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Thursday, April 21, 2005

This Is Art? -- Response

I seem to have hit a nerve with my column about modern art.

Greg e-mails, "Your latest JPH sparked a memory of an agonizing trip to the Hirschorn Art Museum in DC. What I remember best was a blank white square framed on the wall. It was called 'Potential.' I think I left my own contribution, in the form of a dark red splash on the wall. It was called "Art Museum Patron's Head Exploding."

Rich writes, "Oh so true, Paul. I still recall to this day an 'artist' who was selling -- for thousands of dollars -- paintings he created by filling up a shotgun and shooting at a canvas. When they interviewed him, he acknowledged that he didn't think it was art, but if some idiot was willing to pay that much for it, who
was he to say?"

Janet adds, "I have a hunk of wood, on a pedestal, elaborately decorated with chic found material. My art is titled: 'Suckah.' Interested?"

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

This Is Art?

I know nothing about art. This was proven again Monday night when I went to the Contemporary Art Museum here in St. Louis.

My friend, Andrew Sherman (an attorney and expert in franchising, licensing, and business law), was in town to speak to the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, who had gathered at the museum. The plan was that I'd meet him there, we'd go to dinner, and then he'd stay at our house before flying off to his next speech in the morning.

I'd never been to the Contemporary Art Museum so, during the cocktail hour, I walked around to check out some of the exhibits. This is when my complete lack of knowledge about art smacked me in the face yet again. I have friends and relatives who understand art, appreciate art, own art, even made art their business. They have tried to share that knowledge with me, but I'm a lost cause.

I know what I like, and if you show me a Monet, a Rembrandt, a Picasso, I can understand what I see. Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is breathtakingly beautiful (the Don McLean song it inspired wasn't so bad, either), but modern art just mystifies me. Some of it doesn't look all that different from the art created by my daughter in her elementary school years. What makes these things more valuable? Why are they hanging on a museum wall instead of from a magnet with a clip attached to a refrigerator door?

One piece in particular baffled me more than any other. It was a 70" by 70" wood block covered with some sort of pink material. That's it!

This is art? All right, sir, if you say so.

I couldn't read the name plate next to this pink masterpiece, so I don't know what the artist calls it. Probably "Eternity" or "Pastoral Dew." They all have names like that. I would have called it "Attic Insulation Stapled To Platform, Then Hung On Wall."

The pink piece reminded me of another museum visit, about 15 years ago. My wife took me -- okay, dragged me -- to an art museum to check out some exhibit she wanted to see. I wanted to like it, I really did, and I tried my best. If nothing else, it was visually stimulating, and everything was fine until I came upon the nails-and-string thing.

This piece consisted of a piece of wood -- ah, a common theme! -- with four long nails hammered into its corners, and some string wrapped around the nails. End of description.

I had the same reaction, "This is art? I wonder what the artist calls this." The answer: "Untitled."

Talk about your complete lack of creativity. You have some wood, nails, and string. Combining them into this brilliant piece of artwork couldn't have taken more than an hour -- and I'm including the time it took to find a hammer and decide whether to wrap the string clockwise or counter-clockwise -- and then you couldn't spare a few minutes to come up with a name?

Any name at all would do. Pick a word out of the dictionary. Name it after your dog. Throw down a dozen Scrabble tiles, put them in random order, and use that. Hell, call the thing Scrabble Tile.

Back at the Contemporary Art Museum, after viewing and being confused by several more pieces, I shook my head and wandered back toward the gathering. There, I spotted something much more pleasing to my eye -- a waiter passing around a tray of hors d'ourves.

Ah, finger food. This, I understand.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Overweight, Overestimated

With the new pope hogging the news today, here's a story you might have missed, but which will have a lot more impact on your life.

For years, I've said that the hysteria over obesity in this country was overblown, that too many people were categorized as way overweight because the definition of "normal" wasn't realistic. I've been the guy who could always afford to lose a few more pounds, but never believed the obesity hype.

Today, my arguments were borne out when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted that the fat numbers they'd been pushing for years were, um, inflated.

As recently as January, the CDC had claimed that weight problems were responsible for 365,000 deaths per year. Now, after a more thorough analysis, they have admitted they were wrong. The correct number: 25,814 deaths per year. That's not even close -- 25,000 is about one-fourteenth of 365,000. Trying being that wrong with the math on your tax forms and see what happens.

This startling announcement also means that being overweight is not the number two killer of Americans, behind cigarettes. It belongs in seventh place, behind car crashes and guns on the death-causes list. Let's stick that in the public health hype machine!

And the good news doesn't stop there. It also seems that Americans who were classified as overweight (as opposed to obese) are eating better and -- wait for it -- actually have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight. So, go ahead America, have a cheeseburger and a milkshake, and live longer!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Larry King's Greatest Question Ever

This is a couple of weeks old, but it just came to my attention. It may be the single greatest question asked of a guest by any host on any broadcast, ever.

On Tuesday night, March 29, 2005, Larry King's CNN show focused on the death of Johnnie Cochran Jr. Here's a segment from that broadcast, verbatim:

King: On the phone, Johnnie Cochran, uh, Junior. Are you there, Johnnie? Uh, Johnnie Cochran Senior, I'm sorry. Are you there?
Cochran: Yes, Johnnie Cochran Senior, yes!
King: So, you are what in relation to Johnnie Cochran Junior?
Cochran: Yes, I'm his father, thank you.

