divus Iulius”, the Deified Julius

There were countless examples of idolatry with many dictator figures throughout history. In modern times the obvious examples are usually of the leftist/Communist Cult of Personality, like Stalin, Mao, Tito, Che Guevarra and the recently deceased Hugo Chavez. The disturbing sight of Trump worship is that it shows all the hallmarks of historical Leftist totalitarianism.

The obvious signs of this are unquestionable loyalty, in-group aggression towards out-group behavior, blindness to obvious gaps in the leader’s logic or arguments, eagerness to use violence in order to promote political goals and a belief in the Messiah-like powers of the leader to promote change and do a clean sweep of the old corrupt system.  These same points can also be attributed to Sanders supporters who already showed signs of aggression and violence and suppression of free speech.

Taken together, these two massive strands of populism are a sign of a dying Republic.

When people believe that shutting down free speech is legitimate, ending free-trade in favor of mercantile protectionism, using violence, threats and libel laws to enforce obediency and swallowing populist rhetoric as fact without analyzing the details, this is in fact a sign of the collapse of basic social cohesion. A Res Publica cannot exist without the general public believing in the legitimacy of their own society and the validity of their own citizens’ opinions. You dont have to agree with everyone’s ideology or opinions, but these opinions are legitimate opinions of fellow citizens. Once these fellow citizens become a hated ‘other’, the Republic cannot continue to function.


If you’re interested in Roman politics, I highly suggest these 2 great books,

Outer Space or Bust!

Growing up in Russia, I had many kids books to read, but one of my favorites was a book on space, rockets and exploration. The book is called “Outer Space or Bust!” by Genadi Chernenko, its written in English and has some fantastic pencil illustrations. Its Soviet-centric since it came out of that time and area, but it talks about all major scientific breakthroughs from all nations, including US scientists and engineers like Robert Goddard. For US readers, its interesting to read non-US centric take on the space race and you’ll be surprised to learn about major figures in rocketry and engineering like Korolev and Tsiolkovsky. Russian rockets were very advanced and reliable, and many designs from 50s and 60s are still used today to get payload into orbit

I’ve had this book since I was 7 or 8 and its always been lying on my bookshelf. I’ve now scanned every page of this book and converted it to PDF (could not find a copy anywhere on the Internet).  Now everyone else can get the pleasure of reading about space, rocketry and exploration.  The book was published by Raduga (Rainbow) publishers in now defunct USSR.

Download the book here as PDF

Books like this inspired countless of kids to go into science and engineering, and the product of this is Pluto flybys and Mars landings, and in the future, Mars colonization.

Some illustrations from the book.

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Visions of the future

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We will win.

charlie

I am busy drawing new Muhammad cartoons, as are thousands of other artists and cartoonists. The Islamic savages that committed these murders, lost. They will never silence us, never take away our freedoms and never impose their 7th century barbarism and superstition on our society. Unless we let them. All our rights as human beings come from the basic premise of freedom of speech and thought. Without this we are nothing but slaves and peasants.

NO to Islamic barbarism, NO to curbs on speech and expression, NO to accommodation of fascism with a Muslim face.

On ‘disproportionate responses’

Wanted to write down some thoughts on the Israel-Hamas war and all the media circus around it.

Reading some comments on news sites and social media every time a media outlet puts up pictures of dead civilians is an interesting experience because you get a sense of how truly powerful modern media and social media is, in manipulating a particular narrative. You also get a sense that most people who wail about dead Gaza civilians

a) do not understand the context of the fighting

b) do not know what Hamas is and what they are fighting for and

c) has absolutely no idea what it takes to fight an urban battle

I’ll expand more on this below..

Besides this, I personally think that the coverage of the conflict between Arabs and Israelis is comically exaggerated and dramatized, as compared to much greater conflicts, land wars, religious wars and other types of bickering elsewhere (with much higher human and economic tolls).

For instance, who can remember the Sri Lankan military assault on Tamil stronghold in May 2009 that ended up with 20,000 civilian casualties resulting from crossfire between government army and Tamil terrorists? No one remembers this because no one cares. There were no protests, no UN condemnations, UN resolutions, no hard-hitting BBC specials asking poignant questions about the high civilian body count.

Who can remember the 2013 Lebanese army artillery assault on Lebanese city of Tripoli – held hostage by a Jihadist group (sound familiar?). Hundreds of civilians were dead as a result of crossfire, yet this barely made a squawk on the international news media radar.

