Saturday, January 31, 2015

Giuseppe Ugonia

Giuseppe Ugonia (1881-1944) was an Italian painter and printmaker. He is fairly obscure; he has no article on English wikipedia, and only a brief one on the Italian version, and no articles on any of the leading museum web sites. But I have lately seen some of his stuff on a couple of blogs and I like it.

Little is known about Ugonia's early life; he was intentionally mysterious about his upbringing, remarking to his friends that the the story of his youth could never be told, for he had revealed it to no one.

He attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Faenza, where he joined a group of students gathered around painting master Domenico Baccarini that included several future artists of note:
Ugonia soon came to be part of his so-called "upper room", evening meetings animated by the shared love of art, where students gathered to draw and engrave  and to discuss culture and literature.

He is best known as a printmaker, and so far as I can tell he mainly supported himself as a commercial artist.

But a number of his paintings are circulating on the web, and there is a museum in Italy devoted to his work.


Archaic Kylix from Cyprus, c. 800 BCE

Up for auction at Artemis, with an estimate of $6,000.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time

No Ordinary Time is a great book, fully deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it won in 1994. It interweaves the story of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt with the story of America during World War II, and I thought it worked wonderfully. It is part biography, part narrative of a marriage, part social history, part diplomacy, and all excellent.

Eleanor and FDR were one of history's great power couples. In the White House Eleanor served as their conscience, always pushing to do more for blacks, women, refugees, and the poor. FDR was the politician, always aware of what could be done in the circumstances at hand. Without her husband, Eleanor would have been another activist with a megaphone; it is easy to imagine that without his wife's constant prodding FDR would have slid into the politics of the moment and lost sight of their long-term goals. This seems especially true of the war years, when even many liberals thought that civil rights and workers' rights had to be put on hold until the Nazis had been beaten. Not Eleanor, who thought winning the war was pointless if it did not mean improving the lot of the oppressed at home as well as abroad. Between the intense demand for labor of all sorts and the pressure of the Roosevelts, the war did turn out to be a watershed in American social history, vastly accelerating movement toward equality.

Eleanor and FDR were also two strange and fascinating people who had a strange and fascinating relationship, and I thought Goodwin did a great job with their private lives. I won't try to summarize their marriage glibly, because what I thought Goodwin did so well was allow her picture to grow up gradually from anecdote after anecdote, rather than providing some simple formula of what the Roosevelts were like. I was left feeling tolerant, marveling at the multifarious ways we find to interact and the many ways we can draw strength from each other, even while causing each other pain.

One of the biggest impressions I got from this book was a jarring shock at the politics of America in 1940. Eleanor was a socialist, in a way that no prominent figure of contemporary America could possibly be. Her impulse was always to nationalize everything and put a board of experts in charge, so it could be done rationally. In 1940 she wanted universal conscription of all men in America, with a Labor Board that would then assign them to the military, arms production, farming, or wherever else they could best serve the country. That was, after all, what the Soviets and the Nazis did. The whole rhetoric of the New Deal feels like an echo of a forgotten time, as strange as anything said in Byzantium. To me, raised in the individualism of the post 1970 world, it also feels creepy. Eleanor's words summon up for me a gray vision of concrete housing projects full of people in uniform, carrying out their state-mandated labor duties, followed by state organized exercise and meals in cafeterias run by the Board of Hygiene.

On the other hand Eleanor's opponents were also nasty to a degree that makes me cringe. The naked racism, sexism and anti-semitism mouthed by everyone from Southern Congressmen to establishment WASPs in the State Department makes my jaw drop. The anti-semitism is particularly shocking. Eleanor's attempts to admit Jewish refugees were blocked by the State Department and Congress; even Jewish nuclear scientists were admitted only after FDR's personal intervention. "No more dirty Jews here" was a battle cry that seemed to unite all American factions. Observing this Goebbels wrote in his diary that although the US and Britain publicly protested the Nazi treatment of Jews, their own actions showed they were secretly happy to let Germany solve the Jewish problem. He had a point.

