Should Toledo Taxpayers Pay for Aspen Art?

Here in the billionaires’ playground of Aspen, the politicians waived the zoning laws a few years ago for a monstrosity they call an art museum.

It’s a huge square wicker basket dominating a city block, with zero setback and zero architecture. This place that is supposed to display visual beauty is itself an eyesore.

Almost everyone hates it.

But not the director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson. In an artistic burst, she created for herself a $900,000 salary. Her salary is about the only permanent or valuable piece in the collection. To put that number in perspective, it’s higher than the salaries paid to the directors of real museums like the Guggenheim and the Getty.

Even so, this director of the Aspen Art Museum has a bone to pick, now that she’s picked off the easy flesh. She’s grousing that budget-conscious legislators in Washington might reduce taxpayer funding for her shtick.

It’s not that there isn’t any money in Aspen to take up the slack. In perhaps the understatement of the year, I’ll say this about that: There is.

The director herself admits she doesn’t need the money. She recently told a local newspaper, “It’s less about the percentage of the budget and more about the philosophical stance that the city, state and federal government values art.”

You see, the money she receives is not about the money she receives. It’s about the “philosophical stance” of us peasants. More precisely, she wants us not in a stance, but in a bow. Like the Roman emperors, she demands money from afar not because she needs it, but as tribute.

I have news for our modern-day Caligula. The tribute she demands for this philosophical stance/bow comes from somewhere, and it’s not the government. The government is just the most recent stop. It really comes from American taxpayers.

I’ll venture another understatement: Most American taxpayers don’t live in Aspen. They live in places like Biloxi, Mississippi, Pittsburgh and Toledo, Ohio.

Those taxpayers use their money to buy food, utilities and shoes for their children to wear to markedly non-private schools. They can’t afford to spend their money on philosophical stances, and certainly not the philosophical stances of rich people in Aspen seeking to purchase a little (and I mean little) taste with other people’s money.

Maybe rich Aspenites posed in their philosophical stances would look better if they offered an artistic justification for taxpayer expenditures on Aspen art, rather than a philosophical one. But their type forfeited that opportunity years ago when they used taxpayer money to buy “Piss Christ.”

That was the name of a piece of “art” for which the taxpayers paid about $20,000 in the 1980s. It’s a big photograph of a plastic crucifixion immersed in urine.

The $20,000 came from the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts.

I’m no art critic, but I know what I don’t like. I don’t like “Piss Christ.” And I don’t like my taxpayer money paying for it.

This isn’t about censorship, mind you. It’s about taxes. The “artist”who created “Piss Christ” has a right to create and display this kind of “art.” But he doesn’t have a right to make me pay for it with my tax dollars.

Besides, if this stuff is so great that it’s worth taxpayer dollars, then surely it’s so great that some self-anointed and self-deceived patron of the arts on the Upper East Side or in Beverly Hills will buy it. Just don’t ask the rest of us to.

Same in Aspen.

If the billionaires want to buy houses that span multiple ZIP codes, or hire an obscenely paid art bureaucrat to look after a non-collection in an illegally gross building, or purchase a self-congratulatory “philosophical stance” of themselves, that’s all fine. Just don’t ask the Toledo taxpayers to pay for it.

Double, Double, Trump in Trouble?

“Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.”

— The witches in Macbeth, William Shakespeare.

The Democrats, the purported “party of science,” have a new strategy to beat back President Donald Trump and the other Republicans who’ve overrun the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court, two-thirds of the state legislatures and most of the governorships.

Their new strategy is witchcraft.

It had to happen. The recount ruse didn’t add up. The Electoral College refused to go rogue. The Russian conspiracy theory backfired.

But the Dems are nothing if not creative in demonizing those with whom they disagree.

For example, Dems are typically non-scientists, but they equate scientists who question the Dems’ global warming religion to neo-Nazi holocaust deniers. Their expertise in plants is based only on having smoked them, but they declare that the farms that grow food for billions of people are evil because they also grow profits. They proclaim that a fetus is merely a blob of cells until the woman in whom it resides wants it to be a baby and then, by alchemy, it transforms into one, unless the woman changes her mind, at which time it transforms back into a blob of cells.

According to a recent National Science Foundation survey, Democrats are far more likely to believe in astrology than Republicans (and I mean that statement in both ways).

Think back to college. The rare Republican students were disproportionately represented in engineering, physics and pre-med in preparation for careers serving science and humanity, while the flocks of Democrat sheep usually happily herded themselves into sociology, political “science” and other undemanding hobby majors that made them feel good.

One group grew into the true party of science while the other wallowed in the science of party.

So it’s no surprise to see a news report that among the Dem opponents to the new president are witches.

Which witch, you ask? No, it’s not Hillary Clinton. They are other Democrat witches.

These witches recently cast a spell on the president and other deviltry that goes by the name of “Republicans.”

