Former President George W. Bush and His Art…

Former president George W. Bush painting. (Grant Miller/George W. Bush Presidential Center)

Former President George W. Bush is a fair and improving amateur painter. Since leaving office he has devoted time to painting and his “Portraits of Courage” , currently No. 1 on The Washington Post bestseller list.

There is another side to President Bush not often seen during his presidency. It is a more reflective side that shows empathy and sympathy. The qualities are present in his paintings and “Portraits of Courage” .

From The Washington Post:

George W. Bush is getting better as a painter. It’s been four years since a Romanian hacker named Marcel Lazar Lehel (a.k.a. Guccifer) hacked into Bush family email and exposed to the world the former president’s early paintings, including two self-portraits made in the bathroom. Guccifer is now in jail, but Bush is still at the easel and has released a volume of his recent work, portraits of military personnel and veterans who have served the country since Sept. 11, 2001.

Portraits of Courage,” currently No. 1 on The Washington Post bestseller list, includes 66 individual portraits and a foldout reproduction of a four-panel mural. Most of the images are made from photographs, focused on the face and thickly painted with a limited but generally bright palette of colors. Highlights and shadows are strongly emphasized, and Bush lavishes particular attention on the eyes and exaggerates bone structure. A few of the paintings capture their subjects in motion — including Staff Sgt. Scott P. Lilley (who lost a part of his skull in an IED attack) holding his daughter, and Sgt. Saul Martinez (who lost both legs in Iraq) playing golf. But most of them show the head and face full size, seemingly bursting out of the frame with genuine presence and considerable expressive energy.

Skip

Bush’s opening essay and the capsule biographies he writes about each subject are charming. He lightly ribs his mother in this account of his first experience with the paint brush: “For the first time in my sixty-six years, I picked up a paintbrush that wasn’t meant for drywall. I selected tube of white paint and another labeled Burnt Umber. While I wasn’t aware at the time that it was a color, I liked the name, which reminded me of Mother’s cooking.”

In his descriptions of the men and women he paints, he cites their struggles with grievous war wounds, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and the myriad difficulties of reintegrating into civilian life. Although there is increasing concern in the medical community about whether we are over-diagnosing PTSD and including too many disparate psychological issues under its label, there is genuine empathy in Bush’s embrace of the stories told by these soldiers.

Skip

Cynics will see a familiar, guy’s-guy tribalism in these accounts — many key episodes in Bush’s relationship with these people happen on the mountain bike trail — but his sympathy and understanding ring true. Those who think what now seems to be the case, that the war in Iraq was the most catastrophic foreign policy mistake this country ever made, will not find these paintings sufficient absolution for the cost, the trauma (here and in Iraq) and what will probably be decades of regional destabilization wrought by the war.

But that doesn’t seem to be Bush’s intent, or the purpose of this book, the profits from which will be donated to a military and veterans’ initiative run by the George W. Bush Presidential Center. There is nothing in this volume to support the thesis that Bush is using painting to work through his demons, or any regrets he may have about the wars he initiated.

There is, however, ample evidence that the former president is more humble and curious than the Swaggering President Bush he enacted while in office. And his curiosity about art is not only genuine but relatively sophisticated.

It’s worth making some distinctions. There is the presidency, the president and the man who is or was the president. Since the rise of Donald Trump, Bush’s respect for the institution of the presidency — especially the way he has honored the unwritten rules of conduct for how a president retires and the respect he shows his successors — has been seen in sharp relief. And while many may still strongly disagree with what he did as president — as a partisan political actor — that is now being tempered by a better understanding of who he is as a man. …

Say what one may about GWB he was, and is, more presidential as well as more human than Donald J. Trump will likely ever be.

Music Of The Renaissance…

New early-music ensembles appear on the scene with alarming frequency. One of the newest and most exciting is Beauty Farm, a sextet of male singers from Germany and Belgium based in the cultural center at the former Carthusian monastery of Mauerbach, Austria. The group, formed in 2014 by members of leading early-music vocal ensembles, is devoted to the rarefied repertory of Franco-Flemish polyphony of the Renaissance. Renaissance music is a specialized repertory; thus this most complex contrapuntal music is a niche within a niche.

