Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror

Yesterday, we saw Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror at the Philadelphia Art Museum. I was excited to see this exhibit because I frankly do not love his work. I’ve never quite got it, but if I was going to appreciate it, I thought this would be the place to develop that muscle.

Whether or not I like Jasper Johns is irrelevant. He may be the most famous American artist of the 20th century, and some amateur art appreciator’s opinions are helpful to no one. Today the New York Times has a great multimedia piece called How a Gray Painting Can Break Your Heart by Jason Farago that genuinely demonstrated how powerful this work can be for the right audience.

I am not the right audience.

I just don’t care for Johns’ work, mostly because I do not quite get it. The quintessential early Johns is the piece called Flag, and I don’t care about it. Listen, I know it implicitly poses the question of “Is this a flag or a painting of a flag?” which is supposed to set off a debate within me about the lines between art and reality, but it doesn’t. When I see it, I see a flag and those are everywhere.

​​Flag, 1954–55, by Jasper Johns

I want to appreciate Jasper Johns. Not out of patriotism, but every intelligent art lover seems to appreciate him. My lack of care for him is a critique of my own eye and understanding. I know I have a preference for the masters. I elevate precision and demonstration of skill over art challenging art’s own status quo, so the movement in the 20th century to reject ‘what is’ and turn art on its heads does very little for me. It always feels like it could be a smokescreen for some charlatan to earn the title of artist. It’s the same reason I don’t care for Pollock and struggle with Rothko. Maybe that is more of a reflection of my relationship to my sterility in art creation.

One gallery, Trial and Working Proofs, was my favorite space in the exhibit. There are 8 large pieces of printmaking that I thought was quite interesting. Their size and complexity gave me something to explore and compare to one another.

Did I like the exhibit? Not really, but that should not stop you from going to check it out. Seeing art in the real world is great, and you should do it. You may not love what you see, but hopefully, you’ll be near someone who does. There is nothing better than watching art reach out and touch someone.

Larry Krasner wins the Philadelphia Democratic Primary

Larry Krasner won the Democratic primary against an opposing Democrat, Carlos Vega, for District Attorney of Philadelphia. Vega’s most significant endorsement was Philadelphia’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). A union so far to the right that it is going to tip over.  In my tiny precinct (ward 18, district 16), 75% of voters chose Krasner. If that’s the case, why did the Citywide Democratic party decide not to endorse Larry Krasner, and why did my ward struggle to support him as well. 

Philadelphia Election Results (source)

I’ve always been skeptical of the Democratic Party. I find them inefficient organizers, well-meaning people, and a party that centers ego over strategy. However, it is the water we swim in, and the Republicans are a white supremacist fascist party, so I vote Democrat.  I don’t just vote for the party, but I’m an elected Democratic committee person in Philadelphia!   I never sought the position but a neighbor recruited me, I decided to do it and won my unopposed election in 2018.

The official Democratic Party of the city of Philadelphia decided not to endorse anyone in the District Attorney’s race because they said too many people (party insiders) had reservations about Krasner. It is virtually unheard of that an incumbent Democrat in the citywide election would not receive this endorsement. 

The democratic party is ultimately a conservative institution trying to hold on to power in a world changing around it. It’s not interested in change, it wants to preserve the status quo, and the best call to action it can muster is “we are not white supremacists. Oh, and Donald Trump sucks.” There is hope with the election of left officials like AOC, Tlaib, and Omar and the new role DSA plays in politics, but the official party is an out-of-touch monolith.   

The Philadelphia Democratic Party (City Committee) certainly does not listen to democratic voters and barely represents them. This is illustrated by the 65% of Philadelphia voting Democrats supporting Krasner and the party not realizing his popularity. I think the decision not to endorse Krasner is evidence of how deeply radical groups like the FOP have infiltrated the Philadelphia Democratic Party. This infiltration stops the party from doing even the bare minimum of what voters ask for today, like endorsing the incumbent Democrat for district attorney.

I don’t know how the decision not to do anything happed with the citywide Democratic Party, but I can tell you how it went down in the Democratic Party’s 18th ward. The 18th ward is an open ward (that means the ward leader cannot arbitrarily endorse a candidate). In our ward, committee people vote on who should be endorsed. My ward has 38 committee people, and we each get a vote in this process. Every candidate needs 60% of the committee people (about 23) to be endorsed. One of the problems my ward has run across is that no more than 2/3 of the committee people are genuinely active in the ward at any given time. This means that many votes are cast (via absentee) with little explanation or defense (or advocacy). There’s not much to do if these absentee votes are cast as a bloc.  In my experience, this bloc votes with the City Committee.

This frustrating reality came to a head in our ward because of the Krasner race. The City Committee chose not to endorse anybody, and our ward had the votes to follow suit. I was frustrated because I’m a Krasner voter and because lots of the people (my constituents) in my precinct were with me.

I only speak for myself,  but my first thought after realizing Krasner would not get my ward’s endorsement was to throw my hands in the air and say, “Whatever. This is typical of the Democratic Party.” I didn’t want to do anything about it. I have already written party organizing off as ineffective in challenging power, so I rolled my eyes and went back to my day-to-day life.