And you can too! In the interest of diversity, the witchy incantations are not limited to witches. They’ve also offered this brew to all the other Democrats: “wiccans, shamans, heremeticists, cunning folk, sorcerers and sorceresses, hoodooists, occultists, magicians, ceremonialists and ritualists.”

Have wand, will travel.

All you need are a few household items like a candle, salt, water, a tarot card and a photograph of Trump. Then, under a crescent moon, without even disrobing, you chant the usual anti-Trump gibberish. At the end you burn the photo of him. Fire is a big part of the witching shtick.

Don’t worry about the global-warming effect. As with your oversized SUV with the “coexist” bumper sticker, you can have it every which way — and every witch way — so long as it makes you feel good.

The witches didn’t say to whom they’re chanting, and it doesn’t matter. In Democrat protests — from Hollywood to college campuses — the purpose is not to accomplish anything. It’s just preening.

There’s a reason, after all, that we know about this little look-at-me spectacle. It’s because the witches themselves publicized it.

OK, here’s my assessment.

I’m reluctant to cast aspersions on those who cast spells because it’s like casting the first stone and because too often in life I’ve hooked myself in the ear on the back cast.

And I certainly don’t want to engage in a witch hunt since Democrat witches are notoriously elusive prey who are protected by troops of flying monkeys otherwise known as the media.

But at a minimum, this melodrama seems over the top. With one sweep of the broom, it jumps the shark and shoots the moon. When the president called on us to “embrace this renewal of the American spirit,” the Dems apparently heard only the first and last words.

Here’s a different strategy that the Dems might consider. Stop the shouting, rioting, sobbing, spell-casting and wand-waving, and instead meet with the man whom America elected president. Stop boycotting the hearings on his cabinet appointees and instead show up — in ordinary business attire — and ask questions respectfully. Stop filibustering and start talking. Stop conjuring and start conversing.

Just act normal, not paranormal. Be natural, not supernatural.

No, Trump’s not in trouble, but the Dems are. Stop pandering to your party base and instead start basing your party on something other than pandering. And stop that howling.

(Published Apr. 30,2017 in the Aspen Times at http://www.aspentimes.com/opinion/beaton-double-double-trump-in-trouble/ and elsewhere )

Beauty Deserves Better than the Beast

In the new movie, I like Beauty. I always do.

I even like the Beast. Yes, he suffers a bit of testosterone poisoning. He manages his anger poorly. He’s rude and talks coarsely. People are afraid of him. He’s ugly.

What’s not to like?

But even though I mostly like the leading characters, I don’t like the movie.

The central theme of the movie is fine. Beauty and ugly are only skin deep. But to support that, our friends at Disney get everything else wrong.

Here’s the story, for those who were sensible enough to pretend to fall asleep when fairy tales were inflicted on them as children:

The Beast imprisons Beauty’s kindly father in his castle in the French countryside for accidentally stealing a rose from the Beast’s garden. Beauty offers to take her father’s place, and the Beast accepts her offer.

But the Beast is not really a beast. He’s a handsome prince. He’s rich too. He’s just having a bad-hair decade because a local shaman cast a spell over him for being a jerk.

But it’s not his fault that he’s a jerk. It’s the fault of his father who was mean to him before dying and leaving him a beautiful castle and fabulous fortune that enables his life of trustafarian leisure.

His servants are under the same spell. They’ve been turned into a candelabra, a clock, a coat hanger and, well, you get the idea.

Beauty is initially put off by the Beast’s beastliness. He’s violent and threatening. He eats soup without utensils and wears dark pants after Bastille Day. Worst of all, his castle is stuck in that hideous Louis XIII decor that is so 1790s/1970s.

To make a long and predictable story into a short and predictable one, the Beast is actually a nice guy, deep down. Yes, back when he was a jerk, he really was a jerk. But now, he’s a great guy.

He just needs a little lovin’ and understanding and a haircut and bath and a decorator with a palette beyond dark gray. He needs someone to see the beauty inside him — preferably someone who is beautiful on the outside.

That’s where Beauty comes in. Well, technically, that’s where Beauty is imprisoned by him.

Talk about an awkward first date. But they get past it. She just had to see him again. Really. Because, after all, she’s his prisoner.

You see where this is going. She discovers the beauty inside her ugly captor. In a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome, she falls in love with him.

That breaks the curse and he transforms back into a handsome prince. He’s exactly the way he was before the spell was cast, except now he’s not a jerk. Best of all, his bad father didn’t come back and the good money he left didn’t go away.

Time out. I have a question. If surface beauty doesn’t matter, why does the Beast regain his? Wouldn’t the message be more compelling if he stayed hideously ugly on his outside, but Beauty loved him nonetheless for what’s on his inside?

And what message does it send that he’s rich and with money he didn’t earn?