That all this feels shocking to a 21st-century reader is a measure of how far we have come since 1940, and thus, partly, of the Roosevelts' achievement. To read the eulogies for FDR is to be shocked that people could ever love a President so much. It was indeed an extraordinary time, the Roosevelts were extraordinary people, and this is an extraordinary book.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Lucky Accident

I think it’s such a lucky accident, having been born, that we’re almost obliged to pay attention.

--Mark Strand

Kobani in Ruins

The Atlantic has a great set of photographs from Kobani, showing what happens to a town after four months of fighting.

An "improvised armored vehicle" of the Kurdish forces. I saved this picture to show to my sons, who like most young Americans delight in imagining how they would fight against zombies or mutant bandits in a post apocalypse world.

Syd Mead's Concept Art for Blade Runner

RIP Rod McKuen

You have to save the times that are all right
for the ones that aren't so good.

--Rod McKuen

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Drought and Faith among the Maya

At Cara Blanca in Belize archaeologist Lisa Lucero and her colleagues have uncovered a small Maya temple attached to a sacred pool.

Diving into the pool, the archaeologists have recovered numerous potsherds, bones and other offerings from the Maya period (besides lots of sunken trees and swarms of cichlids).

They report that most of the offerings date to the late Maya period, after most cities in the region had gone into steep decline or been abandoned. One of the leading theories about that decline is that it was related to a century-long drought. Lucero thinks that the offerings at Cara Blanca were made by drought-stricken people desperate to bring back the rains. Like most American Indians the Maya imagined the underworld as a watery place, which is why they saw deep pools and sunken caves as entrances to the dark realms. The offerings at Cara Blanca may have been made to the rain god but more likely to the demons of the underworld, on the theory that they must have locked up the rain in their deep caverns.


The Marshall Plan cost $12.7 billion, and some people think that investment saved much of western Europe from communist or fascist uprisings and civil war. Adjusted for inflation this comes to about $115 billion in 2014 dollars.

So far we have spent $107.5 billion on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and we are planning to keep spending billions a year.

Essential Goods in Wartime

America, 1942, facing a rubber shortage so severe it is limiting the manufacture of airplanes and trucks:
Women took the loss of pleated skirts and one-piece bathing suits in stride, but when the rubber shortage threatened the continuing manufacture of girdles, a passionate outcry arose. Though government sources tried to suggest that "women grown their own muscular girdles, by exercising," women argued that "neither exercise nor any other known remedy" could restore aging muscles to their original youthful tautness. Without "proper support from well-fitted foundation garments" to hold the abdomen in place, there was no way, journalist Marion Dixon argued in a contemporary health magazine, that a woman past thirty could keep her posture erect or do physical work without tiring. "Certainly," Dixon concluded, "Uncle Sam does not want American women to wear garments that would menace their health or hamper their efficiency, especially during wartime, when every ounce of energy is needed." . . . Not long after the first public discussion of curtailing girdles, the War Production Board announced that foundation garments were an essential part of a woman't wardrobe, and as such could continue to be manufacture, despite the precious rubber involved.
From Doris Kearns Goodwin, No Ordinary Time (1994)

Malgorzata Walkowska, Misty Pond

From National Geographic.

Bad Dreams

An anonymous story on creepypasta, which I found in this fine article by Will Wiles about internet urban legends:

‘Daddy, I had a bad dream.’

You blink your eyes and pull up on your elbows. Your clock glows red in the darkness — it’s 3:23. ‘Do you want to climb into bed and tell me about it?’

‘No, Daddy.’

The oddness of the situation wakes you up more fully. You can barely make out your daughter’s pale form in the darkness of your room. ‘Why not, sweetie?’

‘Because in my dream, when I told you about the dream, the thing wearing Mommy’s skin sat up.’

