Relativity

January 12, 2012

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World Affairs:

The train wreck of the Palestinian request for recognition as a state at last year’s meeting of the United Nations, which could have been seen coming for at least the whole of last summer, laid bare the total vacuity of the term “Middle East Peace Process” and the impotence of the international diplomacy surrounding it. Such a disaster often occurs when  process takes over substance and justifies its own existence by belated and ultimately unsuccessful attempts at remedy. Some of it is a matter of physics—when the train sets out it is relatively easy to stop with a timely application of the brakes. When, on the other hand, it is allowed to gain full speed because of arguments among the engineers, idle hopes that the train will run out of steam, or the simple refusal to acknowledge that it is even moving, the only thing left to do is to lie down on the floor and pray.

There are no innocent parties here. The Palestinians may have initially thought of the move as a pressure device to get the peace process restarted under favorable terms, but they predictably became prisoners of their own rhetoric and boxed themselves into a position from which the only way out was forward. The Israelis may have decided to call the Palestinians’ bluff, thus making certain that what may have been a bluff originally would change into the real thing. The Quartet (the UN, the EU, the US, and Russia) vacillated between hopes that the specter of Palestinian recognition would make the Israelis more willing to make concessions and that the specter of the failure of the effort would make the Palestinians more amenable to talk. The United States relied on the threat of its veto to make the Palestinians avoid the Security Council while visibly doing their best to avoid using the veto. The Palestinians were choosing between losing face among their constituents, a fatal weakness in the ruthless world of Middle East politics, and losing any realistic chance at moving ahead in the negotiations. The Israelis were choosing between accepting the Palestinian preconditions for the restart of the negotiations, which they believed would lead to the collapse of the government coalition, and seeing their international position undermined and weakened. Obama was choosing between alienating much of the Middle East by exercising the veto and possibly losing the presidential election the following year. The Europeans were choosing between demonstrating the real differences of point of view among the EU member countries and demonstating unity in helplessness. As often happens lately, only the Russians and the Chinese were the conceivable beneficiaries, although it is hard to tell of what.

A failure of this scope and predictability is not often seen, even in the failure-prone business of conflict resolution. The positions will now inevitably harden, the tensions will increase, and the risks will multiply. Yet the whole thing should have never happened. The reason for this is not that there should not be a Palestinian state. A majority of countries, a majority of people, and even a majority of Israelis believe that there ought to be such a state. The reason is that even if the resolution passes in the UN General Assembly, it will not bring such a state an inch closer to being and might even lead to a new confrontation. And yet, for all the protestations to the contrary by all involved, this problematic move by the Palestinian Authority is a proper reflection of the hopelessness of the negotiation track in the current conflict.

Fareed Zakaria, an astute observer of foreign policy, recently quoted a source close to Palestinian-Israeli negotiations as saying, “It’s not that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Everybody sees the light at the end of the tunnel. The light at the end of the tunnel is blindingly clear and obvious. The problem is there’s no tunnel. There is no actual concrete path to getting to that light.”

This is the heart of the Middle East problem. It is of small comfort that most reasonable people agree what things should look like at the end of the day if the end of the day never arrives.

Of course, it is not popular or fashionable to cast doubt on the wisdom of negotiating to the bitter end. Even some friends are prone to sermonizing that “we should question the motivations of those who insist so vehemently that negotiations are useless.” A persuasive argument is therefore needed to be able to claim, sadly rather than vehemently, that negotiations between the two parties are, if not useless, then likely to be unproductive and to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Starting with the obvious, for a negotiation to succeed, some ambition to reach a solution is needed on both sides of the conflict. This is conspicuously missing in the current situation. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians believe that negotiations will get them anywhere. Naturally, they will not say it, instead inventing preconditions, which they say are not really preconditions. It is perfectly understandable why continuing expansion of the settlements in the West Bank is an anathema to the Palestinians. But in a true negotiating spirit, there could always be a formula that would provide for adding buildings to existing settlements, particularly those that will remain part of Israel in any conceivable agreement, in exchange for parts of Israeli territory that will go to the Palestinians. It is equally understandable why the recognition of the Jewish character of the state of Israel is of crucial importance to the Israelis. But in a true negotiating spirit, language could surely be found to acknowledge the Jewish history, origin, prevailing culture, and majority language of Israel without prejudicing the rights of the non-Jewish minority.