And why at the outset is Beauty lamenting her “provincial life” but doing exactly nothing to break out of it, except reading romance novels and dreaming about a Prince Charming? Get a career, girl!

Anyway, back to the story. When the Beast transforms back into a prince, the castle gets a remodeling and all the appliances that used to be the Beast’s servants transform back into servants. They’re happy too.

Whatever.

Along the way, Disney pretends open-mindedness. But actually they present stereotypical portrayals of stupid country folk, limp-wristed gays, sloppy beer drinkers, crazed gun owners, heteronormative heroines, talkative teapots, vicious wolves, fat French armoires, noisy small dogs and valiant horses of pallor.

OK, I’m the father of two single daughters. In case they someday date a beast and someday read my column, I say this to them: If he’s a jerk on the outside, he’s probably worse on the inside.

He doesn’t need reforming; he needs a reformatory. He doesn’t need a prisoner; he needs a prison. Don’t walk away; run.

Notably, we know how the movie ends, but we don’t know what happens after that. Conspicuously absent is the customary “They lived happily ever after.” Hmm.

(Published Apr. 16, 2017 in the Aspen Times at http://www.aspentimes.com/news/beaton-beauty-deserves-better-than-the-beast/ and elsewhere)

GOP to Filibustering Dems: Make My Day

An appellate judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Neil Gorsuch, has been nominated to fill a vacancy at the Supreme Court. As a lawyer who was privileged to practice before both courts, I’ve keenly watched the process of his confirmation.

This process is framed by some history. Before 1987, the Senate usually confirmed whomever the president nominated. But then, President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork.

Bork had been an acclaimed antitrust scholar and professor at Yale Law School. He had been the solicitor general where he handled dozens of Supreme Court cases. He also had served as an acting attorney general.

Chief Justice William Burger dubbed Bork “the most effective counsel to appear before the court” during Burger’s 17-year tenure.

Bork had been unanimously approved by the Senate for a judgeship on an appellate court. He had served there for the five years prior to his Supreme Court nomination. He was a preeminent jurist.

Within hours after Bork’s nomination, Continue reading

Corruption Resides in Aspen’s Taxpayer-Subsidized Housing

 

There’s a crime wave here in Aspen, and local government is an accomplice. I’m not exaggerating.

It’s rooted in the taxpayer-subsidized housing program. That’s the program where locals with incomes as high as $186,000 get taxpayer-subsidized housing in Aspen for dimes on the dollar if they win a housing lottery (or if they are insiders who bypass the lottery).

Most economists say such schemes make housing less affordable overall, not more. Indeed, four decades of taxpayer-subsidized housing in Aspen has produced the most expensive real estate in the country.

Economists also say these programs harm the intended beneficiaries by enabling employers to keep wages low, and that such schemes are rife with cronyism and inefficiency.

But now, more than 3,000 residents of Aspen receive this housing welfare out of a population of only 6,500. Reform is politically impossible — even as the projects fall into disrepair because the residents don’t maintain them.

All of that is not criminal, standing alone. It’s merely foolish. Aspen residents have the prerogative to get drunk on something-for-nothing economic elixirs, at least until the money runs out.

But here’s what’s criminal. Continue reading

No Wall, No Raids, just Enforce the Employment Laws

In the soap opera that substitutes for an American immigration policy, there are three actors. The first is the immigrant.

I admire immigrants. They’ve traveled thousands of miles to build better lives in a strange land where many don’t even speak the language. They send much of the money they earn here back to their families in their homelands.

America could use more such courage, work ethic and selflessness. I like seeing such people come to America — legally.

But the illegal kind is a different story. Continue reading

Thelma and Louise and the Democrats

In the movie “Thelma and Louise,” a bullied Arkansas housewife and a harried waitress ditch their mundane lives for a road trip in their 1966 Thunderbird convertible. It doesn’t end well.

In fact, it doesn’t even start well. Thelma, played by Gina Davis, gets drunk and is sexually assaulted. Louise, played by Susan Sarandon, rescues her. But then the assaulter insults them, so Louise shoots and kills him.

Their road trip turns into a getaway. They figure they’ll escape to Mexico, but Louise won’t travel through Texas because she’d once been raped there. They loop north to Arizona by way of the Grand Canyon.

Along the way, they meet a thief, played by Brad Pitt, who teaches them his trade. They blow up a fuel tanker, knock over a convenience store, outrun the FBI and steal a hat.

But the cops eventually catch up, and they’re cornered in front of the Grand Canyon where they’re forced to surrender.

Except they don’t. Instead, they hop in the old Thunderbird, kiss one another goodbye and floor it. They and the Thunderbird fly over the cliff and into the Grand Canyon.

That’s the end of the movie, and the end of them.

In another story — call it “The Dems” — the junior political party in America launches an extended road trip for their soon-to-be-elected president. But as in “Thelma and Louise”, things go south quickly. Continue reading