For a moment, you feel paralysed; you can’t take your eyes off your daughter. The covers behind you begin to shift.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Meanwhile, in Kobani

Statement from the US Central Command:
U.S. Central Command confirms that anti-ISIL forces now control approximately 90 percent of the city of Kobani. U.S. Central Command congratulates these courageous fighters and thanks them for their efforts.

Anti-ISIL forces have fought aggressively with resilience and fortitude. While the fight against ISIL is far from over, ISIL's failure in Kobani has denied them one of their strategic objectives.
The LA Times: 
Retaking control of Kobani would be a significant victory both for Kurdish forces and the Obama administration, which has unleashed a torrent of air strikes targeting Islamic State in the Kobani area as part of its strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Al Qaeda breakaway faction.

Ultimately, Kobani’s significance is more symbolic than strategic.  . . . The military watched with surprise as Islamic State continued sending hundreds of fighters, vehicles and weapons to Kobani, which was of no critical strategic importance to the overall fight but had become something of a public relations fight.

"Essentially, they said, 'This is where we are going to make a stand' and flooded the region with fighters," said Col. Edward Sholtis, a spokesman for U.S. Air Force Central Command.
I suppose this counts as good news, although it gives one pause that it took 700 US airstrikes and four months of fighting to drive the would-be Caliphate from one insignificant town, which now will be held by a splinter group of Kurdish peshmerga with no particular legitimacy.

Demolishing Modernism

Another famous "masterpiece" of Brutalism is threatened with demolition in Goshen, New York, Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center. The center, says Michael Kimmelman,
announces itself as a civic hub. It’s made of corrugated concrete and glass, organized into three pavilions around a courtyard, like an old wagon train around a village green. A county proposal would tear down huge chunks of it, flatten the roof, destroy windows, swap out parts of the textured concrete facade and build what looks like an especially soul-crushing glass box. Goshen would end up with a Frankenstein’s monster. . .

Pictures of the interior from the early 1970s, when the center was still new, show a complex of animated spaces, by turns intimate and grand. Later renovations ruined the inside, making it cramped and dark. Rudolph was a master of sculpturing light and space, following in the footsteps of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose emotionalism he married to the cool Modernism of Europeans like Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.
I, of course, hate this thing, and would be happy to see it reduced to rubble. But in this case there is an alternative proposal that may have some merit.
Although the center no longer seems to suit Orange County administrators, it can be repurposed. Gene Kaufman, the owner and principal of Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman Architects in New York City, has offered to pay the county $5 million for the building and restore it as an artists’ live-work space, with public exhibitions. Mr. Kaufman has also offered to design a brand new government center next door for $65 million — millions less than the $74 million county officials allotted some time ago for the plan to tear down part of the building and add the glass box.
Seems at least worth looking into, if all the county plans to do is replace concrete modernism with glass modernism.

I am also puzzled by the way brutalist architecture went together with socialist idealism:
the government center was conceived with lofty social aspirations, making tangible Rudolph’s concept of energetic governance as a democratic ideal. It was a beautiful notion; and while the architecture may never win any popularity contest, it was beautiful, too, with its poetry of asymmetric, interweaving volumes.
Was the connection between awful modernist architecture and socialism just an accident of timing, or does the socialist fondness for soul-destroying buildings reveal something disturbing about the whole communal project of the modern left?

Another American Tragedy

Nick Kristof eulogizes his high school classmate Kevin Green, who died recently at the age of 54. Kevin's father had a union factory job and the family seemed on an upwardly mobile track, but then things changed in Yamhill, Oregon:
The local glove factory and feed store closed, and other blue-collar employers cut back. Good union jobs became hard to find. For a while, Kevin had a low-paying nonunion job working for a construction company. After that company went under, he worked as shift manager making trailer homes. He fell in love and had twin boys that he doted on. But because he and his girlfriend struggled financially, they never married.