But as soon as the word “Israel” is inserted, the IQ of everyone involved drops down 100 points.

Why is this? Why does the world go bonkers whenever Israelis kill civilians in a middle of a major war, yet completely ignore or forget every other instance when done by other nations? The responses to this latest war are terrifying, mobs of leftist and Islamic morons burning synagogues, harassing Jews, burning Jewish business. Its truly Kristallnacht remade.

My guess is that this is a result of a specific media narrative, where news and social media will only report civilian casualties without showing the greater context for the conflict.  NY Times for example is only showing hospital emergency rooms with Arab casualties of Israeli bombing, yet it will never show something like this;

Islamic terrorists firing rockets from within civilian areas, committing a double war crime in the process (firing at civilians while hiding behind civilians).  So an average viewer gets an impression that Israelis are pounding civilians for the hell of it, or at the very least are using uncontrolled fire. These media outlets also do not mention the fact that Islamic terror groups like Hamas routinely harass and warn journalists what to report and what not to report on threats of physical violence and threats of expulsion. This is a HUGE part of the narrative that never gets mentioned, so the viewer is presented with a one-sided story of Israelis being these awful child-killers.  An Italian journalist tweeted this as soon as he was out of Gaza,

@gabrielebarbati

Out of far from retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris

 

“Disproportionate”

What I wanted to focus here was something I keep seeing pop up when people or news organizations comment on the ferocity of Israeli strikes, they keep using the term ‘Disproportionate’.

I find this term interesting because I’ve never heard it used in any other conflict when discussing military strategy.

response
I’ve never yet saw a military back away from a fight with its enemy simply because their forces are greater or more powerful than the enemy. This is a ludicrous idea.  No military on earth fights wars only when the forces are ‘proportionate’, and the fact that this is demanded from only 1 single nation tells more about the people making these demands than how Israel fights its wars.

Besides this obvious fact, if I were in Israeli shoes, facing a heavily armed Islamic terror group whose sole ideology is my death and destruction of my country, I would not only want my government to use disproportionate force to destroy them, I would demand this.

The body count score card

another rather creepy phenomenon of this war (and all Israel related wars) is the constant score keeping of casualties on both sides. Its like a daily report card that is always squeezed into a news report or an article. The entire fascination about ‘proportionality’ seems to be stemming from this body count obsession, as if the morality of each side is determined by how many of its victims die.

statsfrom NY Times

I’ve never seen this before, for example when US invaded Iraq, I dont think I’ve seen such a comparison. We’ve seen deaths of US service members scrolled down and some vague statistics about 120,000 or etc, Iraqis killed, but never a 1:1 score card. Its rather ghoulish and it completely ignores an obvious fact that Israelis protect their civilians with bomb shelters, rocket alert apps for smart phones and Iron Dome system while Hamas places civilians around their weapon depots and does not build any form of shelter for its people. The news narrative completely ignores this blatant fact.

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human-shield-1

war crimes.

Excuses for Islamist murder and genocidal ideology

Many people post comments such as, ‘they are only fighting an occupation’, or ‘they are fighting to lift a blockade’, but neither of these points conform to actual facts. Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, left them an entire agricultural economy (bought by private investors and donated to the Gazan people). Hamas used these agricultural facilities to make rockets.  So according to this logic, yielding territory and getting 8 years of terrorism in return means that you should yield even more territory in vain hopes that Hamas changes its mind. This is madness that no nation would subscribe to. Hamas by the way, does not recognize any part of Israel as Israeli. They consider all of Israel as a ‘settlement’, so short of a national and cultural suicide, Israel will never be at peace with Hamas. This little fact keeps being missed from every news report on this conflict, and yet the world blames Israelis for this conflict.

Its like the entire moral universe is twisted where genocidal, racist and supremacist terror group are hailed as noble freedom fighters, while an army of reservists who never wanted to be dragged to Gaza to stop rockets falling on their families are described as ‘baby killers’.  In the words of Mugatu,

zoolander-mugatu-crazy-pills

The second excuse of a ‘suffocating blockade’ is just plain stupid. Israel had no blockade on the strip in 2005, the blockade came 2 years after, when in 2007 Hamas was ‘elected’ to power (they systematically gunned down all political opposition and have remained in power since. Rule #1 when it comes to electing Islamists, you will only have 1 single election)

The blockade began after Hamas began using construction material to manufacture missiles and build tunnels. So in effect, yes, Hamas is fighting to end a stifling blockade, not because they care for the well being of their people, but because they want more effective weapons flowing into Gaza with which to kill more Jews.