King has proudly and repeatedly said throughout his career that he does not prepare at all for his show -- but come on, Larry, this was the biggest no-brainer in the history of interviews.

In case you think I'm making this up, CNN.com has the complete transcript.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Baseball Is Very Hard

If you're a big time ballplayer, are you allowed to complain in public? Several St. Louis Cardinals did just that this weekend, telling Joe Strauss (St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat reporter) that the team's trip to Oklahoma City and Springfield before opening the season made them tired and ended up affecting their play.

I don't buy the argument, because they beat the Astros on opening day in Houston. Yes, they lost the next day, but then had a day off before winning their first home game against the Phillies. It was after that they fell apart, giving up a combined 23 runs on Saturday and Sunday before offering this "we were tired" excuse. Boo-hoo.

Outfielder Larry Walker even seemed to blame it on jet lag. Huh? You started the week in Florida and ended it in St. Louis -- a total change of exactly one time zone. It's not like you had to go play a couple of games in London and Hong Kong! Of course, there was that hour of sleep you lost thanks to daylight saving time. It's amazing you could even stand up.

Bottom line here is that the fans don't want to hear you whine about anything. In fact, no one wants to hear anyone complain publicly about how hard their job is, particularly if the perception is that they have a place of privilege, wealth, and fame. It's so sad that Brad Pitt had to work really long days to make his latest movie. Poor Donald Trump is so busy he barely has time to grab a meal. Little Paris Hilton spent the whole day looking for booties for her puppy and couldn't find them in the right size. Boo freakin' hoo!

Keep it internal, bitch and moan in the locker room amongst yourselves all you want, but don't say it to a reporter or anyone else on the outside. Oh, and run out those ground balls, would you?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Upside Of Anger

Joan Allen is an amazing actress. I've admired her skill in several movies through the years, but she really stands out as the lead in "The Upside Of Anger." As a mother of four who suddenly finds herself without a spouse, Allen runs the gamut of emotions, and every one is believable. If there's any complaint that can be made about Allen, it's that she is impossibly thin -- but that doesn't stop her from having the most front-and-center talent anyone has seen onscreen in a long time.

Kevin Costner also shines as Denny, the ex-baseball-player turned radio personality, who is obviously but loosely modeled on onetime Tiger pitcher and former WXYT morning man Denny McClain. Although writer-director Mike Binder erred in casting himself as a radio producer (he'd be wise to stay behind the camera), he did include a nice cameo by Detroit radio legend Arthur Penhallow, now into his fourth decade doing afternoon drive on WRIF. One caveat: the ending will have you scratching your head, asking "Why didn't she...how could...etc.?"

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Scalping The Scalping Laws

The first Final Four scalping arrest was made Thursday afternoon outside the America's Center by undercover vice officers. What a waste of time and manpower.

In a capitalist society, there's no reason for scalping to be illegal. Our entire economy is based on supply and demand. I buy something, find out you really want it, charge you a little more, and take the profit. Wholesale and retail. Why doesn't that apply to sports tickets?

The answer most often given is taxes -- the government isn't getting its piece of that sale, even if they already got paid off during the initial transaction. But the same thing applies to every yard sale in America and every auction on eBay. Do you really think Beanie Baby collectors included their transactions on their 1040s?

Who is hurt by scalping? The popular complaint is that ticket brokers swoop in and grab up the seats before "real fans" can get them. In many cases, a limit on the number of tickets sold by the promoters to any individual keeps the window of opportunity open. Of course, most of those "real fans" don't go down to the windows at the venue, or use online ticket vendors. They just whine about being shut out without making an effort. Later, when they really want to go, you'll see them fork over the higher prices demanded by brokers or scalpers.

Most of the tickets for events like the Final Four aren't available to the general public in the first place. They're reserved for the schools, the NCAA, and the corporate sponsors. Those corporations then get to use the tickets for whatever they like, which usually means an invitation to their best customers -- they use the tickets to create extra income, just like scalpers do. Same thing, disguised as a business expense.

Next complaint comes from teams, arena operators, and promoters. They say it's not fair that they don't get all that extra revenue from those valuable tickets. Sorry, but in an age where concert tickets routinely cost over $100/each, a price that already keeps a large number of fans away, you can't invoke the "someone else is getting rich" excuse. Meanwhile, some Broadway producers have turned into their own scalpers -- seats in the first few rows for "The Producers" were selling for $400 apiece in its first year, and the practice is now being repeated for "Spamalot," the Monty Python musical.

Is that gouging? No, it's meeting the marketplace in the middle. Gouging is what happened in Florida last year, when a motel operator quadrupled the price of rooms after a hurricane blew through town, destroying homes and uprooting families. That's just wrong on a moral level. You don't sell $1 bottles of water for $20 during a drought. The law of supply and demand has to be suspended during an emergency.

However, those $4 parking lots that are charging $25 this weekend are doing the same thing the scalpers are -- seizing yet another opportunity to be American capitalists, and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, there's no law saying you have to go to The Dome to enjoy the Final Four.

I'm watching it for free in my living room, where a beverage doesn't cost $6, the line for the bathroom doesn't snake around the corner, and parking is free.