Then, about 15 years ago, Kevin hurt his back and was laid off. Soon afterward, his girlfriend moved out, took the kids and asked for child support. The loss of his girlfriend, kids and job was a huge blow. “It knocked him to the dirt,” says his younger brother, Clayton, also a pal of mine. “It destroyed his self-esteem.”

Kevin’s weight ballooned to 350 pounds, and he developed diabetes and had a couple of heart attacks. He grew marijuana and self-medicated with it, Clayton says, and was arrested for drug offenses. My kids would see Kevin and me together and couldn’t believe he had run cross country with me, and that he wasn’t 20 years older.
It's story that could be retold a hundred thousand times over, with only the names changed. The optimistic, middle-class America of 1945 to 1975 was not born from hard work and good values, but from the easy availability of jobs that could support a middle-class lifestyle. Without union factory work or any equivalent substitute, much of America is headed back to the economy and society of the 19th century.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Buying a Sumerian Mystery

This Sumerian "administrative tablet", dating to 2200 to 2100 BCE, is up for online auction, opening bid $9500. The best part is it has never been translated. So, you know, it might say 500 bushels of barley from Field A, 400 from Field B, only 200 from Field C so give that overseer 10 lashes. But then again it might be a list of tribute from previously unknown cities, a list of payments made to the temples of mysterious gods, or even a list of ingredients provided to alchemists for their work on the transmutation of lead to gold. You never know.

Hoshi Ryokan

Hoshi Ryokan is a hotel and hot spring spa in Komatsu, Japan said to have been founded in 718, so coming up on its 1300th anniversary. It has been in the same family for 46 generations. No, the Japanese records going back to 718 are not really good enough to make this certain, but there is some documentation. So why not? Obviously the buildings are a lot newer than that, but they are lovely. Interesting video here.

This Time with Auto Loans

What could possibly go wrong with this?
A booming business in lending to poor people with bad credit who need cars to get to work is as much about Wall Street’s demand for high returns as it is about used vehicles. . . . In a kind of alchemy that Wall Street has previously performed with mortgages, thousands of subprime auto loans are bundled together and sold as securities to investors, including mutual funds, insurance companies and hedge funds. By slicing and dicing the securities, any losses if borrowers default can be contained, in theory.
I marvel once again at the problems created in our economy by too much money. With so much money chasing after any decent investment opportunity, the only way investors can get what they consider good returns is by taking bad risks. To "manage" those risks they deploy a whole array of techniques -- securitization, credit default swaps, etc. -- which do reduce risk for the original lender, but on the other hand have the effect of distributing the risk through the whole system, making everything vulnerable to a big enough crash. Right now this is still a pretty small business by Wall Street standards, so it poses nothing like the risk of the mortgage fiasco. But it is exactly the same process in action, and it brings home again why we desperately need banking regulation and why Republicans are crazy to keep fighting it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The New Robber Barons

I try not to get paranoid about the Koch brothers, but this is a little disturbing:
Kochs Plan to Spend $900 Million on 2016 Campaign
What will they find to do with all that money? They only spent $400 million in 2012 and it seemed like ads had already reached saturation point.

Can it be good for a democracy when its rich citizens can afford to spend more on elections than the main political parties?

Will there ever be a point at which this sort of thing starts to turn off voters?

Is all this money changing the political landscape, turning running campaigns into even more of a business, run by consultants only out to line their own pockets with billionaires' money? If so, will that make any difference to the rest of us?

In Greece, a Left-Right Coalition against Do-Nothing Centrism

In yesterday's Greek election, the victor was the leftist party Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras; they ended up with 149 seats in the Parliament, just two short of a majority. To fill out their government they turned to populists on the far right, The Independent Greeks, who finished in fourth place with 4.7 percent of the vote. This odd coalition may not last long, but anyway it has been formed for only one purpose, to push for an end to austerity and a renegotiation of Greece's foreign debts.

Efforts by the Greek elite to portray Syriza as dangerous radicals were not effective; the first, third and fourth place parties were all radical groups demanding change, and only 28% of voters opted for staying the course with the current government.