I wish people would take the time to read the background of Islamic groups like Hamas, ISIS, Al Shabab, Boko Haram – Sunni ‘restoration’ movements that seek to topple all secular authority and enforce an Islamic state with Sharia as its law. Hamas are not freedom fighters, they will fight Israelis to the last Gazan and protect their weapons with every Arab child they can get their hands on. This context is completely missing from any Israel-related news narrative.

Drew Struzan – Master Artist

I recently caught this fantastic documentary on Netflix, “Drew – the man behind the poster

Drew Struzan is the man behind incredible film posters that many grew up with, including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Bladerunner and Back to the Future.

trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzXpdYTUTmo

I knew most of these famous posters growing up, but had no idea who the artist was. I always assumed it was a different artist for each poster.  The art work is absolutely incredible, especially this timeless classic Bladerunner poster that captures the film’s atmosphere perfectly:

Drew Struzan Bladerunner

Drew’s style is mercurial, if you look at his work, each work has a different take and style, almost as if it was a different artist each time. His non-film work is stunning, the imagination and genius in the technique is incredible. Some of his posters (like the one below) remind me of those wonderful Absinthe posters from 1800’s.

Drew Struzan – Pan’s Labyrinth

 

Drew Struzan – Benny Golson

Watching the documentary, you get the feeling that Drew is not only a master artist, he is an amazing human being. Humble, thoughtful and gracious for opportunities he’s come across in life, its rare to see such a talented person with such graceful and humble outlook and perspective. What an inspiration as both and artist and a human being.

Check out Drew’s absolutely incredible work.

A little preview

Working hard on the new kids book, tons of work to be done everything from ink illustrations to coloring to arranging book pages.

I think I should have it ready by sometime in November, but until then, heres a preview of the color illustrations, each illustration corresponds to the alphabet letter, like this dinosaur for “D” for example.  The first version of the book will have the Russian alphabet and Russian words, then if I have time, I will create one with English and Portuguese versions.

D for Dino

dino2

Working on a kids book.

Just found out my best buddy and his wife are going to have a kid, so next month or two postings will be slow since I’m working on a kids book that would be perfect for my buddy’s kid. I’ve been wanting to illustrate a kids book for a while now and this is the perfect opportunity.

Once finished I will publish it using Blurb or other similar publishing services and it will available for sale. The book is targeted for 1 to 3 year olds and focuses on learning the alphabet with some cooky characters like the monkey-boy illustration seen below. The first book will teach the Russian alphabet, and later versions will have English and Portuguese words and alphabet.

I dont have a name for it yet so I’m open to suggestions.

Chris Achilleos – Amazona

I was browsing through the art section of Westsider Books store (one of my favorite book stores in NYC), and ran across this fantastic work by Chris Achilleos, a Cypriot artist who specializes in female and mythological art.

I picked up his recent book ‘Amazona’, and I loved the way Achilleos merges all kinds of myths into beautiful female characters.

Cover of ‘Amazona’

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Being a Greek Cypriot, he is obviously well versed with Greek mythology and has several examples of Amazons (from Homer’s Illiad)

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The reason his work caught my eye is that Achilleos has an incredible eye for detail and cultural aestethic. The wonderful detail he puts into his cultural characters is incredible, for example the Egyptian Amazon has jewelry that was actually worn by Egyptian  queens, things like green jade scarabs and unique Egyptian braided hair.

Egyptian Pharao Amazona

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Japanese samurai Amazona

Norse/Viking Valkyrie

He has tons of incredible work in his books, I highly suggest it to anyone wanting to improve their skills when sketching female characters.

His official website

Modern “Art” is bullshit.

This past weekend I was passing next to the Moma (Museum of modern art) in New York. I saw some design books in the museum store adjacent to the actual huge museum, and walked in to check out the latest books on design. I found this book on the shelf, and giggled when I saw the title,

“Modern Art explained, why your 5-year old could not have done that”

moma_1

There were other similar books whose existence is to ‘explain’ art to you, the casual art observer.

I dislike ‘modern’ art because of things like this. If something is art, it does not have to be ‘explained’, it explains itself. It will inspire feelings inside of you just by looking at it. Botticelli does not have to be explained. Monet does not have to be explained.. You get the point.

The reason why this type of modern art is bullshit is because its not art.  Its also something made by an extremely lazy person.