Second, and equally obvious, for a negotiation to succeed, there must be an intersection of the negotiating positions of the two sides, which can be built upon and expanded into a viable solution. Little of that exists here. The minimum Palestinian position on refugees does not come near the maximum Israeli concessions on the subject. The minimum Israeli position on security does not come near the maximum Palestinian concessions on demilitarization or the Jordan Valley.

Third, if a negotiated solution could be reached, it would almost certainly have been reached already. Conflicts tend to be resolved quickly or, save a new and often violent confrontation, not at all. This is how frozen conflicts become frozen—in Kashmir, in Cyprus, or in Bosnia. When equilibrium, however unsatisfactory, is reached at a certain level, the chances of finding a new, hopefully more just and satisfactory balance will always be measured against the risk of new instability and chaos.

The history of past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations provides ample evidence of these old verities. They have invariably ended in failing to find the grand settlement of the conflict, regardless of the personalities involved and their motives, and regardless of the external support (or the lack thereof) by various third parties. The tireless efforts of Shimon Peres and the ultimate sacrifice of Yitzhak Rabin opened the way for Camp David, yet Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat could not arrive at an agreement there, or in Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh a few months later. The 2003 “Road Map for Peace,” forced by President Bush on reluctant Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat, did not lead anywhere. The 2007 Annapolis Conference led to protracted and ultimately fruitless secret negotiations between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

It is true but completely misleading to point out how close—ninety percent, ninety-five percent, a hairbreadth away—the two sides were to an agreement at various times because it obscures the fundamentally nonlinear character of any negotiation. Since both sides invariably work on the easiest issues first in order to create trust, build momentum, and demonstrate progress to their publics, the time needed to resolve half of the total issues might be needed again only to resolve one half of the second half, or one half of the remaining quarter, and so forth. The resulting exponential curve, y = ½x, in which x is a time period and y is the proportion of the problem resolved within that period, means that talks can go on for any length of time without producing any signatures on the dotted line. The accounts of various participants in such negotiations over the years differ in how close the two sides really came to consensus, but they all agree that it was simply not close enough…

Read it all.

ArtNews:

In the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina, in August 2005, representatives of the New York–based Joan Mitchell Foundation reached out to the arts community in New Orleans in an effort to help. After corresponding with individual artists and arts-organization leaders, says Carolyn Somers, the foundation’s executive director, “we realized that returning to the studio and finding a way to continue to make work following the flooding of the city” was a major challenge for New Orleans artists.

In September 2005, the foundation made its first emergency grants to artists who were adversely affected by Hurricane Katrina, and in the years since, it has provided more than $3 million in support to both individual artists and arts organizations in New Orleans. By 2007, the foundation had concluded that the city’s infrastructure for supporting artists, even before the disaster, was “fragile” at best.

In the summer of 2010 the foundation made its first real-estate acquisition in New Orleans: a bed-and-breakfast in foreclosure on an acre and a half of land near the city center that was once part of a Creole plantation. It is now being transformed into an artists’ community.

The Joan Mitchell Foundation was established in 1993, a year after the artist’s death in Paris, and was formed with her stated goal of aiding painters and sculptors. The foundation also provides free art-education classes in New York City and, through a nomination process, awards grants to painters and sculptors as well as graduating M.F.A. students.