I wonder what happens now? Brussels and Berlin still say there will be no renegotiation of debts and Greece must adhere to the terms of the bailout. The only weapon Tsipras has to force change is the threat of default, which would probably mean leaving the Euro. I think that is the right course but in the short term it would make things in Greece even worse. Do Tsipras and his followers have the nerve? Will they rise up and declare a halt to the 60-year march toward European integration?

And what will they do in Brussels if Tsipras looks set to default? Will they grant him major debt relief, or shrug their shoulders and let the chips fall?

I have a feeling that the most likely outcome is a Greek climbdown after some very minor concessions. No doubt the bankers and industrialists will do their best to make things in Greece as bad as possible during the next few months, trying to turn people against Syriza and create a desire for stability. It would take the nerve of a Lenin or Churchill to say no to Europe at this point, and I doubt Tsipras has it. We'll see.

Mimi Brune: Still Lifes

mimi brune is the pseudonym of Alya Galinovskaya, a chef who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia. All of these were shot in natural light with her iPhone. Lots more on her instagram.

A Watts Mother Mourns While Boiling Beans

The blossoming flower of my life is roaming
in the night, and I think surely
that never since he was born
have I been free from fright.
My boy is bold, and his blood
grows quickly hot/ even now
he could be crawling in the street
bleeding out his life, likely as not.
Come home, my bold and restless son.—Stop
my heart’s yearning! But I must quit
this thinking—my husband is coming
and the beans are burning.

--Etheridge Knight

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Addiction is a Symptom

Jonathan Hari reviews those famous experiments that give rats a choice between plain water and water laced with heroin or cocaine. The rats use the drugged water exclusively, until it kills them:
But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn't know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn't like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
Hari follows up this important insight with an absurdly narrow view of human happiness that I think ruins the article, but the basic point stands: drug addiction is mainly a response to unhappiness, not a chemical reaction. Most heavy drug users are medicating their misery. West Virginia has more opiate addicts than the rest of the country, but not because West Virginians have some genetic predisposition to addiction. They have more drug abuse because they have more unemployment and less hope for the future.

Of course drug abuse can become a terrible problem, one that makes it all but impossible to work on the underlying causes. As George Orwell once wrote, "a man may take to drink because he feels himself a failure, then fail all the more because he takes to drink." But once you get people off drugs, what they need is not prison, but friends, family, work and hope.

Swearing and Language Science

Prospero takes a look at swearing:
Taboo words can survive underlying social change. Church attendance has plummeted over the past few decades in Quebec, but a distinctive clutch of swear-words in the local variety of French are still some of the roughest words in the language: chalice (calisse!) and “host” (hosti), for example. The words remain powerfully charged partly because they are simply learnt as taboo words, and serve a special function divorced from their original context. Swearing activates a bit of the brain that is used for other kinds of emotional responses like shouting and crying. The reason it is so hard not to swear in front of a child when you stub your toe is that you haven’t consciously processed the words through the same part of the language engine that you would use to explain a maths problem. Studies have even shown that swearing makes physical pain more bearable.
The discovery by modern neuroscience that swearing uses different parts of the brain than other language finally explained for me the appeal of the whole business. I spent my whole youth wondering why people enjoyed swearing so much, found it so funny, etc. But once you understand that swearing comes, not from the highly rational language centers, but from the emotional organs, it all makes perfect sense. (Some people who have lost all speech because of brain injuries or tumors can still swear.) Obviously you can choose to swear in a perfectly logical way - viz, when you are retelling a story or putting words in the mouth of a fictional character. But no matter how you use them, their connection to deep-seated emotions clings to them like an aura, making them different from all other speech.

Peter Breuer

Peter Breuer (1856-1930) was a German sculptor whose career spanned the transition from neoclassicism to modern, and whose works oscillate between the two realms. Above is my favorite work of his, Adam and Eve (1898).