Now don’t get me wrong, not all ‘modern’ art is the same. For example this piece of artwork is considered modern art, but this fantastic illustration of  movie characters from Point Break isn’t lazy nor does it have to be ‘explained’. This is art in full sense of the word.

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But back to the book. The book attempts to show different examples of modern art and then explains why a child count not have created something similar. The premise is ludicrous and comical enough, but where it gets bizarre is the way the book sets a serious and authoritative tone on commenting the supposed genius of the artist.

Some examples from the book, read the ridiculous commentary below each ‘art’ work.

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Yeah, none would do so because unlike adults, children don’t try to blatantly bullshit each other. The only inspiration I feel from this work is the inspiration to replace it with something better and more meaningful.

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“Artworks cannot last forever.. where man ends, infinity begins”

This kind of pretentious non-sense reminds me of Mike Meyers sketches on Saturday night live, where he played Deiter, the German TV critic on a TV show Sprockets, where Dieter often said similar meaningless non-sense in order to inflate his sense of  self-importance.

dieter

Some of Dieter’s quotes that are remarkably similar to the bullshit written in this book:

“Genius! By seemingly embracing the cliches of the vest, he is underscoring its excruciating banality.”

“Yes, Ve are doomed and I am filled with remorse, and it is most delicious.”

moma_4

The guys cleaning windows in my apartment building draw better looking and more meaningful swirls with Windex than this ‘artist’.  I’ll tell you one thing, I certainly get feelings of loss and hopelessness looking at this thing and imagining people paying large sums of money to hang this atrocity in their living rooms and galleries.

moma_5

The only way someone can get a spiritual feeling by looking at a yellow box with a white line across is if they are a starving chimp with hallucinations of bananas.

I dont know if a 5 year old child could design this modern classic thermal carafe (below), but it seems a bit pricey for a piece of shiny plastic.  Modern art is expensive!

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“Choice”

This is what an illusion of democracy looks like. Tonight’s debate has barred 3rd party candidates from participating, while the two large parties, that are bought and sold by corporate interests, PACs and campaign ‘donations’ – duke it out to show the public that they are truly different from one another.

The theatrical debates, the manufactured outrage, the ideological war of attrition will continue until this Republic falls, due to the increasingly unbearable burden of federal spending, a sixteen trillion $ debt, empty promises made to electorate in hopes of yet one more electoral win – promises that cannot be possibly made to come true in the current economic reality. This (as PJ O’Rourke once remarked) is a truly a Parliament of Whores.

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money

– Alexis De Tocqueville

The Met Museum part 2

I almost forgot to mention this,

Last time I was at this museum, there’s an older black gentleman (unfortunately I didn’t get his name) who sits close to the Perseus statue, and sketches the same statue, day after day.

Its not a stretch to say that I was shocked to see his work. His level of skill is absolutely astounding. The drawings seem unreal, as if someone took a photograph of the statue and applied a Photoshop filter to it. The sketches are almost 3-dimensional. He is truly one of the finest artists I have ever seen. If anyone knows who I am talking about and knows his name, please let me know.

He seems to draw the same statue day after day, perfecting his skill by drawing the same object. He can probably draw it with his eyes closed.

The statue is called ‘Ugolino and his sons’ by Jean Baptiste Carpeaux (1857), the statue depicts a scene from Dante’s Inferno, where the father Ugolino is condemned to starvation with his sons, Ugolino is resisting his son’s offer to use their bodies as food so that he may live. Dante was one fucked up cat!

more information on this amazing statue

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/67.250

The actual statue at the Met

The amazing sketch by the forementioned artist

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

living close to NY city definitely has its advantages. One of these is the ability to spend a few hours in my favorite museum, the Met. For a few bucks you get to spend a day surrounded by incredible sculptures and art. Being a Greco-Roman fanatic, I usually spend my time in those galleries, but on a recent trip, my girl took me to see the Asian art exhibit.

Asian art is definitely different from Western pieces, both in content and style. A challenge is to capture some of the magic that makes Asian art so beautiful. Here are some photos from the museum, some of my sad attempts to draw them and a final piece of a Roman sculpture of a royal lady (I couldn’t resist).

If you are in NY area, make it a mission to visit the Met. Its a real and amazing museum with some of the most beautiful and moving works of art I’ve ever seen, and this is coming from a guy who hates museums (especially all the bullshit called ‘modern art’ found at MoMA. ).