However, some committee people are not as cynical as I am.  Lauren Rinaldi gets all of the credit for moving my ward to a place of endorsement. She’s the hero of this story.  She spoke up about her frustration with the absentee bloc that kowtowed to the City Committee and forced our ward into a conversation about this race.   This act was enormous for me because the ward never felt like a place of discussion.   The same people speak at every meeting (mostly white guys, if you can imagine), the same tactics are deployed each election day, and the same listserv filibustering spams my email box.   On that night, it felt like we were edging toward an actual discussion amongst peers.

The ins and outs of the meeting are private, but we left that meeting endorsing Larry Krasner. I want to emphasize that 70% of the 18th ward voted for Larry Krasner, and the elected democratic committee people were planning on not endorsing him, before that meeting. The City Committee never did endorse him, even though 65% of voting democrats supported him. The party is out of touch with its base. I was ashamed when I saw that was going to happen, and I am embarrassed that I decided to acquiesce to cynicism rather than simply organizing. 

Lauren rallied the left of center committee people, forcing the ward to not just go along with what feels inevitable, and inspiring me (even for a moment) to imagine that the Democratic Party can not be disappointing. It’s terrific that Larry Krasner was re-elected to District Attorney.   Our criminal justice system needs to be overhauled, and he is willing to try at least.  Tough on crime has done nothing but incarcerate the most vulnerable people, so I am hopeful that the arduous path we’re on leads to a more just Philadelphia.

PS.   Watch the Krasner documentary on PBS.

Starbucks on Frankford Ave.

In my neighborhood, a Starbucks was proposed for the main street (Frankford Ave.)    Starbucks promised an atypical luxury type of Starbucks that only exists in a few cities, but people said, “no” at an April zoning meeting.   There was an appeal to the city zoning board, but no one wanted to overturn the neighborhood’s decision.

Every time I walk by the empty storefront on Frankford Ave, I wonder if we made the wrong decision.   Why are we so binary in when we approach something like this Imagine if our response to Starbucks wasn’t “We don’t like you, get the fuck out” but, “We don’t like you, do these things and you can move in.”  We could have asked for anything and it was on Starbucks to meet those demands.  We could have asked for:

  • 75% of this store’s employees must have lived in the neighborhood for at least a year.
  • All teachers and post off workers get from coffee from 7 – 8 AM.
  • Give $250,000 to the rec center or palmer park annually.
  • Public trashcans that you maintain in service within a 3 block radius of the store.
  • The restroom is not customers only, but anyone can stop in its use.
  • School supplies for every student in the neighborhood.

Listen, I don’t care about Starbucks.   I drink at Steep and Grind or Mammoth Coffee these days.   I just think it is disingenuous when people say they only want the local coffee shop.   La Colombe is a great and worth $100 million dollars.   It’s long stopped being your corner coffee shop.

I actually think the analysis is pretty simple.  We have a neighborhood that a billion-dollar corporation wants to do business in.  The billion-dollar corporation has far more money than should be allowed, so let’s take it from them. Instead of just saying “No, get off my lawn,” let’s “ok, but give us XYZ.”

My favorite things in Philadelphia – 2019

Bowl of noodles – Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House
Charcuterie – Royal Boucherie
Chinese – Han Dynasty*
Cider – Kurant
Coffee shop – ReAnimator Coffee (Master St.)
Decadent breakfast – Sausage Roll at Cake Life
Dessert – Slice of cake @ Cake Life
Falafel – Liberty Choice
Gay Bar – U-Bar
Good Cocktail in a Quiet Place – New Liberty Distillery
Grocery Store Beer – Bar @ KCFC
Greater calorie lunch than I deserve on a workday – Matt & Marie’s
Hoagie – Castellino’s
Italian – Le Virtu (this list is city only, but Andiario is a real contender)
Mexican – South Philly Barbacoa
Pizza to share with friends – In Riva
Pub Grub – Cook & Shaker
Restaurant – Royal Boucherie
Shawarma – Al-Amana Grocery Store
Single Dish – Squid Salad at Aether
Sushi ala carte – Kisso
Susi omakase – Da-Wa
Thai – Kalaya
Wine Tasting – Pen & Pencil


*The food here is so good.  The last time I was there, I was expecting to meet a friend.  She did not show, because she died in her house that day.  I’ve not returned to Han Dynasty and I am not sure when I will.

It’s not the same old Frankford Ave.

Today, I had an odd encounter in Fishtown.  Sam and I were walking down Frankford.  I was wearing a shirt with the Arabic phrase, يلا حبيبي.

In Arabic, it is pronounced yalla habibi, and it loosely translates to “come on, my love”. As Arabic is one of the official languages of our house, I often hear Sam’s family use this phrase. It always makes me laugh because sometimes it’s sweet and sometimes it means “get the lead out, we need to go” or “really sweetheart?”

While we were walking, a woman on Frankford Ave. called to me and asks “What does that say on your shirt?”

I respond with “yalla” and she quickly tells me “no.”

I look to Sam for some confirmation, and she says “let me read it.” I make a mention that “he’s the Arabic speaker between us.”

She then says, “oh it reads yalla hibibi. It means ‘come on, my love.’ That’s sweet.”

I smiled and walked away. I did not say “I know, mind your business.”  It did not feel like she wanted to know what it said (as she could obviously read Arabic), it felt like she wanted to make a fool out of a complete stranger.   Arabic is not my language and any attempt I’ve made to learn it has failed. However, if wearing a shirt with the language of my husband, that says something nice, and is a joke between the 2 of us is cultural appropriation than please let me know. <—- I am being serious.