It is one of a small but growing number of artist-endowed foundations that are becoming a powerful force in the world of cultural philanthropy. In addition to overseeing individual artists’ legacies by documenting and protecting their work, such foundations, through hands-on involvement with other artists and organizations, are discovering the best and most efficient ways to provide much-needed support at a time when traditional funding sources are shrinking.

“Most government officials think the arts are dispensable,” says Joel Wachs, president of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the largest artist-endowed foundation, which currently has about $330 million in assets. The foundation announced $14 million in cash grants to arts organizations for the fiscal year ending April 2012. Funding provided by artists is the “purest and best way to support the arts,” says Wachs.

In late 2010, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., bowed to pressure from critics and removed David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly, which includes a segment showing ants crawling over a crucifix, from its group exhibition “Hide/Seek.” The Warhol Foundation, a lead supporter of the show, publicly condemned the move and said it would cease funding for all future Smithsonian shows if the work was not reinstated. In a letter to secretary G. Wayne Clough, Wachs wrote that the museum’s “blatant censorship” was “unconscionable.”

Since the work was not reinstated, the Warhol Foundation’s position remains that it will not fund any further exhibitions at Smithsonian museums, Wachs confirmed. The foundation made a $150,000 grant to bring the “Hide/Seek” show to both the Brooklyn Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington state.

The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, headed by Michael Ward Stout, also condemned the museum’s action, although it did not take the additional step of cutting off funding to the institution.

The purpose of the Mapplethorpe Foundation, established by the artist in 1988, a few months before his death at the age of 42, is to protect the artist’s work and advance his creative vision. It also has a second mandate: to support medical research in the area of AIDS and HIV infection. To date, the foundation has directed $5 million to this goal.

Over the last several decades, the number of artists whose careers thrived during their lifetimes has grown exponentially, a shift that has allowed them more time, resources, and flexibility to plan ahead. As the market for modern and contemporary art keeps expanding, experts say, the number of foundations established by such financially successful artists will continue to multiply.

The first-ever comprehensive survey of this field was released late last year by the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation. The massive two-volume study, The Artist as Philanthropist: Strengthening the Next Generation of Artist-Endowed Foundations, led by Christine Vincent, a former deputy director of the Ford Foundation, was supported by a consortium of donors, including many of the leading artist-endowed foundations, such as the Warhol Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

The study identified 300 artist-endowed foundations holding a total of $2.5 billion in assets, of which more than $1 billion was in art assets. Between 1990 and 2005, the number of these foundations nearly doubled, with charitable-purpose payments totaling $954 million. Of that sum, $639 million was paid out in grants, while $315 million went toward administrative costs, such as funding exhibition programs and study centers.

A key purpose of the study is to provide guidance to artists, heirs, and experts who are considering setting up such entities. “Its aim is to fill a significant information gap facing individuals involved in creating and leading new artist-endowed foundations,” according to Vincent. Many of these foundations do not become active until after the death of the artist or his or her heirs. The study found that the current average age of artists planning their own foundations rose to 74 years in 2005, from 64 years in the mid-1980s.

In a dialogue with Vincent that was included in the Aspen Institute study, Yale University School of Art dean Robert Storr pointed out: “Even now, as you look at the list of artists who have privately endowed foundations, virtually none of the art stars of the 1970s and 1980s appear. They may show up later but most of the existing foundations have to do with the generations of artists active in the 1950s or 1960s.”

Many foundations that are set up during the artist’s lifetime are “on the shelf” entities, meaning that they make only one or two modest grants per year, says Vincent. (Artists and foundation heads must abide by strict rules that prohibit “self-dealing” or situations in which handling or selling or appearing to promote an artist or the work could present a conflict of interest.)

Among recently deceased artists who set up foundations are Louise Bourgeois (the Easton Foundation) and Cy Twombly. Living artists who have set up foundations and are already making substantial gifts of money and artwork include painters Alex Katz, Ellsworth Kelly, LeRoy Neiman, and Helen Frankenthaler.