An Indian piece, I didnt get the name unfortunately. Beautiful pose and details.

my sad attempt at capturing it with quick coal sketch

Buddhist sculpture – I think. Its a deity with one eye open looking at our world, with another closed, observing the afterlife.

quick coal sketch

Bodhisatva sculpture, absolutely amazing.

The Roman lady

Happy ‘Everyone Draw Muhammad Day’ everyone.

I didnt have time to draw another Muhammad caricature so I’ll repost the one I drew 2 years ago.

EDMD is not a simple gag designed to piss off religious Muslims. Its a response to vicious medieval barbarism and intolerance of different views, opinions and ideas by Muslims and other religious people who often bring charges of ‘blasphemy’ on anything that they deem offensive or dangerous to their ideology.  They demand automatic and unequivocal respect for their belief systems, no matter how deranged, insulting and backward these beliefs may be.

Just an example of how truly deranged these true believers are, there have been countless of cases of people being killed, tortured, imprisoned and blown up simply for being accused of ‘blasphemy’, one of those incredible charges akin to ‘witch craft’  that people read in history books and laugh at.

Psychopaths at work:

The absurdity and backwardness of the concept of ‘blasphemy’ in today’s time is an example of how awfully incompatible our 2 worlds have become, with 1 world insisting on automatic respect, censorship, intimidation and theocracy, and another world living in a society based on scientific facts, tolerance of opposing views and protected free speech.

With ‘blasphemy’ and similar censorship, there can be no comedy, no drama, no literature and no subversive and divergent thinking. This is the prime and clear reason why the Muslim world has been in a state of stagnation both scientifically and socially, ever since the end of the Muslim golden age in 1100 A.D. (a time when discussion and exchange of ideas was open and uncensored).  All this ended with al-Ghazali and his fatwa that science and math is ‘haram’ and is the ‘work of the devil’.  Religious idiocy took over, putting entire societies and cultures in a stagnant and stuck state for centuries. The conflicts we see today are a direct result of this process of events and a direct result of religious censorship.

Related:
Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains the end of the Muslim Golden Age and the dangers of religious-driven extremism to societies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDAT98eEN5Q

Sketching dynamic poses


I’ve always had problems with sketching moving objects or objects positioned in difficult angles. One of the problems is that its hard to get the perspective correctly, so I’ve been trying to improve my sketches by reading a book called Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth.

http://astore.amazon.com/burnehogarth-20/detail/0823015777

The book was very helpful because the author suggests a way of approaching dynamic figures by encapsulating the figure in 3-dimensional blocks, which give an external framework before the figure can be drawn. The author recommends using 3 basic geometric figures, a cube, a cylinder and an oval/sphere, and then breaking the body up into these 3 figures. By creating a 3-D frame before you start drawing the actual body, you lay down specific dimensional borders that maintain a proper body ratio and perspective angles.

Some of my sketches after creating 3-D blocks around the subject,

I’ve found this technique very helpful and I think it improved my sketching in perspective. Another useful tip from the book is to never start sketching from the subject’s head. The head is one of the last object to be sketched, since it doesnt determine the angle and positioning of the body and chest area. I’ve noticed that if I start sketching the body by first creating a 3-D block that represents the chest, the stomach and pelvis area, my overall orientation and positioning of the subject is greatly improved and looks more realistic. The body, stomach and pelvis come first, then legs, then arms, then head and neck.

If you are learning to sketch, maybe this technique can help you as well. You can purchase the book from the author’s website linked above. I hope this helps.

A Farewell to Cicero

“In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.” 
― Heinrich Heine

Last December saw the death of Christopher Hitchens, a noted polemicist, writer, thinker, and as some would say a ‘contrarian’. There were many obituaries written about Hitchens, notably from Vanity Fair, New York Times and many other established publications and writers.

So why am I writing about Hitchens? I am writing this because I never had a chance to put down my feelings over this man’s death on paper and properly calcify my thoughts over his impact on my life.

Hitchens for me, was a modern day Cicero. An orator and a writer whose intellect, curiosity and honesty made him a true rara avis. A man who elevated the human experience to a higher level, both with action and words. He was above all an educator and a teacher, who dosed every one of his speeches and debates with bits of Greek and Roman classics, with philosophy from Plato to Lucretius to Kant to Marx, and wove these diverse ideas and concepts into a single and exemplary fabric of humanism. His impact on my world view is immeasurable.

