Friday, February 17, 2006

Hallelujah! It's not always about the money! That's not a stinking money trail running through Senator Specter's office, it's just a miracle!

always about the money! That's not a stinking money trail running through Senator Specter's office, it's just a miracle!'>always about the money! That's not a stinking money trail running through Senator Specter's office, it's just a miracle!'>always about the money! That's not a stinking money trail running through Senator Specter's office, it's just a miracle!'>always about the money! That's not a stinking money trail running through Senator Specter's office, it's just a miracle!'>>always about the money! That's not a stinking money trail running through Senator Specter's office, it's just a miracle!'>

I made multiple efforts yesterday to write about my favorite news story of the day, the revelation that 19 watercolors done in 1805 by the great poet and artist William Blake, intended as illustrations for the then-popular poem "The Grave," which turned up astoundingly some five years ago in a Glasgow bookshop, are about to be broken up and sold individually to the highest bidder(s) at Sotheby's.

(Note: On the NYT website, you can see a slide show of more of the watercolors than appeared in the newspaper.)

If I had managed to write the story, it was going to run under a head like—

Breaking news, and remember you heard it here first: It's all about the money, and it pretty much doesn't matter what "it" is

Somehow, though, I couldn't keep from getting bogged down in detail—fascinating detail, I think, but a long way to go to get to what was to be my nomination for the distinction of Dumbest Human Talking, at least for yesterday. (This is not an award that we dare bestow on a long-term basis. Maybe we should just call it Doodyhead of the Day.)

You or I may think it nothing short of a miracle that these 19—out of the original 20—watercolors have survived together for these 200 years. To at least one doodyhead, however, it's more significant that one drawing did somehow get separated from the others, eventually finding its way to the Yale Center for British Art. This fact, in the "mind" (for want of a better word) of the doodyhead who will oversee the dispersal of this remarkable set, justifies breaking it up:

"It's not complete, so in a sense it's already been broken up," said George Wachter, director of old-master paintings for Sotheby's worldwide.

"Since one of them is at Yale, it makes the most sense to do it this way," he said of his decision to auction them one by one.

Naturally in a story like this there's rarely just one greed-crazed doodyhead, and it would be hard to deny the claims to greed-crazed doodyhead status of London art dealer Libby Howie, who put together a clandestine syndicate of investors to buy the watercolors when Tate Britain was unable to raise the $6.6 million it would have needed to add the set to its world-famous Blake holdings. Howie has devoted untold energies these last several years to making possible the dispersal of the set as a memorial-for-the-ages to her imbecility, vileness and greed.

"One would always be happier to see them together," Ms. Howie said. "But in the end I think it's best to let people choose what they most like."

What brings this all back to mind is that today's wackiest story suggests that maybe in fact there is a higher power than greed.

The story is Jeffrey H. Birnbaum's Washington Post follow-up to the minor hullabaloo that broke out yesterday after USA Today reported—as Birnbaum summarizes it—

that [Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen] Specter claimed credit for securing 13 narrowly focused allocations, called earmarks, worth $48.7 million over the past four years for six clients represented by Michael Herson and the firm he co-founded, American Defense International.

Herson's wife, Vicki Siegel Herson, had been an appropriations aide to Specter, but six months ago took a one-day-a-week job in Specter's office dealing with issues related to Israel.

It turns out that the senator claims credit for nothing. In fact, in what's shaping up to be perhaps the greatest miracle since the Virgin Birth, it turns out to be all one giant coincidence!

All that Senator Specter was doing, he says, was bringing in the boodle for Pennsylvania institutions. (Okay, "bringing in the boodle" may not have been his exact words.) As Birnbaum notes in the Post:

[Specter] added that neither Herson nor his firm had lobbied his office, but rather that other firms had done the lobbying. In addition, he said that as far as he knew, Vicki Siegel Herson had not been involved in recommending that the senator push for the earmarks.

In addition, Specter said he was not lobbied personally by Herson. "I don't know that I would recognize him if he was in a crowded room," Specter said.

But given the controversy now swirling on Capitol Hill over earmarked appropriations, Specter said he intended to ask more questions. He said he is making an inquiry to see what information his staff had on the appropriations, what the competitive factors were and why the recommendations were made.

I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly holding my breath to hear about those "competitive factors." I'm just gonna go with the Miraculous Virgin Earmarks theory.


At 10:32 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Virgin... smirgin. I just want to know what Specter's cut was from this. And if he's using it to buy one of the Blake's. I guess if he took the bribes he got and bought all 19 Blakes and donanted them to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this could all be quietly swept under the carpet. Otherwise... do they have good medical facilities in the nicer federal pens?

At 11:11 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Cut? Cut??? How can you speak of such worldly grubbiness in the face of an authentic appropriations miracle?

But okay, if you insist on stooping to that level, let's talk dollaroonies and cents. Senator Specter says he doesn't know "that I would recognize him [i.e., the lobbyist Herson, his aide's husband] if he was in a crowded room." So apparently any consideration that found its way into the senator's pocket fell on THIS side of the amount necessary for him to KNOW that he would recognize the guy in a crowded room.

Does anyone have a copy of Senator Specter's rate chart?


At 11:41 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

I don't know how much Specter charges for his services but I do know it's too late for him to buy the Blakes for Philly! Artist James Bailey has the full story about what happened to them here. (Note: don't click on that link if you can't stand tragedy or if you have an aversion to Marshall Tucker.)

At 12:45 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

You know how people say "lol" and "rotfl"? Well, this "scoop" about the fate of the Blake watercolors had me practically on the floor causing a scene all over the office.

This would do especial credit to everyone who was involved in the lengthy struggle to squeeze an export license out of the British government to enable "the syndicate" to spirit the Blake drawings out of the U.K. Personally, I can imagine Queen Elizabeth (that paragon of culture) reflecting fondly on America in the spirit of the wise man who first said, "What a country!"



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