We All Scream For “The Scream”

Not many pieces of artwork become iconic.  Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa obviously is one; Michelangelo’s David is another.  I would put Edvard Munch’s The Scream in that category.

Munch painted four versions of The Scream in 1895.  Three are in museums in Norway, Munch’s native land.  The fourth is being auctioned tonight.  It is expected to be sold for at least $80 million, and if it fetches more than $106.5 million — the current record — before the auction is gavelled to a close, The Scream would become the most expensive painting ever sold.

It’s not hard to see why The Scream has become an instantly recognizable image in modern culture.  The mindless horror evoked by the image of a screaming man on a bridge under a lurid sky can be used to capture our reaction to things as diverse as the futility of daily life, senseless crimes, and the Holocaust.  I’m sure that more than one Norwegian dealing with the mass murder committed by home-grown madman Anders Breivik thought of The Scream when they read about Breivik’s unpardonable crimes.

It would be fitting if a painting that is so accessible, and so aptly related to modern life in so many respects, became the most expensive painting ever sold.

Pronouncing The Unpronounceable

I’ve got to hand it to my law school alma mater.  The Georgetown University Law Center has performed a crucial service for law students everywhere by publishing an on-line guide to properly pronouncing the names of law firms.

It’s critical for two reasons.  First, law firm names tend to be a mouthful.  They’re usually the last names of long-dead people, strung together in no particular order, resulting in some of the most convoluted, unpronounceable business names you can possibly imagine.  Second, most law firms nevertheless think that every rational person — and certainly any law student who wants to get a job — should know how to pronounce the firm name.  If you botch it, you’re probably not going to get an offer.

The Georgetown guide is a set of firm names with hyperlinks to mp3 files of a person correctly pronouncing the firm name.  It’s easy to use and, at least as it relates to the name of my firm, it’s accurate, too.

Law school students everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to GULC.  Of course, the law school’s motive is not entirely altruistic.  If the guide can cause Georgetown law students to avoid the unforgivable sin of mispronunciation, they won’t be disqualified from consideration for jobs by such blunders . . . and if Georgetown grads get hired more frequently as a result, it’s going to make the law school a more attractive choice for prospective students.

Encomium To Maggie

Maggie lived with us for almost twelve and a half years.  Mom took most of the care of Maggie.  Mom’s do.  Maggie would sit patiently at Mom’s desk in the kitchen waiting for her piece of toast at breakfast and to share Mom’s sandwich at lunch.  But when I was home ol’ Mag hung with me.  She had the patience (or a tin ear) to come into my practice room and listen to my very amateur saxophone practicing and never once complain about the squeaks and squawks.  At cocktail time she was pleased to get an ice cube or two from me while I made a drink and then enjoyed helping me eat my cheese and cracker hors d’oeuvres.   

Maggie was good looking and very gentle.  She was a reverse brindle Boxer dog and, though gentle, was big enough to give pause to anyone who didn’t know her gentleness.  Grandchildren could fall on her, poke her and yell at her and she just stood patiently.  But, I  don’t think it would have been wise for anyone to try to do harm to the kids or any other family member, for that matter.

Oh, she was some bother too.  As is the Boxer’s wont, she slobbered a lot.  That meant when we were ready to go out without her, an activity which she didn’t much understand – why would we go without her? – she would invariably slime us with her muzzle while pushing to keep us in.  Boxer drool on black slacks is unattractive and embarrassing.  Then, every so often (like hourly) she would shake her head and the drool would fly around.  Thus, cleaning up walls and windows was a constant job.  And, like all pets, she needed cared for, taken for walks and/or allowed to roam the backyard to “do her business” which we then had to clean up. 

Some older Boxer dogs have a flaw in their genes.  A degenerative condition in their nervous system occurs in their later years.  It works its way up their spine from the rear.  First their rear legs stop working and then they lose control of their bladders and bowels.  Maggie had the flaw.  She lost control of her left leg first.  Then her right leg started to drag a bit.  She became incontinent, not always, but more and more frequently.  I had to carry her outside as she couldn’t get up and down the steps without banging her rear legs on the landing and sidewalk.  Her left foot had started to bleed  from being dragged.  

So, Monday we made a decision.  We decided it was best for Maggie if we ended her travails and put her down.  I suppose the last paragraph is an attempt to justify our decision.  It was a hard one to make.  We stayed with her.  She deserved to be with those who cared at the end.  The gentle dog went gently. 

I know, intellectually it was the humanitarian thing to do. Her life no longer had much quality to it, though she was still coming for the ice and crackers.   And she never complained. Ever.  She was a good friend. 

The pet cemetery just called.  We will get her ashes tomorrow.  When she was outside she liked to patrol the edge of our property along the bush line that separates us from the marsh, smelling the deer and the raccoons that had passed through during the night.  We think that will be a good place for her now – along the patrol route.  

We will celebrate her time with us, though, to be honest, breakfast, practicing the saxophone and cocktail time will never be quite the same.

The Uncomfortable, Untenable Weirdness of Discussing A Candidate’s Self-Identified Minority Status

The race for U.S. Senate has taken a weird turn in Massachusetts.  It’s making me very uncomfortable, and I bet I’m not alone in my reaction.

The Democratic candidate is Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor.  At times in the past, she identified herself as a minority in a directory of law school professors, and Harvard identified her as native American when it responded to claims that its faculty was non-diverse.  Those matters have now been raised as a campaign issue — had she used her ancestry claim to gain an unfair advantage over other job applicants? — and Warren has been scrambling to substantiate her “family lore” of a native American ancestor.  Genealogists now have concluded that her great-great-great-grandmother, who is therefore responsible for 1/32nd of her genetic makeup, was listed on an Oklahoma marriage certificate as a Cherokee.

I realize that all’s fair in love and political campaigns.  Moreover, I can understand that if a candidate made a bogus claim about her background — by, say, falsely claiming to have served in the military or received a degree from a prestigious school — it would be fair game.  Warren’s story also might cause you to ask what reported diversity statistics really mean, and it might be a topic of conversation in the native American community, as one of the articles linked above suggests.

Still, this story is unsettling.  Whenever people start talking about someone’s “blood” it raises the specter of Nazi racial purity laws or the racial identity statutes enacted long ago in some southern states.  Those are awful, unforgivable chapters in human history, and it’s painful to think about them.

I’ve never thought about my great-great-great-grandmother — whoever she was — but if Warren’s pride in a distant ancestor’s native American heritage caused her to self-identify as native American, too, what difference should that make to a voter?  And if she listed herself as a native American for some other, less salutary reason, can’t we just allow her conscience to do its work without making the matter a political issue?  Can’t we just judge her quality as a candidate based on her positions on the issues, her experience, and other relevant qualities?