Aphrodite and Eros, famous work in a park in Berlin.
A lot of Breuer's stuff is still for sale as bronze table pieces; this is a contemporary version of Breuer's Hunting Season.

Spring, another work of which there are many, many small bronze copies.

Breuer had a thing for Beethoven and made many sketches and designs for Beethoven sculptures over the years. In 1920 the city of Bonn announce a competition for a Beethoven monument, and Breuer submitted some of his designs. He won and was finally able to complete (in 1923) his vision. This work divides critics; some like it but others (including me) are put off by the blocky mass of it.

Another view of Adam and Eve.

Dowd, Obama, and the Great Man Theory

Maureen Dowd is a valuable columnist because she articulates, in amusing, readable prose, certain widespread but entirely false beliefs about American politics. To her, everything comes down to the President and a handful of other Leaders, whose personality quirks determine what does and doesn't happen in America. Obama has disappointed her, so she blames all our troubles on his aloofness:
Obama won the presidency by creating a magnetic narrative. But then, oddly, he lost the thread of his story and began drifting. He didn’t get to the point Bill Clinton did, where he had to insist he was relevant, though last summer, some of his frustrated hopey-change-y acolytes talked about having an intervention with the rudderless president. But others argued against it, pointing out that, while Obama might not have the presidency that was giddily anticipated, during the 2009 tulip-craze phase, he was doing what he wanted.

He wanted to do what he saw as right and have the public and the pols come along simply because he said it was right.

But when the Potomac didn’t part when he was elected, he got grumpy and decided not to play the game.

As David Axelrod said, and as Obama concurred, the president was resistant to the symbolism and theatrical aspect of his office. He never got it that the emotional component of the presidency is real, whether it’s wooing lawmakers or comforting the nation.
There are in America these people we call "voters." They have certain powers in our system, and they set real limits on what the President can and cannot do. More immediately there are people we call Congressmen and Senators, who get to vote on most of what a President proposes. The President has no magic power to compel them to act. Nor does the President have any magic power to compel foreign leaders like the Prime Ministers of Iraq and Pakistan to do his bidding. The strictness of the constraints set by all these other factors varies from time to time and situation to situation. It is true that sometimes a President can bend the situation, but not very far. Dowd and lots of other liberals lionize FDR, but if you look closely at his career you see that he achieved what he did by closely following the limits set by public opinion. Roosevelt spent the first two years of World War II desperately searching for some way to get the US into the fight against Hitler, but he never did find a way until Hitler solved the problem for him by declaring war against the US in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt had been trying to delay war with Japan because he wanted to fight in the Atlantic, not the Pacific, so even though he got his war at last it was not quite the war he wanted. Not even the greatest politician can remake the electorate or the world to suit his plans.

This accusation in particular irritates me:
When the public was jittery about ISIS, Ebola and Ferguson, Obama responded like a law professor. He made a stunning speech on race to save his 2008 campaign, but he has stayed largely detached from the roiling race drama that stretched from St. Louis to New York.
People make this complaint about Presidents all the time, not understanding the basic situation: as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, the President cannot mouth off about pending trials. If he gave a speech in which he denounced police behavior, the defense attorneys of abusive cops would say that his speech had prejudiced the jury against their client, and a sympathetic judge might toss the case on that basis alone. On this as on so many other matters, there just isn't much the President can do except mouth platitudes about justice for everyone.

American politics are not as liberal as Maureen Dowd wants, or as I want. But that isn't Obama's fault, or Bill Clinton's, or Al Gore's. The fault is with liberal voters ,who reliably fail to show up on election day, especially during non-Presidential years. Until that changes, Republicans will usually have control of Congress, and liberal dreams will not be realized.