The group has released two new sets this year, beginning with the second volume of its collection devoted to the motets of Nicolas Gomer (c. 1495-1560). A student of Josquin des Prez, Gombert wrote in a style that represents the height of polyphonic complexity. Although he was extremely prolific, composing steadily except when he was punished for sexual contact with a boy in the emperor’s service, much of his music remains unexplored, and these discs include many pieces being recorded for the first time. {MORE}

EPS Chief Pruitt’s Office Deluged With Phone Calls…

It is no secret really that conservatives and the religious right hold a very dim view of science in general and climate change science in particular. They prefer to hold to the beliefs that God, in his infinite wisdom and power, will make everything all right in the world. So, their view is, not to worry, everything is going to be alright.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s phones have been ringing off the hook — literally — since he questioned the link between human activity and climate change.

The calls to Pruitt’s main line, 202-564-4700, reached such a high volume by Friday that agency officials created an impromptu call center, according to three agency employees. The officials asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

By Saturday morning calls went straight to voice mail, which was full and did not accept messages. At least two calls received the message that the line was disconnected, but that appeared to be in error.

Before the number was disabled, interns were dispatched to answer some of the incoming calls, according to one employee. At times, calls to that number ended up going to voice mail.

EPA did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

While constituents sometimes call lawmakers in large numbers to express outrage over contentious policy issues, it is unusual for Americans to target a Cabinet official.

Pruitt’s comments on the CNBC program “Squawk Box” — that “we need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis” over climate change — prompted an immediate pushback from many scientists and environment groups.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that it is “extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” — a position reiterated on EPA’s own website.

On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose at a record pace for the second straight year, reaching 401.5 parts per million. The two-year surge in carbon concentrations that took place in 2015 and 2016 has no precedent in the 59 years in which the agency has been tracking the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. {Full Story Continues}

Our Nation’s Most Powerful Check On President Trump…

Just finished reading an interesting opinion article of truth by The Washington Post editorial board. Donald Trump during his campaign for the presidency and in his address to the joint session of congress made many promises, promises that reality will block him from keeping. Both domestic and global realities will prevent Trump from succeeding in providing his vision of Making America Great Again.

THE ELECTION of President Trump has prompted a lot of talk about the checks and balances of the American constitutional system. As guarantors of freedom and stability, James Madison’s cherished devices — separation of powers, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press — will be tested as never before, it has been said. But another potential check on presidential action has gotten less attention: the sheer power of reality. There are some things Mr. Trump won’t be able to do because, well, he just can’t. Call it the reality check.

To be clear: We are not referring to political reality. Of course there are certain things the president can’t do, at least not immediately, because of opposition at home or abroad: In the face of Arab-world opposition, for example, he has hesitated on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. What we have in mind, rather, are things that are impossible, period — such as massively cutting taxes and leaving entitlement programs alone, while simultaneously reducing the federal debt. Or deconstructing the “administrative state ” while beefing up the federal government’s capacity to find and deport undocumented immigrants. Or protecting a sacrosanct right to gun ownership while stopping the mayhem in Chicago.

The contradictions have been heightening as Mr. Trump and his team attempt to cobble together a federal budget, with a blueprint for discretionary spending due on March 16. At his Senate hearing to be confirmed as treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin asserted forcefully that the Internal Revenue Service needed more funding, which would more than pay for itself in enhanced tax compliance. Yet the White House budget office, searching for cuts to pay for Mr. Trump’s proposed $54 billion defense increase, has proposed slashing the already tight IRS budget 14.1 percent. Mr. Trump is bound and determined to step up security along the U.S.-Mexico border, including by building a wall. To get the resources, his budgeters are reportedly targeting the Coast Guard’s $9 billion budget for a $1.3 billion cut. Sounds like an invitation for drug smugglers and migrants to come in by water instead of by land.

Mr. Trump’s pitch to the American electorate in 2016 was that they could have it all — low taxes and generous government benefits; a dynamic economy that “protects” existing jobs — and that the only thing preventing this nirvana was the perfidy of Washington’s elite. Entrust me with power, he declared, and everything will be different. Of all his many false promises, this was probably both the most effective and the phoniest. Government’s resources and capabilities are limited, and trade-offs are real. Like all his predecessors, Mr. Trump will be forced, by reality, to set priorities and make choices, whether he ever acknowledges that openly or not. And sooner or later, he will be held accountable for them.

One of these realities, our constitution and rule of law, thankfully stands solidly in the way of Trump achieving his authoritarian agenda. Another powerful force standing in Trump’s way is the free and independent press with its multitude of ethical journalists that continue to call Trump out on his falsehoods.