The Los Angeles–based Herb Ritts Foundation was “the result of a very short conversation” in 1996 in the broader context of estate planning, says director Mark McKenna. It essentially became active after the artist’s death in 2002, McKenna says, and is aimed at advancing photography as an art form and supporting AIDS-related causes.

Foundations sometimes assume the responsibility of authenticating an artist’s work. However, as the market has continued to rise, the stakes have gotten much higher. In October, the Warhol Foundation announced it would cease authenticating works and dissolve its authentication board after having spent millions in legal fees to defend against authentication disputes. The Dedalus Foundation, which supports the oeuvre of artist Robert Motherwell, has also been at the center of a recent high-profile authenticity-related legal dispute…

Read it all.

City Journal:

Jean Quan, the ideologically leftist Democratic mayor of Oakland, California, has presided over her city in a manner both inept and irresolute. She let herself be badgered and manipulated by the neo-Trotskyists and would-be anarchists who march under the Occupy Oakland banner, vacillating between appeasing the demonstrators and arresting them. Quan’s wildly shifting posture has angered almost everyone and satisfied virtually no one. Now, the community-activist-turned-mayor faces at least two campaigns to recall her from office.

The recall, of course, is a firmly established institution in the Golden State. But while recall petitions may be commonplace, successful recall elections are rare. California’s recall of Governor Gray Davis in 2003 was national news not just because Arnold Schwarzenegger assumed Davis’s place, but also because it was the first time since the Progressive Era reform went into effect in 1913 that the state’s voters actually kicked out a sitting governor.

Public animus against Quan doesn’t bode well for her political survival. Gene Hazzard, a photographer for the Oakland Post, a black community newspaper, launched the first recall campaign on December 7. Hazzard’s effort focuses on Quan’s failure to improve public safety and attract new business investment to the city. His supporters are aggressively canvassing neighborhoods with petitions. Hazzard’s recall drive has support from the Committee to Recall Jean Quan and Restore Oakland, which originally intended to launch its own campaign. “Right now, there is one petition out there,” commented Charlie Pine, a retired economic analyst and “Recall and Restore” spokesperson.

A second recall campaign is seeking certification, however. Its chief backer is entrepreneur Greg Harland, who lost decisively to Quan in the 2010 mayoral election. (He finished eighth in a field of ten candidates, earning just 0.9 percent of the vote.) Oakland uses a “ranked-choice” voting system, in which voters select their first, second, and third choices for office. The idea is to minimize runoffs, but the system has other strange effects—such as propelling laggards like Quan into office. Quan won only 24.7 percent of the first-choice ballots, but because of the quirks of ranked-choice voting, she beat former state senator Don Perata, who had 34.39 percent of first-choice votes. Quan won because a much larger percentage of voters for liberal activist and city council member-at-large Rebecca Kaplan picked Quan second over Perata.

Though only in their infancy, the recall campaigns have already drawn opposition. Representatives of the Alameda County Labor Council last month condemned the petition drive. Labor Council executive secretary-treasurer Josie Camacho said: “This lady has been in office less than a year; we need to give her some slack.” But the recall campaign against Quan doesn’t have much to do with her lack of on-the-job experience or the long-standing, ongoing social pathologies that bedevil Oakland. It will almost exclusively be a referendum on the mayor’s abysmal response to the Occupy Oakland tumult.

Quan has been worse than useless in dealing with Occupy Oakland, arguably the most radical and disruptive among the dozens of demonstrations and tent cities that have sprung up around the U.S. since September. Sure, Occupy Wall Street shut down the Brooklyn Bridge for a few hours one day and caused endless traffic snarls around Lower Manhattan. But in addition to trashing swaths of downtown in October and November, Occupy Oakland blockaded the fifth-largest port in the United States not once, but twice. Quan’s personal and political confusion was never more evident than in her posturing on the port disruption…

Read it all.

Next Episode Of Supernanny

January 12, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Panetta’s New Suit

January 12, 2012

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

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