Quit waiting for superman and get to the polls.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Greece, the EU, and the Lame Consensus

Things are terrible in Greece. Unemployment is nearly 30%, and the economy has shrunk 25% since 2008. Against this background the country is holding national elections, and in recent polls the lead is held by a new, left-leaning party called Syriza. Its leader, Alexis Tsipras, is a 40-year-old political neophyte who gives rabble-rousing speeches and promises to renegotiate the terms of Greece's 2010 financial bailout. The reaction of the Greek and European elites to Syriza is telling:
Newspapers and television stations, under the control of Greece’s oligarchs, have fed Greeks a daily diet of frightening stories about what would happen should Mr. Tsipras prevail. His victory would mark the first time that a eurozone country would be led by a non-centrist government, and columnists warn on a regular basis that his ideas and inexperience could have dire consequences for Greece.

Each day, the newspapers deliver a tally of the billions of euros that left Greek banks in recent weeks. “Mammoth Outflow” read one headline on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s latest television commercial resembles a wartime newsreel, predicting a Tsipras victory would bring mobs to the streets by April, bank closings and medicine shortages by May. On Thursday, Sofia Voultepsi, a candidate for Mr. Samaras’s center-right New Democracy Party, suggested on a morning talk show that Greeks should stock up on toilet paper.
Meanwhile EU leaders keep insisting that "Greece must abide by the creditor-friendly austerity policies laid down by Germany."

I think this whole affair exposes the European Union for what it really is: a project of the continent's international elite, the people who drive German cars, wear Italian suits and drink French wine as they jet or ride the TGV from one capital to another, toasting a l'Europe! in the grand salons of Baroque palaces and insisting that Ordnung muss sein. I have always been a fan of order myself, and I despise nationalism. But this New European Order stinks. Nobody in those salons gives a damn about the unemployed people of Greece or Spain, or pays any attention to what voters think. Oh, too bad, they mutter about the unemployed, but the debt to GDP ratio must be reduced. Or what? I always want to ask. Interest rates in Europe are almost as low as they are here, and if there ever was any threat of financial collapse it was controlled years ago. Now the fear of financial turmoil is just an excuse for the bankers and their friends to insist on the austerity that they want anyway. If we don't get our way, they simper, we're taking our capital and going home!

Today's European elite is eerily like those 18th-century kings and aristocrats who fought nice little wars and then met in the same grand salons to rearrange the map, transferring a few hundred thousand little people to the latest victor and then congratulating themselves on keeping order. A splendid little treaty! Come, let us retire to the music room and hear a new concerto. At least they had the style and nerve to build their own palaces and compose their own music, instead of just reusing stuff 250 years old.

The Greek mess is largely the fault of the Greeks, who lived large on borrowed money until the credit finally ran out. But there are two parties to every loan, and I think the banks who advanced the Greek government unlimited funds are just culpable as anybody in Greece. But while the Greek people are suffering terribly none of the bankers who made those loans has suffered in the slightest. When someone like Tsipras says that ordinary Greeks should not have to bear the whole burden of this disaster, and that the banks should be made to suffer, too, there are gasps of horror in Berlin and Milan. Socialism! Communism! Little people getting above themselves! You must understand that the integrity of the banking system must be protected or we will have turmoil! Anything but turmoil!

The currency union was a terrible mistake, but it can't be undone because that would be a "failure" for "Europe." But we spent so much time in grand salons working out the details! Shielding Europe's vulnerable people from the mistakes of their leaders is, it seems also impossible, because -- you know, I'm not sure why. Because German voters despise lazy southerners, or because the bankers insist on some arbitrary spending target, or because it might lead to inflation (which would actually be great for Greeks and Spaniards), or because it would be too much work and cause important people to miss their ski vacations.

Europe's political mainstream has no ideas, just fear of disorder and a quixotic devotion to their grand project of continental unification. If something good does not happen in European politics soon, very bad things will start to happen. Maybe that's what Europe needs to shake this establishmentarian defeatism, and bring people to power who will actually pay attention to what voters think.

Anthony van Dyck, Virgin and Child with St.Catherine of Alexandria

Suddenly, in the 17th century, they rediscovered how to paint babies.