I first saw Hitchens in a debate sometime around 2005. The debate as many of Hitchen’s debates went, was a debate over religion. I dont recall who the challenger was, but as I was watching this slightly chubby British fellow take the stage and lay down his case for a break with religion and faith, things started clicking in my head. It was as if a slow wave of illumination slowly washed over me, connecting the various ideas I’ve previously had about faith and religion and packaging them into a coherent, eloquent and logical argument. Hitchens took traditions and beliefs that were held sacred for millenia and smashed it to pieces. I couldn’t turn away.

One of the best examples of this was the case of Abraham, who was willing to kill his son on a rock simply because of his faith in a Bronze age God. This act has always been seen as virtue, as a sign of faith and humility of a man, and since my early days in a Yeshiva, this was lauded by every traditional commentary on the Bible. Yet Hitchens took this act and condemned it, flipping it on its head. What I now saw, was a religious zealot, willing to murder his own child based on a delusion of the highest order, and ordered to do so by a vicious Bronze Age deity. And once that image was uncovered for what it was, I began seeing many other rips in this fabric.

I started to understand that the accepted belief and assertion that religion is a pre-requisite to moral well-being or a necessary component of morality is absolute nonsense, that morals do not come from an invisible being, but are derived through social and biological necessity, from human interaction and our very own evolutionary history that shares so much of our behavior and DNA with other mammals. This was a momentous discovery in my life, as if I had been dreaming a dream, and now there was daylight. I had never been religious nor superstitious, but I have never really questioned the fundamentals life, of morality or of our origin. Now I was thirsty to find out more.

Perhaps what I most admired about Christopher was his willingness to be unpopular and alone with an unpopular opinion. He wrote an entire book called ‘Missionary Position’ which highly critiqued Mother Teresa and her Calcutta hospice for prolonging poverty and misery and as he frequently said, ‘she was not a friend of the poor, she was a friend of poverty’. It takes a strong conviction to take on someone as famous and ‘beloved’ as Mother Teresa, yet after reading Missionary Position, I was convinced that Hitchen’s viewpoint was indeed the correct one. He laid down a devastating list of charges against this ‘saint’ and her Church, which was rife with corruption, brutality and ‘benevolent’ crime – such as refusing proper medical care for her patients and instead offering prayers, which resulted in hundreds of deaths. Hitchen’s stance on the Iraq war in the name of liberating Iraq from a mafia family and his commitment to Kurdish independence is another clear example of his independent thinking.

But without a doubt, his most prolific and powerful strength was public debates. Simply watching Hitchens debate was an illumination in itself. Every one of his speeches was doused with momentous history and great literature. I began reading books I’ve never heard of before, ‘Apology’ by Plato, ‘Areopagitica’ by Milton, ‘De Rerum Natura’ by Lucretius and many many others. Books that have elevated man before and have done the same to myself.

Here is one example of his sheer brilliance in advocating rational thought, and the ability to critically think about a topic. He is speaking in front of Christian school students and his opponent asked him why Hitchens would refuse a Godly offer to be in heaven with the great minds of our history, like Shakespeare or Plato. His response will ring in my ears for ages:

On an ending note, perhaps Christopher’s greatest contribution to my life has been his insistence and deduction that life is short, that there is no afterlife. That we are responsible solely for this world, that there is no second chance. Its an outlook that demands that life be enjoyed, that reason, liberty and free speech are the only absolutes that really matter and that we are too old as a species to be using fairy tales as our moral compass.

Thank you Christopher for bringing daylight into a dark world. And here is a salut with a Johnny Walker Black.

The bird of life is singing in the sun,
Short is his song, nor only just begun,
A call, a trill, a rapture, then so soon!
A silence, and the song is done is done.

To all of us the thought of heaven is dear
Why not be sure of it and make it here?
No doubt there is a heaven yonder too,
But ’tis so far away and you are near.

Men talk of heaven,there is no heaven but here;
Men talk of hell,there is no hell but here;
Men of hereafters talk, and future lives,
O love, there is no other life but here.

Look not above, there is no answer there;
Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer;
Near is as near to God as any Far,
And Here is just the same deceit as There.

But here are wine and beautiful young girls,
Be wise and hide your sorrows in their curls,
Dive as you will in life’s mysterious sea,
You shall not bring us any better pearls.

Allah, perchance, the secret word might spell;
If Allah be, He keeps His secret well;
What He hath hidden, who shall hope to find?
Shall God His secret to a maggot tell?

The Koran! well, come put me to the test
Lovely old book in hideous error drest
Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

And do you think that unto such as you,
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
God gave the Secret, and denied it me?
Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.

– Omar Khayyam, The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam (Persia)